Digital vs Physical comics

By: Jonathan Bryant

There are fewer categories of readers that cling to the importance of physical books more than comic book fans, and rightfully so.

There are few experiences more therapeutic than visiting the local comic shop each Wednesday.  These trips to the traditional brick-and-mortar establishment are, more often than not, a social event.  Relationships fostered between readers and shop owners are analogous to that of the confessor and priest—it is a sacred bond that technology will likely never affect or replace.

As for the comic books themselves, that is an entirely different matter.  Technological advances are changing how consumers receive media, and comics are no exception.  Predictably, this has traditionalist comic book readers up in arms.

For most funny book fans, the payoff in amassing an impressive comic book collection lies not within the pages of various stories, but the collection itself.  Having a visible, physical manifestation of the hard work involved in collecting one’s favorite comics is often incentive enough to keep doing so.

But therein lies one of the inherent limitations of the physical medium—storage space.

It’s one thing to tuck away one’s comics in a nice little bookshelf in the corner, or even devote some closet space to them.

It’s another matter entirely when they began to take over one’s living space.

This writer’s comic collection in particular takes up such a commanding amount of space in his room that he has contemplated charging them rent on more than one occasion.  (Whether that is a testament to how many comics I own or how pathetically small my living space might be is irrelevant.)

And don’t even thinking about moving with a respectably-sized comic book collection.  Just as marriage and children are things to be considered once one has settled down, so is the decision to build a comic book collection.

On the other hand, a dozen of long boxes full of physical issues can be stored on one tablet device.  A 64-gigabyte iPad can hold about 4,000 issues worth of comics—that’s about 14 long boxes, which in turn weighs approximately 550 pounds.

There are other advantages to the digital format, as well.

The affordability of digital issues tends to be on the lower side when considering back issues, while sometimes the opposite is true for certain physical back issues.  Although these rules don’t apply uniformly to same-day releases, it stands to reason that those issues will drop in price much faster through digital distributors like Comixology, the self-proclaimed “iTunes of comic books,” than in brick-and-mortar stores.

Digital comics also offer the added benefit of accessibility and immediacy.  One can usually find the digital counterparts for even the rarest of printed issues with enough persistence, and often for a fraction of the cost.  After all, it’s impossible to sell out of an intangible product.

Going back to the collecting element, though, physical comics have an edge over their digital counterparts in the minds of collectors precisely because some of them can be difficult to find.

Certain issues collecting memorable events like The Amazing Spider-Man issue No. 121, which features the death of Gwen Stacy, can easily fetch more than $1,000.

Fans often take their favorite issues to conventions to be signed by writers and artists, increasing their sentimental value (and monetary value, if you’re “that guy”) tenfold.

The industry is taking a decided shift toward the digital era, and it’s easy to see why.  Although a future of nothing but digital comics might be a harrowing thought for some—particularly comic shop owners—it is also one that makes sense for publishers.

Digital comics would cut down manufacturing costs significantly, although readers wouldn’t likely see the benefits in the form of cheaper prices any time soon.

A happy medium probably exists for all of us, though—I personally read my favorite series in print and use Comixology to hunt down great deals and hard-to-find series.

Until the fateful day that Google becomes Skynet and physical options no longer exist, it is probably best for comic fans to play on both sides of the fence.

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