Most thoughts go to digital comics when thinking of technology in the comic book industry. But after a high of 13%, the market share of digital comics leveled out at around 10%. In other words, for every nerd that is Marie Kondo-ing their life through an investment in a digital library, there are 9 others who are bagging and boarding their dead tree floppies.
So let’s broaden the discussion of technology as it pertains to comic books. Sure, digital is a vital part of any 21st century business model, but are there other technologies that may quietly be having an even greater impact on the comic industry?
Digital Sales Tools
Point of sale software is modernizing inventory practices. Even an odd, insular industry like comic retail can be revolutionized by modern ordering software.
I go into more detail here, but there is simply too many comic titles and the long-tail demand for back issues less than 10 years old is scant. Retailers simply can’t remain profitable by ordering 10 copies of every title and crossing their fingers that they sale.
Modern point of sale software can help them make precise ordering that cuts down on unsold inventory. Better, the same software can help achieve precise pre-ordering.
Some titles that are dangerously on the bubble might only be purchased for those customers who request it. No longer do shops need to order copies in the hopes that someone stumbles across it and buys it.
Digital technology is transforming convention experiences. Event management of cons has become more professionalized over the past decade as software and smartphones have given organizers better solutions for ticketing, scheduling, and payment.
For example, cons now use gamification and mobile apps to create cool experiences. Even wifi is getting better at crowded conventions. What larger events like New York Comic Con have been able to do across the nerd event industry has now trickled down to mid-sized shows.
How soon until this trickles down further in comic shops? As investments are being made in this area, expect consolidation to bring together lots of previously stand-alone bells and whistles together into software suites aimed at small comic and game shops.
Imagine a mobile app that actually works and is affordable for your shop owner that can allow customers to easily add titles to a pull list. Remember, us nerds are collectors at heart, so we’re not talking just reading titles on our iPads, we’re talking mobile shopping tools that are location-aware and can also ping us if a title we’re interested in is in stock as we walk through the door.
What Is Working (And What Isn’t)
Alas, all technology hasn’t found easy inroads into the comic book industry. Whereas many other industries like board games and D&D have had sales boosted due to Twitch, podcasts, and YouTube playthrough videos, comics have yet to make a splash on YouTube or Twitch.
Nerds on Earth actually tried a comic experiment on YouTube called Four Minute Firsts in which our editor Michael Adkins reviewed #1 issues of comics in 4 minutes or less. Sadly, it never found an audience; something not wholly unexpected due to the unique tactile and visual nature of a floppy comic book.
But worse than no audience is a toxic audience. Unfortunately, much YouTube comic content is a bunch of knuckleheads that are ultimately making it more difficult to find real traction there. These toxic gatekeepers are completely anathema to the inclusive culture that the comic industry needs to grow, yet the algorithms of YouTube incentivizes their hateful rhetoric.
Still, there is a growth opportunity there if attention and oxygen can be directed away from the toxic voices and toward more creative voices who might be able to crack the code of using new technologies to help attract new comic book fans.
Finally, I do want to give a shout out to digitals comics themselves. Marvel Unlimited is an incredible value and I enjoy it immensely. I’m also currently reading some classic GI Joe comics on Comixology, making possible a wonderful nostalgic experience that is difficult when dead tree comics are out of print.