(Re)examining the attitudes of comic book store patrons in the digital era

J. Richard Stevens

University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, United States

Christopher E. Bell

University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

[0.1] Abstract—As digital comic book consumption continues to rise in popularity, the comic book community appears conflicted over the effects that digital scans have on the meaning of collecting and reading comic books. Historically, comic ownership served as the locus of comic fan social capital; will digital scans hold the same cultural capital as printed books? And does postpurchased digital scan dissemination primarily hurt copyright holders through lost sales, or does it help through social promotion? Building on an analysis of fan attitudes toward digital comic book texts, we seek to account for the limitations of locality by surveying the attitudes of comic book store patrons concerning their attitudes toward physical and digital comic book texts.

[0.2] Keywords—Copyright; Digital media; Piracy

Stevens, J. Richard, and Christopher E. Bell. 2015. "(Re)examining the Attitudes of Comic Book Store Patrons in the Digital Era." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In their book on fandom, Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington (2007) organize fandom studies into three stages: initial studies exploring popular media as sites of cultural resistance, the "fandom is beautiful" movement that allowed fans to speak for themselves, and a third wave that describes the study of the role of fandom in everyday life (1–7).

[1.2] The third wave will likely prove a boon to studies of comic book fandom, for previous studies in other disciplines have framed comic book consumers in precisely this way. For example, Brown (1997) described comic book fans as groups of highly motivated discussers of cultural knowledge (28), and Fiske (1992) described comic book fandom as a "shadow cultural economy" that reflects bourgeois standards (30).

[1.3] What can comic book fans tell us about attitudes concerning the production, dissemination, and control of the object of fandom in a digital age? How does the emergence of digital comic book formats—both those authorized by publishers and those generated through third-party scanning practices—affect the core practices of fan culture? This article pursues these questions by examining fans' views of copyright, ownership, and the digitization of text, as well as surveying acquisition and consumption practices.

[1.4] The definition and boundaries of comic book fandom can be ephemeral and fraught with controversy. For some, consumption of comic book texts does not denote fandom, as "without ever interacting with other fans who are within fandom, [one] can never become a part of that fandom" (Kleefeld 2011, 24). Though fans can be subcategorized by their use of texts—some enjoy reading comic books, some enjoy collecting them, and most seem to enjoy reading some while collecting others—the appreciation of the comic genre has historically revolved around common conventions that provide consistent demand for texts (Coogan 2006). But the American comic book industry is currently grappling with the transition from printed texts to digital file formats. Though major comic book publishers initially resisted digital distribution of comic books, the emergence of tablet devices in American culture with their advantages for book reading (Clark et al. 2008, 119) has unleashed a surge of interest by publishers who see them as potential distribution mechanisms for their products (Aghbali 2011). This study looks at fandom located around comic book retailers—the historic communal space for comic book fans—and attempts to measure what effects the introduction of digital comic book texts has on the relationship between fan and text, attitudes toward copyright, and the role comic book stores play in comic book fandom.

[1.5] Comic book publishers have acknowledged the value of their fans, for their devotion translates to dependable consumption of content. The benefits of honoring fandom are recognized in most media, as Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington (2007) explain:

[1.6] Rather than be ridiculed, fan audiences are now wooed and championed by cultural industries, at least as long as their activities do not divert from principles of capitalistic exchange and recognize industries' legal ownership of the object of fandom. (4)

[1.7] Fredrick Wright (2008) surveyed 28 comic book store customers about digital comic books and found that most (73 percent) did not consider them a collection, defining comic books by their medium (object). The remaining 27 percent described digital comic books as comic books, reasoning that all comic books were reproductions (content) of the original master artwork (3). These core arguments seem to reflect different emphases on the sources of comic book fan social capital described by Brown (1997), who pointed to the acquisition of key canonical texts for some (26), in addition to the extensive knowledge of the content and industry (23). Woo (2012) argued that the collecting and reading functions of comic book fandom had separated, leading those who primarily engage in one or the other to have different understandings of what the comic book medium is (181–82). Our previous work extended this taxonomy to account for alternative activities and fan activities—such as other media viewing, public event participation, and costume play—as markers of different forms of fandom drawing upon different forms of social capital (Stevens and Bell 2012).

[1.8] Although not explicitly addressing the differences between official publisher releases and illicitly scanned comic books, Wright's study reported that "some" fans admitted turning to unauthorized scans (fan-scanned images of comic books from an owner's physical collection distributed via networked media) to extend their archives (4). But the majority of subjects opposed the practice of downloading scanned comic books, regardless of source.

[1.9] However, the locus of the study presented a potential variable for consideration: Fredrick Wright (2008) drew his sample from comic book store patrons. We decided to study whether comic book fans in different locales would respond differently about preferences in text selections. Drawing from comic book sites and comic book download forums, the authors found that online audiences expressed views opposed to the findings of Fredrick Wright—views informed by interpretations of the comic book texts themselves (Stevens and Bell 2012). In that study, more than 90 percent of online fans favored the consumption of digital texts over printed texts. Using discourse analysis, we analyzed the argument frames of the online fans, finding pro-digital text frames positioned within pragmatic concerns, while anti-digital text frames were positioned within moral judgments. We considered the locus of fandom to be a significant intervening variable between Fredrick Wright's findings and our own findings, suggesting in the concluding remarks a need to bring "in the patrons of comic shops alongside the online fan community might delve into the amount of overlap between these two groups and attempt to uncover whether there are attitudes distinct to each group of fans" (16).

[1.10] These observations raise the question of whether online fan Web sites are beginning to replace the comic store as sources of cultural exchange or if the two groups host different kinds of fans. If the latter, one might presume the locus of cultural negotiation might predict attitudes toward the adoption of digital texts, issues like copyright and intellectual property, and a potential renegotiation of the materiality historically inherent in comic book "ownership."

[1.11] Historically, comic book stores have served as a gathering point for comic fan communities. Brown (1997) observed: "These stores have provided a focal point for the entire culture of comic fandom. They have taken comics off the bottom rack and placed them front and center where they can be found on a regular basis and in an atmosphere where older readers feel less embarrassed to shop" (16).

[1.12] More than retail establishments, comic book stores have historically served as a social setting for interaction among community participants, as nodes relating "contingent communities of practice," as sanctuaries from mainstream hierarchies of taste and status, and as "arenas of competition for social and subcultural status" (Woo 2011, 125). For comic book fans, "comic shops are gold mines, places to find buried treasure, catch up with old friends, make new acquaintances with like-minded souls" (Pustz 1999, 6).

[1.13] Of course, the retail landscape of comic book distribution is markedly different in 2015 than it was in the late 1990s, when many of the seminal studies were conducted. While Woo's (2011) work involving in-depth interviews of comic store owners and patrons indicated the cultural aspects of comic book stores remain important to fans who collect comic books, the evolution of the comic book medium toward digital distribution potentially expands the audience for comic books. Sales figures for all print formats show that the years between have increased the overall North American market size—from approximately $260 million in 2000 to upward of $780 million in 2013, of which comic book stores appear to account for $517.66 million in sales (Miller 2015). In just over the course of a 3-year span, digital sales for comic books in North America rose from $25 million in 2011 to over $90 million in 2013 (Miller 2015). For at least some comic store owners, "Our best-case scenario—that digital will act like a newsstand—seems to have come true…the problem for the longest time for the comic book industry is that we were off the newsstand. We had no way to expose people to comics" (Gustines 2014).

[1.14] The digital newsstand metaphor is interesting, though problematic, as it was scarcity at the newsstand that led to the emergence of comic book stores in the first place (Pustz 1999, 6), but scarcity is not a factor in the digital distribution of texts through apps. In fact, as new methods of distribution emerge around devices and direct digital delivery, it is not clear whether this activity will capitalize most on new fans and readership or whether it will cannibalize the existing profits channeled through comic book stores. Comic book store owners understandably fear the latter (Newman 2010), but it is not at all determined how readers of digital comic book texts and physical comic books are related to one another. Do comic book store patrons also read digital comic books? How are the values attached to older forms of physical comic book collecting similar to or different from digital comic book storage? Are readers and collectors equally predisposed to consider whether adoption of digital comic book formats have advantages over physical comic books (or vice versa)?

[1.15] The following research questions target these nuances:

[1.16] RQ1. What attitudes exist in the way customers of comic book stores relate to physical and digital comic books? What do the expressed attitudes suggest about relationships between fans and texts?

[1.17] RQ2. Does longevity of comic book store patronage affect attitudes toward the adoption of digital texts?

[1.18] RQ3. Does the amount of comic book consumption affect the attitudes toward the adoption of digital texts?

2. Survey methods

[2.1] To gather the attitudes and opinions of comic book store patrons, an online survey was constructed. Researchers approached two metropolitan comic book stores to solicit participation in the promotion and recruitment process. A total of 195 patrons who participated in the survey were asked about their buying habits, attitudes toward different formats of comic texts (floppies [note 1], paperback trades, hardback trades, authorized downloads, and unauthorized scanned comic books), purchase history, and several questions related to general media use. Purchase history included descriptions of initial exposure to the comic book medium, what titles were currently read, and where comic books were acquired. In addition to the quantitative data collected, respondents were given opportunities for open-ended responses.

[2.2] At this point, it should be noted there is little or no narrative difference between the floppy comic format and the digital download format for most comic books, in that the tablet downloads attempt to replicate the floppy narrative experience without adding elements that most devices would be capable of supporting (such as sound or motion). However, this trend could change at some point in the future, and that would certainly affect the attitudes of the comic consumers.

[2.3] The evolution of tablet devices, digital text formats, and the diffusion of technology through society will likely alter the relationships under scrutiny in the future. This study presents a snapshot of a particular time at a particular point in the transition from analog to digital media. Furthermore, caution should be recommended to all such future analyses, given that sites of fan activity become "the battleground through which cultural meaning is constructed and as such is always contested terrain" (Costello 2013, 1). Measuring fandom attitudes will always present a challenge because it is an ever-evolving set of communal practices organized around an ever-evolving cultural industry environment.

[2.4] The current study examines three elements of comic book fan culture to illustrate the specific effects of technological advances on the comics industry: the comic book texts, the cultural identity connecting comic book fans to comic books, and the technological imperatives brought to bear on intellectual properties.

3. Comic books and cultural identity

[3.1] Comic book collecting has been called "the nation's third largest collectible market, just after coins and stamps" (Wright 2001, 261). Though most comic books are purchased in floppy (pamphlet) form (note 2), some comic texts are obtained in collected trade paperbacks, some appear exclusively on the Web, and some are delivered to e-reader devices, tablet computers, and cell phones. Comic books fans organize and behave like other societal subgroups, creating social identities that provide status and bonds between one another. People tend to define themselves either "in terms of what makes [them] unique compared to other individuals" or "in terms of [their] membership in social groups" (Reicher 2004, 928).

[3.2] Comic books are popular culture artifacts but are different from other cultural objects because the fan culture has been "almost exclusively centered around a physical, possessable text" (Brown 1997, 26). Comic books have historically served as the focal point of a social subgroup of those interested in comic book texts, demarcating consumers into readers (sometimes fans), collectors (always fans), and investors (rarely fans). Additionally, those who consume only ancillary products, like comic book movies or television versions, without consuming the actual texts are not generally considered fans. In the past, in order to credibly be called a comic book fan, a person had to own comic books he or she had read, though exceptions are often made for special circumstances, such as for soldiers serving abroad, who often use digital scans to keep up with their texts with minimal fan interaction (Gorman 2006). But in general, possessing the text has been a key demarcation for comic book fandom.

[3.3] Brown (1997) further explains:

[3.4] For Star Trek, Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Grateful Dead fans, it is the experience of viewing the show, hearing the band, or participating in ritual consumption that is of prime importance. And while reading the comic is obviously fundamental to comic fans on an individual basis, it is the possession of the actual comic that acts as the focal point for the entire community. Other fan cultures can own a New Kids On the Block album or videotape all the episodes of Dr. Who, they can even purchase all the T-shirts, dolls, and posters they want, but none of it carries the same ability to substantiate fan authenticity in the way that owning a copy of Wolverine #1 does. Knowledge and the ability to use it properly amounts to the symbolic capital of the cultural economy of comic fandom, but it is the comic book itself that represents the physical currency. (22)

[3.5] In the past, comic knowledge alone did not grant standing among comic book fans; the cache of cultural capital that one possessed was ancillary to the physical capital of property ownership. Property, in this case, related not only to the tangible good but also to the social relations represented. As Coombe and Herman (2005) explain:

[3.6] Property is not simply or even primarily a relationship between persons and things…It is a social relationship between socially recognized persons with respect to real and intangible things (and between peoples who as nations may hold cultural properties) that is authorized and legitimized in particular cultural contexts. It is also a relationship of profound social power. (561)

[3.7] Understanding that comic book fandom has historically been organized around the physical, tangible objects of comic books in paper pamphlet form is critical to examining the way technological innovations affect the industry's future prospects and the relationship between reader and text and any potential shifts in the role comic book stores play in those relationships. Are comic book readers not fans if they collect digital files instead of physical texts, or has this historic boundary shifted as a result of textual digitization? Can one "own" a digital comic book text and, if so, how does this ownership alter the historic boundaries between comic book readers and comic book fans? And how does the locus of fan community shift if texts are no longer primarily distributed through comic book stores?

4. Comic books and technological advancement

[4.1] Since the consumer electronics age began, manufacturers have attempted to create electronic reading gadgets to replace printed books. "Serious attempts to replicate the portability, readability, and convenience of a printed book have…been with us for a decade or so" (Young 2008), such as the Rocket e-Book, the Franklin eBookman, the Sonystyle, and more recent e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook.

[4.2] The comic book industry also entered this digital revolution, albeit reluctantly. In 2001, Marvel Comics partnered with Graphic Imaging Technology (GIT) to produce approximately 30 CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs of back issues. Marvel took another leap in late 2007, with the launch of the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (DCU) service. The DCU offers Marvel's comic book content for $59.88 a year, though with two major caveats: users cannot print or save issues to their hard drives, and to avoid competing current issue sales, users must wait 6 months after publication before a digital version is available (Musgrove 2007).

[4.3] In 2009, Comixology launched a digital comics service that delivered comic book texts (including select books from Marvel Comics) to Apple's iPhone. The release of Apple's iPad in April 2010 prompted the release of an official Marvel Comics app (powered by Comixology's architecture), and a similar DC Comics app arrived in June 2010. The Comixology apps initially allowed users to download select comic books for $1.99 per comic or less, compared to the $3.99 to $4.99 cover price for contemporary physical comic books. After Amazon purchased Comixology in 2014, digital prices eventually rose to an average of a dollar less than the price of physical copies for first releases and $1.99 for older back issues, with some issues offered at $.99. Simultaneously, several iPhone, iPad, and other smart phone applications emerged to store and display scanned comic book formats.

[4.4] The introduction of such devices served to mainstream the use of digital formats by publishers. In particular, the Marvel Comics application that shipped with Apple's iPad was considered the mainstreaming moment of digital distribution (Wallace 2010), while competitor DC Comics upped the ante with same-day releases of digital and physical comic books (Trenholm 2011), a trend many smaller publishers followed (Caldwell 2011). Already, major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble (who also offer tablets and e-readers, and digital content for them) are jockeying for the rights to digital comic book texts (Cavna 2011), which is increasingly seen as a valuable source of revenue. Comic book store owners have largely expressed concern, and existing comic book fans appear to offer mixed reactions to these trends (Newman 2010).

[4.5] Several fundamental cultural behaviors differ in the consumption of printed comic books and electronic formats. The first involves the physical handling of the comic book. In print form, no restrictions are placed upon the comic book's usage. However, many readers and collectors continue to struggle to separate the content of comic books from their medium. As Fredrick Wright (2008) observed, "Anyone who collects comic books has to deal with this factor of materiality, emphasized further by collected comics often being bagged and boarded for preservation purposes, and classified according to grades of physical condition from near mint to poor for commercial or trading purposes" (1).

[4.6] The materiality of comic books represents a hurdle to the opportunities available in digital distribution. Comic book retailers, who built their enterprise serving as cultural sites of negotiated meaning and social interaction, have a vested interest in the printed format. As a result, digital comic books are often perceived as direct competition for brick-and-mortar stores (Wright 2008).

5. Results

[5.1] The respondents displayed a variety of attitudes toward physical and digital texts. Most respondents bought at least some physical comic books (as one might surmise, given that the sample was drawn from a comic book store), but not all did. In the complete sample (n = 195), respondents reported, on average, reading 13.29 comic books texts per month and buying 12.05 floppy comic books, 1.57 trade publications, 0.75 digital files distributed directly from the publisher, and 0.66 unauthorized scanned comic book files. The average respondent spent $48.92 per month on comic book texts and had been reading comic books for about 15 years. However, breaking down the sample by behavior brought out some interesting behavioral characteristics, creating five distinctly different profiles of comic book consumers.

[5.2] Respondents who read unauthorized scanned comic books (n = 17) read 11 comic book texts each month. An average of four of these texts were floppy copies, one was a trade publication, and four were unauthorized scans. This group of respondents reported spending an average of $31 each month on comic book texts, had been reading for an average of 9 years, and was an average of 24 years of age.

[5.3] There were five respondents who reported consuming downloaded scanned comic book without purchasing any physical copies. However, these five (who spent no money monthly on comic texts) do not appear to be heavy readers, consuming an average of just 2.4 books each month. Initially, the researchers thought these might be new readers, but these fans reported an average of nine years of comic book readership. These respondents reported a preference for physical floppy comic books, but cited prohibitive costs as a barrier to purchase. Though they encountered the survey in a comic book store, none cited a comic book store as a primary source of their comic book texts, citing instead online auction sites such as eBay for their occasional physical purchases. These respondents reported visiting an average of two comic book stores in the past month. This is curious because they purchased no physical comic books on a consistent basis, perhaps suggesting they visited only for the social interactions, the cultural communication, and/or the capital-building activities.

[5.4] The rest of the sample who downloaded comic texts of any kind (n = 24) also regularly spent at least part of their comic book money on printed materials. This group reported reading an average of 17.14 comic texts each month and buying 6.57 floppies, 1.57 trade publications, 6.71 authorized publisher digital files, and an average of three unauthorized scans read in place of a purchase (this group also acquired 1.86 scans of comic books previously purchased). This group spent an average of $75 per month on comic book texts and had been reading comic books for 17.5 years.

[5.5] For this group, the story appears to transcend concerns about medium. As one respondent noted, "The medium doesn't really matter to me as long as I get to read the comics." Some cited digital files as an opportunity to save money (to read more stories), as well as avoid the challenges of storing large amounts of comic book texts. An additional frame emerged as a few respondents noted that digital file formats helped them avoid stigma surrounding their fandom ("having physical comics laying around my room isn't going to impress any attractive women").

[5.6] Only one respondent reported downloading and reading comic books exclusively in the authorized publisher file format. This respondent reported consuming only three comic book texts each month, spending an estimated $15, but did report visiting a comic book store regularly where he occasionally special-ordered some physical comic books or trade publications. Like those who read scanned comic books, this respondent cited storage constraints and increased portability as a reason to read digital comic books.

[5.7] Most in the sample (n = 140) reported no digital file use (and some appeared quite hostile to digital formats), reading an average of 14.12 comic texts each month, reportedly from an average of 12.72 floppies and 1.4 trade publications purchased. This group spent an average of $53.16 on comic texts each month and reported reading comic books for an average of 15.83 years. The average age of this group was 33.23.

[5.8] This group cited the tradition of the physical format ("I grew up reading comics this way") and a strong preference for "holding something in my hands," though several cited storage capacity problems as a possible impetus for future reconsideration of their stance on digital files. This group tended to use rhetoric more consistent with collecting than reading, and several noted that digital files offer no return on investment upon disposal, and the inability to have digital texts autographed by comic book creators.

[5.9] Demographically, those in the population reporting their gender split nearly evenly along gender lines, with 52.1 percent (n = 88) male and 47.9 percent (n = 81) female. The average age was 31.88 years, and the dominant ethnicity was white (80.4 percent).

[5.10] RQ2 asked whether the longevity of comic book store patronage affected attitudes toward digital texts. The survey results suggest that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. In addition to the age differences reported between those who download or avoid downloading, the survey also asked respondents to rate preferences of formats. When age was cross-tabulated with these preferences, the average longevity of comic book readership and for those preferring unauthorized downloaded text formats was 10 years, for those preferring authorized digital files was 11.75 years, and those preferring the physical floppy format was 21.03 years.

[5.11] RQ3 asked whether the amount of comic book consumption affected attitudes toward digital texts. The survey results suggest that the answer to this question is also resounding yes. Though the numbers reported by the digital users and nondigital users were close (17.14 and 14.12 comic book texts, respectively), the preference measures produced a wider gulf: those "mostly preferring" the floppy format consumed 11.15 comic texts per month, while those preferring authorized comic book downloads consumed 35 comic texts per month. The "slightly prefer" numbers closed that gap, with those preferring floppy formats consuming 22.5 comic texts per month, while those slightly preferring authorized digital formats consumed 7.75 comic texts. Overall, authorized digital users appeared to consume the most comic book texts, though that consumption appeared to be mostly a mixture of digital and floppy formats. No one reported "mostly preferring" illegally scanned comics, and the largest block of users reported overwhelmingly favoring other comic book formats.

[5.12] RQ1 asked more general questions about the way comic book store customers related to comic book texts, and the contrast to attitudes in our previous study of online pirate sites was stark. In the earlier study, more than 90 percent of respondents reported preferring digital formats to any analog formats. The respondents in the current study reported an almost equally strong relationship, but reversed in direction. Clearly comic book store patronage does mitigate attitudes toward digital formats, as we hypothesized.

6. Conclusions and discussion

[6.1] At the heart of the central question—why do fans consume comic books, and why might they prefer particular modes of dissemination?—lies the future definition of comic book fandom. Currently, comic book fandom exists in a state of transition comparable to the state of transition of their object of focus. Fandom is composed of reading and collecting activities, and it would appear an emphasis on one activity over another might affect one's attitude toward comic book formats, as well as the role of the comic book store in the fan community.

[6.2] In the latter 20th century among American comic book collectors, the comic book store was the hub of comic book fandom. Though Internet fans sites are beginning to supplant the centrality of comic book stores for some fans, this sample clearly shows a lingering connection. Even the five respondents who purchased no comic books each month in physical form went to the comic book store to place occasional special orders and discuss texts with other fans, and it appears at least one of the respondents perused the physical floppy comic books before acquiring a digital text later.

[6.3] The respondents who consumed only physical texts consistently expressed concerns that digital comic books (both authorized files and unauthorized scans) posed a threat to the survival of comic book stores. Next to complaints about the interface of digital texts, the desire to "support the industry" and support comic book stores was the most cited rationale for exclusively purchasing physical comic book formats. These fears appear to be somewhat well founded. Though fans who buy authorized digital files from the publisher spend more money than any other group on comic books every month, less of that money goes to the comic stores because digital download purchases go to the software developers and publishers. However, it's also interesting to note that the fans who download authorized comic texts each month buy more trade publications than those who purchase floppy comic books. This suggests an interesting relationship between the digital texts and the trade publications: because digital downloads are cheaper (for example, Comixology downloads of new releases run about a dollar cheaper than the corresponding print version of a comic), the fans who consume them buy more comic texts overall—but still prefer the materiality of the collected trade publications for at least some of their favorite texts.

[6.4] Fans that supplemented or replaced floppy comic consumption with unauthorized scans frequently cited the trial function downloaded digital files can provide. As one respondent noted, "I don't frequently pirate comic books, but I appreciate that I can do so to get an idea if I would like a series or not. How else am I supposed to know? The cover? Reviews? Just doesn't cut it. I have no qualms about pirating a book, and I have read unauthorized copies and then gone out and made purchases afterwards many times." Others argue that reading older comic books online doesn't necessarily take revenue from the original creative team: "I think there's a place for this especially when DC and Marvel jack up the prices on reprinted comics that never give proceeds to the writers or artists of those stories." Another cited rationale for supplementing physical purchases with authorized downloads and unauthorized scans was increased accessibility: "I love the portability and purchasing convenience of them. This is how I keep up with issues weekly, and how I take comics on the road."

[6.5] In addition, such fans suggested that digital copies of files they physically possessed allowed them to read their comic books without risking devaluing damage to the fragile floppy copies. Looking at the responses as a whole, an interesting trend related to these statements emerges: for those favoring digital file use, the rhetoric about reading and story assumes primacy over material interests ("I like the story. I really have no preference what media it is provided in"). But for those who favor the exclusive use of physical formats, a rhetoric around collecting and preserving artifacts appears to assume primacy over concerns about reading convenience and story.

[6.6] This trend, in turn, leads to yet another interesting difference in identity between these two groups of fans: while fans of physical formats stress the importance of the presentation of their collection as a status symbol, fans who use digital formats were more likely to mention their ability to read comic texts clandestinely ("having physical comics laying around my room isn't going to impress any attractive women"). This suggests a different relationship between readers and collectors when it comes to the presupposed identification with text. One of the points Brown (1997) used to distinguish comic book fans from other kinds of fans was the unique role of the "physical, possessable text" (26). But fans who use digital files, who stress reading over collection, would appear to have a different relationship with comic books texts than collectors (who are more classically associated with the stereotype of the comic book fan). Where physical collectors see status, digital readers appear more likely to see stigma.

[6.7] Such expressions imply dramatic differences between those for whom collector activity is the prime source of fan identity (as Brown 1997 suggests) and those for whom reading and discussing stories (increasingly online) is the prime source of fan identity. These differences signal different messages to publishers and comic book owners. Digital consumers read more comic texts and spend more money on comic books than those who collect and read physical floppies. For the publisher, the digital distribution model would appear to have some obvious economic advantages (cheaper production costs, higher sales). For the consumers of authorized digital files, claims of respect for copyright law were quite common. Some of these fans refused to download unauthorized files, while others downloaded to see if the comic texts were worth purchasing.

[6.8] But what of those who primarily consume unauthorized scanned comic texts? On the surface, it would appear, given the nature of the consumption by consumers of unauthorized texts, that the current framework of copyright law is of little or no concern to these consumers, and piracy is a concept given little or no thought. However, such a narrow view of what constitutes piracy belies the truth about these so-called pirates: digital consumers overall read more comic texts and spend more money on comic books than those who exclusively collect and read physical formats. When the two outliers who purchase no physical material are excluded, it appears the publisher gets more revenue from the digital format consumers than the physical format consumers. Much like the iTunes model, consumers who are offered accessible, legal means of consuming digitally are often willing to pay for their wares; piracy is a matter of convenience, not necessarily a matter of maliciousness. The key difference is, of course, that less of that revenue goes to the comic book store.

[6.9] Comic books stores sell wares beyond just comic book texts. Action figures, comic-related T-shirts, and posters are but a few of the derivative products that generate revenue. But if digital subscribers show more consistent concerns toward avoiding stigma than their counterparts, they might not be buying T-shirts and posters in the quantities their counterparts do, or they may be acquiring those items more cheaply through online storefronts. For their part, several of the digital file consumers mentioned using online sources like IFanBoy ( to acquire or supplement the comic book information normally exclusively associated with comic book stores.

[6.10] Both length of readership and average age appear to be significant factors in determining attitudes toward textual formats: the readers of primarily digital texts averaged 24 years of age and had been reading comic books for an average of 9 years. By contrast, those who did not consume any digital comic texts averaged 33.23 years of age and had been reading comic books an average of 15.83 years. But whether this is a function of generational attitudes toward technology or a function of generational attitudes toward comic books is not knowable from the current analysis. As others have pointed out, the introduction of video games in the 1980s stole away many of the younger potential comic book readers by redirecting fan activity attention and resources. One can imagine the expansion of media offerings would at least change the reverence and approach to the medium between older and younger fans.

[6.11] Because the previous study and the current study show such dramatically different attitudes between fans in different loci, it would appear a taxonomy accounting for different settings and fan practices should be included in future analyses. It should be noted that Woo (2012) subdivided collectors into "completists," "hobbyists," and "speculators." Our previous study (Stevens and Bell 2012) noted that different reading patterns were witnessed, as some readers followed characters, some titles, some creators, and some genres. And Brown (1997) points to comic book conventions as entry sites for the cultural economics of fandom (17). It stands to reason that newer fans with even different forms of cultural capital can be observed at public events, leading to the possible need for a taxonomy of fandom expressions and sources of cultural capital. Further, a deeper understanding of the connections between reader and text might be facilitated by comparing different titles with different behaviors. For example, does the reader of Superman have a different attitude toward comic book texts than the readers of Deadpool or Scalped?

[6.12] The transition from exclusively print comic book distribution to the inclusion of digital comic book formats has barely begun, but already complex attitudinal shifts about the relation between fan and text and the role that comic book stores play in that relationship are emerging. When the results of this study are compared with the results of the previous study (Stevens and Bell 2012), it becomes clear that where fans gather for fan community exchange (comic book stores in the current study and online comic book sites in the previous study) significantly determines attitudes toward digital files, copyright, and the importance of materiality in physical comic book texts. As Brown (1997) observed, "Comic book fandom is complex and structured, [because fans are] constructing a sense of self" (13). And as Fiske (1992) observes, fan interactions are likely to always include an element of conflict because "fan cultural knowledge differs from official cultural knowledge because it is used to enhance the fan's power over, and participation in, the original, industrial, text" (43). That struggle likely predisposes competing fan subgroups to intergroup conflict, as control of the industrial text can be perceived and even valued through an ever-increasing variety of differing practices, each with varying types of social capital.

7. Notes

1. Among comic book scholars, store owners, and patrons, the terminology for physical comic books varies greatly, though the two most common uses seemed to be "floppies" and "pamphlets." Of course, many refer to this format simply as "comic books" or "traditional comic books," but those are the very terms that sometimes confuse discussions about the evolution of the medium. We use "floppies" and "pamphlets" throughout.

2. Graphic novels are trade paperbacks, but not all trade paperbacks are graphic novels. Most trade paperbacks are collections of previously published comic book pamphlets. Graphic novels are longer-length narratives in trade format that did not appear in the pamphlet format.

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