Why The Reader’s Perspective Is Key To Print VS. Digital Comics

Kelly Thompson’s latest “She Has No Head!” installment for CBR’s Comics Should Be Good blog tackles Print VS. Digital (from a reader’s perspective). Thompson raises some great points so make sure to read the full article and scroll through the comments for the full discussion on the topic there.

Here’s a run down of points from the post that caught my eye concerning the state of digital comics and how a self-published comics creator could approach digital comics differently from the current trend in the comics industry: price-matching, and “page-matching,” print and digital:

Via CBR’s Comics Should Be Good:

#2. In addition to preferring print to digital it makes my head EXPLODE WITH RAGE that comics generally charge the same price for digital and print comics. UNACCEPTABLE. I don’t know how this happened but it is one of the great mysteries (and rip offs) of modern times (*see: #6!)

It’s an interesting state of affairs concerning how pricing is dictated by “brick and mortar” stores in the comics industry. I think it’s important to look at this approach and identify why self-published comics creators should take a different approach when releasing their content. A popular and effective approach self-published authors (I’m talking novelists) use is to set their digital book at a lower price point than the print version, to make the digital price look more enticing compared to the higher price of a print book. Large comics publishers take a different approach and match the price for print VS. digital so not to disrupt the print market. Releasing their digital comics at the same price compliments the print market and that’s the popular wisdom for now, which is fantastic for the industry, because this approach has encouraged digital comics readers to seek out brick and mortar stores to discover new books, and that’s a great thing for readers and creators.

If you plan to self-published “indie” comics via print-on-demand services like Amazon’s Createspace, I think the industry’s current “price matching” trend is a prime example to motivate one to take a different approach and learn from what self-published authors (I’m talking novelists) are doing right. The comics industry’s “price match” approach, to me, is not a route I plan on taking when it comes to self-publishing my own work (My graphic novel series “Intercept Now!”). If you’re making indie comics, it’s advantageous to look at how self-published authors (shout-out to novelists) are approaching releasing their print and digital releases through print-on-demand services. Setting a lower price point for your digital content as compared to the print version, from what I’ve seen among the self-published author community, is the way to go for self-published comics creators as well.

#5. I now only buy digital comics for space reasons and to a lesser degree convenience – i.e. if the space wasn’t an issue I would forgo the convenience factor and still buy print.

*#6. It seems like I (and people like me) are the reason digital comics have been able to get away with charging the same price for print and digital…because desperate morons like me who don’t have other options have gone ahead and bought them and now the system knows that we will pay for them at that price if we HAVE to and so now they have no reason to change. I have never been angrier with myself. Still, what can I do now? As far as I know…NOTHING.

Thompson’s point at #5 illustrates another interesting practice in the comics industry. The digital version of a comic is essentially the same as its print version… you’re getting the same viewing experiencing viewing the same comics pages in print as the comics pages you’re viewing on your tablet device (or mobile phone, though that’s debatable, or computer screen). You can set a digital DC comic next to its print version and they’re essentially the same pages released digitally as they are in print. Again, this approach makes sense for “the digital to print price match approach” of the comics industry… you’re presenting content that’s the essentially same version in print as it is in digital.

Self-published authors (I’m talking novelists), in terms of presenting their content, take the same approach: the text presented in print is the same text presented digitally because text carries over from print to digital very cleanly. Self-published comics creators are in a different, and fantastic, position. It’s an exciting time to self-publish comics. As Thompson illustrates in point #6 above, she’s having to pay the same price for content in a format that isn’t her favorite option (digital) over the format that she prefers (print). Part of the issue there, I think, is the content is presented the same way from print to digital. The pages she views on her tablet device are the same pages she’d get if she purchased it in print.

Classic Comics Format

Should it be that way? Should the pages, the artwork created in classic printed comics format, be just “ported” over to a digital version to be read on a tablet device? This argument is extremely interesting and Thompson article, from a reader’s perspective, highlights it. I’m very interested to see how the approach to print format vs. digital format will evolve among the comics industry.

Digital comics are a different viewing experience from reading a print comic, and as comics creators, I think we need to tailor a different experience for one compared to the other. The trick there is preparing content that can still be released in digital format that can still be print friendly and practical from a production standpoint.

#8. Additionally, while I don’t want local comic book stores to suffer, the rise of digital comics buying has SO helped bring comics to people that don’t have stores nearby or worse, have felt unwelcome in stores nearby…and that’s an amazing equalizer…it’s the kind of thing that makes me sort of love digital comics. Digital comics, for all their flaws do feel like COMICS FOR EVERYBODY and that’s very much something I’m behind. Digital comics plus social media (twitter/tumblr/whatever) creating a comics community for those who don’t have or don’t feel comfortable IRL stores/communities is a huge win, for comics, for readers, for diversity. This kind of makes me love them more. However…

#9. The entire reason I’ve been thinking about print vs. digital so much lately and am writing about it now is because other than the price point issues which I just have no idea how to address, I thought I had come to terms with buying digital. Yet…about a month ago I held Jem and the Holograms #1 in my hands and it was SO MUCH BETTER than reading it on my ipad. For some reason I didn’t expect this. As someone who has published both basic digital editions and gorgeous hardcover print volumes of my prose, I did not expect to be so struck by the difference between print and digital when it came to my comics. But I was.

Some of the flaws with digital comics, in general as a format, comes back to the size it’s drawn to initially, and how just porting the “print version” to a digital presentation may not be enough to satisfy readers and set digital apart. Presenting the same pages digitally and in print is problematic. A digital comic is a different animal than print comic, so as comics creators, I think we need to be cognoscente of how the comic pages we create fit into the new publishing landscape that we’re in. I think that drawing comics to the traditional comics size of 6.25 x 9.75 will only get trickier and more problematic as time goes on. Drawing comics to the traditional classic size, to me, doesn’t jive with the array of devices people are reading comics on. The sooner the comics industry embraces the 16:9, landscape world we live in, the sooner comics readers will get content that is in line with the screens that dictate how comics need be drawn and how they will be best viewed.

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