Though I do not own one, my feelings toward the iPad are bordering on covetousness. And while there are myriad uses for an iPad, I primarily want one to replace the 6 short boxes of comics that I have in storage.
I’ve recently been testing out a few comic book apps from the app store. My favorite, as far as user experience goes, is the PanelFly app. Lately, however, I find myself primarily using the Marvel Comics app because of the titles available and ease of access to the free downloads section. I think comics are perfect for this new form factor. The size is right. The colors are vivid. The potential for enhanced content is through the roof.
Also, the target demographic is primarily older adult males, the kind of consumer that generally has no problem rationalizing half a grand or more for a slab of sexy tech ware.
However, many comic retailers are already gathering their pitchforks and torches and assembling at the village square to put an end to this perceived strange, new threat.
Their main argument against the iPad and comic apps? “Why should customers come to my store to purchase their funny books on dying trees when they can have it zipped to their iPad in seconds?”
This question has gained increased urgency since publishers have recently been testing same-day digital and print releases.
My answer to this perplexing question is: Yes, why should they?
CNN.com recently ran an article in their tech section on this very subject. They quoted publishers and retailers and while everyone is quick to praise the iPad experience, they fail to mention what is fundamentally wrong with the retail experience that has driven customers away in the first place.
Up until the 1980s, you could pick up comics at any gas station or newsstand. Since then, direct market retailers have been the primary sales channel.
With the shift to the direct market there came a push by publishers (and readers, too) to shed the “comics are kid stuff” perception. Now we take comics seriously as an art form (also, don’t call them comics, they are graphic novels.)
During the last 30 years, this “we get no respect” mentality seeped into the culture of comic retailers. The musty, dimly lit basements, that served as comic book shops in which many a patron and store employee felt most at ease, evolved into the club house. Many stores that were once friendly establishments for fans of all types soon became insulated, elitist, members-only gathering places barring outsiders or anyone else who “didn’t get it.” So was born the stereotypical Comic Book Guy, as seen on “The Simpsons.”
The path to obsolescence for these retailers is eerily similar to that of independently owned vinyl record stores. I am reminded of the scene in “High Fidelity” where Jack Black verbally accosts a man looking to purchase Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” for his daughter.
So, in answer to the question: Why should customers come to my store to purchase their comics? I say: FOR THE EXPERIENCE!
Comic retailers should take a lesson from the few successful vinyl record stores that have not only survived but thrived in spite of the dominance of digital downloads. These retailers provide a friendly helpful experience that keeps shoppers coming back. Fortunately, some comic retailers are catching on.
Take for example, The Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles. Now there’s a comic shop that I wouldn’t mind bringing my wife into! The fixtures are lovely. The space is uncluttered. The lighting is bright and welcoming. There are no back issue bins taking up valuable retail space. And my favorite feature? The high backed leather chairs in which to peruse to your hearts content the latest 4-color adventures of your favorite fictional character. And something tells me they wouldn’t mind if I read them on an iPad.
Small retailers should realize that they are in a prime position to deliver content to consumers in a way that digital readers can’t.
And this content is in high demand. Take the overwhelming saturation of comics based movies that have been invading cinemaplexes for the last few years as an example. And the trend does not seem to be slowing. Disney’s purchase of Marvel Comics last year is further evidence that comic brands have great value to retailers of all sizes.
The key issue for retailers is acceptance that, yes, some readers may only buy their funny books on a digital device. But many still want the store. And they will have higher expectations for it.
So–I suggest that retailers think about how to greet that 10-year-old entering their store after soccer practice for the first time. How will you treat his or her mother as she dispenses the weekly allowance? In short, how will you deliver a great brand experience that engages and delights the customer and keeps them coming back?Book and comic retail | 1 Comment »-->