Bleeding Cool has been reporting widely the effect that the current coronavirus pandemic has on the comic books industry, specifically the direct market comic book industry. We have seen comic shops shut down under government mandate and fear of infection. Comic publishers pull back on their publication schedule or stop publishing entirely. The direct market distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors shut its doors to new product, make people redundant and stop paying publishers. But today, that all changes.
Over a week ago, we gave one modest suggestion. That comic shops might be able to sell digital codes for comic books through their websites. Redeem them for print comic books later. Maintaining the weekly reader buzz without sacrificing the physical and collector mentality. We were told that the bureaucracy behind such a plan would be untenable. Today that has all changed too, and it appears that the right people have been working on this for some time.
Comic Shops Through ComicHub
I have been speaking to Stu Colson, owner of comic store Heroes for Sale of New Zealand, and of ComicHub, the point of sale management software for many comic book stores. They have been talking to a lot of stores and a lot of publishers about getting just that kind of system going.
Publishers can already post preview pages for upcoming titles for the existing ComicHub customer tools. When customers register their account, they link with a physical print store. Which means stores don't need even their own website. Customers order comics, receive them digitally and then redeem them for the physical copy at their comic book store at later date. Adding a shopping cart means that publishers, creators and stores get paid. That means there and then, without having to wait. Even Diamond can get paid in advance for that physical distribution as and when printing and distribution returns. This is a major game-changer for a comic book industry, under shutdown.
ComicHub usually takes time to be installed inside a comic shop. Given the circumstances, they have pared back the standard tool, costed to work online for every comic book store on the planet. ComicHub doesn't even need an existing website to work within. Stores register customers and control that data, not ComicHub. The company has also pulled the app from iOS and Google, so as to prevent any existing ComicHub clients from pro-actively stealing customers of other stores. They even cover international exchanges of currency.
ComicsPRO and ComicHub
Stu Colson has put his considerable resources behind this solution and they will be rolling out a version gradually so as to stress test the system. On the eighth of April, they will run the new system out across their existing hundred stores. On the ninth, they will add stores from the ComicsPRO activist group. By the tenth, they will add two hundred more They want to add every store in the world by the twelfth of April. So by Wednesday, the fifteenth of April, they will be able to run a full direct market of comic book stores, using digital and print, whatever system of lockdown we will be in at that stage.
ComicHub has been talking to all major comics publishers to achieve this and it will also cover the two or three missing weeks the direct market has experienced since the coronavirus pandemic set in. While it is unfortunate that today's date is rather notable, this is not a joke. This is, for want of a better phrase, the saviour of the direct comic book market.
Our Last, Best Hope for a Piece
I am aware that some stores will see this as a way of driving their customers away from print and towards digital. However, if the last ten years has taught us anything, it's that traditional comic book readers prefer print. And right now, not being able to choose anything will doom hundreds of comic book stores and take down a few publishers along the way. This is a chance to preserve the traditional direct market of print comics to stores. I hope the right people seize the opportunity. You can follow what effect the current coronavirus pandemic has had on the comic books industry with this tag.