And, as primarily a DC Comics reader, I'm fiercely proud of any number of aspects of DC's new digital initiative, from the ability to read comics on multiple platforms to their stated intent of using some of the revenue toward local comic book stores, to how close DC played all this to the vest before the announcement. At a time when it seems there's no surprises left in comics, this was a shocker.
That said, for the time being, this new initiative changes my comics reading habits not at all.
Neither Faster Nor More Powerful
I in no way mean to take away from the wonder of DC's announcement. If you're a monthly comics fan with an iPad, and you live far away from or otherwise don't have access to a comic book store, and you don't mind your comics in digital format, this seems like the thing for you. You get your comics on time (Justice League: Generation Lost at least) and at no greater price; I read the Superman #700 preview on the Comixology website (no iPad here, unfortunately) and it's a quite fine, readable interface.
But as a wait-for-trader, today's issue of Justice League: Generation Lost online holds no more value for me than the issue in the stores; I haven't read Blackest Night yet, so I'm not about to pick up Generation Lost. And, even once I've read Blackest Night, there would be no more draw for me to read Generation Lost online than to get it at my local comic book store -- the release date is exactly the same as the physical issue, and the price (on the release date, at least) is exactly the same.
Good for DC, that is, in giving readers more choice in terms of how they want to read their comics -- but without sweetening the deal in relation to the existing sales model, I have no reason to make a switch.
Whose Comics Now?
In addition, whereas I like the Comixology interface, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone online talking about the digital rights issue yet. Near as I can tell (and feel free to educate me further), you don't receive copies of the comics files yourself, but rather you log in to Comixology to view your comics library. The same questions that apply to digital books apply here: What happens if Comixology (no offense to them) goes out of business? What happens if they lose your account? What happens if you want to replace your iPhone with a Droid -- will you feel locked into the iPhone so as to retain mobile access to your comics collection?
Certainly there's good answers to these questions, and the fact that Comixology and DC already offer iPad, iPhone, and web access is more than other mobile reading paradigms offer. But, the fact that something that's "yours" isn't yours -- especially when considering often-massive comics collections -- gives me initial pause.
Directions for Digital to Go
Again, however, we're just at the beginning of this. I don't see anything necessarily bad about DC's initial digital announcement -- and as a matter of fact, they're doing many things better than other companies -- I just don't see its breakthrough application for me yet. Here's what I'd like to see next from DC's digital comics:
- 1. Drop the price point. I know creators have to get paid and I know there's some labor involved in digitizing these comics, but selling digital comics at the same price as the physical issues in the absence of shipping and printing costs doesn't make sense. If I have to pay the same amount, I might as well just get the physical copy.
- 2. Expand the backlist. Obviously this is coming, but I'll be far more enthusiastic about all of this when the Batman offerings aren't the first issue of Batman: Year One, already reprinted everywhere, but rather all of Batman: Year Three (or Flash: Hell to Pay, as we were discussing here recently).
- 3. Offer a subscription service. I don't necessarily want the digital rights to a full Comixology-held copy of Blackest Night for life, but I wouldn't mind reading the whole series now in advance of the hardcovers, and then enjoying my hardcovers in perpetuity. If DC/Comixology offered a subscriber service where for a flat fee or monthly rate I could read all comics published in the last twelve months, but when they're gone, they're gone; or I could "check out" so many titles at one time but then had to "return" one before I could read another, that would be attractive to me. To some extent, this might be the Netflix approach to DC's digital comics.
- 4. Sell series at a discount. We begin to get into the realm of trade paperback collections here -- even if the individual issues of Batman: Hush are discounted at $1.99, I expect a certain reward if I sign on to buy all the issues at once -- even one issue free might be a possibility.
- 5. Give new life to old series. Invincible Super-Blog's Chris Sims wondered aloud what would happen if cancelled series Manhunter or Blue Beetle did well in the digital comics format -- might that spell a return for those titles?
- 6. Start with the digital. Matter of fact, I think DC should go farther and offer new content starring these fan-favorites -- co-feature-sized Manhunter or Blue Beetle stories, priced at $0.99 (or get all twelve stories for $11) that start at DC Digital and then are collected in trade paperback later on; this is, I believe, essentially the Zuda model. That is, let's not just see DC Digital as a repository for what's also coming out every week, but let's also see DC Digital as a launch pad for series that might not otherwise survive in the monthly market.
CA: In terms of pricing, will there be any digital versions of trades – bundled collections of digital comics that sell for less than their price as singles?In essence, I'm really excited about DC's digital announcement today -- but I'm more excited about what DC's digital announcements will be tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Dare I say it?
JL: Right now we're focusing on the periodical side of things, but obviously we have had many detailed discussions about graphic novels and how those are best served going forward in the digital space and we'll have announcements shortly as we get to them, but our initial release is focused on periodicals, and there's a reason for that. That's as much as I can say about it . . .
CA: Have you given any thought to the possibility of releasing digital-only content, perhaps for critically-acclaimed titles with small but loyal followings like "Manhunter" or "Blue Beetle"?
JL: Not in the short term. Part of our mantra with all this is to make sure it's as additive as possible, so the idea of doing something where you're limiting it to a certain channel doesn't really speak to that strategy. But I would say, never say never. There could be some sort of compelling reason to have it be digital only – some level of interaction only digital could provide that wouldn't be well served by print. But initially, there is no plan to do that. It's really about making it an additive experience and making sure our traditional brick and mortal storefronts are well-served by us promoting and selling more comic books to more people. Ultimately we are building the audience, and that will build an entire marketplace not just for the digital channel but the brick and mortar channel.)
... Just imagine.