Breaking the Wednesday habit

June 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

How I consume comics today is markedly different from how I consumed comics a year ago. Around this time last year, I was probably buying around twenty floppies per month. I don’t remember the exact number, but twenty feels right. A big week would run me around twenty bucks, maybe six comics, and I hit the shop every week. There weren’t a lot of DC comics on my list, I don’t think, but I did buy a gang of Marvels. I didn’t have a huge stack every week, but I got by. I read a lot.

Time passed and a lot of series I liked got canceled. Around the same time, I decided that I was spending too much time on bad comics. Comics have two components — writing and art — and if one side is lacking, the entire product suffers. So I decided to do a better job of only buying comics that clicked on both levels. I’d read Morrison’s Batman-related stuff based on who was drawing it, but I wasn’t applying the rule evenly. Last year, I made the conscious decision to look at everything I was buying and make sure I wasn’t wasting my money on things that would make me grimace. More comics got cut.

Late last year, I made another decision. I wanted to buy more digital comics because I want to use the space in my apartment for something other than stacks of paper. Luckily, Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse were ramping up their day & date digital comics releases. Pow: more floppies gone. I just checked my emails and by January 2012, I was just buying Hulk, Thunderbolts, and Hellblazer in floppy form, with all the other comics going directly to my iPad.

Somewhere around the border between February and March, I quit Marvel and DC and started buying 2000 AD in print. I had the option of going digital with it, but something about reading it in print seemed attractive. There’s a 2000 AD experience, I think, that I wanted to get a taste of. As of this moment, 2000 AD is the only comic on my pull list. Everything else I’m interested in is either available digitally or the sort of book you buy from Amazon on a whim, rather than subscribe to.

On top of all that, and I hope you’re sticking with me through all this preamble, I recently realized that I hate paying 3 and 4 dollars for digital comics. I don’t own them, I don’t get to keep them, and if I’m paying as much as an entire print comic, and two dollars less than an album on Amazon MP3, then I need something more than a permission slip to read a comic in exchange. So I made the decision to stop buying new digital comics. I buy them a month behind now, when the price drops to $1.99. $1.99 is still a bit much for ~20 pages of funnybooks, but it feels better. Easier on the wallet, too. There are a few exceptions — Prophet, and honestly I’m probably going to break on Saga soon because issue 3 was so good and I hear 4 is better — but for the most part, I’m reading new comics a month late.

So, the funny thing about buying 2000 AD in print is that Diamond, the biggest comics distributor in the country, is borderline worthless when it comes to 2000 AD. I started with prog 1765 (they call them progs, roll with me here, it’s not that weird) and picked up prog 2012, an anniversary issue, and progs 1766 and 1767 around the same time or a week later. Cool, right? It’s a solid start. But I’m looking at my stack now and I’ve got 1765-1767, 1768-1772, 1774, 1775, 1777, and 1778. See the gaps? I picked up 1775 before I got 1774, too, and a few other issues came out of order. According to an email I got this week, progs 1779-1781 all came out this week.

2000 AD is a weekly serial anthology. Diamond makes it very hard to read it in order, and you can’t even rely on the shipping lists. I bought 1778 three weeks ago, and 1779 came out this week? Really? As a result, I go to the comics shop around once a month now, hoping against hope that 1776 and the other missing issues have shown up in the interim. Sound aggravating? You have no idea. I’ve been looking forward to reading Al Ewing & Brendan McCarthy’s Zaucer of Zilk for months, and then I couldn’t even do that because the issues progs don’t show up.

The Wednesday comics experience is pretty well broken for me. 2000 AD‘s slipshod schedule got me out of the habit of going to get comics and immediately reading them every week. I stockpile them now, and read them when I have two or three I can pore over. I buy digital comics on Wednesday still, usually while I’m having breakfast, and I’ll read one or two of them at lunch if I’m excited. But usually, I’ll wait until I’m ready to read them over the weekend or the next week. I bought Chaykin’s American Flagg last week, and Xander and Kevin Cannon’s Double Barrel and haven’t touched either, even though I’m really into them. It took me a couple weeks to read Brubaker & Phillips Fatale 5. The only comic I reliably read on release day any more is Viz’s Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, and that’s because it’s uploaded immediately before lunch on Mondays and has Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece in it.

It’s sorta weird not being plugged into the Wednesday cycle. I was part of that crowd for a long time, and without weekly mainstream comix blogging, 4thletter! definitely wouldn’t be what it is today without being plugged into that cycle. I already watch TV on a delay — which means that Legend of Korra was thoroughly spoiled for me before I got within spitting distance of the finale, thanks Tumblr — and now I read comics on a delay, too.

It’s weird, but it’s also less stressful. I don’t feel compelled to chime in on things. I’ll still throw out a joke if I see some dumb-looking news, but I don’t have to chime in on the latest story about Wonder Woman’s stupid pants any more. I relapsed like an idiot a little bit ago, but for the foreseeable future? That side of reading and talking about comics is dead to me. I just get to read what I like, write about it if the spirit moves me, and enjoy things at my own speed.

There’s this feeling, an impulse, that part of being a good writer about comics means that you have to be timely. I find myself pushing away from that impulse lately, if only because snap judgments are growing increasingly unsatisfying. I want to let something marinate before I try to dig into it. I need that time to sit and just let my mind wander over the folds of a book, rather than reading it and immediately cranking out how I feel about it. I know my writing well enough that I can do either/or, but I vastly prefer the stuff I’ve written that leaves me at the back of the pack, but with a stronger argument than the front-runner.

I’m curious to see where the evolution of how I read comics goes next. I like where I am now, but a significant part of me bristles at the fact that my friends are a book ahead of me. I hate the idea of being behind, even if behind is a fake idea in this situation. I may loosen the $1.99 digital rule at some point, but I’m enjoying my newfound freedom. I don’t miss the Wednesday grind.

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


Who benefits from DRM? (Not the consumer.)

June 22nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

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.

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


The Cipher 12/15/10

December 15th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

black is something to laugh about. black is something to cry about.
created: It’s Digital December at ComicsAlliance, and we’re gawn in. So far, I’ve got interviews up with Boom!, IDW, and Dark Horse. On Thursday, DC Comics hits. On Friday, ???. Next week… something more. 2010 is the year that CA put the boot to your favorite comics news site.

It’s also music countdown at the Factual Opinion, so I’m pitching in to help out Marty Brown and my Joe Casey Fan Club brothers Sean Witzke and Tucker Stone figure out what was good this year. You can check the entire category here, and check out the first of my contributions on the top 50-31 songs list. More to come, of course, including a bit of writing that I ended up being really happy with. That’s rare for me, so stay tuned.

black is serious. black is a feeling.
Charlie Huston wrote a short story, The Impossibility of a Diaphanous History Machine, on the Mulholland Books site. I like Huston’s work. He writes dialogue like people talk, where punctuation may not mean what it traditionally means, and I dig that a lot. This story is about bombs, and I like the gag about mental ones.

-Here’s a piece he wrote about children, poverty, and fuel for stories. I generally don’t like people writing about writing. I think that you should just shut up and do it, because “This is how I write” is one of those things that’s just awfully boring, but this is practically a statement of intent. It’s hype. A voice coming out of a dark alley that says, “I have a gun.” Needless to say, I’m hyped for this new book. Drops in 2012, though.

Huston’s website is here. Get familiar.

Matt Seneca goes in on a Wonder Woman piece by Bill Sienkiewicz. It’s from an aborted series written by Frank Miller and drawn by Sienkiewicz called Wonder Woman: Bondage. I would trade every issue of Wonder Woman and JLA published over the last five years to see this series. That creative team is one of the best in comics. Every time they get together, somebody needs to sit up and take notice.

-I liked this comic by Sloane, especially the way the grid explodes toward the end.

-Ron Wimberly posted a dope story, too.

-Did y’all hear that they killed Brother Voodoo?

-I read Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo 3 on my lunch break today. That series is three books long and I dug them a lot. They can be mean and gross, hysterically so on both fronts, but man, they click along pretty well. Last volume had a great action scene, while this one ended up having a lot of heart. Morimoto Mazza Fakkin’ Rokkustaa is one of the best new characters of 2010, too. More on this later, once I sort my thoughts out on it. I kinda laughed at the end. I don’t need more, I think the wrap is fine, but I’d read more.

-Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! 9 was fantastic, as expected. Juralumin got one of the hands down best scenes in the book, Yotsuba has some great physical comedy with an exercise ball, and Azuma nails some really nice things over the course of the book. The dinnertime conversation which was very adult, the Yanda/Yotsuba relationship… good stuff. The translation still bugs the life out of me, though. Do I really need to know what the Japanese onomatopoeia for rolling is? And do I need to see it untranslated every single time? Just write “roll roll roll” and we’ll get it.

-The translation really and truly sandbags the book. Stop explaining and just show us. They did well with a dinner scene that would have been tough to translate without notes, but for every one of those, there’s a “Fuuka-onee-chan” to wade through.

-New music: on pause. Been listening to old stuff and have been too busy to buy new joints. Gotta get a lot of stuff did before the Christmas break, and that means doing a couple weeks of work in a few days. Gross.

-But while we’re on the music tip–one of my favorite lines this year is from Evidence, on Copywrite’s Three Story Building. At the end of his verse, he goes, “Started to rap, told my mama I’d be Common/ She thought I meant normal/ I said, “Let’s be honest.” Something about that stuck with me, it’s just ill from top to bottom.

-Copywrite is responsible for another line that I think about a lot. It’s from “Fuck Soundcheck,” off his T.H.E. High Exhaulted tape from forever ago. “I don’t blame you for being wack. I blame your fans for being dumb enough to feel you.”

-I’m not saying that I believe that it’s a fair statement or anything that you should say in polite company. But it’s probably true.

-You hear that Steel might be dying next year in this Doomsday event? I should probably care more, but I could care less, instead. Sorry, John Henry.

-New issues of Chew, Bulletproof Coffin, and Atlas hit ComiXology today. Be nice to catch up on the first two and to ditch a few floppies of the last one.

-I keep trying to think through why I’m uncomfortable with “fun” being a crap descriptor of a comic. I’m trying to purge it from my vocabulary because it’s become vague and meaningless. I think Tucker came closest to how I feel with his review of Batman & Robin 17, a book I thought was mediocre at best. Something else I need to think through, clearly.

black is us, the beautiful people.
David: Amazing Spider-Man 650, Thunderbolts 151
Esther: Batman and Robin 18, Birds of Prey 7
Gavin: Batman And Robin 18, Green Lantern 60, Green Lantern Emerald Warriors 5, Green Lantern Plastic Man Weapon Mass Deception 1, Time Masters Vanishing Point 5, Avengers Academy 7, Chaos War 4, Chaos War Thor 2, Strange Tales 2 3, Thunderbolts 151, What If Spider-Man, Darkwing Duck 7

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


Changing From the Ground Up

October 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Near as I can tell, the Wednesday crowd at the comic shop is driven there by a few things.

1. New comics come out on Wednesdays.
2. People like to sit around and talk about comics.
3. Continuity-focused tales push you to “keep up” with the stories.

Is that fair? I think that covers most of the reasons, right? Generalization, caveat emptor, etc etc. There are other factors–the Direct Market has encouraged a specific kind of culture, the Big Two push continuity over quality fairly often and emphasize reading it now now now, the way you can build a social circle out of your comic shop’s patrons–but those three are the biggest, I think?

New books, movies, and video games come out on Tuesdays, but you don’t really see people hanging out in Borders to discuss the latest Tom Clancy knock-off or in Best Buy to talk about how crap the packaging on most Blu-rays is. The culture is different.

My question is–how will digital comics affect that culture? That Wednesday ritual? Digital comics saps some of the emphasis on buying comics immediately, doesn’t it? You don’t have to rush to your shop to make sure you get your copy of whatever because it will always be available digitally. Trade waiting will change. Filling up a hard drive with comics is easier, cheaper, and more aesthetically pleasing, than having a stack of floppies on your coffee table. Some of the bonuses of waiting for a trade (complete story, cheaper price, easier to store, durability/longevity of format) will be decreased, leaving really just getting a complete story in one shot as the main bonus. I know that I switched to mainly trades because having a lot of “part 3 of 8” floppies stinking up the place is frustrating.

What I like about the oncoming digital future is that everything is on a level playing ground, barring name recognition. There is no real difference between Brightest Day and Comic Book Comics. Comic shops no longer serve as the first line of defense/tastemaking. In comic shops, you might see New Avengers with sixty rack copies and King City with just six. Online, they’re both just covers and titles on a list. That in and of itself is revolutionary, isn’t it? I don’t think Marvel and DC will ever stop being the “Big Two,” but I could see their stranglehold on the comics side of things being lessened once the playing ground evens out.

A lot of series are making money off inertia and nostalgia, too. When you introduce a new factor into that equation, a buyer who is ignorant of the past and has no nostalgia for the series, those series don’t have a chance. Comics companies can barely sell Ms. Marvel or War Machine to comics fans, and they’ve been around for thirty or forty years. When you put Ms. Marvel on a level playing field with Empowered or Battlefields, well, what would make you pick Ms. Marvel over either of those, other than personal interest? If digital comics do what they’re supposed to do, which is bring in new readers, then there will be a whole lot of people who don’t care about “checking up on” all these dusty old characters we’ve invested years in. If we’re being perfectly honest, a lot of current comics readers don’t care about checking in, either, so why would newbies?

This is how the nostalgia trap is defused. Comics would have to live or die according to their own merits, not according to how intricately they’re tied into the past of whatever universe they live in.

The more I think about it, the more I think that digital comics is something that could move comics culture from an inclusive subculture to a general part of culture, like books or movies. The general focus of comics would widen, since there’s suddenly a lot less risk in making your action dramedy about wacky romantic hijinx in a slaughterhouse and a lot less money in bowing down to the past. Or, to put it pithier, we’d have more Scott Pilgrims and less Cry For Justices.

Or am I totally insane here?

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


Guest Post: Andrew Bayer on Digital Comics Pricing

April 12th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Andrew Bayer is a friend of mine, and he had a few things to say about digital comics pricing, specifically with regard to Marvel’s iPad app. I thought it was interesting, maybe you will, too.

With Marvel’s iPad/iPhone app coming out and receiving gobs of acclaim for its presentation and usability, we seem to have finally gotten to the point where digital comics distribution looks like a viable business. There’s a distribution mechanism, a gorgeous UI, and most importantly, the buy-in of one of the Big Two. There are still big questions to be answered, the same sorts of questions that had to be answered for digital music and still need to be answered for digital books – how do we get the ability to buy a comic and read it in another app, on another platform, etc? How do we get to a standard file format for digital comics? How do we get rid of DRM? Of course, that last one plays into all the others, but the simplest answer there is that we, the consumers, need to prove to the publishers that there’s a strong enough market for digital comics, and a strong enough demand for portability, that they can see that DRM is not needed in order for digital comics to be a money-making endeavor for them. And that brings up the biggest question of all – how should digital comics be priced?

My initial reaction to Marvel pricing single issues of digital comics at $2 was that they were setting too high a price point – that’s been the general reaction I’ve seen pretty much everywhere, in fact. After all, Marvel’s already paid for creative, editors, legal, etc, and while there’s still production/distribution overhead for digital comics, that’s definitely going to be a lot less per issue than it is for physical floppies. So digital comics should be really cheap, you’d think. But if a publisher sets up digital comics pricing with the assumption that all the costs involved in producing the comic other than those specific to the digital edition are already covered by the print edition, they’re doomed. If the digital edition is significantly cheaper than the print edition, you’ll start seeing sales moving from print to digital – the eternal fear of the content companies that the digital version of something will cannibalize sales from the physical version. And if Marvel’s making less revenue for each digital issue than they are for the same comic in print form, then they’re going to lose revenue for every sale that switches from print to digital.

For that reason, the lowest possible price for Marvel to charge for a digital issue is one that nets them the same revenue as they’d get from a print sale of that comic. That’s the only way that digital comics can be a viable distribution stream for the publishers. They have to work under the assumption of a worst-case scenario – what if every print sale turned into a digital sale instead, with no increase in the number of copies sold? If the publisher makes less on each digital sale, well, then that worst-case scenario destroys the publisher, and they can’t take that risk. I’m working on the assumption that $2 hits that sweet spot for Marvel, where they’re taking in as much per digital issue sold as they would from a print sale. That seems about right to me – cut out the printing and shipping-to-Diamond costs, and then strip out Diamond’s cut, and finally the retailer’s cut, with the addition of Comixology’s cut, and $2 is probably the closest round number. Marvel’s not charging that because they’re trying to gouge the digital comics consumer – they’re charging that because they have to or the business model falls apart.

David brought up the question of old back issue pricing on Twitter – right now, Amazing Spider-Man #1 is at the same price in Marvel’s app as the latest issue. Admittedly, that doesn’t feel quite right – shouldn’t prices be different for issues from the ’60s than those from today? But I’d argue that Marvel again has no choice – single issue pricing must be consistent. What business case is there for selling the old issues for less? Yeah, the cover price is a lot lower than it is on a new comic now, but it’s not like you can go buy a new copy of a book published in the ’60s for lower prices than a book published a couple years ago (assuming the older book is still in print, of course). Why should digital comics be any different? Now, Marvel is missing a key feature in their store – the ability to buy an “album” of comics. Say, the first 50 issues of ASM for $30 – just as it’s cheaper to buy an album of mp3s on Amazon than it is to buy each song individually, it definitely would make sense to have similar bundling with digital comics. But Marvel can not budge from the $2 price for single issues, no matter how old the actual comic is – if they make ’60s comics a buck a piece, they’re setting a new floor for digital comic prices. If people can buy a Marvel comic for $1, why do they have to pay $2 for a different one? Marvel would end up facing pressure to drop prices on new single issues as well – and that’s just not viable as a business. There can be flexibility in pricing bundles – $30 could buy you the first 50 issues of ASM, but the same $30 might only buy you the first 25 issues of Brand New Day-era ASM – but I don’t see how Marvel could have the same sort of flexibility in single issues. Whatever you set as the lowest price for single issues, you’re going to end up having as the price for any single issue.

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


Quotable 04/05/10

April 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Kiel Phegley: How significant an impact does Marvel feel the iPad and similar devices will have on Marvel’s bottom line? Any predictions as to when – if ever – comics go completely digital?

Joe Quesada: Are you kidding, the significance could be…well, significant. The iPad could be the new feeder system for brick and mortar stores. Ever since the newsstand really died for comics, that element has been missing in many ways. Trades in bookstores picked up some of the slack, but the newsstand used to be huge. I think the iPad will be that and more and will improve the sales of comics in all areas, especially at comic shops. That’s why we have the comic shop locator built into the app.

Joe Quesada, Cup o’ Joe 04/02/10

I don’t know that I agree with Joe Q’s answer. When I stopped buying CDs, getting an iPod didn’t send me back to Best Buy. It sent me to AmazonMP3. What’s much, much more likely is that mainstream digital comics and comic shop comics will split into two separate, but complementary, revenue streams. I try to minimize the floppies I buy because I vastly prefer trades. I buy mp3s and ebooks at a wholly irresponsible pace due in large part to the fact that I don’t have to worry about storage. If I start buying comics on the iPad, I’m not going to click the little “Go to a comic shop!” button to start filling up my house. I’m going to click the “Buy digital comics” button to fill up my iPad with every issue Hypno Hustler ever appeared in.

While it’s nice that Marvel is attempting to maintain favor with the retailers, and stressing that in their press releases to an almost absurd degree, but I can’t see any iPad revolution sending people to comic shops without Marvel self-sabotaging their digital sales. Remember when DC Comics announced that there’d be no trade of Identity Crisis until at least a year after the series ended?

Yeah, that’s self-sabotage. It’s stupid. You’re leaving money in wallets. It’s nice that retailers make bank off floppies, but there’s a large subset of readers who don’t care to buy a 32 page pamphlet. Manga used to come out over here in floppies, remember that? Now it comes out in fat little trades. The market adjusted to the demand.

I hope Marvel goes all in. I’m talking simultaneous releases on Wednesdays, fat packs of classic stories, freebie issues to get people caught up on characters… go big or go home. DC is asleep at the wheel, as anyone who attended the terrible DC Nation panel this past weekend knows. They have vague platitudes about how stuff is on the way, we’re looking into it, really, and asinine anecdotes about how digital comics can’t replicate the experience of folding out pages in Blackest Night #8 and wah wah wah plastic doesn’t feel like paper.

Pop quiz, hot shot: who cares? You aren’t trying to sell digital comics to people who already buy your books and care about whether or not you use crappy paper that smells bad. You’re trying to sell digital comics to people who don’t already buy your books. If some fanboy loves paper so much, let him buy the physical product. Shoot, push a variant out there and let him buy two. You’ve got us, all two hundred thousand of us. We’re there, hook, line, and sinker. Now, go get them. Get my mom, get my grandparents, get my cousins. Get people who have never, and will never, step foot in a comic shop, whether that’s because they can’t find them or because they don’t exist in their area.

Marvel is big enough to force a change in the industry, for good or for ill. Coming hot out of the gates on the iPad is great. Now keep it up and break out of the crap complacency and one-upsmanship that defines both companies and start throwing some weight around. Put the boot in.

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


Inside Wednesday Comics: Mark Chiarello Interview

September 4th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Ahhh, there is nothing like a press pass and a big pile of business cards to make a socially awkward nerd feel bold.  This year at San Diego I stalked creators like a panther, if a panther were near-sighted, walked on two legs, and kept nervously grabbing at its own chest to make sure its press badge hadn’t been stolen.

Despite all of this, many creators seemed happy to speak with me.  One such kind soul is Mark Chiarello, who I spoke to briefly and who agreed to an email interview about Wednesday Comics.

Find out about the future of Wednesday Comics and the possibilities for Wednesday webcomics below the cut.

Read the rest of this entry �

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


Presto, Digitalization

March 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I don’t remember the last CD I bought. I remember the first I bought, but not the last. At some point, over the five years I actually owned a car (two, actually), I’m sure I bought a lot of CDs and CDRs for burning mixes. At some point, though, I picked up an iPod and a car kit, which began the slow, inevitable slide toward going digital only for music.

I buy mp3s now, usually off Amazon. I think I bought one CD last year for an artist who didn’t have a digital release, but that basically meant I got the CD on sale for ten bucks and then downloaded the bootleg for the iPod. I’d be lying if I said all of my music was legal, but I think that a significant portion of it is. Either way, I’ve got almost 70 gigs of music, enough for 36 and a half days of songs, and the fact that my iPod only holds 30 gigs pains me every day.

I acquired an iPod Touch last year, in addition to my 5G. At first I bit the bullet and dealt with the 16 gigs of space, but a few weeks ago, I went back to using the 5G for music purposes. I really only break out the Touch to watch videos or listen to podcasts. I’d used Stanza for ebooks on the Touch, and I really dug the interface and speed. It’s very easy on the eyes. I read all of Candide and another novel on it over the course of an eleven hour plane ride. I found it very easy to get into, and being able to have music playing in the background was a boon, too.
Read the rest of this entry �

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