So how long has it been now that the paper publishing industry, novel and comic alike, has been mourning its own slow death before it’s fully happened?  Five years?  Ten?  Somewhere along the way, everyone made a link between an unsustainable publishing model and the fact that it’s all printed on tree matter and not digital, where the ~*future*~ lies.  Meaning, making actual paper books and comics is on its way out.  Soon no one will be buying those – they will be read online or with devices like Kindle.  Cutting printing costs out of the equation is the only way to make money since it’s so rare for anything printed to sell so many copies that it makes the people involved rich.

I’m cynical about the speed with which industry can morph itself to adapt to necessary changes, and also their ability to read the wants of their audience.  So I mostly ignored this until my comic-making peers started discussing it with more frequency.  And some of them are convinced that just like novels, the printed comic is on its way out, so artists need to think ahead and adapt to the “webcomic” model, changing layout, pacing, presentation, everything.  To which I say…. nope.

No, no, I’ll concede that this is something important if you’re trying to get your comic consumed by the masses.  I can dig trying to get the work to be both as appealing and accessible to as many people as possible.  That’s one definition of success: sheer numbers of readers. And for that, one may indeed have to put out three or six panels on one horizontally-oriented page, make sure colors are monitor-friendly, and perhaps implement fancy flash widgets to navigate through the comic.*

However, I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone whose art and subject matter has always been more niche.  I started out making art and comics of typical “yaoi”/boys’ love storylines, going to the Yaoi Con, finding other friends in the fandom, always sticking to a very small portion of overall comics readership.  My style isn’t something that’s proven to have major appeal.  Neither are my slow stories.  My characters would never make a good collectible card game.  In other words: I don’t have the potential to climb any kind of popularity chart and I know it.  My goal has always been to get my work out so that people who do enjoy work like mine find and enjoy it.

At the last Yaoi Con I went to, I participated in a panel with one half of the team from Teahouse Comic and the editor of the Crown Royale Anthology, and they articulated what I hadn’t been previously been able to: it’s not about trying to get as many people as possible to access our work, because it’s not mass-appeal stuff – it’s about finding a way to reach the particular audience that will probably like it.  It doesn’t matter if you slash the price of your comic and get it into Barnes and Noble.  The average comic reader (picture this person here for effect) will not spend money on a long, gay story about acrobats who touch each other a lot.  I contend s/he won’t bother to read it online for free, either, no matter how well-formatted and presented it is.

BUT I also contend this: the reader who likes gay comics about gay acrobats doing gay touching will read it online and, if they like it enough, probably will pay money for it.  In fact, this person may well be willing to pay above typical retail price for a print copy with extra illustrations, guest art, artist notes, and all that goofy bullshit.  I don’t waste money making a huge batch of copies to throw at the hoi polloi because the desire for the product is there before the product is made and staring at a random customer in a god-forsaken Border’s somewhere.  The key is letting people who want the comic know where/how to get it.

TL;DR version: printed books will become a niche product.  It doesn’t make much of a difference to me because my work is already on the fringe.

There are other examples of quaintly “outdated” items: You know people still buy records?  Cassette tapes?  Schwinn one-speed bicycles**?  These items would be a financial failure if mass-produced and marketed to the masses, but they have devoted followings who create a demand that generates money.  Yes yes, very modest money.  Does that mean print is dead?  To a giant conglomeration, I guess it does.  But I self-publish everything for the love of the art and story, so I’m inclined to disagree.  But feel free to say “I told you so” if Acrobats doesn’t sell.


*I have to mention that I HATE fancy flash widget navigation.  CMS works fine.  Blog posts work fine.  I’m more likely to read a bunch of JPGs dumped into a naked directory than I am to fuss with weird “hover your mouse over pic to get dialogue” mumbo jumbo.

**I don’t in fact understand this, but then again I live in San Francisco, home of twenty degree hill inclines.