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Steven Chen, CSUF Mihaylo College of Bus/Econ  

Click here for Steven Chen's Bio

Friday, May 14, 2010
The Joneses have it all
Handling comic-book digitization
The emergence of digital technologies changes the forms in which consumers experience media. In today's marketplace, digital readers such as the Kindle and iPad are an alternative to traditional print books. One of the fields hoping to explore new growth markets by digitizing its publication library is the comic-book industry.

Traditionally, comic books are published in 32-page monthly pamphlets that are sold in gas stations, Wal-Marts and comic stores. Later, these pamphlets may be collected into graphic novels that are distributed in large book-retailer chains. However, print formats, especially the monthly pamphlet, are facing obsolescence, as sales have been declining (or at best, stagnating) for the past decade. Some experts estimate the current pamphlet-reading population is between 500,000 and 750,000 individuals.

Facing shrinking sales, shifting consumer behavior and monopolistic distribution, comic publishers are exploring alternate channels of content distribution for business growth. The success of the iPad and iPhone has content producers and distributors in a rat race to develop new apps that will deliver comic content to old and new comic readers alike. For a subscription or an a la carte fee, consumers can buy the latest "Iron Man" comic and read it on their laptop or mobile phone.

In light of these movements, an important marketing question is: How does a tech-enabled change in form alter consumers' consumption experiences? This is a question that my colleague at Cal State Fullerton, Neil Granitz, and I investigated in an academic study. The results will be presented at this year's Comic-Con International, a pop-culture extravaganza that descends on San Diego every summer.

In a qualitative study involving book and comic readers, we find that the decision to adopt the new technology, converge (adoption of new and old tech) or not adopt was characterized by a complex tradeoff among utilitarian and experiential attributes. We find that utilitarian values (accessibility, convenience, ease of use, cost) are more salient to consumers who adopted e-reader devices; experiential values (social rituals, ownership, aesthetics, immersion) are more salient to consumers who rejected e-reader devices in favor of traditional print media; when there are experiential and utilitarian values that are nonsubstitutable by e-readers, then convergence is the outcome.

These findings reinforce the idea that there are many segments of comic readers and that publishers must produce media to meet the needs of all consumers. Particularly, an experiential value that cannot be replicated in technology is the social aspects of reading, such as hanging out with the comic guys, going to a comic store with one's children, and giving and receiving personal recommendations. Marketers must consider these needs to retain existing customers and reach new ones.