DC Comics made an announcement today that should absolutely, positively, unequivocally stun everyone in the entire comics-reading world today. Seriously. There has never been news this big in my entire lifetime in the industry, not ever.
No, not the "We're relaunching everything at #1!" crap. That'll be retconned away within five years, max. (Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison have a collective Silver Age crush that makes Mark Waid look like Alan Moore. Their "reboots" are never going to last, because they're coming from the guys who undid 'Crisis' and invented a whole cosmology-shattering mini-series so that they could bring back the 70s Legion. Geoff Johns is psychologically incapable of true innovation.) No, I'm talking about the news of same-day digital distribution.
Or, as I call it, "Hey, comic book stores! F*** you sideways!"
Sure, DC is trying to downplay this. They're trying to say that they will have special incentives designed to get people into stores. (This is roughly akin to stabbing someone with a broadsword, hooking the open wound up to a turbine-powered exsanguinating vacuum pump, and then announcing that you plan to put some band-aids on the counter.) They're no doubt going to say that collectors will always want the print edition. (But in the kinds of numbers that can support an independent retailer?) They will no doubt point to their back-catalog of trade paperbacks. But honestly, that's all like spritzing the Hindenburg with one of those little plant misters.
Because this...this is in all likelihood the beginning of the end for print comics. Same-day digital means that anyone who wants to can go download their comics directly. No trips to the comics store, no waiting, your very own copy of a comic right there on the hard drive. And let's face it, the iPad has been regarded from the beginning as a perfect platform for digital comics. This is going to drain away a big chunk of the market from print.
And the profit margins for comics stores aren't great. Losing a big chunk of your DC sales is probably going to result in some retailers going out of business, especially for those stores that are going to have to try to guess how much their demand is going to drop and will be stuck with unsold copies if they over-order. (Personally, if I was a comic book store owner? Tomorrow, I'd have a sign outside saying, "DC Comics will only be available at this retail outlet if you pre-order them.")
And if stores start going out of business, Marvel is going to have to either jump on the digital bandwagon or lose money as they lose outlets for their product. And if Marvel goes digital, the death spiral continues...there's not a retailer running that can survive on solely its indie books. They need Marvel and DC to pay the bills, and they might not be there much longer.
Some might suggest that this is hyperbole. They might say that comics is such a tradition-oriented industry that this initiative will fail and leave comics back where it started, a niche market catering to nostalgia. (It's certainly the argument that I'm using regarding the "Every issue is a new #1!" BS.) Time will tell if I'm right or wrong.
But on the other hand...if MGM announced that it was making a new James Bond movie, and also announced that all their movies would be available on Netflix the same day as they came out in theaters...wouldn't you be talking less about who Bond is going to be and more about how hard this is going to make life for movie theater owners?