For as long as I’ve known him, Dan Didio has believed the key to a resurgent DC is reclaiming all the readers the commercial medium lost in the 90s… It’s all about accessing that hypothetical lost fan base. The impression the recent statements have left is Dan saying “comics used to sell loads back then, let’s do that again.” And that can’t happen in print.Comics used to sell loads back then, yes. But a big part of that — and this is the part he isn’t mentioning — is that there were ten thousand comics shops back then. And now there are, optimistically and rounding up, about two thousand. There simply aren’t the number of outlets left to sell the kind of volume comics could shift in the 90s.
The gamble here is this: that hypothetical lost fan base is older, has credit cards and disposable income, and an internet connection that can bring the DC Comics section of a notional comics store right to their desks. That, in fact, digital comics services will do the work of those eight thousand stores that don’t exist anymore.
Much has been made about the potential for digital to be the “new newsstand” – a feeder stream bringing new readers into the direct market, and through the doors of comic stores once they become hooked – but this is the first time that I’ve really considered the possibility that digital could essentially become the new direct market. If that’s the case (and such a change would be some distance off, considering the 630:1 ratio of print to digital sales currently), then what happens to the old direct market – and where, exactly, is the bookstore market left in all of this? Untouched? A failed attempt at outreach that never lived up to the hopes and potential people invested in it? Somewhere in between?
(Ellis is on fire in the above-linked post, by the way, characterizing the previous relationship publishers had with retailers as “DC were the attentive suitor, while Marvel Comics treated retailers mean to keep them keen,” and considering what DC’s new attitude towards the DM might mean. Go and read.)