Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Couple of Rants...

It's not really a this 'n that, but similar format, as I get some stuff off of my chest!

Item the First: College Diploma and Certificate -- So the quarter finished about a month ago, and I'm all done with school. Now, to officially show that I've completed my training, I'm supposed to have a Certificate of Specialization as well as my ATA diploma. As of this time, I have neither. I heard that there were issues to be dealt with (a few forms to be filled out and turned in) in order to get these taken care of, but I had been given the impression back in the spring that all the necessary paperwork had been taken care of. Obviously, it was not the case. What's really confusing to me is that I had filed for early graduation (in case I wanted to walk in the ceremony; I decided against it) and it had been approved, yet apparently there were classes at my first school that hadn't been applied to the second school yet! Last week, I got the forms I needed and drove up to Bremerton to the main campus (pretty much taking up a whole morning) to make sure the forms didn't get lost. Then, they tried to charge me for the wrong stuff twice before getting it straight! At this point, I have neither piece of paper in my hand, with no word on when I'll be receiving them.

Item the Second: Job Searching -- Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I used to be a graphic designer. In fact, I'd worked in the desktop publishing field pretty much since about 1983, until I was laid off by the newspaper I'd been working at for five years... so until about 2 1/2 years ago, I was a graphic designer. Now, graphic design is a non-demand field right now, so I was offered the opportunity to go back to school and get training in a high-demand field. Of the list I had to choose from, I chose Medical Assisting. Olympia has two hospitals plus a LOT of doctors offices and medical complexes, so I figured that should be a good plan, right? Well, to date I haven't even managed to score an interview, despite the applications I've put in as well as the resumes and cover letters I blind-mailed. In fact, of all the jobs I've applied to, there's only been four times I actually got a rejection letter (well, email), whereas the others didn't contact me at all to even say "no, thank you." Apparently my fellow classmates aren't doing a whole lot better (although some of them got good enough externship sites that they were hired by the externship site; the location I was at wasn't hiring at all, nor do they have plans to hire at all), so it's not just that I'm a male in a female-dominated field. Apparently, there are just too many Medical Assistants out there looking for work right now, so the demand isn't nearly as high as I'd been informed it was. It's very frustrating... I'm not even sure that I can call myself a Medical Assistant, to be honest, because I have yet to actually work as one. It kind of feels like I've now got yet another set of skills that I'm not able to use in any kind of employment. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, but I don't really know.

Item the Third: Modern Comics and Digital Pricing -- Maybe this should be two different rants, but in my mind, they're connected. I forget how long it's been since I bought a new comic book off the stands; it's been since even before I was laid off by the newspaper, so probably 3-4 years. What I've been hearing about the new DC Universe titles hasn't really gotten me too worried that I should be buying new comics again... because once again, they're trying to start things all over again, and throw out the entire past. To be honest, with the arbitrary changes, this sounds like Marvel's Heroes Reborn, except that it's company-wide, and we all know how that worked out, right? Sure, some of the books are selling well, but it's monthly numbers that matter. Nothing I've heard about current Marvel titles has gotten me thinking about buying anything they produce, either! Since I stopped buying floppies, the only new stuff I've bought has been Essentials and Showcase Presents volumes, because at least I know what I'll be getting out of those -- and that's darn good comics that were able to tell a story in less than a year and only using two titles maximum.

So, on Tuesday Newsarama asked about the pricing of digital editions of comics, and I weighed in, but I wanted to actually say a bit more than I did there, and make it clearer what I wanted to say. First of all, let's look at the similarities between Digital and Print editions, cost-wise:

Similarities:
Writer, penciler, letterer, colorist, and editor all need to be paid
Scheduling needs to be handled
Files need to be delivered for whatever distribution method is used (presuming that everything's being done electronically, i.e. the penciler scans their pages and sends them off, coloring is digital, lettering is digital, etc.).

Now, let's focus on the differences in costs:

Print
Printing (includes preparing separations, running of the press, ink, paper, staples, binding, packaging)
Shipping to distributor
Distributor packages for shipment to comic book shop
Shipping from distributor to comic book shop
Comic book shop unpacks and displays items

That's a lot of costs involved there!

Digital
Conversion of digital files to comiXology or other format(s)
Distribution of digital files to comiXology (or other source)
Distribution of digital file to end users

The costs here are significantly less. Realistically, only the first of those steps needs to actually involve a person, who must separate each panel out and determine where pans and scans need to occur, as well as zooming in and out. Once that's done, the prepared format could be dropped into a "hot folder" to be automatically sent to the digital distributor, and the digital distributor can be set up to automatically list it. I have comiXology on my iPhone, and every week I get the new list of books available digitally listed.

OK, so that's the costs -- I know, we don't know what the actual costs are, but I think we can agree that print is significantly more expensive than digital, right?

Now, let's consider the money to be made!

Print
Advertising - this may not be as much as it used to be, years ago, but is still a vital part of the profit margin of a book.
Sales - For a $3.99 cover-priced book, let's say that 40% of the cover price goes to the publisher, or about $1.60 (that's probably way more than it really is, because it doesn't take into account the cut that the distributor gets on it)

Let's also not forget that many print titles are returnable these days... plus sometimes comic book shops will over-order on some titles so that if it hits big, they can accommodate larger than expected sales.

Digital
Sale of the book. Now, I really doubt that comiXology is only paying 40% of the sale price to DC, Marvel, or whoever, especially since the exact same books are available on the DC and Marvel apps (and probably other publishers' apps, too). But let's say that there's the possibility that comiXology is paying 75% of the cost back to the publisher, or about $3 on a $3.99 book.

So, with both digital and print on the same price point, clearly digital has the possibility to be much more profitable, because there's fewer middlemen involved. The only real difference between the two formats (so far as cost is concerned) is the advertising. None of the digital comics I've read on my iPhone have any ads at all -- which kind of surprises me.

Is this going to be a case where someone other than the bigger companies has to do some thinking? OK, here's what the comics companies need to do with their digital stuff: Sell advertising in it. And it doesn't even have to be pay for the ad for the November cover-dated books, and that ad stays there every time the book is read, because that's really short-sighted. Instead, sell the ad space for ALL digital editions for a specific timeframe, such as a month. Let's say that they make the digital books include five ads... this would mean that every month, if you open up that file and read it, there could potentially be five different ads in the book, and not the same ads that there were. Naturally, these ads would have to be pretty basic, but would need to include a "click here for more information" option... where you'd then have the browser open on your device to go to whatever website is needed.

Consider the possibilities... someone wants to sell a comic book collecting app? Advertise for a month with the digital books. Maybe Coca-Cola wants to try a new product? Promote it in a digital ad, and when you click the link, you go to a website where you can print out a buy one, get one free coupon for a 2-liter bottle or something. Restaurants can do the same. New movie coming out? Link to the trailer. New games for smart phones could be easily promoted this way, too.

If they get really clever, they can even target the advertising -- there's no reason that they can't figure out what part of the country you're in (push notifications and the like to determine this), and they could sell ads by location! Jack-In-The-Box could promote a new burger, but only in the parts of the USA that has Jack-In-The-Box locations. Companies outside the USA can buy ads just for the readers in their countries.

All this means that the ad revenues from digital comics could end up potentially becoming more than print comic ad revenues, because you'd make it seem like it's more cost effective to do the digital ads, but maybe get them to advertise more! And you'd be able to reach advertisers who aren't even considering print comic advertising in the first place.

It would mean getting some advertising teams (salesmen and tech/designer guys) put together and working like crazy on it, but I think it would work. And then the price of digital comics can come down significantly... like no more than 99 cents... or even cheaper! If you could get the entire series of your favorite comic book on your smart phone or other device for a quarter an issue, purchased in blocks, wouldn't you consider it? Think about having the first 12 issues of The Avengers for three bucks!

The other thing they need to do is offer subscription options with digital books, too, as well as work on the trade paperback in digital form -- think about digital versions of Essentials or Showcase Presents!

And there's no physical storage of these items needed... other than on the file servers. Get going on this, people!

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