Daniel McAbee of The Tangled Web in Spartanburg, South Carolina writes in to share his thoughts on the state of digital comics and the Direct Market.

As a comics retailer for the last 16 years, I have certainly had cause to take note of our publishers' recent 'push' towards Digital Comics and Content.  I don't think that it has been a secret that publishers have all been watching and waiting for the time when the right pairing of internet access numbers and the right digital device occurred so that they could directly access their end customers without need for a distributor and retailers.  Honestly, it's taken a little longer than I expected to meld those numbers.

Marvel led the charge by digitizing all of their old comic libraries while making a push towards getting all of their current comics digital.  DC followed slowly and curiously on their tippy-toes, waiting in the grass like a tiger watching its prey. If Marvel stumbled and got called out as 'Kingslayers,' DC could simply stay hidden and say, "Not me!"  Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics waited even longer and then jumped into the ring with their big brothers.  Once outed, DC tried to pass Marvel in the digital race by shouting "New Digital Comics HERE!" and Marvel quietly followed suit.  'Day and Date' digital release ensued.

Marvel has led the second charge by giving away 'free' copies of their digital comics to anyone who is willing to redeem the code.  Not surprisingly, you have to create an account on their website and give them your e-mail address to redeem the 'free' comics... you know, in case they need to contact you and give you more 'free' stuff.  Dark Horse decided that they would be the first to scream "CHEAP COMICS!" and offered discounts off of cover prices after only 30 days of release.  In this, they confessed to being the hobo on the street corner with the sandwich boards that read "THE END IS NEAR!" (and I am treating them as such with reduced 'shelf copy' orders and considerably reduced shelf space for their products).

If you are reading this and think that this is a rant against publishers and their digital efforts-- you are wrong!  Publishers have the right to do whatever they please with their properties and to believe otherwise is folly.  The notion of "that's not fair!" is romantic, but in reality, it died when we left the playground in middle school.  It's time for ALL comics retailers to recognize that the publishers don't need (or want) us and that we are on our own.

Having stated that, I should also say that it isn't time to shutter the blinds and go home either!  Comics Retailers are still going to be sought out by readers and are still important! With all the recent digital activity, I found it strange that my comic sales numbers are actually slowly climbing.  DC certainly has right to say that they saved a portion of the business by thinking (and advertising) 'outside the box' with their New 52 promotions but sadly, those numbers are already on the decline. T he thing that has NOT declined is the number of new customers saying, "What else should I be reading?"  The days of sitting back on our haunches and waiting for profitability are over (and I miss those days!)

In a nutshell, I just want to say, "The Direct Market is NOT dead!"  We are certainly handicapped and have more competition, but we aren't out of the game!  We simply have to get up off the bench and get back to being pro-active.  Merchandising, marketing and customer communication are more important than ever before, so let's re-merchandise our shelves, dust off our end-caps, and smile at everyone who comes in the door!  That smile is worth more than a free digital download... and I'm betting my business on it!

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.