Sunday, August 28, 2011

Digital Horizons: Marvel Claims Digital Supremacy, Digital Storefronts Go Live

Last weekend Joe Quesada made the claim that Marvel is the #1 digital publisher. This week Graeme McMillan, who is quickly becoming my favorite Blog@Newsarama contributor (with all due respect to his fellow contributors, who also write great stuff), asked (a) what does that mean? and (b) how on earth would Joe Quesada know that?


This week Comixology's Digital Storefront program went live. Apparently, some retailers are not happy about the terms of the program. For example: give up your right to sue or form class action lawsuits; comiXology has the right to use your service marks to promote their digital service; you're obligated to promote the service in-store to existing customers; there are some circumstances where you don't receive even a single penny until you sell well over 600 comics, and so on and so forth...
I'm kind of bummed about this. As I mentioned the other day, I feel somewhat ambivalent about being one of those people who are giving up print comics in favor of digital, thus screwing over the direct market. I understand that the direct market is important for the survival of the comics industry as we know it. At the same time, I and every other consumer have to make decisions that make the most sense for us--comic shops are not charities we should be guilted into donating to. Digital is what makes sense for me right now, but I was  hoping the Digital Storefront program would give me a way to do what's best for me while still supporting businesses that I value.

I don't know anything about how the program works except for what I've quoted from Brian Hibbs above, but based on what I can observe, this is what I think needs to happen:

  • Retailers need to be able to customize the display, just as they arrange the comics they display in their shops. Right now, what I see is basically Comixology's web app framed on the retailer's website.
  • Retailers need to be able to offer subscriber discounts, and they need to be making enough of a profit that they can afford to do this. Right now pricing appears to be determined by Comixology, which means I have no incentive to buy from Comics Dungeon instead of buying directly from Comixology, except that I think they're good people and I want to help keep them in business. Altruism only goes so far in a capitalistic economy.
  • Apart from alternative pricing, retailers need to be able to offer something Comixology doesn't. Like, I dunno, signed copies or region-specific variants? Again, consumers need incentives to buy from the retailers. 
The problem, as Hibbs points out, is that Comixology wants to be a retailer (actually, the retailer), not a distributor (not even the distributor). And Comixology doesn't have incentive to do otherwise, so as Hibbs says, the problem lies at DC's feet. Or mine, I suppose, as the consumer. I'm not sure what I can do, though, other than support the Digital Storefront program (such as it is) as my way of saying that yes, I want digital comics, but I want to get them without screwing over the direct market. Even if the program doesn't support the direct market as well as it should, it's currently the only option I have if those are my goals as a consumer. 

The other thing I can do, as with other issues I have with Comixology, is wait it out. Yes, they are very quickly becoming the iTunes of comics, but before long Amazon will come along and start offering DRM-free digital comics (i.e. digital comics I can actually download and own) at the same price, and Comixology will be forced to try new things in order to compete. Hopefully one of the ways they compete will be by teaming up with retailers in a more equitable fashion. 

If only everything I wished for on this blog came true...

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