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How Will The Wolf Survive?

When I launched Sound Waves last year, one of the questions I kept hearing from people was if I was going to make it available as a digital comic.  I said no.  It's not that I fear piracy (which is just a stupid boogeyman right now), it's because everyone was saying how the iPad with its digital comics capabilities would be the savior of indy comics.  Finally, creators could compete with a better price point and in a truly free market.  I didn't buy it.  Any time there is new technology, everyone expects halcyon days ahead.  It doesn't usually work out that way.

I had more of a suspicion that things would go like for the iPhone and indy game developers.  In the early days of the iPhone, lots of garage programmers were able to turn a few bucks in the Apple App store.  Then big names like EA saw money to be made and started crowding out the indies.  Please note I don't blame Apple for this, but big companies looking to make themselves the only game in town.  The sad fact of modern life is that the free market is a myth.  We are surrounded by protected markets.  Companies fight them until they learn how to co-opt them.  They love new markets and technology when they're the ones controlling content and making all the money.

Sure enough, as comic companies started looking at digital comics, indies got crowded out.  That also goes for traditional comic shops.  See, publishers see all these people torrenting comics and figure, if they make them digital, people will buy them and it will save them from figures that continue to fall (this year's drop isn't as bad as last year's, but it's still a drop).  They overlook the reason people torrent the comics -- they aren't worth paying for.  Most of your books released nowadays will simply be bagged and boarded and forgotten about until the next eBay purge.  If you force people who don't care about comics to either pay or do without, they will simply do without.

Digital is a dazzling temptress, though.  The profit margin is higher.  After all, once you pay the talent, that's it.  You don't have to pay printing, distributing, any of that stuff.  Marvel has already honked off retailers with the release of a digital version of a comic the same day it streets.

Diamond has been hurting bad lately.  In addition to cheesing off shops (who can't do anything thanks to Diamond's monopoly), they have gone from 24 warehouses around the country to 4.  They just announced they are closing up the warehouse in LA.

Now, Diamond is announcing they are developing a digital comics distribution system for comic shops.

What?

Once again, new market, they see nothing but dollar signs.

I have a lot of questions.  They are still hammering out the details, but I wonder about things like DRM and such.  Comic shops are talking about how nice it is for Diamond to keep them in mind.  Of course, if enough people go digital, Diamond can simply do digital itself like Longbox, completely freezing out retailers.  Do you really trust Diamond to do right by you?

The comic industry is rife with tales from retails about the bullshit they have to put up with from Diamond (Haven is just too casual to position itself as a real alternative).  The comic shops could flex some muscle, given how much Diamond is on the ropes.  But they aren't.  In many ways, the treatment they get from Diamond, they bring on themselves.

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