Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday's Headlines | End of an Era? Or Beginning of Digital Age For Comics?

With Monday's announcement that Diamond Comics Distributors would stop receiving new product from printers for distribution, Newsarama.com went to well-known comic book retailer Joe Field to find out what this means for the industry.

Field, the California retailer who came up with the idea for Free Comic Book Day, explained that new printed comic books will stop arriving to stores next week, but he emphasized that the comic book market can survive — if publishers, creators and readers work together and avoid the temptation to switch to digital only.

“What we know for sure is that the distribution stops as of next week’s shipment,” Field said.

What that means, Field explained, is that readers will not get new printed comic books, starting with the books scheduled for release on April 1. The retailer admitted that most comic book stores will probably close temporarily, but some — like his Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif. — may still be open for readers to acquire reading material during the coronavirus crisis

“I believe there are still going to be shops, and we might be one of them on an incredibly limited basis, that still have some kind of a curbside service for what we have in stock,” Field said. In fact, his shop is already shut down except Wednesday and Saturday during limited hours, when curbside service is offered.

“And believe me, I got plenty of comics! I can take care of people with comics until this whole thing moves through,” he said. “Are they the new comics that everybody wants every Wednesday? No. But you know what? There’s a lot of stuff they haven’t read yet that we still have that they’ll probably enjoy.”

Field added that a few stores — including his own — have had trouble securing reliable information about Diamond’s delivery of this week’s books as well. In Field’s case, his shipment was impacted by a freight company shutting down, although he’s hoping his store’s books left Diamond via another freight company last week.

“Anyone who was still operating is probably going to get this week’s books, but they just might not get them in as timely a fashion,” Field said.

Field believes the direct comic book market can survive this setback, but only if publishers, readers, retailers and creators pull together. And he disagrees with some of his friends in the comic book creative community who are calling for continued release of new product to digital only.

“I think everyone in this business is scrambling for whatever dollars they can find right now because we don’t know how long we’re going to go without getting any new dollars in. So there is desperation in the market,” Field said. “But I don’t think that desperation should lead to changing the market in such a way that comic book publishers would leave their best sales force on the sideline, permanently.”

Field said he’s heard rumors that publishers are considering a continuation of production by just going 100 percent digital for now — something he does not want to happen. “Or they’re maybe going to offer retailers digital codes that we would sell that would be good for getting print books when this thing is finally settled,” Field said.

“Both of those options are completely unacceptable,” he said. “They would have very difficult ramifications for many, many comic shops.”

Field is hoping publishers will simply stop producing new content, and that the Direct Market will survive with the support of readers, publishers and creators during this difficult time.

“I know that many of my customers right now are bonafide angels. They have no interest in digital. They have interest, fully, in continuing to buy from me when I can sell to them,” he said. “And for that loyalty, I’m really deeply grateful.

“I think for many people who read comics, it’s not just about the comics — it’s about where they buy them and the community they belong to,” he said. “That’s something that they’re not going to get any place else. Publishers really need to be aware of that, and any solution that includes an exclusive digital thing is not going to be workable.”

Newsarama reached out to leading digital distributor - the Amazon-owned and operated comiXology to try to gauge their position as to whether publishers should pause releasing new comic books digitally while Diamond pauses physical distribution. A spokesperson replied for the time being, "comiXology plans to release comics this Wednesday at the usual time."

We will continue to pursue a dialogue with them about their position regarding future weeks and months.

Field said he believes in the resilience of comics as a medium, of comic shops as the primary purveyors of comics to the masses, and he believes in comic retailers’ ability to adapt.

“I’ll tell you a quick story from one of the architects of comics, the late great Will Eisner,” Field said. “He would come to retailer meeting at the San Diego Comic-Con to take the pulse of the market and give us a pep talk.

“He said that about once every three years since he got into comics in the mid 1930s that he would be told, ‘You better get out of comics. They're dying and won't be here much longer,’” Field said. “He told that story as late as the early 2000s, so he was told that comics were dead probably 20 different times.

“Yet, at the time of his passing, he was still creating!” Field said. “That's inspiration for me. I believe we can make it through this too.”