@Klint Finley Webcomics producers go straight from digital to the collected edition all the time, but currently the amount of revenue isn't anywhere close to what would be needed for most publishers. Digital dollars are still roughly on the order of what subscription dollars traditionally were for monthly comics -- a nice extra, but not yet transformative. Digital does serve the same need that subscriptions once did, in a sense, helping those not near a comics shop -- and it does seem to be additive, in the sense that publishers' legitimate digital offerings don't seem to be directly reducing sales of the print versions. I think what we probably wind up with is digital as a third leg to the stool, not replacing monthlies but rather representing an additional delivery option.
It's also worth noting that the "collecting industry" as mentioned above remains in fine health -- the aftermarket adding a nine-figure sum to the business annually. Comics from before when people knew to save them have held their value regardless of the many reprint options before, and continue to do so now with the additional digital channel.
In general, I think the digital-versus-print distinction is much overblown. If you think about it, the availability of comics online has increased every year -- and, yet, so too have industry revenues through most years of the 2000s, not counting the recent recession. Periodical units in aggregate also increased many of those years, and are increasing again now. The thanks is largely due to trade paperbacks, of course -- but we can say that print versions of comics are indisputably in front of many more eyes, and in many more locations, than they were 10 years ago. Digital just adds a channel.
Interesting piece! As my site was referenced, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.
First, unlike comics sales on the newsstand in the old days, when there was only one bite at the apple, new comics sales in the direct market are by no means reflective any more of how much a comics story will earn. As this post on 2011 sales shows...
...new comics are less than half of the industry's revenue, and more than a third of the business is outside comics shops again, a big reversal of the trend of the 1980s and 1990s. Trade paperbacks are to thank for both facts.
And as for the trade paperback eliminating the comic book, this has been well debated in the field for many years. It's unlikely to happen in part because otherwise, the work simply won't get done. Comic writers and artists don't get big advances to go away and create for six months; we need the work to be generating income as it goes. Dave Sim of Cerebus, who you mentioned, told me in an interview once that he never could have produced 6,000 pages a graphic novel at a time. Serialization doesn't just subsidize and advertise the eventual larger work -- it enforces discipline, to a degree. The magazine roots of comics are one reason the medium is so prolific.
There are many paths to making a comic book, but serialization will likely always be in there somewhere. In a sense, each $3 or $4 comic book is its own Kickstarter contribution, making sure there will be a graphic novel someday.