Test-Marketing Digital Storefronts in Syracuse

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My hometown of Syracuse, New York, has long been considered a great place to test market. According to a 2004 study done by the kind of people who do those kinds of things, we were ranked fifth among test-market cities in terms of our overall resemblance to the country as a whole. I was able to buy things like Crystal Pepsi (remember that?) for months before any of my out-of-town friends had any idea what I was talking about.

So it is not without some interest that I observed this week the dramatically different ways that two of my local retailers are approaching digital delivery. Delayed for far longer than anyone thought it could be, it's an aspect of the comics market that's now well and truly upon us like a freight train, as DC Comics's across-the-board digital day-and-date initiative will launch on the next day that new product ships.

Learning from the mistakes of the music industry, though, comics is trying to grandfather brick-and-mortar retailers into the system by offering them a cut of the action if they sell digital comics through a storefront on their website. I'd forgotten this arcane piece of information, as frankly it didn't affect me (as a non-retailer) very much...until this week, when Play the Game, Read the Story included a link to their Comixology storefront in their weekly e-mail circular.

My curiosity piqued, I reached out to some of my other friends in the Syracuse retailer community to see who was doing what with this. After all, I no longer live in town and am not particularly happy with the retailers in my area. This could be a way for me to continue to support the great retailers who are still so good to me when I come home for the weekend and raid the indie stuff I can't get in Binghamton. The folks at the Oswego Comic Shop, where I bought for years during and immediately after college, told me that they were still looking into it. Comix Zone, whose web presence has always been a strong suit, has nothing on their page to indicate they're taking part. But that one that fascinated me the most was my old buddy Jeff Watkins, proprietor of Cloud City Comics & Toys and the gentleman I'd be most interested in seeing my digital dollar go to, simply on the strength of being the guy I talk to the most personally.

“I will not ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, be involved with anything digital. Not now, not ever,” said Watkins, whose history with the music industry may bring unique context among retailers. “I will close first.” He added, “Anyone who claims to love [the comics] industry will not touch digital.”

His response shouldn't have shocked me—after all, I had the dubious distinction of being the first person to tell him (via Facebook on May 31) that DC was going day-and-date digital across their superhero line. His immediate and emphatic response was to say “RIP comic book industry” and to say that DC was “holding the line at destroying retail,” a play on their recent and much-hyped “holding the line at $2.99 price point ad campaign. Still, it did.

I've assumed for a while now that retailers knew digital was coming in one form or another, and that offers by Diamond, Comixology and DC to get in on the action were something anybody tech-savvy enough to have a website would jump at. But it appears that some retailers, regardless of cost and benefit, will elect to steer clear of it due to their personal feelings on digital delivery. Whether that will have a positive, negative—or even a noticeable—impact on their businesses in the long run remains to be seen. I'll do my best to check back in periodically and see if these stores have anything to say on the matter!