The purpose of Free Comic Book Day is to raise awareness of comics, and that has certainly been accomplished this year; big-city newspapers and small-town Patch sites alike were abuzz with interviews with creators and retailers and advice on how to approach the big day. The flagship article, though, was this piece by Matt Moore of the Associated Press that looked at the big picture and summoned up some possible explanations as to why print comics sales have grown, rather than shrunk, since the advent of digital comics.
It’s a conundrum, for sure, but the numbers don’t lie: Print comic sales were up $60 million in 2012, and in that same year, digital comics sales tripled from $25 million to $75 million.
“Since the launch of the New 52, we’ve made a very strong effort to embrace the digital market as well as the print market,” said DC’s Dan DiDio. Before the New 52 launch, in September 2011, only a handful of DC comics were released in digital the same day as print; starting with the New 52, all their titles went to same-day digital release. DiDio’s explanation for the tandem growth of the two formats is that readers start with the comic that inspired a favorite movie or TV show, find it digitally, and then go to the comics shop for a fuller experience. Marvel’s Dan Buckley reasoned along similar lines, calling the relationship between digital and print comics “symbiotic.”
Moore also queried some readers about their preferences; one pointed to the convenience of being able to carry around hundreds of comics, but John Signer-Romero had his own reason for preferring print:
“There is just something wonderful about the thrill one gets when you have just read a particularly awesome scene and you know something big is going to happen on the next page,” he said. “Comics are filled with wonderful moments and the thrill one gets from turning that page slowly and having a whole world unfold in front of (you) is brilliant.”
That’s true, but it’s also true that a digital comic can give that feeling more often per comic, as every swipe is a possible reveal. Print comics creators know that when the reader turns the page, he or she will see everything in the two-page spread, while in a digital comic creators can spring as many surprises as they dare.
The fact is that in a very short time, digital has become so integral a part of the comics market that readers took to Twitter in confusion when they couldn’t find the first issue of Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy on comiXology the day it came out. The fact is, Millar has chosen to delay digital release of his creator-owned work for three months in order to protect comics shops. This did not go over well with fans, and at least one comics retailer was dismayed that he couldn’t get it digitally. The fact is that markets are complex, and although Millar’s intentions are noble—he wants to protect brick-and-mortar comics shops—there is no evidence at all right now that digital is hurting them and, paradoxically, they seem to be helping.