|EVOLUTIONARY WAR! Marvel Comics At Starbucks
||[Oct. 20th, 2011|02:12 pm]
We needed a break last night. Beth left the kids at her mother's house and met me at Starbucks. I made sure to get there early so I could steal a few minutes to do some writing. I waited on buying a drink, found the perfect seat, broke out the laptop, and logged onto Starbuck's free wifi network. Then I saw this:
At first I thought 'Cool! I'll read some comics… for free!' Undoubtedly this is the effect they were going for. Before I found my way to actual content, however, a big question had dug its way out of my subconscious:
What is stopping Marvel or DC from setting up a system like this for comic book retailers?
I can think of two good reasons.
One, there are some technical limitations. A retailer would need to be able to manage their network so that customers could only access the content when inside the store. They would also need some way to update and deliver content. Starbucks has already solved these problems and has dedicated resources to developing and maintaing their networks. Despite the fact that many computer geeks are also comics geeks, you can tell by looking at just about any comic book shop's website, that resource goes completely untapped.
Two, Starbucks presents an opportunity to open a new market. The comics industry has always lusted after 'new' readers. Partly out of a healthy desire to keep the fan base refreshed and partly out of the self-conscious belief that we -- the scruffy, chubby disenfranchised geeks who so love the medium -- couldn't possibly be the only ones interested in comics! So, branching out into a place where you almost never see comics (like Starbucks) and trying to convert civilians into casual readers makes sense. It's admirable, in fact.
Then there are the uglier, harder to accept reasons.
You put digital comics in Starbucks because that's where the tablets are. Let's face it, there is a certain 'type' of person that haunts a Starbucks. This person prefers Jeopardy to Wheel of Fortune, might read the New York Times, and can typically spend $60 a month on coffee and not really notice. It's likely that this person owns a shiny new iPad. Why invest in making digital comics available to customers in a comics shop, half of whom can't afford a tablet computer yet? This will change as the price of tablet computers and digital comics comes down, but by then…
Most brick and mortar stores are doomed. This is a sucky but inevitable reality. Despite the spike in retail sales that accompanied the DC relaunch it's hard not to see it as KY jelly smeared on the long thick shaft of their Digital Content strategy. Why did DC make a huge retail marketing push at the same time they started releasing their comics digitally? Because they realize the need to ease the transition. There is an evolutionary timeline at work here. Tablets are getting cheaper. Wifi networks are becoming ubiquitous. Every day more and more people become less squirrely about reading on a device. A publisher thinking three or four years down the road realizes any long-term investment in the infrastructure of a store that specializes in the selling of printed products is going to be money lost when the stores cease to exist.
Is there is an opportunity here? Maybe an ambitious, forward thinking company like Graphicly could partner with a small group of retail stores, equip them with the proper networking gear, and sell them digital content wholesale. I could imagine a comics shop of the (near) future offering discount digital products alongside high-end print products, but they would have to move fast. And they would have to do it now.
I never ended up reading the digital comics at Starbucks. Beth showed up and we ordered $18 worth of drinks and snacks. Almost 2X what I had spent on new comics earlier that day at the comic book shop. For some reason I try to limit myself to $10 per week on new comics. I have no such notion of limitation at Starbucks… so maybe Marvel knows me better than I know myself.