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.

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Marvel’s Non-Battle Pope Comic: Paul II

June 4th, 2009 Posted by guest article

If you’re not up to speed, read the first part of James Howard’s review here! Unless you want to experience it Star Wars style. That’s cool too!

So Wojytla heads back and joins the official Polish delegation to Rome for Pope John XXIII’s Ecumenical Council, where he makes a speech before the assembly and spends his time soaking up the scene.

Africa, you know I love you, but stop listening to the fucking Vatican already. And don’t think for a second that the pair are placed next to one another here to imply a sense of colourblind kinship and equality before the Lord; one being a white bishop and one being a black bishop, they’re actually positioned there to spend the evening completely ruining my knights’ mobility.

Wojtyla is officially promoted to Archbishop of Cracow and gains all the perks of the position: new business cards, free jello, and a much, much larger hat.

Most people would look at this picture and take most interest in the apparent radioactive properties of the new headwear, but I’m more intrigued by the stubby sausage-like hand sneaking in behind the new Archbishop to swipe his old hat before the new one comes down. What if he wanted to stack them, like Duplo? Is that not allowed?

Read the rest of this entry �

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Magnum Opus: Squadron Supreme

August 22nd, 2008 Posted by guest article

by Tobey Cook

What was originally going to be a piece in tribute to the late, great Mark Gruenwald last week quickly ballooned into something much more than what it was intended to be. So with that in mind, I bring you what I hope will be the first in a series I call Magnum Opus. What I’ll do here is spotlight a miniseries or trade that to me has a special place in my collection. This article’s highlighted miniseries will be Squadron Supreme, because it’s easily my personal favorite and has so many things it brought to the table as to changing the way comics had been written up to that point. It’s also the first major maxiseries I remember buying as it was coming out on the stands every month. It featured some decent art from Paul Ryan, John Buscema and one other artist during the 12-issue run.

For my first treatment I decided to choose a book that I think has held up pretty well – Squadron Supreme. Each member of the team was loosely based on a character from DC Comics’ JLA. You had Hyperion as the Squadron’s Superman, Power Princess (Wonder Woman), Nighthawk (Batman), and even a Skrull analogue to Martian Manhunter in the Skrullian Skymaster! While the names of the characters weren’t exactly original, Mark Grunewald decided he wanted to use them to do something that hadn’t been done in comics before – what happens when the heroes decide they can fix the world’s problems?

The basic premise of the maxiseries is that the Squadron, having just recovered from a battle with the alien Overmind, returns to a world that is in ruins. Seeing that the only way to fix the world’s problems is to take matters into their own hands, Hyperion decides that they must find a way to repair the damage that’s been done. Despite the fact that the people mistrust and despise the Squadron, Hyperion comes up with Project Utopia, a way to, as he puts it – “abolish war and crime, eliminate poverty and hunger, establish equality among all people, clean up the environment, and cure disease.”

However, not everyone agrees with Hyperion’s plan. Nighthawk, one of the Squadron’s founding members, resigns in protest believing that the Squadron has no right to force people to bend to the Squadron’s will.

Tensions are further put to the test when the Squadron decides to use a behavior modification machine to ‘rehabilitate’ criminals, even going so far as to use it on some of their former enemies – Quagmire, Foxfire, Shape, Lamprey, and others. This proves to be the most controversial move the Squadron would make, and prompts Nighthawk to join up with the Squadron’s enemy Master Menace in order to find a way to reverse the behavior modification process.

There are so many moral dilemmas in this series – much more than any Marvel series at the time, and it proves the old theory about absolute power corrupting absolutely. A couple more highlights of the series are Squadron member Tom Thumb’s search for a cure for cancer and a brief foray by Nighthawk to the mainstream Marvel Universe to get help from Captain America and The Avengers (not coincidentally written by Mark Gruenwald and illustrated by Paul Ryan, the same art team) to stop the Squadron.

If you’re looking for a book that will give you a good, solid read, look no further. The first printing of it is a bit difficult to find unless you’re an avid EBay fanatic, but it’s been reprinted several times since then as it’s a pretty solid seller for Marvel. What’s so important about the first printing? Mark Gruenwald’s ashes were mixed with the printing ink.

That’s it for this installment of Magnum Opus. If you have any comments or suggestions, or would like to recommend a book for a future column, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below.

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G’wan and walk it out…

June 5th, 2007 Posted by david brothers

Oh, man, it’s been a minute! Where have I been? Busy, that’s where!

In terms of work stuff, I have been co-writing Guide for The Darkness. I think the game drops later this month? I went to one of these Hot Import Nights show. Better yet– it was for work. I’d never been to an import tuner show, mainly because my taste runs more toward Continentals and Cadillacs than RX-7s and Mazda 3s, you know? It was cool. A lot more models than I expected, though. I didn’t get to see any of San Diego, either, and that kind of sucks! I’ve also been doing a gaggle of galloping game manuals. Curiously, all of them are nerdy or comic game franchises. In fact, the manual I’m wrapping up tomorrow morning is related to a certain franchise that Dark Horse publishes.

In terms of real life stuff, I’ve been adjusting to life in San Francisco, trying to figure out a workable budget that’ll let me stock my place and pay my bills, picking up a diet, and I’m probably going to start exercising here in my place. Need to find a pull-up bar that doesn’t need screws, but that ain’t likely. I’ve also been burning through these Entourage DVD sets I have. I haven’t had a haircut or a shave in a over month now. Time to lose the stubble and cut my hair down to a proper 1/8 inch. Gotta find somebody to do the hair line, though.

My neighbor, I think downstairs-ish, is playing Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer right now. Last week, it was Sade. I can’t really fault her taste in music, you know? Really laid back. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ludacris and Outkast, myself.

Life is weird. Life is good.

In terms of internet stuff, I’ve been thinking up clever MySpace display names (“Darling, after Valentine’s, I’ve decided!” [get it?]), modding Something Awful’s comics forum (which really isn’t that hard), chatting about ISSUES IN COMICS with people I know, and reading and enjoying most of the blogosphere. Listening to podcasts, too. Check the Funnybook Babylon link on the right-hand side, there.

A couple people said on a blog that there are no non-stereotypical or non-offensive non-white male characters in comics. That was an interesting two days diversion, I must say.

In terms of blogging stuff… I’ve been slacking. I owe a certain comics blog that I really enjoy a guest post (which I’ve finally cracked after a few weeks of stage fright/lack of time). I owe 4l a ton of posts, too.

I’ve been trying to get things straight in my mind. I want to talk about how Nymphet getting canceled made me realize that I, and probably a lot of other people, only care about the first amendment when it suits me. Change comics? Whoo! Cancel pedo books? Whoo! Censor a book I like? Whoa, nelly! Hold up there.

How do making a change in someone else’s comics to reduce sexism/racism/*ism and respecting their right to free speech track? It’s an interesting dilemma. If you have any insight, feel free to share. I’ve thought about making this a separate post, but I don’t feel like I have my mind wrapped around it right yet.

I’ve also been wondering how to follow up my big post from the other weekend, too. I mean, how can you drop a manifesto and then come back with “Deadpool sure is cool hurrrrrr” you know? Here’s the answer: you won’t know how until you do it.

Anyway! I’m well-rested after my weekend in San Diego (kind of) and I really want to get back to 4l. The review post I owe you is up next (and I plan to write it tonight so I won’t be a liar!) and then hopefully some good stuff.

Peace up, A-towns down!

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