There's a bit of a ComicsAlliance teamup over at Wired, where CA contributor Douglas Wolk forecasts a bleak future for the printed monthly comic book in an increasingly digital world, in a piece that includes typically astonishing illustration by occasional CA artist Ulises Farinas. Wolk calls the weekly pull list of pamphlet comics a "dying tradition" whose customers have been "trickling away for years," but adds that the comics audience has been supplemented by graphic novel readers who buy their books in collections (often at bookstores) and digital readers who want to download their comics either through legal or illegal means.Wolk also highlights the very fragile position of publishers as the digital age of comics begins in earnest, and why their concern for the well-being of brick and mortar retail stores isn't (just) about altruism, loyalty, or nostalgia, but rather how precariously interconnected they are financially:

So why don't comics publishers just cut out the physical middleman, shift to higher-profit-margin digital for everything, and rake in the dough? Not so fast, Quicksilver. Local stores-and their devotees-drive not just the industry's steadiest profits but its development of new material. If more than the tiniest fraction of that fragile market gets cannibalized by digital sales, then those stores will start folding. If that happens, the majority of print readers who don't have fancy tablets will have nothing to buy on Wednesdays anymore. And if digital sales alone aren't enough to cover writers' and artists' fees and publication costs and underpin a marketing apparatus, the entire structure will blow up like Krypton.

It's a smart article worth reading in full, and delves into Jim Lee's portrayal of digital comics as "the new newsstand" and whether the iPad will really draw in the new readership that comics needs to expand its shrinking audience. But while Wolk leaves the future of digital comics up for debate, he is far less sanguine about the prospects of the monthly comic book format:

But the $4 stapled pamphlet? Sooner or later it's doomed, a vestigial holdover from the days when comic books were sold on spinning metal racks to kids. There's not much it can do that a digital equivalent can't do better. Our Wednesdays are numbered.

It's a statement that may seem like a Doomsday proclamation to many fans, an omen forecasting the end of some of the most deeply beloved traditions of the Wednesday crowd. It also crystallizes many of the fears for pamphlet comics that have been echoing in the industry either publicly or privately for some time now, and puts its finger on the perceived impetus for the dramatic publishing shifts at DC Comics.

How worried does this make you feel about the future of comics? How important are print versions of monthly comics to you?


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