The Digital Comics Conundrum

All this random noise regarding digital comics and the craziness of having floppies arrive at the comic book store at the same time they are available online, the confusion over what the price should be, the indignation against Apple for taking a cut of the distribution they single-handedly created, not to mention what about the poor retailer is absolute crap.

The answers to these questions and the various related ones are surprisingly easy. Quit publishing the 22-page floppy as a paper and staples entity, price your digital-only lengthy and worthwhile installments at 99 cents, forget using Apple or Comicology or Graphic.ly as your distributor and give retailers hardback and trade paperback collections to sell.

Basically, give the readers and potential new readers what they want (within reason).
Of course, what they really want is free content. Unless you are purposely turning a blind eye to the plethora of torrent comics, the free content is already out there in droves of .cbr and .cbz files. I’ve got an idea… why not give your customers a legal way to purchase those .cbr/.cbz files and cut out the retailer middlemen?

I deleted all the various digital comic book distribution apps off my iPad. They are worthless. All anyone needs is a .cbr/.cbz reader and they are set. If I were a comic book publisher, I’d attempt to create a great .cbr/.cbz reader app that does something more than make it easy to read those types of files on my iPad. For instance, a built in subscription that automatically downloads the .cbr/.cbz files to your iPad would be a welcome addition.

I have a legitimate question… what happens to all of the digital comics “bought” via Comicology or Graphic.ly if those companies were to go belly-up? Poof! They are gone to the great digital ether in the sky. You never really owned them, just borrowed them for a while.

I want to own the digital media I buy. Just “borrowing” at a price point that is in the $2-$4 range is unacceptable to me and a vast majority of consumers. For a 22-page comic, 99 cents is the threshold. Barely. A 22-page comic is really not enough content to merit the price. 32-pages… maybe. 44-pages of content is about right. It can still be 22-pages of comics, but also 22 additional pages of something else like letter columns, scripts, etc. I’d be okay with advertising remaining in the digital download, but not as part of the 44 pages of content.

Imagine going to an online catalog of comics – where you could purchase digital .cbr/.cbz downloads that can easily be uploaded to your iPad. The comic book companies can be both the manufacturer and the distributor of their products. They reap 100% of their available downloads. Of course, it is vitally important for the files to be priced at 99 cents. None of this $1.99 or higher bullshit pricing that consumers hate. Remember, the companies get 100% of this 99 cents, plus they aren’t paying for any print production or distribution or Previews advertising. Price six issue collections at $4.99. Price yearly downloadable subscriptions at $9.99. Watch newbie readers flock to your work.

The question that comes up immediately is piracy. It’s already out there. You can’t stop the pirates and fighting them is futile. Most honest people buy plenty of music, television shows and movies via iTunes because it is simple, high-quality and immediate. If comic book companies build a legitimate way for consumers to get their product in a way that makes sense and that they actually own, they will come. While Apple certainly has the number one tablet computer which is stunningly beautiful to read digital comics on, Apple and iTunes has no monopoly on distribution. The web makes everything an even playing field. Comic companies that don’t take advantage of it are going to lose.

When the floppies become extinct, online digital pricing is 99 cents or better with a subscription, and comic book companies quit being in the “keep retailers afloat” business, more readers will embrace reading comics.