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.