Comic books still hold appeal in digital age

It’s a tough market for media. But you wouldn’t know it looking at comic sales.

By Paul Rebar

It’s a tough market for media. But you wouldn’t know it looking at comic book sales.

It’s no secret that file sharing, digital distribution and torrent websites are bringing spiraling changes to books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

Comic books on the other hand are more popular than ever, with retailers like Halifax’s own Monster Comic Lounge and Strange Adventures seeing more fans flock through their doors than they have in years.

ComiXology, the main distribution platform for digital comics, was the third highest paid iPad app of 2012, reaching 100 million downloads in October.  DC Comic’s digital sales went up nearly 200 percent the same year, helped in large part by the company releasing its entire library to Kindle, iBook, and NOOK formats.  This doesn’t take free torrent downloads into account.

Print sales

In 2002, the entire North American market size was estimated at $300 to $330 million. A decade later, it’s sitting at approximately $700 to $730 million. And still climbing.

“It’s an industry that’s booming,” says Mike Crossman, owner of Monster Comic Lounge on Gottingen street.

Enthusiasts like Crossman chalk up the sudden popularity of comics (both digital and print) to shows like The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory, alongside top-grossing movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. A July 2012 article by Publisher’s Weekly reported that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter also play a huge role in promoting new series and storylines, as was the case of DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011.

Jay Roy of Strange Adventures believes that digital distribution itself is helping to boost print sales, since downloading first issues makes it easier for potential fans to get into a series before committing to it.

I think it’s a good way to draw people in,” says Roy. “But generally if people read comics, they still want to own that hardcover and put it on their shelf.  So, even if they’re not getting the single issues like some of our comic account people, they’ll still maybe read it online but then they’ll come out and get the hard copy.”

There’s a collectible aspect that you just can’t replace with digital comics,” says Crossman.  “If you could have every comic on the computer, it’s worthless.  No one’s going to give you a penny for it.  If I have every Spider Man comic from the start to present, that’s a tangible asset.”

Both Crossman and Roy explain that a majority of customers are adults who’ve been buying comic books since their childhood, to the point where collecting them has simply become a hobby.

“People just love the paper, still,” says Roy. “You can’t get an artist to sign your iPad.”