Good News, Digital Comics Sales Are Not Killing Physical Comics

Digital media has been cannibalising the sale of physical media for years — books are on the decline and magazines and newspapers are dying as the world flocks to digital. You'd think comic books, where day-and-date releases are a given, digital-first issues run wild and all-you-can-read subscriptions are growing, would be the same. Turns out that's not the case at all! DC Graphic Novel Essentials Chronology 2013 cover by Ryan Sook

A new study by CNBC that tracked the sales of physical and digital comic books over the last few years notes the surprising turn that, unlike other areas of publishing, comic book sales both physically and digitally are on the rise. On top of that, the growing popularity of digital books, especially in the years since the launch of Comixology (which just announced its own digital comics subscription plan, though it's only available in the US), has done nothing to halt the sales of physical single issues — in fact, for the last five years sales of single issues rose consecutively every year.

Comic Book Sales, 2009-2015. Chart by CNBC, data sourced from Comics Chronicles, ICv2, and Diamond Comics Distributors.

You might have expected that as digital services become much easier and more people abandon the perils of trying to store a comics collection (although that collection aspect in and of itself has kept single issue sales solid as well), physical sales would start declining as digital rapidly expanded — even moreso now that we live in a world with subscriptions like Marvel Unlimited giving you access to thousands and thousands of comics from decades of publishing for a monthly fee.

But instead, as superhero media has taken over TV and the big screen, both areas of comics sales have seen rewards, and even though growth is slowing, there's little sign of physical comic book sales wasting away at the expense of a digital comics boom just yet.


    I live in Alice Springs, around 1600km away from the nearest comic book store, so digital comics have been awesome for me. I still grab a few physical ones whenever I visit Brisbane on holiday though!

      Dude I am sure if you ask the lady in yippies paper shop real nice she will order them in for you >.>...

      Or tell you to fuck off. One or the other.

    If anything, this should encourage more experimentation in the comics game. Scooby re-tooled for the 21st century is a bizarre idea but hey it's exactly the sort of courage the industry should adopt.

    Digital comics, more-so than other digital content for me anyway, are definitely not 'mine' when I buy them. They're locked away from me and when I do want to read an oldie but a goodie they seem to have to update their individual firmware...but the stuff that's on sale at the shop, that's mine.

    It's quaint isn't it, the humble bricks and mortar comics shop surviving the online boom. It's almost if readers enjoy the social and tangible relationships they have with the store, the stock, and the people in it - the polar opposite to the river of toxicity that comes with fandom on the internet these days.

    Who would have thought.

    I got really excited when I first heard about digital marketplaces for comics. When I looked into the options, that excitement completely drained with the realisation that almost all of them are product-as-service.

    One of the joys of comics in my youth was having a collection that I could hunt through for something to read, I could take them wherever I wanted, they were a belonging. Digital comic providers, with the exception of Image and a few other creator-driven studios, refuse to replicate that experience.
    Now if I want to build a digital collection, I have to choose between copyright infringement, which provides me with the DRM-free experience that I want, or a digital service from which I can't download a PDF and I must be tethered to wherever and whenever I want to read something. My response is that I just don't read comics so much anymore.

    If digital marketplaces weren't constrained by anti-consumer practices, I suspect they would be a much more profitable business. Alternatively, leigh is on the money and people just want to be able to nerd out with others in person.

    Physical books aren't dying. They took a dip when kindle became a thing but people are flocking back to physical books now and digital sales are waaaay down.

    I'm not sure that any increase in physical products which are useless is a good thing. We should be printing less pulp fiction. Not more...

    Meh, people only care about global warming / the environment when they're pointing at other people...

    I collected comics for a couple of decades but lost my passion for the hobby around 15 years ago.
    Digital comics on my iPad have given me a way to rediscover books I'm interested in. I've long since lost interest in the collecting aspect of comics ond just want to read good stories so this suits me fine.
    For those looking for some digital titles on the cheap I would recommend checking out the Humble Bundles. They aren't all great but there are some real deals to be had from time to time.

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