DC Digital – You’re Doing It Wrong

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The DC Comics App

The DC Comics App

I have a confession to make. I’m an online comics retailer, but I’m a huge fan of digital comics. I’ve had an iPad for about 3 months now, and in that time I’ve purchased a number of titles via DC Comics’ iPad app.

On New Year’s Day DC had a massive sale on Blackest Night and I bought 12 comics for .99 each. A great deal (I own the single issues AND the hardcovers of all these titles, but I wanted them digitally so I could have them with me). I picked up Chase #1-4, one of my all time favourite comic series, and I was trying to figure out whether this would be how I get comics going forward.

Unfortunately it won’t be. It’s simply not cost effective, and downloading comics on the iPad is a slow and cumbersome job. The average comic takes quite a few minutes to download, and there’s no way to do it in the background (that I’ve figured out), which means my iPad has to sit idle for a bunch of minutes. If you have an iPad you know that it’s an impulse tool. “Oh, I want to look this up.” Grab iPad, look up what you need to, put iPad away. All is good. Having it “down” for even a few minutes becomes irritating. Combined with the fact that my iPad is now how I read emails, Twitter, and Facebook, and it sucks not having it available.

Having a desktop version of the app which would let me manage my collection and somehow tell iTunes what to sync up with my iPad (or even better just simply wirelessly transfer stuff over) would be tons better.

I love buying books using the Kindle app, so I’m used to using my iPad to purchase digital content. Same with digital music and movies, I use the iPad for that all the time.

I don’t have a problem not owning a physical artifact, in fact that’s one of the most compelling features of digital comics for me. Owning a comic is a burden. Owning a digital artifact is simple. Digital storage is pennies and I have plenty of it (I have a 4TB array in my home server right now which even though my content is mirrored, still has an astonishing 3TB free right now). Physical space…not so much. With our recent basement renovation I have even LESS space down there than ever before.

Price though IS a barrier. I can’t conceivably pay more for a digital product than I do for a physical one.

No other medium works this way. Well, except movies which I refuse to buy on iTunes either because quite frankly it’s dumb to buy a digital file for $20 when I can get a physical DVD for $5.00 and rip it for free.

DC announced their new day-and-date digital comics program. $2.99 per title, dropping to $1.99 a month later. If you want to get it when it comes out (when the actual conversations will be happening online), you’re out of luck. Hey, early adopters…just wait a month. You’re good at that right?

Meanwhile I can buy that same comic from my local comic shop for $2.39 (a 20% discount is pretty standard, we offer it at All New Comics, some online shops offer 25-50% off cover price, other shops give 15% off).  So digital is more expensive than print.

A print subscription is $19.99/year on the DC Comics Website.  $1.65 an issue.

Digital is more expensive.

I won’t even use Amazon as an example (although I believe collections of comics for sale digitally should be bundled and sold for the same 33% off cover Amazon offers for new TPB’s).

Instead, let’s look at something that is directly similar to comics, it has a subscription offered by the publisher directly, and there are electronic versions as well.

I have a digital subscriptions to both Wired Magazine and Family Handyman. Both are on my iPad.

Wired available on it’s own dedicated app. It’s not only a magazine, but each issue is interactive, with the addition of video and cool interactive elements. It’s not as good as the print edition, in my opinion it’s better. A 1 year subscription to the digital version of Wired is $20.00. Up until this point I paid $3.99 an issue digitally. Meanwhile I paid $40.00 a year for my print version, and about $5.99 an issue if I bought it off the newsstand.

It is released day and date with print (faster than my print subscription which usually arrived 2-3 weeks after shipping.

Family Handyman is part of the Zinio app, which let’s you download and read tons of publishers stuff. I had a print subscription which was $20.00 a year. Each issue is $4.99 on the newsstand. Digitally each issue is $1.99, and an annual subscription is $10.00.

It’s released day and date with print.

Remember, there’s no real market for pirating specialty magazines like there is for comics, although I’m sure Wired is available on torrent sites somewhere, the entire issue IS available online via the wired.com website.  However the barrier to entry is so low it just made sense to buy this thing that I enjoy every month (which let’s me know when it arrives even!).

Apple just announced yesterday that they have integrated newsstand sales with their iBooks application, which means iBooks just became useful to me.

Now is the time for DC to make a bold announcement.  Support the new digital economy.  Buy Comixology, PanelFly, or Graphic.ly and turn them into your exclusive app.  Offer low cost subscriptions, and turn the apps into something that the comics can’t be.  Include Facebook style postings and ways for fans to interact with each other, and embrace the future.

Imagine if the movie industry had said no to VHS tapes which movie theatres were telling studios would ruin the movie business.  Imagine if studios had listened to rental stores that said pricing DVD’s at $20.00 would ruin their rental business.  When movie studios (and the music industry) stopped listening to their consumers and didn’t provide them with their content in a way they wanted it (digitally), sales plummeted.

DC is trying to prop up the past of comic shops by holding back the future, and it simply won’t work.  Comic shops also need to change or die, they need to provide experiences that are different than what we’re used to, and they likely can’t continue to sell a $3.00 product and hope to pay their expenses which have doubled or tripled in the last decade while their profits have remained flat.

Not understanding the lessons of the past will destroy the ENTIRE industry, and not just the few thousand stores that are still around.

4 Responses to “DC Digital – You’re Doing It Wrong”

  1. Ratenef

    Brian,

    I think there are a few points that you’re missing.

    1) as one of your customers I already get my comics a month ‘late’, so i’ve learned to deal with the conversations and spoilers

    2) not all comic stores offer discounts. The largest one in Brampton actually stools marks them up ( as if the Cnd $ was still well below par).

    3) not everyone has a local store to buy their comics from. As WoW was a means for RPG’ers to game despite not having a group locally, digital comics will be a market for those without local access to comics.

    4) currently comics are primarilly only available at comic or specialty shops. With digital, you have the potential for impulse buying, and actually grow the market.

    5) there are very few comics that people have the time or desire to read more than once or twice. Buying the physical medium only serves to create large collections of paper that is likely to only end up in a landfill or recycling depot. Recently, after futily trying to donate my comics (7 long boxes) — library would only take them bound and Canada doesn’t seem to have an option to ship them overseas for our troops — I ended up giving them to friends and family. My wife was ever so grateful for the reclaimed space in the bedroom. Digital comics take almost no space and there is no worries of having to move them or dispose of them. However they will be quite difficult to share.

    Now would I like to see digital comics for 99 cents. Sure who wouldn’t. But the price of comics has already been stated by Marvel as ” we’ll charge as high as you’ll pay”. And DC’s holding the line at $2.99 hasn’t saved their monthly top 300 sales from shrinking. So the price is fairly inelastic.

    Further the digital comics have some post processing on them ( the frame by frame as opposed to page by page view ), which can allow for a different story telling option. Imagine the recent ‘choose your adventure’ issue of The Unwritten taking you the path without you’re needing to flip to the appropriate page.

    And I think that people over price the costs of the paper and ink of printed comics. They are likely the least expensive components ( most certainly to the big two and the ‘major publishers’).

    Let’s also not forget that if they we charging 99 cents a digital copy, it would cut directly into resellers ( like yourself ) sales and they would likely stop all their DC physical orrs, or at least seriously constrict them.

    As John Mayo has said on the Comic Book Page Podcast, “raising prices will lower sales, but lowering prices won’t necessarily increase sales”.

    Feel free to contact me at my email Ratenef@Rogers.com if you want to discuss this in greater length.

  2. brian

    I honestly don’t think the digital market is the same as the print market. I don’t want comics in my house any more, I don’t have the space, and something seems wrong with putting them in recycling (like I do my Previews magazines about once every six months, which nearly breaks my back hauling to the curb).

    While it might suck initially for comic shops, they will survive and adapt, the same way they survived when mainstream booksellers came in selling TPB’s and HC’s (and getting 65% discounts, 90 day terms and full return-ability…all stuff that we as comic shops don’t get).

    As far as print profit vs digital profit:

    Right now DC is lucky to make 1.00 an issue of a printed copy, but I’ll bet it’s closer to 75 cents.

    A 2.99 comic is sold to a retailer for about 50% off. Diamond’s maximum discount for DC is 57%. Diamond MUST make at least 3% (I’d estimate closer to 5% though) at a minimum. So a 2.99 comic nets DC $1.19 at the high end. Let’s say that printing is minimally expensive, .20 cents? So they make about $1.00 per copy. This doesn’t factor in shipping, brokerage fees, or storage which they pay for as well.

    If they sell it on ComiXology, they likely make about $1.50 on a 2.99 comic (Apple takes 30%, ComiXology takes about another 20% from what I understand). Drop that down to 1.99 and they’re making roughly the same digitally that they do with print, maybe even more. Even at .99 an issue, they are doing half as well as they are with print.

    Double the volume (not out of the realm of possibility as Amazon has said they are seeing astronomical growth with through the Kindle), and they make it up on volume.

  3. Weirdo

    More importantly is why you feel proud of the fact that you purchased the same product 3 times.

    Did you get the exact same thrill each time reading it on a new medium ?

    Or you just think DC needs more of your cash ?

  4. brian

    I used to buy the single issues just because of the episodic nature of comics.

    Hardcover was a replacement for the single issues (and I find I enjoy reading an entire story at once without having to dig through eight months of comics to do that).

    Digital was a convenience/price thing. They were .99 each, and I wanted to read them then and there. That’s it.

    Now I think that Digital will end up replacing issues 1 and 2 for me for 90% of things. You can read them as they’re released, and re-read them as collections all at once, with the added benefit of not having to keep the actual physical artifacts lying around!