FIFTEEN THOUGHTS ON DIGITAL COMICS

I am a cartoonist and an illustrator and a letterer; but before that I worked for 14 years at one of the largest/best comics shops in the country, Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find. I started as a lowly clerk, worked my way up to managing the shop, and eventually became one of the central organizers of its yearly comics convention, HeroesCon. In the meantime I did pretty much everything at one time or another, from ordering all the comics, to maintaining an extensive backstock of trades and hardcovers, to buying collections and pricing old comics, to running Magic and Pokemon tournaments, dealing extensively with kids, teenagers, young adults and old fogies, handling all the print and web advertising, doing all the design work associated with the store and convention…  and a lot of the time just plain-old running a register.

I don’t know everything there is to know about comics or comics retailing, and I’m often guilty of a certain tunnel vision in terms of the fact that other people approach things from very different directions than I do (the very idea!). But I’ve been thinking about digital comics lately. Here are 15 things I’ve been thinking:

1) We’re still at a point where most digital comics have a preceding print iteration, and are part of an existing print payment setup. Which means that:

2) The largest costs (printing/distribution/shipping of paper books) are not associated with the digital iteration, except in a foundational, past-tense sense. Most of the big questions associated with print don’t apply to digital: how many units can we afford to print? How many should we overprint to have on hand in case of higher-than-expected demand? How much risk do we bear if we overprint too much and end up warehousing or taking returns on stock? None of these questions apply to digital. The biggest cost associated with BOTH print and digital is:

3) Have the creators been adequately compensated for their work? This includes people doing the work on a specific comic (writing, drawing, editing, whatever), any licensing fees where applicable (Star Wars comics, for instance), royalties, residuals, and so forth. Which brings me to another question I don’t hear very much:

4) Are creators being paid across iterations for their work on comics that are being repurposed for digital distribution? If you get paid a certain page rate for print, are you paid again for a digital release? Or if the initial iteration is digital, how does payment work there? Because:

5) The main costs associated with a pure digital release, after paying the people involved for their work, are costs associated with digital distribution, app or other digital platform creation and maintenance, associated fees, and production work. Plus regular business infrastructure costs. But no printing/shipping/distribution costs, and no outsized risk per unit sold. Risk isn’t attached to a unit production number, but rather to the viability of the endeavor as a whole to make back an investment.

6) It’s hard to think of a reason why a successful $2.99 print comic, with its associated print costs, quantity plateaus, shipping costs, etc., should be $1.99 in its digital form. If the book is 6 months to a year old, and was even reasonably successful, then those costs have been paid. There are definitely still costs to distributing a digital version, but they’re not anything like printing 60,000 copies of a 32 page saddle-stitched comic you’re having shipping from Malaysia or Quebec or wherever.

And if the book is new, and has a print iteration, then it’s that print iteration that will bear the cost of the print infrastructure. Because the print buyer is getting… a print comic book. They’re getting a thing, something they can keep. The digital buyer is also getting a valuable thing, but it’s a whole different thing, something with different associated costs, and in the current setup often not something that’s keepable. More on that later.

7) A big part of the reason that the digital iteration is so expensive is that the comics industry is terrified of devaluing the print iteration. Why buy something for $2.99 when you can get it for $.99? Publishers and retailers are worried that the appearance of low cost competition for floppy comic books will destroy the existing comic market, in its current state and shape. And they’re probably right.

8) So the digital comic market has evolved in fits and starts, with the major publishers slow to catch up, and a few digital content providers appearing to fill in the cracks. With everyone trying to protect themselves from the same thing that happened with music after the rise of mp3′s and the iPod, the existing system seems wrapped around the idea of convincing people that paying nearly the same price for much, much less is the best thing for everybody. Digital comics apps like Comixology essentially sell a license to read a comic. It’s not a matter of DRM–you never own the comic. You just pay for the privilege to read it on your device. You can pay $2.99 for a 22 page color print comic, read it multiple times, loan it to your friends, cut pages out and make a Psylocke collage if you like. Or perhaps it becomes collectible, like comics famously do, and you sell it in a few years for a profit or something like one.

Or you can pay $1.99 for a Comixology comic and get… permission to read it on your phone. Unless Comixology goes away, or its licensing arrangement with the content publisher changes, or there’s a problem at a data center, or you stop using Comixology.. well those comics are gone. Comixology is not the only digital distribution application, but it’s the largest, and most of the others are close to it in terms of what the user is actually getting, which is to say: not much.

9) It’s not that comics need to be collectible. It’s not even that comics need to be owned–just look at other digital industries. Users are used to–even prefer, in many cases–subscription-based systems that allow them access to a broad range of content, without owning anything. But digital culture, while not free, simply doesn’t have the same costs associated with it as print culture. Imagine if you used a service like Netflix, but instead of $8.99 a month, you paid a dollar for every tv episode you watched, and $1.99 for ever movie? Imagine if you used Spotify but were charged based on each track you listened to, rather than a periodic subscription fee. I’m not saying that those models won’t evolve one day–probably will, actually–but if you’re not going to get to keep something, if you’re only buying a license, then paying per episode just doesn’t make much sense.

10) It seems to me like a foregone conclusion that people are going to one day wake up and think “hey–why are _comics_ the most expensive media purchase I make each month?” Digital device culture is increasingly ubiquitous, and the idea that the comics industry can funnel its readership in a direction that’s somehow in the best interests of publishers, brick-and-mortar retailers, and digital distribution companies is… hard to swallow. This is driven home to me whenever the “day-and-date” question pops up. Essentially, “should digital comics be available the same day as their (presumably better? more important?) print version?” Because that question has nothing to do with users, and everything to do with print publishers and comic book shops. Here’s why:

11) Publishers have tricked themselves into thinking that digital comics–THEIR digital comics–are somehow competition for their own print comics. They’re the same comics! You made them, publishers! Surely any person on your staff under the age of 40 can see that hmmmm, maybe print is not the safest boat to float in, maybe digital is going to be big “one day”? Alter your business model and give room to both. Stop competing with yourself, and start competing with your competitors again.

12) Retailers have convinced themselves that they have “rights” in the market somehow, that their place in “the industry” is so important that everyone had better tiptoe around them or by-god there will be trouble. This flies right in the face of market economics–surely history is littered with bankrupt companies who felt sure that people couldn’t live without their product. Does it make sense to think that somehow comic books are such an integral part of human life that the consumer-base has a responsiblity to protect brick-and-mortar shops by eschewing cheaper alternatives to paper comics?

13) Or does it make more sense to think that, as the market shifts, the retail community should shift as well? I posted some thoughts about what comics retailers are really good at, and what I think the future of the comics shops will look like, here on my Google+.

14) Because let me be clear: I think brick-and-mortar, retail comics shops provide an important, irreplaceable service, both to readers of comics, and to the communities those shops exist in and serve. There’s not a bone in my body that wants to see that go away. But that’s not the same as thinking that the larger self-serving consumer market is worried much about the effects that the aggregate of their purchasing decisions will have. It just seems crazy to wear blinders like that.

15) To sum up: the existing structure of digital comics distribution is insane. It’s based on fear, opportunism, and a recalcitrant belief that the digital culture isn’t going to change fundamentally again within the next 5-10 years. It’s grown out of a mess of publishers and retailers trying to control the decline of their industry, by telling users what it is they want, and gambling that they’ll continue to settle for less than what they’re already getting, while still paying a similar price.

31 thoughts on “FIFTEEN THOUGHTS ON DIGITAL COMICS

  1. Eric

    Dustin – you are awesome. I always look forward to your blog posts and tweets because they provide my day with insightful thoughts, funny things and words to make my brain think.

    So for that I thank you, and hope you’ll keep doing it.

    So yeah, this is just a shameless “Thank you” post. Hope that’s alright. :)

  2. Adam Cadwell

    Point 9 makes a hell of a lot of sense! All the others do too, but that one made me wake up and realise, yes, the digital comics model is outdated before it’s even really begun. Comixology is Spotify but with the payment system of iTunes! It’s madness!

  3. eric

    Hey Dustin! Before I write all this I need to preface it by saying that when I write long things on the internet I feel that I end up rambling or just sounding dumb so, WARNING! Also, I don’t know a lot about things. I just like to talk.

    Jess and I were talking about comics the other day [shock!] and I was reminded of what I was told of Japanese comics. At the end of the month all comics from that month will be collected into one BIG volume that you can buy.

    I first wondered why DC or Marvel don’t do this. One bonus of buying a large collection of comics is that you’ll probably read most comics in it and probably pick up some new titles you didn’t know were out there. “I might as well read this comic that sits between the 2 comics I want to read… What do ya know? It’s pretty good!” FAN+1

    Now I wonder why they don’t release that month’s comics digitally for a greatly reduced price. Make it a package deal. You can’t JUST buy all Spidermans or Thorses, all those superheros get lumped into one big download. Throw a custom podcast that discusses that month in comics and teases the future in there too, why not! If you’re the type of person to read these comics I bet you get them on or really close to the time they are released. A month later everyone who would buy that meatspace comic probably already bought, yes/no? How often is there a big rush for floppy comics a month after they’ve been out?

    So release them digitally, 5 dollars for them all. Keep the ads in there even! The pirates are going to keep doing what they’re doing no matter what you do to stop them so beat them at their own game by releasing faster and with more custom content. Included podcasts, interviews, sketchbooks, original pages to flip through, a 3x speed video of the artist drawing a page from that month! Man! So many ideas! Though I think I got points crossed there between simply releasing books digitally and becoming a service that offers comics to fans with additional exclusive material fans would appreciate… Anyway

  4. DHARBIN! Post author

    Yes! What you’re describing would entail comics publishers trying to get ahead of the curve and anticipate the market, anticipate what their customers will want, and try to make aggressive inroads into a new market instead of constantly sandbagging their own below-sea-level position. I agree with you–I can’t really read comics on devices, so I’m not a potential buyer of digital comics, at least not in their current form. But I think the idea of added value applies to both digital and print versions of comics. For instance, if you’re worried about killing print with low priced digital, then do things in print you can’t in digital. They’re different forms, they work different, and there are certain things that will work better in print than in digital. And you definitely could leave the ads in with digital iterations.

    Also, you could run back-up stories in print versions that didn’t appear in the 99 cents digital version. Then later compile all those little pieces into one digital download, kinda like the old Marvel Comics Presents, essentially just an anthology series. Say once a month, or once every three months, either per title or line-wide. Me and you need to take over the digital arm of some company. I pick Marvel!

  5. Pat

    Good stuff, though there’s one big thing that I disagree with; Point 11.

    “Publishers have tricked themselves into thinking that digital comics–THEIR digital comics–are somehow competition for their own print comics.”

    That’s one of the (relatively few) things I think the big publishers are getting right in regards to this whole situation. Unless they can figure out a way to drastically change the economics of producing the kinds of comics they want to produce and bring the prices down significantly, I believe they aren’t doing much more than creating a competition between formats. People can point to all the torrent stats they want, I wouldn’t argue that there are potential “new readers” out there, but I don’t buy for a second that there are “new customers”.

    I just don’t see why someone who wasn’t already buying comics would be interested in spending 12 dollars on (roughly) 30 minutes of entertainment just because of a format change.

  6. DHARBIN! Post author

    Are you suggesting then that publishers should respond to people’s apparent growing preference for non-print content by… further doubling-down on their position? Because that seems counterintuitive to me.

    Think about it like this, regarding point #11: if I’m DC Comics, and I’m making a nice new Action Comics #1, why can’t I fold all the different formats together into the business model? I pay my creators and editors accordingly (my investment in the creation of the content), then I figure out how much demand there will be for a print pamphlet, (my product overhead), and view digital sales as part of the whole equation, whether as my penetration into a unique market, or something that helps subsidize the print iteration, or whatever. If I were DC, I would stop thinking of myself as a publisher of paper comics, and think of myself as a publisher of comics period. Then tailor my individual decisions based on real, existing markets, rather than what I wish the markets were. So if people will pay money for Superman comics on their phone, I will make them. And if people will pay for Superman comics in pamphlet form, I will make those too. And often they will be the exact same format.

    As an example: look at where vinyl has been going lately. Record labels release a new album in vinyl, and it comes with a digital download included. Is this something comics could do? What if you paid $3.99 for a new issue of Spider-Man and it CAME WITH the same issue in a digital format that you could take with you everywhere, from device to device, archive if you like, etc.

  7. Ostrakos

    I was talking to Shelly about this in Heroes today. I can go digital for music, maybe for books, but never for comics.

  8. Mike

    Hey Dustin,

    Your post makes a lot of sense, and as a student studying business (Marketing, specifically) at McGill University, I thought I’d offer my two cents.

    In general, businesses nowadays are still reluctant to price their goods and services properly on the Internet, and only a few are challenging the system by taking alternate routes. It all depends on how they figure customers value what they have to offer. While the role that iTunes has played in the past decade on how we value music is significant, it still hasn’t changed the fact that many people out there still buy CDs, or even vinyls and cassettes. For a medium that’s at least 50 years old, it’s a wonder that people still buy records, but business is good.

    Call it nostalgia, but it’s easy to see how people would rather pick up a physical copy of a product than pay for a digital version that’s harder to conceptualize. Whereas with a book, you’re paying for the printing, the distribution, and the many other costs inherent with getting it into your hands, with digital, you’re paying for data. You’re giving a business money for a series of virtual 0′s and 1′s that, when placed in the proper order, materialize into a word or an image on a digital screen. If anything happened to those numbers, then we’d lose everything we paid for. Poof! Gone.

    That being said, I don’t believe that businesses are handling online distribution models correctly, either. Especially considering how current copyright laws are restricting the use and sharing of content, it’s a shame that we haven’t agreed upon a proper pricing system.

    But I’ll tell you what, Netflix has it down pat. More companies need to emulate their business model, and it’ll only help the comics industry. For $7.99 a month (In Canada, I don’t know what it’s like in the States…) we have access to a constantly growing library of movie titles. As long as we pay the monthly fee, we can watch whatever’s available, with a wide range of titles, a feat unheard of in modern day brick-and-mortar Blockbusters and Mom and Pop’s. And you know what? I bet sales of DVDs and Blu-Rays haven’t even declined since Netflix’s inception. If anything, they’ve probably increased*. (*I can look for a source, if necessary. I hate to leave points like this uncredited, but I don’t have time to do research now. If needed, I can redact that last line.)

    It’s the concept of ‘try before you buy’ that’s sweeping industries by storm, and it’s what’s allowing webcomic creators, who post their wares online for anyone to read for free, to be able to make a living from selling them in book form, or otherwise.

    If the comics industry wants to advance, it has to adopt a subscription-based model that allows consumers to have access to a broader range of titles that they would have never otherwise picked up. They can start with backlogs, too. For example, only comics that are at least 5 years old will be added to the system’s library, giving new readers the opportunity of discovering great works, and then having the ability to buy them afterwards. It benefits comic artists by growing their audiences well past the release of their books, and selling more print copies for those of us who want physical copies of their work.

    Sorry for the long post, but I just wanted to get that out there. Thanks for bringing it up, Dustin! It’s a great topic that needs more attention as we get further along in the 21st century.

    Regards,

    Mike Horowitz

  9. DHARBIN! Post author

    Great comment Mike–I definitely don’t need you to “redact” anything, but that point that DVD sales haven’t declined since the advent of Netflix streaming seems… well it seems unlikely. This might be just me personally talking though–just last night I took a ton of high quality movies (Citizen Kane, etc) and sold them because I could watch them online and don’t *need* the discs, especially if they represent money I could use to pay bills.

  10. itzaviv

    I don’t think dvds/music and comicbooks are anywhere near the same thing. I mean, you can watch a dvd on any screen these days. And what’s the difference between listening to music on the computer, a stereo or and ipod?
    But books are something else, which is why people don’t want print to die out just yet. Maybe one day there will be this amazing “computer-paper” that you download different books into and read them as if it’s actual paper, thus saving a whole lot of trees. (Wow that sounds neat! I can’t wait!). But until then some people are gonna try to fight the inevitable. The people over at Marvel and DC aren’t oblivious to the digital age, they just don’t like it (okay they hate it). They can’t fight it for much longer, though.

  11. Timothy

    My statistical significance aside, I would buy and read comics if they came in a digital format, and I don’t now. So that does make at least one more-or-less new customer.

    For me it’s a matter of convenience and storage. I don’t want to have to go to a store every week to get an incremental amount of story. I don’t mind getting small story additions in a web comic because there is no effort associated with the retreival.

    On top of that I don’t have to deal with the comic after I’ve read it. Do I bag and board it? stuff it in a box that I feel compelled to hold onto forever? I hate doing that. More than anything else this is why I don’t buy comics anymore.

    I really love reading comics, and I miss some of the story arcs I was following, but I’m not interested in going back to that kind of grind.

  12. Pat

    “Are you suggesting then that publishers should respond to people’s apparent growing preference for non-print content by… further doubling-down on their position? Because that seems counterintuitive to me.”

    No, no, absolutely not. They really have no choice but to try and make some headway with digital content. I just don’t think they’ll see any significant success there without taking some sort of hit on physical sales. I’d still say too that (when it comes to comics) I don’t know if we have any evidence showing that people really do prefer digital comics and not that people just prefer free comics.

  13. DHARBIN! Post author

    Yeah–I think maybe it’s easy to confate “will hurt existing print-based sales” with “will DESTROY print-based sales.” I think all of these industries have felt or are feeling significant shrinkage due to digital sales; but I think part of that is their inability to shift their model into something more forward-thinking and less treasure-sheltering. Or maybe not “inability” but definitely their stubborn resistance to the idea.

    Also, Pat: good point on the difference between “I prefer digital comics” and “whatever’s cheapest.” That definitely is a factor. Speaking for myself, I prefer print comics overwhelmingly, but then again I’ve gotten an employee discount for pretty much my entire adult life, so it’s easier for me to prefer the costlier option.

  14. Pat

    “I think maybe it’s easy to confate ‘will hurt existing print-based sales’ with ‘will DESTROY print-based sales.’”

    Yeah, good point there too.

    Something I’ve always thought though (and i’m sure you have a hell of a lot more insight into this than i do) was that the DM, especially as it stands right now, could be a lot more vulnerable to minor shifts in sales having a kind of domino effect that might not be as harmful in other industries due to it being such a niche market.

    Does that make any sense?

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  16. Gabe Swarr

    I gotta say that this is a great discussion. My friends and I talk about this all the time. We all work for large corporations who create content, I work in TV and they work in games and we are all avid comic readers and consumers, but I’m a little different from them in the fact that I create webcomics on the side as a hobby.

    So I am seeing this issue from two totally different standpoints, as a creator and as a consumer.

    As an creator, I love the webcomic model of giving away your content, and selling physical goods. I have a feeling that that model is going to work for as long as people buy books. It’s the indy approach that even works for musicians.

    As consumers, my friends want comics and they want them as cheap as they can find them. They are completely fed up with the current model of comics and have resorted to piracy, and I don’t blame them.

    The big publishers need to see themselves as content providers, not as publishers. They need to get ahead of this curb or the entire industry will collapse.

  17. Kenny Penman

    Some excellent thought Dustin – one thing I think isn’t clear though is whether the seeming reluctance of DC to forget about comic store retailers comes from an unwillingness to change or simply the need/desire to milk one stream as long as they possibly can – whilst the other grows to replace it.

    For me it’s almost certainly the latter. At some point DC know they may well have no need of comics retailers – and that could be 6 months from now or 5 years from now. I’m guessing that tipping point is when they start making the same profit from digital as they have been from physical sales. For that to come about they probably can sell substantially less than they did as physical copies, if they can keep a reasonably high price point – if they go down the 79cents a track model – they will of course have to sell about what they are now – that’s probably a ways off. You can be sure they aren’t taking the chance until they are sure that the price reductions will bring a whole new audience or a an audience buying many more each. I’m not 100% convinced the market will grow hugely even with a low price point but it could.

    Of course with this model 90% of comics stores disappear or become some place just to go buy old collectors pieces or small press and the underground scene. I suspect that totally restricts them to the large towns as there won’t be enough trade in small towns to remain viable.

    Of course in a system where books and comics were valued and not commoditized then comics stores could happily survive and support their artform by selling collections and archive works and art books. That won’t be the case in the UK or the US though as neither of us have retail price maintenance on pricing so will continue to have to ‘compete’ against Amazon et. al who may sell at what we buy for on many titles. If you go to Germany or France where RPM still exists and Amazon can discount a max of 5% you will see robust, extremely well stocked shops which are very hard to justify financially in the marketplaces of the UK and US.

    My other observation is that if they go for the 79cents a hit model there will be a race to the bottom – not only on pricing – but paying creators who will be openly competing with many of their contemporaries who are giving their work away for free – and living of t-shirt sales.

    My guess is at some point most comics will only be available from the publishers. I expect Marvel, when they launch, to go direct – why do they need Comixology? Or maybe they invite Amazon in to try to spread the reader base. Either way there won’t be much left for comics shops there. Aligned to this the physical comics need may drop to a few thousand copies on any given title – eventually they will just print on demand and send them direct to consumer. It’ll be like an old subs system but with the HUGE difference you can actually charge FULL price.

    If this is in any way close to accurate you can’t see digital comics skirting round the comics stores for long. In fact they might just end up buy their customer data bases as they close down or fade away.

    It’s just the way it is – or is going to be. I disagree with Brian Hibbs when he says DC broke their contract with retailers. Far as I can see it’s still in place – they continue to sell comics to you on the same terms as before. they still support advertising and offer incentives. In truth DC have always been very retailer friendly given this is commercial trade. But they never had a contract with comics retailers to sell ones and zero’s through them. The digital comic wasn’t part of the deal. How many comics retailers are even in a position in terms of their digital set-up to lever their through the door customers into converted digital customers? Very few I imagine – perhaps a few of the really big stores only. The market can’t wait for the comics stores to catch up – and it won’t.

    The world is changing try to find a way to change with it or it will only see you in the rear view mirror.

  18. Rich Barrett

    I only just saw this today and I have to say, Dustin, this is one of the best analyses on the state of digital comics I’ve read.

    I’ve also been a big proponent for a while now of comics moving to some sort of subscription-based system. It would solve both the price and the “ownership” issue. As someone who has been consuming both movies and music this way for a long time now I’m totally in favor of comics doing the same. However one thing I keep thinking about in terms of is: With a monthly, all-you-can-eat subscription plan how much would creators get screwed financially from this deal? Independent musicians and small labels have had no choice but to embrace Spotify but they get laughably miniscule royalties from that service: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/music/2011/08/10/kicking-and-streaming-why-indies-tolerate-spotifys-minuscule-royalties/

    Would a setup like eMusic does work better? For a monthly price you get a set number of comics that you can actually download and keep? There could be different price plans based on how many comics you want each month.

    I don’t know of a similar ebook model except for this one which hasn’t launched yet: http://muzereader.com/ They will offer the Spotfiy concept – unlimited books for a monthly fee – but they’ve been stalled in launching for a while now.

    Anyway, you made a lot of really great points here.

  19. Brandon Seifert

    Very good points! A lot to think about, too.

    One thing this pointed out to me is that when people pirate a comic, they’re actually getting *more* than if they were to pay for a copy of that comic through ComiXology or one of the other digital services — because they get the actual files, which they can share, print, or do whatever with, and nothing short of a hard-drive malfunction can take it away from them.

    We’re day-and-date with WITCH DOCTOR through Kirkman’s imprint at Image, and we’ve got pretty solid sales through ComiXology so far… but of course, that’s at the same $2.99 as the print edition.

  20. Jason A. Quest

    My biggest problem with the idea of comics as an all-you-can-eat subscription service is that there’s no good place for the independent cartoonist in that model. I don’t put out 52 books a month, and I don’t even have a back-catalog of material I could justify charging people for access to. I just have a few books that I could (under the traditional model) charge buyers for as I produce each one. If monthly subscription is where the audience goes, and the whole notion of paying X to read Y becomes passé, I’d have to go to some syndicate/mafia to and beg them to carry my work, where I’d be completely dependent on them and get lost in the shuffle. At least if the digital-store models prevails, and people remain accustomed to the idea of X-for-Y transactions, the independent cartoonist would still have a chance of selling direct to the reader.

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  22. Steve Broome

    “) It’s not that comics need to be collectible. It’s not even that comics need to be owned–just look at other digital industries. Users are used to–even prefer, in many cases–subscription-based systems that allow them access to a broad range of content, without owning anything. But digital culture, while not free, simply doesn’t have the same costs associated with it as print culture. Imagine if you used a service like Netflix, but instead of $8.99 a month, you paid a dollar for every tv episode you watched, and $1.99 for ever movie? Imagine if you used Spotify but were charged based on each track you listened to, rather than a periodic subscription fee. I’m not saying that those models won’t evolve one day–probably will, actually–but if you’re not going to get to keep something, if you’re only buying a license, then paying per episode just doesn’t make much sense.”"

    I’ve been sort of sounding the call for a netflix type of service to compete, but anthologies in print format never worked. I’m not sure that in terms of just reading something, people are going to opt for a paid service to read their comics over simply reading something else on the internet. But I’m very hopeful that it CAN work. Re: Netflix it has to be re-stated over and over again, but, as evidenced by the Starz situation, tons of people in Hollywood (including some that I know) hate the Netflix subscription model for how little they make from it. We’re talking pennies for people who are on the lower end of the creativity totem. I question how long that will really work before networks wise up and just start offering all their own content on their own websites.

  23. Gerry Giovinco

    Marvel abandoned a perfectly good Netflix style model when they moved away from Marvel Digital where for $10 a month you could read plenty of material that they were archiving from their rich 70 year history. It would take a lifetime to read all that material but I’d give it a try at that price.

    That library is now virtually impossible to afford at $1.99 an issue.

    You are absolutely right about digital revenue after the product is in print. Any profit from digital is found money so why not use that opportunity to truly reach new readers by making it a deal that can’t be refused.

    When comic publishers compile issues in a graphic novel or an essential package the retail value of each story is reduced by at least half. Compare a 12 issue series where each issue is $2.99 equalling $35.88 retail for the series. Packages as a GN it may sell at $19.99 and you own a physical product. An essential package may have 30 issues compiled for $14.95 that’s 50 cents an issue, still a better deal than digital and the consumer is left with a product in hand.

    Those products also have production expenses which cut deeply into the return to the publisher and add risk to the investment. These are non factors for digital product.

  24. Gerry Giovinco

    My Bad!

    I just checked and Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited is still up and running and the deal is better than I remembered. $4.99 a month or $59.88 a year gets you incredible access to over 10,000 digital comics that are flash based and must be read on a computer or a tablet that can support flash (not the iPad.)

    Here’s a link: http://marvel.com/digital_comics/unlimited

  25. Pingback: Newscast for September 11th, 2011 | The Webcast Beacon Network

  26. Pingback: The Evolution of Digital Comics | JohnKiv.us

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  28. Meta4

    It seems to me, that between diamond distributions and the retailers cut, the publisher is only seeing 25% of the retail price. That’s a flawed business model. The distributor is seeing more profit than the publisher. What I suggest is this, publishers cut diamond out of the equation, and do all distribution “in house” by having a dept. That deals with filling orders from individual comic shops themselves.
    Publishers produce monthly issues in a digital format, each publisher create their own digital “store” thus handling distribution themselves, and charge drastically less than a print copy of each issue (let’s say $1). Print copy’s are restricted to an order only service, only those with pull-boxes at comic shops would get a print copy of new individual issues. This would make each print run only what was ordered, so not only does the publisher remove the risk of unsold or returned copy’s of a book, the retailer assumes less risk on unsold issues, but these things would actually be rare again, a collectors item, which you could charge a premium for in retail shops.
    Each publisher would also have a service where you pre order a hardcover of a series, are charged upfront, and you are then emailed a code for a one time download of each individual issue in the collection each month. When the hardcover is released, it is mailed directly to you. No more “waiting for the trade”, and each customer gets a nice, quality hardcover and digital copy’s of each issue within.
    A subscription based service would work for archives and older back issues, seems to be a good way for the publishers to be making money on years worth of past material, that currently they are only making money on the limited reprints of.
    The model obviously needs to change, and I personally thing that after the boom of the 90′s, there are just too many hands in the pot. The publishers can do most of this “in house” and make the money that the other steps In the retail ladder have been. A radical model for sure, but it might just keep this industry afloat,

  29. Ashikai

    Out of curiosity, why not make the change with the comic STORES and not with the comic PUBLISHERS?

    I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time. Comic book shops are typically full of hard-copies, action figures, and comic paraphernalia, but what if we updated that? Like how libraries got computer labs. Make your local comic shop into a comic lounge instead.

    Add some computers and free wifi, throw around a lot of comfy seating, and suddenly you have a nice little hang out spot. Keep the printed copies in stock, but also encourage the browsing of digital comics on in-store ipads/computers/kiosks, and if someone really likes a digital comic, offer to order it for them. I think the important thing here is to not separate digital from print, but marry them together since they are, in fact, two sides of the exact same coin.

    I think it’s unfair to assume that you have to have one or the other. It’s easy to have both and I’m not sure why companies have such a hard time with this concept. Use the digital material as marketing and promotional matter, and the print + merchandise for profit. Print smaller runs, or print on demand. So the printed costs rises, that’s no problem! People who want the printed version will pay an extra buck to get it. The people who don’t care about collecting, won’t bother to buy the printed copy and will delight in having their instant-gratification instead.

    Just my thoughts on that.

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