With the announcement that DC will release some titles in digital format the same way the title hits the comic shops, it makes me revise our situation with digital formats and how the industry may or may not handle comics in digital form.
Comics in the US have been (generally speaking) a mix labor of love and profits.
In one hand you have the heads of publishing house that from the early 20th century up until recently viewed their characters as their Intellectual Property, and the writers and artists as interchangeable laborers, that they could switch at whim.
Towards the end of the 20th century, something happened: Audiences got smarter and choosier, and artist became business savvier and more daring on their ventures.
But up until the year 2000 comics were usually maintaining an uneasy balance between artists wanting to do their craft, and businesses wanting to make a profit.
With the advent of the internet the comic book industry was forced to deal with some things that the bigger industries dealt with also (and by “bigger industries” of course I am referring to the movie and music industry): How to deal with digital formats.
I want to take pause for a moment here and highlight the advantages that the comic book industry has over the music or the movie industry.
Everyone wants to watch movies, and hear music. As a matter of fact often movies and music project are OKed by studios with a marketing plan in mind, and expecting to captivate the maximum number of audience possible. To achieve that, instead of relying in excellence of product, they usually fall back on cheap marketing schemes that cater to the lowest common denominator. In their defense, it usually works, and the numbers don’t lie. People buy untalented pop albums (Pop as in Popular) and go watching sappy movies. That produces sales. Those sales show profits. And those profits get back to the decision makers and fuels the cycle of crap all over again.
I venture to say that the popularization of those medias happen also to be their downfall.
That’s the reason why people will buy DVD pirated movies sold on a corner, burned from a badly recorded cam job (cam job refers to those movies where a guy goes to the theater with a video camera and records what’s on the screen, you know? Those DVD you bought with Russian tittles, guys coughing in the background, and heads moving in front the screen…C’mon! You know who you are!!!)
The fact that the movie/music industry refused to adjust prices to a more reasonable price and continue to try to enforce the business model that served them so well for so long explains why they are so reluctant and slow about finding a viable solution to the conundrum of digital distribution.
They would love for everything to remain status quo. Movies only be found in Cinemas, DVD’s being released when they feel there is nothing more to squeeze out of it, and they would unilaterally set the prices. Then the Internet happened, and those industries discovered the hard way that selling a product that is directly linked to popular culture had its disadvantages, namely, people wanted to disseminate that product at the lowest cost possible.
(Rhetorical question: Are music and movies cultural icons, or business ventures? Can they be both? Should they be considered both?)
But comics happen to have a slightly different audiences than those two other industries.
The majority of the comic book fans they love to have their titles binded in the most luxury format they can afford. I know lots of people who bought the monthly issues and love some story arch so much that when it got released in HardCover (Never mind Trade Paperback) they ALSO bought that arch in that format.
Now, the younger generations seem to have preferences that balance digital copies with some paper, but most of them people I asked or read their opinions on forums state that they either have been digital for a while or are currently doing some sort of digital comic reading.
Going Digital will affect the comic industry in three ways:
1. The publisher will be able to forgo printer and delivery costs, but will to instead shift some cost to digital rights and e-commerce.
2. The local comic book store will see a shift on sales. Likely the floppy (monthly comic book) will almost disappear or maybe they will relay only on pull lists, and they will focus on toys, collector’s item and HC or TPB.
3. Piracy and media management will be a great concern. Currently there is no fool-proof way of creating a media format for comics that is impervious to piracy and addresses all platforms. I find commendable the initiative that some publishers have taken of giving a low entry price to the digital comic book. I did found strange the option that Marvel gave the world of digital comics Online only, without an option to download at all, and leaves me wondering if this initiative that DC is tooting may be similar to what Marvel did.
The most common complaint I read about the Marvel style of serving digital comics, is the same one that I have with the Steam Game service (by Valve, very famous in the Computer Gaming Community): No Internet, no access. And not everywhere in the country can you find good and affordable internet access.
This is the principle of licensing the right to read the comic, but not actually owning anything. Darkhorse seems to follow this model on their digital comics, plus they seem heavily investing in the Apple platform/distribution channel, while ignoring anything else.
On the DC field, it seems that they will be using comiXology for their online distribution. And this platform, although much more flexible when dealing with Operating Systems (It has been released for Windows, Mac, and Android so far) it still leaves you licensing the right to read.
The main problem I see with this is:
When you are gone, dear publisher, or when your platform changes, or when your operating system gets taken out (Microsoft is sunsetting Windows XP as I write this)…. Where is my comic?
Have I been asked to pay for reading a comic online and just committing it to memory, without having anything to show for it?
It seems to me that question is not being asked enough, and the publisher who are testing the waters of digital publishing are fine with “Licensing The Right To Read a comic”, and calling it “buying a digital comic”.
While researching this comment, I came across various young readers who buy their floppies, tear them up for scanning, and then create CBR’s or such that they keep in a hard drive. They want to have something to show. They want to keep collecting and they want to get on with the digital age, despite all the extra work and expense that buying, tearing, scanning, saving and composing the file entails.
I did my research on the apps I mentioned above from the publishers as would’ve done it anyone wanting to compare apps, and wanting their questions answered. I went to the app provider and read MOST of their product description.
If I am wrong about my statement, and some of those Digital Comic apps let you have a digital copy that is not residing in the cloud, but it actually resides in your device and you can read it when your Internet connection is not available, then I didn’t get that from the description of the app, and that is bad marketing, and bad publicity.
No one addresses this clearly. Maybe I am an alarmist, and there is no need to clarify anything. Maybe I am in the minority, being concern with paying just for the right to read, and not owning anything.
I will be buying into some of these digital comic apps in the very near future to test them. I will not ask any of my contacts in the publishers to set me up with an account, nor I will be asking for freebies. I will buy them as any consumer would, out of my own pocket and will install them on my own, and then will report back here, but in the meanwhile, everywhere that I looked it seems you are licensing the right to read it, not own anything at all.
As an interesting note, I found this small interview that Mark Millar did back on January 2011
and he discusses a lot of issues, but accurately pinpoints the problem of shifting costs.
“Yes, you’re eliminating paper, printing, comic store and distributor costs, but there’s hidden costs here I haven’t seen highlighted anywhere.
1/ Apple take 30% right off the bat.
2/ Comixology then splits 50/50 with the publisher.
3/ Then the publisher pays the agent and creative team out of the remaining cash depending on their deal.”
How do you feel about it?
Are you already buying digital comics?
Will you be buying them and forgoing paper?
Is price and issue?
Is not actually owning the comic an issue?