Ink & Pixels: Intro- Print VS Digital
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Welcome to a new series where I focus on subjects revolving around the balance between print and digital media. Ever since digital comics became accessible there's been a pretty constant back and forth debate about how long print comics have to survive and what the expansion of digital media may mean for the industry as a whole. As a former retailer I've constantly had people ask about the impact of digital comics on our store, and have had plenty of conversations with hardcore proponents of the digital evolution of the medium as well as those who will always be strongly dedicated to physical media only. In my perspective, we're at an interesting crossroads that's been heavily influenced by the impact of Covid19, its economic influence it's had on the world, and finally the whims of corporate players such as Disney and AT&T.
For the purposes of these articles, one thing I think that needs clarification right off the bat is that I feel that a lot of supporters of physical media tend to narrow their concerns to the single issue format of comics. And while I will talk about those in detail as this series progresses, my personal qualifications for print comic media include and highlight the graphic novel and trade paperback markets. In my mind it's important to recognize that even if single issue comics may have a rough time coming up, graphic novels will only flourish more in the future as long as the all-ages markets continue to expand as we've been seeing in the past few years. And as long as that aspect of the market and medium are safeguarded then I don't believe digital will ever truly replace print.
For some context, I'll point out that I am a collector of almost exclusively physical media. While I have liquidated a majority of my single issue comics, I have enough graphic novels and trade paperbacks that I can probably build a (flimsy) house with them, which incidentally is probably a more likely scenario for me ever owning a home again as I live in Seattle and the housing market here is just nuts.
I'm also rather stubborn in that I have never owned a cell phone, so any digital comics I may read would only be on PC. While I am a fan of many webcomics, I'm not a fan of consuming them digitally and often wish to pick up print versions of those series if whenever possible. As a 38 year old I'm an elder millennial, so that means being introduced to computers and the internet at a young age but not really being born into a digital world. Print comics were my first love and print graphic novels are my current love, but I can see the appeal of digital for a few different reasons.
Accessibility to your media is a major factor, and having less living space will affect how your mind prioritizes your consumption of that media. I hope to expand on this a bit more in the future, as there are some major differences in the buying habits of comic fans depending on if they live in a suburban or urban area. On top of that we have a number of socio-economic factors, one among them being how often that reader may have to move. And seriously, do you know how much it sucks to move dozens of long boxes? To avoid having to fight for the storage space for comics, and to avoid the physical strain of moving too many comics, a lot of people will opt to transfer to a mostly digital model of consuming comics and I can not blame them one bit.
However, if you're lucky enough to have the space and security of a long term place to keep physical media then I envy you. Maintaining, organizing, and displaying a library of the media you love is half the fun of that media, and I am an absolute sucker for that tactile element of this medium. That element is also what allows for this medium to be a hobby as well, which is an entirely different aspect worth talking about as this series progresses.
As someone who leans more towards physical media, it always bugs me a little bit when doomsayers get a little too gloomy on what would seem like the extinction of print comics. On the flipside, I don't care much for people who dig their heels too much on the pro-print side as A) they're considerations for what count as comics may be too narrow for me at times, and B) there is no good reason that both types of media can't co-exist and even support one another. For me it becomes an issue of balance, allowing for plenty of room for one newer media to flourish while not forgetting the value of the other.
Finding a balance may be more precarious when it comes to the profits of publishers and the survival of brick-and-mortar stores, but that's a balance that I feel is often under threat from the misunderstandings of corporate dictations and not the fault of the form of the media. I don't think there's any easy answers to bringing a better balance to the industry on this front, especially as current trends (especially from DC comics) continually exacerbate the situation. As some of those trends start to manifest more and more I hope to focus on them here, partially as a way to see what kind of future landscapes we may see emerging but also to try and better understand the consumer demands that shape them.
Initial subjects that I'll tackle will include:
-Urban VS suburban consumption habits
-The values and detriments of hobbyism
-Webcomics and Kickstarters
Plus I'll use this series to highlight unique industry news that may have relevance, as I've done a few times now on my newsletter that's available exclusively to patrons. So stay tuned!