updated 10/14/2011 3:20:57 PM ET 2011-10-14T19:20:57

NEW YORK – New York Comic Con 2011 kicked off on Thursday afternoon with a panel discussion that addressed the much-debated question of whether or not digital comics could replace traditional comics and graphic novels in the future.

"We've come to a turning point in comics where you can now choose to read comics in print format or digital, and more fans are starting to flock to digital since they can be read on-demand and the quality of the digital pages is beautiful," said panelist David Lisa, a consultant at the New Jersey State Library and graphic novel and comics specialist. "There is a whole generation of people, especially digital natives, who have grown up around technology, that prefer reading comics on iPads and other tablet devices."

Lisa added that as young comic book readers grow up, they will be more likely to continue to read digitally. [Read: 8 Movies You Maybe Didn't Know Were Based on Comic Books]

"It's simple: print can't survive in an economy where people don’t prefer it," Lisa said.

Devoted fans showed concern about the decline of physical comic books and questioned if they should stop buying the medium if it’s on the way out.

"Print isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I'm going to keep reading print comics and if that’s what you want, you should too," Lisa said. "It’s possible digital and print will co-exist, but if comic book publishing is strained now, what’s it going to be like when most customers are digital natives? It doesn’t look that good for print."

Another panelist, Michael Maziekien – head of adult services and IT for New Jersey’s Rockaway Township Public Library – noted that graphic novels experienced a 20 percent decline in 2010, while digital comics grew its business 1,000 percent.

To bring digital content to more people who may not have access to high-tech devices such as tablets (or don’t want to buy digital content), more libraries nationwide are expanding their e-book offerings. In 2010, about 66 percent of public libraries provided access to e-books and projections expect that number to keep growing, up from less than 5 percent in 2001, Maziekien added.

"Steve Jobs largely helped the growing interest to read comics on handheld devices," Lisa told the room packed with attendees.

In addition, Amazon recently announced the Kindle Fire, an Android-based tablet that will not only support comics but offer exclusive access to some titles. For example, about 100 of DC's best-selling graphic novels will be available solely through the Kindle Fire, including Watchman and Superman Earth One.

"The present state of digital content will give us clues as to what may happen in the future," Lisa said. "However, demand is growing quickly and the industry is indeed shifting, so the debate about the death of print will continue on."

Reach TechNewsDaily senior writer Samantha Murphy at Follow her on Twitter @SamMurphy_TMN

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