When Digital Just Won't Do

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If you were looking to buy issue #11 of Marvel Premiere featuring Dr. Strange, where would you go?

To Google, of course. Buying collectibles isn’t what it used to be. For comic book fans, you would have to go to one of a handful of stores in your city (if your city was even big enough to support a comic book store), and the arduous task of trying to hunt down a rare (or even semi-rare) comic book would then unfold. The store owner would have to have it in stock, and it would have to be in the grade quality that you wanted. If not, phone calls had to made, request letters had to be sent, and there was a general lacking of a unified inventory system in place to even know how far and how wide the book would have to travel to make it into your nerdy little hands… and we haven’t even begun to discuss at what cost.

Comic-Con changed all that.

As the popularity of comic books began to take off, more and more cities would host weekend events where comic book dealers could buy tradeshow space and sell their wares to those who wanted to get their X-Men freak on. These comic book conventions were never meant to be the cool thing to do on the weekend (for reference, go back and watch the 1984 movie, Revenge of the Nerds). But, something changed. Geek Culture, Nerd Culture and the push of popularity due to TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, have suddenly turned what was a joke of movie title, Revenge of the Nerds, into a reality. Suddenly, it’s cool to be geek. It’s cool to read comics. It’s cooler when comic book characters become runaway Hollywood movie blockbuster successes (The Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, etc…). Is it any surprise that more that 30,000 people showed up at last weekend’s Montreal Comic-Con to comic book bin dive?

What comic books are doing that books are struggling with.

It’s hard to define "collectible." It’s hard to define "fan." After walking the floor at Montreal Comic-Con for a few hours on Saturday, one thing became abundantly clear: the majority of the commercial activity that was taking place at this physical event cannot be duplicated or replicated in a digital format. You see, people weren’t there to buy comics. Any serious collector knows where to find the true comic book rarities online and how to best negotiate the deal. The majority of attendees were there to be together. It wasn’t just about snagging an up-skirt photo of the all-female Avengers that were prancing The Conqueror?). You can’t buy these types of experiences in the online world, can you?

What all media can learn from Comic-Con.

True fans want more than content delivered fast, easy and cheap. We live in a day and age where brands are trying to become producers of content. Some have done it successfully, while the majority struggle to create something that isn’t thinly veiled marketing muck. Whether it is comic books, science fiction or the horror genre, these brands understand that true commerce comes when you create something that your advocates can’t get enough of. Close to 10,000 people waited over ninety minutes on a Saturday morning, and paid for the privilege of walking on to the Comic-Con Montreal trade show floor to wait in more lines to pay more money to meet, greet and get autographs and pictures of their favorite comic book characters and creators. They did this with smiles on their faces and with pride. It’s not a zero-sum game where that industry is faced with digitization and shrinking revenues with no alternative money-generating streams. By cultivating true fans and giving them unique opportunities to connect, share and yes, even enlarge their collections through specialized and unique items, they’re not only keeping alive a traditional media channel (or two), but they’re inventing new and fascinating ways to extend their characters and build interest. You could argue that it’s easy to do this when you have content that sparks the imagination. I would argue that if you have someone buying something from you, and it delivers (or over-delivers) on the promise, they have a keen level of interest for more. The only thing stopping them from buying more? The brand’s ability to get creative and be compelling.

All people interested in media should take a field-trip to a Comic-Con in a city near you. Bring your wallets. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


  1. Well said Mitch.
    I think there’s just something about the experience in such a setting that we fail to, or may not even be able to, carry into digital. As a music buff, this made me think of something along the lines of festivals. Sure I can stream live or I can catch a recording on YouTube later but it can never replace that feeling you get from being able to say ‘I was there’. On the business side, I think of DreamForce and how huge it’s become over the past couple years. There’s a feeling a live in-person event can provide that a hangout, for example, just can’t.

  2. Wow..I have been reading your blog for a while now and have never commented. This post is so good I had to say something. Your insight is so on target. I’m not sure if the media companies can take this to heart, but if they can’t…………curtains.

  3. Good stuff, Mitch. Funny, as I just wrote a blog post called The Irony of Digital about a week or so ago (http://mydisruption.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/the-irony-of-digital/) that sort of addressed the same topic – offline engagement. Digital is absolutely awesome and amazing and inspiring and all that stuff, but nothing will EVER (daring, I know…) replace “hugs and handshakes”. We, as humans, want these types of gatherings and interactions. I always felt that if digital could support offline engagement (pre-, during, and post-event), it would be a lethal combo.

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