Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Steve Bennett explains why digital comics are superior to print, and the perfect business model for monetizing them:
I try not to let these things get too personal, you don't know me and don't need to, the same way I avoid invoking the "I told you that so I can tell you this" device. I've read too many blogs supposedly about this week's comics which somehow absolutely required an eighteen hundred word preface about what a bitch their junior high school teacher was to them. But this week I'm going to give you one irrefutable reason why downloadable comic books and graphic novels are superior to printed ones but to do it first I have to tell you my grandmother died.
I've written about her death before; she was ninety-eight so it wasn't exactly unexpected or anything, and along with being bereft at the knowledge that no one in this life would ever love me as much as she did it was left up to me to settle her estate. She worked hard all her life, was frugal by nature (like most people of her generation she scrimped and saved in ways that seem impossible now, which we all soon may have to emulate if we're going to get through the current unpleasantness) and meticulously cared for the few 'nice' things she had.
At the end there wasn't much, a little money, a house which eventually went for a third of what it was worth and a few household items, some nice pieces of furniture, a set of dishes, some silverware. At the very least I thought somebody would be interested in the nearly brand new washer and dryer she had gotten too late in life to use much.
It all went for a couple of hundred dollars, once I finally found someone actually willing to take them. Now as a comic book guy I was well aware of just how worthless the things I loved ultimately were; comic books, books, DVD's, CD's, we all know that their resale value is inconsequential.
I certainly had plenty of proof over the years. No matter how much I cherished my comics I could never hold onto to them. The day would come (usually every seven years like clockwork) when my income couldn't meet my expenses and I'd hippity-hop them down to the comic shop where I would "happily" exchange them for a fraction of what I'd paid for them. After which of course I would just go out and buy more stuff so I could do it all over again.
But it was a little shocking to discover that the same principle applied to hard goods, a.k.a. real stuff. Which brings me to today's teachable moment which comes in two parts. I learned (big surprise): (1) in the end you can hold on to nothing, and (2) material things are worthless.
Ok. maybe I exaggerate, a little, for dramatic effect. Maybe things aren't worthless, exactly, but they definitely don't deserve the worth most of us give them. I applied this lesson to my own life; when I got my new place in Cincinnati I "decorated it" in folding metal tables and sturdy plastic lawn furniture. Which I know must seem truly pathetic, confirming people's worst stereotypes about the comic book guy, but I decided then and there when that major myocardial infarction came to carry me away I don't want it to take more than thirty minutes to clean out my apartment.
I also pared down my comic book collection and graphic novels; there's a long box full of them sitting in my car, waiting for me to decide whether to recycle them or donate them to a library in hopes I can convince the government to deduct their "worth" off my next tax return. Which is about when I discovered the joys of downloading comics. They were easier for me to read, took up no (physical) space, were impervious to wear and harm, and require no maintenance.
Not only could I finally have all the Golden and Silver Age comics I had wanted all my life but could never afford, but even better, I could never, ever sell them because the only value they had was sentimental. The only thing better would be if they could beam movies, music and comics directly into my brain, which I know doesn't seem all that likely in what's left of my lifetime. But if I could find that elusive bus to 1965 and tell a young Steve that one day soon there would be a black box would allow him to watch Jonny Quest and Herculoids over and over again I wouldn't have believed it. And I believed Cape Canaveral had an anti-gravity room for astronaut training because I saw one on an episode of I Dream of Jeannie.
All of which is nice for me of course, but isn't what I'm doing here nothing short of advocating the death of the capitalist system like some kind of commie? No, like I keep saying, there's never been anything in the history of the world to stop people from wanting to own things, not even being able to get it for free. Does anyone out there really think that a million people downloading the upcoming Wolverine movie will actually hurt theater ticket sales?
Last week while in Super-Fly Comics I took an informal poll and found lots of our customers download comics… and it didn't stop any of them from buying them. Of course men far smarter than me have failed to find a business model to get people to pay for something they've been getting for free on the internet. But I think it's possible, not by charging $1.99 per comic, not even 99 cents, but by creating some kind of subscriber service that offered a vast library of material from the oldest comics to the newest.
And if that sounds impossible…that model already exists. They call it Netflix.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.