Comic Book Industry, Aided By Digital, Growing Again

on Monday, Jul. 22nd

It is the Monday after Comic-Con, which means that thousands of geeks are sleeping off a weekend of nerdly excess, slowly digesting the superhero movie news unleashed in the halls of the San Diego convention center, carefully clearing room on their shelves for their con-exclusive toy purchases, and organizing all those cosplay photos taken over the long weekend.

Some of them are even reading the comic books they bought while there. In fact, odds are that more of them are doing just that than were this time last year. The comic book industry, it seems, is finally growing again after a decade that saw the business nearly give up the ghost.

the dark irony in the comics business is that the rise of the hardcore comics fan early smothered the industry. The shift away from comics as disposable entertainment– printed on cheap paper and available at newsstands–to a direct market that focused on quality and fan-service in the long term turned out to be a fool's bargain.

The speculator boom of the late 80's and early 90's turned comics into a commodity and when that bubble burst the industry as a whole suffered. Individual book quality was up in the 90s and 2000s, but the sales kept slipping.

The industry is finally turning around, and some–not all, but some–of that renaissance is thanks to the rise of digital comics as a viable distribution platform.

According to the New York Times digital comics juggernaut ComiXology claimed that it has seen "180 million unique comic book downloads since it started business in 2009". The last 80 million in the past six months alone. The Times piece shows that the whole of the comics market is up 13% over last year as well.

While it hasn't been an instant overnight success, the growth of comics on digital appears to be steady. More titles are being announced all the time. Marvel's innovative Infinite Comics line, which we featured in an NPR story last year, is shifting gears into weekly releases soon.

There's still a question lingering: how much longer will single issue comics stick around? With more comics going digital-first, complete with lower price points the pressure must be on for publishers to abandon paper singles in favor of just embracing a digital singles, paper collections model.

It's going to happen. It's just a matter of when.

New York Times story via Daring Fireball

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)


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