R.I.P. Comic Book Stores

I have been given a vision of the future, and in it the comic book store is dead.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become increasingly interested in purchasing an e-book reader. After playing around with a few of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that within the next 10 years, the paper single issue comic book will be a thing of the past, and with its passing, so too will comic book stores.

I mean, there’s already a full color e-reader in Japan, which means that within a year we’ll probably have one in the US. Given that Hearst publishing is already working on an e-book reader to distribute its magazines, it seems inevitable that, within the next 2-3 years, we’ll have e-book readers of the correct size and color fidelity to read comic books comfortably on. Say another 2 years or so for those readers to become relatively inexpensive, and I imagine that within 5 years these things will be as prevalent as iPods.

Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks that the e-book reader will kill the physical book. I personally believe that people like books. Paper books are comforting to read and to own. And so I don’t think that the e-reader will necessarily kill trade paperbacks or graphic novels. But the single issue is another story.

Given that a huge part of the comic book industry’s costs is the expense of printing the books and then distributing the physical comic books, it seems logical that most of the companies will start cutting down on delivery of paper issues and start distributing more and more exclusively directly to e-books.

In a way, this’ll be great. I don’t have a great degree of attachment to the single issue comic. In fact, I hate how much room my comics take up, so the idea of my having them beamed directly to a device where I can’t damage them or lose them is really very compelling. Plus, it’ll probably be a great boon to independent comic book writers and artists who can now dispense with the huge overhead of printing and distribution. I imagine we’ll actually see a renaissance in independent comic books, the same way the web created a boom in comic strips.

But for the most part, once this happens, any comic book store that depends on the sale of individual issues is basically dead. Since folks can get trade paperbacks and graphic novels from Amazon.com or from Barnes and Noble or Borders, comic book stores may not even be able to rely on those sales to get by.

Basically, this means that comic book stores are going to need to figure out what they can do to get people into the store, once their main revenue stream has dried up. Now it’s possible that some stores will adapt. The excellent Rocketship Comics in Brooklyn is an example of a store that already survives mainly on graphic novel sales. But it’s hard to see most stores making the transition. And given that so many stores are basically hanging on by a thread, I imagine that there are very dark days ahead for the comic book store.

[Photo by Flickr user Brymo, CC-licensed for commercial use.]


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