Yesterday, comic shop point-of-sale software developer ComicHub announced a plan to save the brick-and-mortar comic book store model. (And as Heidi MacDonald noted at The Beat, the plan was not an April Fool's gag.)
The idea is rough at the moment, but it would involve customers buying print editions of comics from their local comics shops, which would then be delivered once the distribution and printing mechanisms went back to work, post-coronavirus. Buying those print editions would give the customers immediate unlimited access to digital editions of the books, hosted on ComicHub. So, basically, customers would be buying print editions of comics on credit while getting digital access to comics immediately, and the revenue streams for comic shops would stay open.
Of course, there's a lot of questions about this plan: Can it scale to satisfy global reader demand? Can ComicHub convince every shop and publisher in the industry to agree to this model? Will the reading experience be enjoyable enough to keep people's interests? Will brick-and-mortar retailers — typically a pretty tech-phobic bunch of people — shy away from the possibility of training their customers into reading digital comics? It seems like if the answer to any of these questions is "no," the whole emergency model falls apart in a huge way.
It's noteworthy that bookshops aren't having this problem. I ordered a new release from Third Place Books last week and got it in the mail within two days — in part because unlike comic shops, bookstores enjoy the capacity to order and receive books from multiple distributors.
The one distributor to every comics shop in the country, Diamond, announced this week that they'll be unable to pay the money they owe to various small comics publishers. This could cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the comics industry from the bottom up. Can a digital distribution model created from scratch in a few weeks make up for Diamond's collapse? Unclear.
But at this point, it's pretty clear that the comics industry as we know it won't survive unless the people in power get creative about the basic problem at the heart of everything right now: how to get a comic book from creators to publishers to readers, with as little friction as possible. Without that elemental part of the equation solved, everything else will fall apart.