The American bookstore landscape is rebounding with a significant increase in bookstores, including the expansion of Barnes & Noble, which plans to open fifty new stores in 2024. This revival is not expected to harm well-managed independent bookstores. An old bank in Chicago’s Wicker Park is being transformed into one such Barnes & Noble, indicating a trend towards creating more intimate, theme-focused bookstores and promoting the fundamental act of reading.
Most likely you have noticed the shift from static broadcast and cable television and movies to streaming services such as Netflix and DC Universe… to name but two. This stuff is growing like amoebas on steroids. In the relatively few years since this all began, it has knocked the poo out of the free media industries.
Unlike their cohorts in cable and terrestrial broadcasting, theater owners saw this coming and, in order to protect their investments, started offering new experiences such as larger, more comfortable and more adjustable seating, a wider range of unhealthy overpriced foods and snacks, new screens that can be viewed from the International Space Station, and sound systems that will deafen you. Great fun!
For the moment, at least.
The American comic book industry jumped on this concept out of the same cultural-shift that affected these other entertainment industries. Peculiarly, American comic book publishers have not shown much in the way of innovation over the past 86 years; the last huge improvement came when Major Wheeler-Nicholson decided to commission new work instead of relying upon newspaper strip reprints. That happened a mere 84 years ago.
When comixology came along offering comics new and old to their subscribers to be read (but not stored) on computers and tablets, as well as on cellphones for those who enjoy squinting, most publishers were quick to embrace this new means of distribution. Since then, the quantity of such material has skyrocketed and now DC’s stream-liner, DC Universe, is claiming they will be offering damn near every DC-owned comic online as part of that service. It’s also available on your television set, assuming you enjoy squinting but doing so on your smartphone requires too much effort.
That’s cool. Technology marches on, and the side benefit is that we’re saving a lot of trees, creating more oxygen and using fewer fossil fuels to distribute pretty colors printed on the corpses of saplings. Some people, not all of whom are nostalgia-soaked geriatrics, don’t like this and that is completely understandable. Just wait until they must move their comic book collection to a new abode. With two-terabyte thumb-drives available and heading towards affordability, you can put a copy of every comic book ever published in America on maybe four such drives and drop them in your purse or pocket.
So, last week Apple announced their new Apple News+ program which will stream more than 240 newspapers and magazines into the ethersphere for $10 a month. Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue… lots of stuff, with the promise of more to come. Well, that sounds convenient, particularly to those of us with tablets, and even more so to my fellow geriatrics with growing vision issues. That 13” iPad is looking better to me all the time, and I haven’t subscribed to this new service – at least not yet. Several more daily newspapers of note would be nice.
Immediately and quite predictably, the naysayers started screaming nay. “This will kill magazines and newspapers,” they say. Oh, yeah? If you live within a convenient walk of a retailer who offers more than 240 magazines and newspapers, consider yourself very lucky. Most people do not. If you want to choose from a variety of publications, you better be ready to drive out to one of the rapidly-dwindling big box stores such as Barnes and Noble and then pray for the best. This distribution method, pioneered by Apple with iTunes, saved the music industry. Is FYI still around? How about Borders? Ya wanna get this stuff somewhere.
If there’s but one rule that pervades Earth history, it’s that change is constant. Maintaining access to editorial content must adapt. If you lust for the smell of old paper – and I kinda do myself – pull apart one of those CGC clamshells and take a good snort.
(A tip of the hoodie to Buddy Holly for our headline this week)