Can ComicHub Really Rescue Comic Shops?

Forbidden Planet comic book store - Getty - H 2020
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The company has been hailed as a savior for the industry, but can its bold plan actually work?

Comic book shops across the country have closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, raising questions of how they will survive. On Wednesday, it looked like stores had found new hope in the form of an ambitious new plan by a company called ComicHub. The truth, however, proved to be more complicated, and far less clear, than the initial promise, communicated via a story on the pop culture site Bleeding Cool with the headline, “Today, The Comic Shops’ Direct Market Was Saved.”

The thinking behind the ComicHub offering is relatively straightforward. It would offer an online portal through which customers would purchase comic books in print, which would then be available to them at the comic book store of their choice; before then, a digital version of the issue would be available to view in ComicHub’s portal. In theory, it would allow comic book stores to sell new material even during the coronavirus shutdown. Currently, that is largely not possible, as Diamond Comic Distributors, which handles distribution for all the major comics publishers, has halted distribution, leading to major publishers including Marvel and DC to pause new releases.
The most obvious roadblock facing the company is that it requires the consent of publishers to work, who would have to supply digital versions of releases to ComicHub in advance of release for fans to be able to view them. Whether or not they’d want to do that is an unanswered question, for two reasons both relating to Amazon’s digital comics platform ComiXology.

Firstly, it’s unknown whether publishers have entered into exclusive contracts with ComiXology for the sale and distribution of digital content. Secondly, as the system currently stands, digital and print editions are sold separately; combining the two, as ComicHub intends to do, effectively cuts the earning potential for any individual release in half. When viewed in that light, it’s difficult to make a case to publishers to agree to the offering as it currently stands — what company wants to volunteer to cut its profits in two, particularly right now?

No publisher contacted by The Hollywood Reporter was willing to confirm that it was involved with the ComicHub solution at the time of writing.

Publishers aren't the only problem, however. Multiple retailers have been voicing concerns to ComicHub and in private retailer forums, citing worries that the platform would enable readers to transition from buying in print to buying digitally. Additionally, concerns were raised over the fact that ComicHub didn’t actually address retailers’ primary worry in the current climate: Print distribution remains with Diamond, but in order to meet the criteria for purchase, issues would have to be released digitally, the very thing retailers complained about with regards to the idea of publishers releasing new issues digitally via ComiXology ahead of eventual print releases once stores reopened. In other words, it doesn’t actually solve any problems retailers are facing.

ComicHub reportedly intends to scale up from 100 stores on April 8 to the entire market covered by Diamond just one week later — and its relationship to both retailers and publishers remain. Expect this story to evolve and develop for some time — at least until ComicHub's self-imposed April 15 deadline for complete coverage of the comic book market.