Retailer Brian Hibbs considers the strength of the physical retailer in these digital times:
Clearly, if someone already knows what they want, either digital delivery or online ordering is often the simplest way for a customer to purchase, but I can assure you, as a seller of goods, that only a small number of customers walking through my doors every day (civilian or not) know exactly what they want when they walk in. Usually, seeing a comic or book, holding it in your hand, browsing a selection, getting a personal recommendation from staff, is what sells the most numbers of comics — even among the existing readership! It is in every publisher and creator’s interest to have “showplaces” for their work.
The comics industry has long suffered from grass-is-green-ism, always thinking that a different market, a different clientele, just something else a little bit farther away than the thing that grew up spontaneously around it, and all of a sudden we can be a mass medium like music or film!
And yet it doesn’t seem to work, does it? We got comics into bookstores, and there was no quantum leap of an increase in circulations — sales grew pretty much limited in proportion to the amount of the new rack space they now enjoyed. What else could you expect?
And so will it be with digital — yes, it’s possible for comics to reach, egalitarianily, to considerably more consumers, but those same consumers have nearly infinite array of choices when they open their smart phone/tablet/computer. And most of those choices they have they are already familiar with the form and the medium. Why do they pick comics over all other media, without showcases, without curators, without ambassadors?
What we need are more embassies, not just being another leaf in the wide river of the internet.
As Hibbs points out, comics are seemingly the only media where digital sales are additive to analog, with print sales increasing over the last year in total. If digital is leading new (or lapsed) customers to print, we need great comic shops to take advantage of this new market.