Who benefits from DRM? (Not the consumer.)

June 22nd, 2012 by | Tags: ,

I’ve been thinking about DRM again lately, especially Diablo III‘s ridiculous always-on DRM and ComiXology shutting down a script to download comics you’ve purchased. It’s fair to say that I’m pretty much anti-DRM, but I still want to talk this out.

The Diablo III thing is painfully obvious to me. If you buy a single player game, you should be able to play it whenever you want. This has been true all the way back to Nintendo days. It’s basic. You shouldn’t need to be online or communicating with someone else just to get your game on. But, when Diablo launched, the servers went down, and folks who dropped sixty on their shiny new game couldn’t do a thing. As it turns out, the always-on DRM was to protect their auction house. It doesn’t matter if you’re not using it or if you’re just playing alone. You have to be connected, no matter what, and if the servers are down, you’re screwed.

The ComiXology thing is different, but still related. If you buy digital comics, you’re probably paying full retail for those comics every week from ComiXology. You can read those comics in their (pretty crappy) Flash-based web reader, on the (average, but sometimes janky) iPad reader, on iPhone, or on your Android device. You don’t get a file, exactly, so much as access to the files. If you want to read your comics in ComicZeal, which has a remarkably clean and smooth reading experience despite a less-than-feature-rich library section, you’re out of luck. If you want to read your comics on a PC without being online, you’re out of luck. If ComiXology goes out of business, which isn’t a crazy idea at all, you’re super out of luck. You’re locked to what ComiXology chooses to allow you to use.

What I realized is that DRM has a lot of benefits for the publisher, but next to none for the consumer. Blizzard can track exactly who plays Diablo III and when, which is valuable for gathering demographic data, off the top of my head. ComiXology can tell publishers exactly what contexts their comics will appear in and on what devices. DRM is about control, basically, rather than being a value-add. It’s a limiting service, rather than one focused on expansion, and the people most affected by it are consumers who actually want to consume this stuff.

DRM is a restriction. DRM doesn’t say what you can do. It says what you cannot. That’s the entire point. It’s about controlling information and access. It’s often used for anti-piracy reasons, but the funny thing is that piracy entirely sidesteps DRM, save for one or two steps that the actual pirate has to go through to make something available for downloading. Not being able to download comics directly from ComiXology doesn’t stop people from putting up ComiXology-derived scans. Not even close.

The script ComiXology shut down was called cmxget. The Reddit thread has been wiped clean of instructions and info on it, and I have yet to find a copy, even though I spent quite some time poking around. I’m really curious to see how it works, because a 2kb bash script isn’t a hefty bit of programming, I don’t think. cmxget allowed you to download comics you already own, and presumably you’d have to run it in a Terminal window, which already means that it’s not a viable piracy method. That’s too much work for too little gain when I can hop over to usenet or Rapidshare and get any comic ever in about five seconds.

DRM is meant to limit what you’re allowed to do, but the very nature of the Flash app means that that limitation is, at best, perfunctory. It’s not going to stop anyone who wants to break it, and it’s not even really gonna stop anyone who once half-thought about breaking it. I got curious and figured this out ages ago. It’s like if… Macrovision on VHS tapes was something you could turn off by pressing Volume + and Volume – on your remote at the same time, or if a DVD included an off button for its copy protection. It’s simple. Simpler than the conversion from CD to MP3, even.

But ComiXology still shut down the script, even though the script can’t be used for downloading free comics. You have to have access to the comics legitimately, which means that you paid for those comics. cmxget is probably pretty tedious, and definitely much less efficient than just hitting up a sharing site. You’re essentially downloading things that you already own via an extremely boring route… but that’s not really true, is it?

Here’s section 6 from the ComiXology Terms of Use (which they reserve the right to modify whenever and however they like without warning you beforehand):

Digital Content:
The Service enables you to download, display and use comic books and other digitized electronic content as made available by comiXology from time to time (individually and collectively, “Digital Content”). Upon your payment of the applicable fees (if any) and subject to any further restrictions in the EULA, if applicable, comiXology grants you the non-exclusive right to view, use and display the Digital Content as part of your use of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by comiXology. ComiXology reserves the right to revoke your license to Digital Content at any time for any reason. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content. You acknowledge and agree that Digital Content may not be available to view, use or display under certain conditions, such as due to restrictions made by licensors of Digital Content or if the publisher of Digital Content no longer retains the rights or other licenses, consents or permissions to that Digital Content. ComiXology reserves the right to modify or discontinue the offering of any Digital Content at any time. If a unit of Digital Content becomes unavailable prior to download but after purchase, your sole and exclusive remedy is the refund of the purchase price paid for such Digital Content.

I’ve bolded the relevant bits, which is a lot of the paragraph, I guess. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but I want to reiterate what’s going on here. You’re not buying comics. You’re buying a license to view the comics at ComiXology’s discretion. You may not discuss how to circumvent their copy protection. You may not to let your friends use your account to read a comic. If a publisher associated with ComiXology goes out of business or loses the rights to a comic, you have no remedy. You’re paying for a permission slip, not content, and you are most certainly not paying for comics.

I’ve personally sunk a lot of money into ComiXology. I generally wake up on Wednesday, do morning workout stuff, and then browse for comics while I eat breakfast. I’ll read comics over lunch if I’m really excited about them, and then mop up the rest over the rest of the week. The website says I have 151 separate series in my collection, and that ranges from one-shots to full runs. I dunno how much money that is, but I’ve been buying comics exclusively from these guys (more specifically, through the Isotope affiliate store, since Sime is my dude) for the better part of a year now, and off and on for a couple years, so probably a lot.

What happens when ComiXology goes away? I lose the license and my comics go away, along with my money. ComiXology is emphatic about not giving out refunds. My comics go away because I never actually bought (for example) Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman. I bought the rights to view it at the discretion of someone else. When they go away, so does their discretion. And that sucks. Companies close all the time. Yahoo! is in the process of running Flickr into the ground. Google Video is gone. All those early ’00s music vendors we thought were great alternatives to Napster? Dead. Blockbuster, Sam Goody, every game store that isn’t GameStop… why should ComiXology be any different? They’re a very big fish in a very small pond. But at one point, Flickr was on top of the world, too.

This isn’t rabid paranoia. It’s simply being careful about where and how you spend your money. Look at what happened to the manga and anime industries. Look at MySpace. Companies close.

The thing that’s particularly odious about ComiXology’s approach to DRM is that ComiXology really is the biggest fish in a small pond. So why not offer DRM-free files? The benefit of being a big fish is that you get to dictate to the market. Always-on DRM for video games is a terrible idea, an idea that definitely hurts consumers, but Blizzard is such a big dog that they got away with it. Why? Because people won’t do without Blizzard. They won’t do without that Diablo III. So Blizzard gets away scot-free. Why would Blizzard introduce always-on DRM? Who knows. (No, we all know: it’s about money. It’s always about money. Everything is about money.)

Why not push that in the other direction? ComiXology’s DRM is about as effective as tissue paper is at stopping bullets. Piracy is happening regardless of the DRM. Savvy programmers figured out how to reliably backup their comics already. The DRM is a smokescreen, a nod in the direction of security. It’s not a locked door. It’s a screen door with the glass up during a storm. Piracy and DRM are clearly two separate issues, so why not flip the script and push something that would please customers?

“Starting today, every file you purchase or have purchased on ComiXology will be available in an optional DRM-free CBR file, which are readable on every major platform.”

Being able to continue to access your files, the comics that you’ve bought, in perpetuity is a big deal for me. Maybe not everyone, but there’s a significant subset of us who feel that way, I’d wager. Making this change, which is minor when you consider the problems with their DRM system, is a goodwill get. It wouldn’t dramatically change the user experience (that’s the point of it being optional), and you could even do it Amazon MP3 style and tag each download with a specific code tied to the downloader’s account for security’s sake. Even with that, fans will go “Wow, these guys really get it!” and feel more comfortable with purchasing, since they know that they’re actually paying for comics and have recourse if ComiXology goes away. It makes ComiXology look smart, and it makes the comics industry look like it’s dodging the same traps and pitfalls that the comics industry fell into.

The music industry avoided DRM-free MP3s for years. It didn’t work. Why not leap ahead of the wave that’s inevitably coming and benefit from that perceived prescience? Obviously it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and adjusting a TOS, and publishers would need to be convinced… but I think if you’d compare the benefits of DRM, which are entirely on the publisher side, and the benefits of openly shunning DRM, which puts consumers first, you’d find something workable.

This isn’t just about ComiXology, either. They’re just the biggest target. Dark Horse, too, needs to bite the bullet. I liked this post on their forums about DRM and the benefits of ditching it. DRM will not and does not stop piracy. I don’t know any other way to say it. It just inconveniences people who actually pay for things. Pirates sidestep DRM. Downloading comics can’t get easier, and the small number of people who are ripping comics right now will continue to do so.

Why don’t digital comics companies quit it with the fake idea that DRM is good for us, for consumers, and catch up to the music industry? Why don’t the digital comics distributors start selling comics instead of permission slips? Why don’t they at least offer the option of a DRM-free file? Every MP3 I buy from Amazon is stored on the cloud, but I also have the option of downloading it. People are already hyped for digital comics. I can’t see how this would change that any way but for the better.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

37 comments to “Who benefits from DRM? (Not the consumer.)”

  1. I don’t think the Diablo 3 things is as clear cut as that.

    I think people are letting their experience with Diablo and Diablo 2 cloud what Diablo 3 is. The game is loaded to the brim with online features that are always in play because you are always connected. The ability of friends to jump in and out of your game at a moments notice, status updates, auction houses, general chat, etc.

    The situation to me at least from playing the game is that if Diablo 3 was ever going to have a ‘single player’ mode it was scrapped a long time ago because of the 12 years they have had since D2 refining the system.

    I think people are letting their nostalgia or their want from the game cloud the experience that the game is trying to provide.

    It is closer to WoW in that respect than D2. I can log into WoW and play to max level and never interact with another player or use the grouping functionality, does my not using it turn the game into a single player one?

    I know this sounds like justification for what looks like DRM. However I do think that this is not without reason or purpose.

  2. On a related thought, perhaps my weekend project shall be finding a way to back up the comics I’ve licensed from JManga. That’s a service which I can see leaving the market overnight with no warning, and it would be a great shame to lose the only English versions of several of the comics they offer.

  3. I’m not too worried about the Comixology DRM personally.

    First, the comics you have downloaded to your iPads and other devices can be read without a net connection, so those are not going anywhere unless you delete them yourself.

    Second, I’ve noticed that I hardly ever re-read most comics anyway, if I really like something I’ll usually get a trade too. Or instead.

    Finally, not so hard to find non-DRM equivalents of your bought comics if the worst came to be. Legal, no, but hardly morally repugnant in such a case.

  4. Pretty much why I haven’t/won’t take the leap into buying full-price comics on Comixology.

  5. The store’s interest in DRM is not about piracy, it’s about locking people in to a single store. To view Comixology comics, you use a Comixology viewer. Not only does that brand your comics as Comixology and provide links back to the Comixology store, it makes it difficult to buy elsewhere. If some other store sells a 2.99 comic for 2.50, is it worth it to have to install another viewer app on your iPad? Or to split your collection in two? This is extremely inconvenient to the customer, but it’s not something they think about.

    e-readers are the same way. You can’t view nook books on a kindle or kindle books on a nook, so once you start buying from one store, you are somewhat locked into that store. That’s why amazon and B&N sell those things at a big loss. Once you’ve built up a library of amazon stuff, you can’t start buying digitally from B&N without it being a huge inconvenience.

  6. This is exactly why I’ve only bought a handful of digital comics. The only reason I buy any digital comics at all is because there are certain titles that have been out of print for years. I don’t mind paying 1.99 an issue for the right to access it temporarily when the other option is dropping a ridiculous amount of cash on eBay.

    I basically consider ComiXology a rental service for rare comics. I’ll happily pay a few bucks to read stuff I have no other access to, but if I can actually purchase a physical copy I’ll always go that route.

    I’m pretty picky about what I collect and I do re-read things, so it’s important to me that I can actually build a library of books I love. It’s the same reason I buy movies on discs with cases that I can put on a shelf and vinyl records that I can flip through and admire when I’m not sure what I want to listen to. I really enjoy having an actual, tangible collection.

  7. have zero interest in anything that has DRM OR that forces an always-on connection even for single player.

    another factor for me is that, when all those files are sitting around and im not going to read them, exactly how much are they worth in resell value? oh, $0? yeah, sign me up for that

    a big way i support my comics/video games/records habit is by selling stuff on ebay to keep clutter down/recoup costs which are then spent on feeding my habits. if i didnt have th eoption to resell, it would cut down on my comics and records spending drastically.

  8. ugh, all sorts of editing problems in that haha whoops

  9. From my experience on the publishing side, the impetus for DRM wasn’t money or demographic data but flat out misunderstanding. I would present an idea and the first thing anyone would say — no matter their title, age, or experience — was, “And you’ve got all the latest security software there, right?” Like, it wasn’t even on the table to have a DRM-free project because it sounds like you’re just leaving books out on the street on the honors system. It’s kind of like how the phrase “illegal” immigrant makes it sound so much worse than it is. “Oh my god, illegal — I don’t like the sound of that!”

    We would explain to our DRM department (yes, I was shocked to learn this existed — they basically just hacked all our security software to show the holes) that the material in question was already available online that minute for free and they would say, “Yes, of course, but why make it any easier?” The deal-crushing moment of Python-esque absurdity was when they said we needed to put in safeguards against a user screencapping the files. (Which raises another good point: if there are people out there willing to buy printed books and laboriously scan them, why wouldn’t they spend less money on a legal digital file and just screencap it? There’s just literally nothing DRM can do to stop a comics pirate.)

    At Papercutz we have a much more liberal view of the whole thing, but there are other points in the supply chain besides us. We just want to get our books out to as many people as possible.

  10. I’ve bought comixology comics a handful of times, because I was impatient and knew I’d be getting a print version later. Since day 1, knowing just how screwed I was if they went under was motivation enough for them to not get my money.

    I would bet that at least some of the DRM issues are part of the requirment on the part of WB/Disney, because, you know, draconian ideas and all

  11. I actually did do without Diablo 3 for this reason. I understand the point behind it, and I understand that you’d want to make sure a real-money auction house is only going through your servers….but then I didn’t agree with the very idea of a real-money auction house, so I found their rationale for protecting it very weak anyway. And even if I’m only one consumer, that’s one less sale they got because of this always-on stuff.

  12. I buy comics from Comixology to support the folks in the industry; when they inevitably go bankrupt and disappear, as companies tend to do, I’ll just pirate the content I already bought without guilt.

  13. The associated hassles of DRM (coupled with a high price point and Comixology’s lousy browser reader), continue to keep me away from mainstream digital comics. But, it does encourage me to throw my support behind digital comics that I feel do it “right,” like Double Feature Comics, and similar outlets.

    The thing I don’t understand about Comixology, is why any major publisher would choose to shackle themselves to it. For years, we’ve heard about the rising costs of direct market distribution, due to the money that pays for Diamond, retailers, shipping, and printing. According to Mark Waid’s blog post titled, “Print Math,” an indie publisher could see as little as $.60, from each issue they sell at $3.99. Due to volume discounts for printing, I imagine Marvel and DC each make a bit more than that, but they’re still getting a small piece of their customers’ cash.

    And they’ve decided to tie themselves into a digital distribution model, where they reportedly lose 2/3 of their profits right off the bat, to Comixology and Apple? That’s insane.

    Why not sell comics as .PDFs or .CBR/.CBZ files, straight from a company-controlled website? They’d be able to (theoretically) price the books lower, while still making the same (or more) money, than they do through Comixology, or the direct market.

    Additionally, consumers like me, who have a certain amount of money allocated for comics each week, would be more likely to try more comics, which translates to more money for the publishers. I mean, I’m not going to buy Captain America and Hawkeye at $2.99, whether in print or digital. But, price it at $1.50, and yeah, I’ll check it out. Throw in some sketches and a creator commentary track, and I might even drop $2.00 on it. And if I like it, I’ll probably buy the TPB, too.

    And by selling easily-pirated copies, I really feel like they won’t be losing anything. Any comic you want to steal, no matter how obscure, has already been scanned and uploaded to one torrent site or another. I feel like it’s time to stop focusing on that, and start concentrating on the best way to get my money, and that of consumers like me.

  14. On the topic of reading comixology comics minus an Internet connection: I have the comixology app on my Kindle Fire so I can download what I like and read it with no wifi access whenever I want, independent of the web browser. Where I REALLY want to see some action is from Dark Horse Digital, who still don’t have a Fire app. In that case, id need to open up my browser to read Dark Horse comics and that barely works at all. The comixology app on Fire works great and I have plenty of comics stored.

    On the issue of buying media stored on a cloud: my thoughts are here: LINK I don’t necessarily need to collect everything I pay to enjoy, although I see where you are coming from.

  15. Comixology can suck it. No way am I losing out on all my hardearned cash when they go under. I still get my books in my account onto my HD, back them up and read them whenever I want (and without their crappy reading app) and will have them long after they go under. It’s fairly easy to do and I imagine because of how it’s done, they just stay hush on it because it’s not anything, DRM or not, that they can do about it.

    It’s bullcrap that they use the term “licensing the use of” instead of “bought to keep”. If it were truly licensing or “renting” which is more the correct term (but they don’t dare use renting because they know their sales would drop) they’d have a service similar to netflix, paying a flat rate to read however many comics you can possibly read in a month. Maybe even have packages where each publisher has it’s own deal/package. As much as I’d prefer DRM-free pdfs or cbrs, I could live with that.

    But this half @$$ed illusion, lie, of keeping what you buy is complete bs and I can’t get on board with that.

  16. An entire generation rented movies, paying on a view-by-view basis, never owning the movie, just paying to see it. Nobody complained.

    Are we saying the experience of reading a comic isn’t as entertaining as the experience of watching a movie? The latter you will pay for but the former you won’t. You need the added perceived value of the comic artifact as a collectibles to make it worth $2. Why is that?

  17. @D. Peace:

    Speaking for me only, it’s not a “comic as collectible/value” thing because I actually read my comics and most of them are well read, tho’ I do take care of them like I do anything else I buy. So for me, comics aren’t “collectibles” and you shouldn’t assume that’s the case.

    For me, it’s the idea that it’s percieved as the comics you’re buying form comixology are yours. Everything about the way Comixology is set up is done with the idea that these comics you bought are yours. They’re in your account, you can keep them a long as Comixology is alive and running. Which could be years from now. But you really don’t own them. You can’t read them on your laptop if you want without being connected to the internet like you can with other digital books. So it’s more of an issue of making people feel that they own them (and lots of people actually think they do hearing some comments, not realizing how they could lose their whole digital collection) when in reality, they really don’t.

    If the real game plan is to have people rent the comics, then they should come out and flat out say that it’s a subscription service and watch their sales plummet. No other digital books (that I know of) rent out novels and any other type of book out for a price so why should comics be any different?

    And all of that isn’t even including the DRM that makes it a PINA to simply transfer a book from one device to another. That, more than anything, is why I hate DRM. Stop trying to force me to use something I paid for in the way YOU want me to use it (proproetary tablets, apps, etc).

  18. @D. Peace: Movie tickets have always been much much lower than the cost of owning that movie in some way, ESPECIALLY back in the pre-home-video days you’re lacking about. If movie tickets cost $30 each (the average SRP of a new Blu-Ray disc) then that analogy would work, but they’re less than half that. Similarly, if digital comics were 50%-75% off the cover price I don’t think anyone would have a problem renting them.

  19. alekesam – If Comixology was more up-front about you not owning the comics, would you give them more credit, at least for honesty? I do see your point, though, it seems to be disingenuous using words like “sell” when “rent” would be more appropriate. For the record, I’m not for DRM as a rule, I just happen to be enjoying comixology lately. Who knows? Maybe years down the road, I will hate myself for using their service and I will curse their name but I get the feeling I won’t necessarily need to keep everything I’ve read.

    Jesse Post – Yeah, I see what you mean… the price to rent has to be much lower than the cost to buy that same item. I was looking at it from a different angle, comparing the cost to rent a comic to the cost to rent a movie (which I don’t see as an apples to oranges comparison because I love them both) but you do make a good point.

    Shit… now I’m kind of reconsidering my stance. Should the digital edition only be $.50? That raises a whole new set of issues. I guess just letting everyone who pays download and do as they see fit is ultimately the best answer, after all. Again, I don’t necessarily think that I’ll be re-reading these same comics decades and decades into the future but now I’m thinking that if I pay full price, I should have the option if I felt like it.

  20. @Rick: I think it’s very strange to not offer a purely single player option, honestly. Saints Row the Third had a very organic co-op function, where friends could drop in or out, and while it wasn’t as in-depth as Diablo is, it was still great fun. Why not have a “I’m a loser with no friends, I want to play offline” function? Would the game really suffer that much?

    @JG: What happens when your iPad glitches and you lose your stuff in a reformat? Or you fill your storage space and have to delete comics to download new ones? Or your iPad gets stolen? Or the new system upgrade requires a wipe?

    @Mecha-Shiva: This is true. But at least Amazon’s DRM enables WhisperSync for notes/highlights/social stuff/bookmarks, you know? Comixology’s DRM has no value-add for consumers.

    @Jesse Post: Thanks for the input. I know a few comics creators who would be fine doing books with no-DRM, but are signed up with companies that aren’t quite so forward-thinking. I’m curious as to how this will finally be solved — will it be a blanket dropping of DRM, like iTunes did for MP3s, or will it be on a per company basis?

    @D. Peace: I know you can read ComiXology books offline, I thought that was implicit when I talked about the various devices you can read them on. And it’s not about being a collector, which I would say I am definitely not, so much as actually having and maintaining access to whatever I’ve spent several hundred dollars on over the past few years.

    Regarding renting & complaints: everyone knew the deal going in. It was clearly stated, and renting is clearly a one-time use (or however many times you can watch a movie in 1/3/5 days) thing. It’s not your movie — you’re borrowing it and paying for the privilege of taking it home for an agreed-upon amount of time. No one who was renting a movie thought they owned it. I’d wager most people licensing comics believe that they own it, in part because they are paying full retail ownership prices for those comics. Rental fees, at least where I grew up, were 1.50 for old movies for 5 days, 3 bucks for new ones for 1/2/3 days, and twice that if we went to Blockbuster. Tapes were 20 bucks. There was a clear difference, and that difference was palatable. There’s no difference in comics. Why?

    Off the top of my head, I would argue that movies are a more entertaining self-contained experience than most monthly comics, yes. It’s not an absolute thing, of course — I could read Elektra Assassin all day — but the time investment, price, and spectacle all count for a lot. I paid 15 bucks to spend two hours watching Prometheus in 3D. Spending 15 bucks on a trade of Uncanny X-Force was a great idea, but the experiences are so different that it’s hard to compare them on a 1:1 basis. The biggest sticker is price+time, in thinking about it. Floppies last anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to read, maybe a little more if it’s so good I reread it in one sitting, and cost up to 4 bucks. I can spend 3 dollars to rent a movie at Amazon and lose myself for a couple hours.

    And I mean, I hope this doesn’t come off as “Movies rule, comix suck!” I love comics. I hope I don’t have to prove my bonafides in that realm. But there’s such a clear difference in price/value that I have trouble justifying buying a lot of monthly comics, considering what I get out of them. Comics are probably my favorite form of entertainment, or maybe tied with music, and I want to keep reading them. But at a certain point, I looked around and realized how much I was paying for how much fun I was having and realized that something was wrong.

    I don’t know the killer price for comics. I’m more or less okay with 1.99, but I think .99 is more attractive. (I have an essay that briefly touches on this for Monday.) If I’m owning it, then I’m willing to pay full retail. If I’m buying bundles, I like there to be a nice discount. I think Dark Horse mostly has its head on right, bundle-wise, which is really nice.

    I have a lot of questions about digital comics (and I guess comics in general) that I don’t know the answers to, but am willing to go with my gut on. This is one of them. Thanks for forcing me into trying to articulate those questions (sincere thanks, I mean — I hope that doesn’t sound sarcastic at all).

  21. @david brothers: I don’t disagree that it would be great if there was a single player option to the game. I just don’t see the removal of it as a bad thing.

    I knew what the game was when I bought it so I didn’t have a problem when it functioned more like Blizzard’s current games then their past games. I can also see why it would annoy people. Personally if I am playing a game on the computer, I am typically connected to the internet all the time anyway, which might be part of why I don’t see it as a problem to require that.

  22. It’s not being connected more so when the game servers shut down. Having seen many EA and other company multiplayer servers shut down like the matrix online, or starwars galaxy I kinda don’t want a single player game be lock out of playability due to a company shut down. Do you want a company to get millions of dollars for a content they can when feel like sucking money away shut down every one access to it leaving you with a waste of space that was a good experience.

  23. I’m still mostly a print guy, because I prefer the tactile experience of reading comics like that and reading on a computer isn’t the most fluid way of going about it. I do have an account however for trying out stuff for cheap or getting things that are out of print, and I’m fine with the tradeoff of having to view it on my computer. I don’t use it a whole lot though because their payment methods aren’t very friendly to a british customer like me. They’re american and that’s how they present the prices, and for some reason they don’t have paypal as an payment option(at least not on the main website. I don’t have a smartphone with an app for that), so I have to go with a credit card, which comes with an arbitrary currency conversion charge per transaction that totally negates the savings I’m getting unless I buy in bulk, which I’d only do with an already completed run, or once a current series was far enough along to make it worth my while, which means I have to wait several months, which is the opposite of one of the supposed advantages of going digital.

  24. I “bought” (licensed, actually) Diablo III and I’ve regretted it ever since. The game just isn’t as good as its predecessors, I don’t have a physical copy that I can claim to own, and my rights are completely nontransferable, so I cannot recoup any of my loss on this game. Furthermore, I have supported the expansion of restrictive DRM and the erosion of consumer rights.

    I Am A Bad Consumer.

  25. You’re welcome and thank YOU because not enough people are writing about this. Its something I’m still thinking about a lot and something publishers and readers will face more and more going forward.

  26. @D. Peace: Well I would certainly rent a TON of comics if they were only $.50! 🙂 But yeah, anything above a 50% discount is reasonable to pay for a limited non-ownership comics experience, at least to me. And this is coming from someone, like you, who loves the hell out of comiXology. I just love the interface, the shopping experience, even the notifications make me happy. I’m buying more periodical comics now than I ever did before Comixology.

    But the main reason I keep buying from them is that I know I have this comics collection in the sky that I can redownload to any device I’m on, any time. I’ll be really sad if it ever goes away and takes my full retail price comics with it.

  27. Distributors seem to be stuck in a strange “customers are all thieves” mentality, when they should really be trying to make their product more desirable. DRM and restrictive branding add a lot of small annoyances that don’t justify piracy, but they do make the high prices seem ridiculous. Considering the care with which some pirated torrents are packaged, it’s hard not to view them as a superior product. A little work on Comixology’s part could make buying comics a more attractive proposition.

    No DRM is part of the solution, but there are other ways of adding value that aren’t found on torrent sites/usenet or whatever. Bandcamp (a music site) and GoG (a game site) are two good examples.
    Bandcamp is prioed competitively and predictably, with most releases costing 5 or 10$. It offers several file formats so folks can download low bitrate music on cell phones, or .flac files for their audiophile setup.
    GoG is also relatively cheap with only two price tiers: 6$ and 10$. They packages soundtracks, artwork, and other goodies with their games, and they even fix compatibility issues with older games so that they work on modern operating systems.

    I’ve bought more music and games online in the past 2 years than I did in the previous 4 because I know I can get a better product than the pirated version, for a lower price than in a retail store. The comics industry needs to catch up and start selling digital comics cheaper and with extras. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just some alternate covers or a wallpaper or something would probably make people happy.

  28. I mostly agree with you, but one thing to keep in mind is that, at least at present, Comixology is pretty much the de facto place to buy digital comics (much like Steam has become the de facto place to buy digital PC games – which are all similarly laden with DRM in the form of Steam itself). This is an important, since it means unless another outlet springs up and builds a similar database (which could happen), or each publisher decides to implement its own digital outlet (probably more likely, but will run into the same problems as Comixology), Comixology is an important brand. It’s entirely likely that should Comixology start to die that it would be acquired by another company (I could almost even see Valve making this acquisition and integrating it into Steam). How this would effect your comics is difficult to predict, but I’d imagine they wouldn’t be completely gone forever.

    But ultimately, yeah, DRM is intended to benefit the publisher of material. I don’t think that was ever controversial, since it’s clearly not intended to benefit users.

  29. […] Digital comics | David Brothers articulates what the problem is with DRM: “What I realized is that DRM has a lot of benefits for the publisher, but next to none for the consumer. Blizzard can track exactly who plays Diablo III and when, which is valuable for gathering demographic data, off the top of my head. ComiXology can tell publishers exactly what contexts their comics will appear in and on what devices. DRM is about control, basically, rather than being a value-add. It’s a limiting service, rather than one focused on expansion, and the people most affected by it are consumers who actually want to consume this stuff.” And it does nothing to stop piracy, either. [4thletter!] […]

  30. I agree with everything said about DRM. But I’ve gotten to a point where I’m less worried. I buy the stuff I really like in paper, which is not too many. Some I will buy a month later for the buck off and then get a trade if I really like it. A lot of stuff (which would wind up in longboxes under the bed never to see the light of day again) I will just have on Comixology.

    I know some people said Comixology is promising to make sure things are right if they go out of business, which is really not something they can do. But I think that DC and Marvel probably do have some deal with Comixology that in the event they go out of business, they will have the code to continue to provide the content to their customers. This may be wishful thinking, but I don’t think Marvel or DC want to deal with the bad PR of having their customers lose 2-3 years of comics because a middleman distributor went out of business. I used to do deals in the tech sector back in the day, and it was not uncommon for the company purchasing a software service to insist that source code be kept in escrow by a third party in the event the developer went out of business. I may be deluding myself, but that is some comfort!

  31. I agree with everything you say here. There should be a DRM free download with any digital purchase. Especially considering the price. There’s just one thing I don’t get about your premise.

    You seem to be going under the assumption that Comixology, or anyone for that matter, is making any claim at all that DRM is “for the consumer”. I’d love to see where anyone is trying to sell that idea. Don’t know where you get that idea from at all.

    While Comixology shutting down and losing your comics is an issue, I think people worried need to focus on the much more likely to happen sooner issue of PUBLISHERS shutting down or losing licenses.

    Devils Due was no different from a Dynamite or an IDW once, and they shut down. No matter how healthy Comixology is, if Dynamite shuts down, you lose your Dynamite comics. If (when!) IDW loses its GI Joe license (or any of its hundred other licenses), you lose those GI Joe comics.

    That’s going to happen. Guys like IDW or Dynamite or Boom who do a lot of licensed comics are going to lose (or give up) a license sooner or later. TMNT seems to have a different publisher every other month.

    Even if Comixology lasts decades, customers are going to lose their licensed property comics.

    This is where the focus of articles like this needs to be. This is something that WILL happen. You can say “if Comixology shuts down” or “if publisher A shuts down” all you want, but those things won’t seem real till it happens. But you can say “WHEN license A is lost” because that WILL happen. People won’t take Comixology or publishers to task about doing this until you hit them with something real. And Comixology and publishers wont change their practices until people take issue with it.

    Not just bloggers, but customers.

  32. You should call it “Digital RESTRICTIONS Management”, because DRM doesn’t give the user any rights, but rather restricts what they can do.

  33. @Ziggy: How about “when Comixology is bought by Marvel or DC and rebranded?” Because that seems far more likely than them going under.

  34. @David Fairbanks:

    God, I hope not. One of the advantages of Digital comics for upstart creators was that the playing field was even. I’d hate to see comixology become the new Diamond.

  35. I think Marvel learned its lesson in the 90s to stay out of the distribution business.

  36. Not that I like the always on DRM of D3, but I’ve personally put over 100 hours into it so far and have only had a problem connecting once. The people who had problems on the first day don’t know the one basic rule of PC gaming: Never ever buy a game on the release date, invariably it will have bugs, probably show stopping ones. Smart PC gamers buy their games like a year later when patches/updates have ironed the bugs out. D3 was a bit different, I figured it’d be polished right out of the gate, so I just gave it a couple weeks for the furor to die down.

  37. […] Thought! David Brothers’s post on DRMs shows one reason why I haven’t gotten into digital comics. The main one remains my preference […]