Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is TV Dying?

Inspired by Heather Massey's "Are Comic Books Dying?" post:

I don't know if you guys have noticed, but it seems to me like there are a whole lot of ways to watch television these days. You can buy it on your XBox, on iTunes, on-demand through your cable box, you can watch a lot of it (legally) for free on sites like Hulu or almost all of it (illegally) via Bit Torrent. And lots of folks are skipping past commercials using DVR, and lots of folks are not even watching episodes anymore, they're just "waiting for the DVDs."

These people are killing the industry, right? "Waiting for the DVDs" just tells the people making TV programs that you don't care about their shows, and if your favorite shows get canceled, it's all your fault. Also, Best Buy, that chain of specialty stores that sells DVDs and TVs, is almost certain to go out of business because their product mix is changing, and they're probably too dumb to adjust.

Ridiculous, right? Is there anyone out there who really believes that television (the medium, not the current industry as it stands) is going to go away? Does anyone really believe that the network/cable structure, despite undergoing huge upheavals in advertising streams, programming and other long-held business models, are going to vanish or go into bankruptcy in the next five years or so?

Then why is everyone so willing to believe it about comics? I've been a comics reader for 25 years, I've worked in comics retail for about 9 (1 in college, 8 more recently) and for as long as I've been keeping up with comics culture on the Internet, there have been people loudly predicting the death of: A) the direct market B) independent comics and C) the comics medium as a whole. That, btw, was about 15 years ago. The direct market is still here. The comics medium is sure as hell here. The independent comics? Weakened, but still here. Look at the graphic novel side of the independent comics scene and they're flourishing, especially compared to about 10 years ago.

There are many challenges. The increasingly visible $4 price point is a huge looming problem, yes. The difficulty in selling independent comics that aren't graphic novels (I refuse to call them "pamphlets" or "floppies" because unlike so many, I don't have an active disdain for that format) is a big problem as well. And what the future holds as far as digital comics is a big question mark as well.

But any halfway decent shop is already doing a fair amount of business in graphic novels, original and collected both. Any intelligent shop-owner is thinking every day about digital format, price increases and the diversity of the product and how their store can deal with the changes. This notion that the specialty market, or worse, the entire medium, is some kind of outmoded dinosaur ignores two important things:

1. Comic Book Store owners aren't, as a rule, entirely dim. Some may be, but anyone who has been able to keep their store open and profitable has probably already survived the harsher culling of the market in the '90s, or is well aware of the pitfalls of retailing at the very least, since they all probably existed when they opened their store.

2. Comic books, and the direct market, have been around for quite some time now, and every year, people are loudly predicting its death. Every year, they're wrong.

There seems to be an industry-wide inferiority complex combined with some strange sort of self-directed schadenfreude wherein everyone must constantly expect disaster. Price increases have happened before. Webcomics have been around for quite some time. Graphic novels have been around even longer. Digital comics, I'll grant you, are a newer wrinkle, but as has been pointed out (and ignored) ad infinitum, there is a big difference in mediums between comic books and music, where you can make a strong argument that digital distribution quickly and radically changed how the medium reached its customers, to the arguable detriment of the industry.

Jesus. How the fuck did I become the optimist in this particular room?

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