Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Digital comics are still a little scary to some, offensive to others, and a haven to experiment for even more. Digital comics are also still very nascent and their most effective future path has yet to be chosen though there are many options. Many bandy about the term ‘day and date,’ a phrase I loathe for its ridiculous sound, but not enough have looked into the merits of digital comics becoming the haven of the back issue that have become harder and harder to find. I want more old issues available on my iPad and here’s why.
ComiXology and the Digital Comic
I am going to discuss this through ComiXology because I want to have my argument about just one platform. If you use Graphic.ly or any other options then transfer these arguments to those systems. It’ll all hold together.
ComiXology offers you the opportunity to buy comics digitally and read them on any of the aforementioned electronic devices. You don’t own a copy of the comic, you own the ability to read it through the ComiXology interface. People have been sceptical about this but it actually works quite well. If you download all your comics onto your iPad (and the iPad is the device I will use to streamline my words) and then your iPad dies all you need to do is buy a new iPad, log in using your ComiXology details, and you can download all your previously owned comics again at no cost. ComiXology knows which comics your account owns and gives you unrestricted access to those issues. You can even run the application across multiple devices and have multiple versions of that one comic in your house (on you iPad, iPhone, etc).
This system means you can’t really lose your digital collection. If you lose the device you just log into another one and you’re set. You do need to download the comics again but you will be allowed to. If the ComiXology servers were to crash, though, then maybe there might be an issue but for now it all seems very smooth. No one has lost their digital collection. Yet. But even I’ve had the odd glitch or problem with ComiXology and always found their customer service team to be exemplary. They always resolve the problem and act like actual humans.
Free and Sale Content
There are also 99c sales where arcs or runs appear on sale for a buck an issue for a finite period of time be it a day or 3 days. It’s another excellent lure and one I’ve taken advantage of many times before. I can’t even imagine how many runs have now been on offer in the 99c sales. There’s at least one sale a week, usually two, and they’ve been going for months now. You can pick up an arc for $6, or less. I really dig that.
Day and Date
Digital comics should be after other readers, casual readers, lapsed readers, mildly curious readers. There are so many iPad owners in the world and they now all have access to hundreds and hundreds of comics. Digital comics should be after that crowd because they might not care so much about if the book is released digitally the same day as in print. This new crowd probably won’t care about not having the paper copy in their hands or in their house. This crowd is probably happy to have no need to store a weekly amassing stack of paper. The people who download albums off iTunes are perfect for the digital comics revolution, but all of this is not a new concept.
If digital comics released day and date do come down in price then that’s not helping the retailers in an already struggling business. I get that completely and agree with it mostly. It’s a slippery slope to switch people over to digital because that means the industry loses a lot from the stores that would inevitably close from this loss of income.
The day and date argument only really matters to the Wednesday crowd and digital comics needs to look past this insular group. DC Comics have made a great leap in offering their entire New 52 line day and date release digitally but who is going to want to spend $3 on a digital comic when you can buy one to tangibly keep for the same price? It’s ludicrous and not smart business. There has to be a better way to use this format.
However, digital comics don’t take up any space. Digital comics don’t require storage or floor space, digital comics can easily offer me 50 years of one title. Hell, it should be able to offer me 50 years of all titles. If digital comics started really strongly peddling back issues from way back when then this wouldn’t harm the retailers as much, if at all. Perhaps there’d be a few less sales of some old collection reprints, trades, HCs, etc. Maybe. The way most people covet their shelves as a shrine of pride I doubt it would be this crowd who would be lured away.
Back issues would be perfect for the curious or the time poor or the money poor. I don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four issues, and the omnibus just can’t be found for a decent price anymore, and I don’t want to read them in black and white. An easy option would be to have all these issues digitally available and offer them for 99c each. That’s $100, still a decent price for the company, but more affordable to many readers. The reader isn’t stuck buying a whole HC worth but instead poaches the issues that interest them. Or slowly amasses them at 3 a week for a year.
DC has recently been very good at uploading plenty of old content and making them available in massive 101 sales. They’ve had a 101 sale spotlight on most of the major character with issues 99c each and there have been some real gems. Some of this content has even stabilised at 99c, which is awesome. ComiXology needs to offer new content but it should also heavily look into, and invest, in bringing the past to the current readers.
I know transferring all these old comics to the digital format is probably quite difficult, and not a task at which one snaps their fingers and finds it completed. I understand that and I hope if I wait long enough this trend of back issues will become the norm. I hope to see ComiXology utilise digital comics for something that will help sell more comics to new people, will help people catch up so they’ll buy more current comics from their LCS, and won’t take too much business away from the retailers.
Buying back issues is a trepidatious endeavour at cons at the best of times. I admit, there are some comics I would still want to own in paper, and hunting it down in dusty longboxes can be a blast, but there’s something to be said for the convenience of shopping from home and knowing the books are there, and having the instant download gratification to be able to read within minutes.
Surely plenty of people would invest in back issues if they were more widely available. It’s an avenue not many people have brought up but it feels to me to be the one thing a company like ComiXology could do better than just about any other method.
Once ComiXology catches up and offers full trade collections of stories then they’ll lure in even more people from outside comics. They might not get the whole decompressed issue business but they’ll understand a trade as a whole story.
This sale format might impact more on retailers but the degree to which it has a negative effect is something I think would be negligible. I’ll state it again, I don’t think the Wednesday crowd will all suddenly jump ship. But I could be wrong…
I really want to see expansive runs of back issues available on ComiXology and available cheaply. I love reading digital comics but the comics I buy monthly I still want in paper. It’s the other comics, the ones I’ll try but don’t necessary want to find a shelf for, that I want to access digitally. How do you read your comics? Would you get behind buying more digital back issues rather than this week’s comics? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.