Earlier tonight I received in my email inbox an independently run survey from Marvel about Digital Comics! Oh what a surprise! I of course filled out the survey on my iPhone, since it was the device I had handy at the time I saw the incoming email.
How much do I spend on comic books per week? $2.39.
Yes, that’s right. I buy 1 comic book a week. Sometimes two if it’s a “busy week”. None of those books are Marvel, they are all DC, or I should say, the one or both are DC.
How much could I spend on comic books? From what comes home from the local comic book store, if I were to buy it myself would end up being far more, around $200 a month. DC and Marvel don’t get my money because they already get Scott’s money. He loves his comics more than I because he gets something out of what he reads, while all I get is shrug-tastic yawns. I once had Deadpool on my pull list, that lasted a month and then I stopped. Brief flashes of brilliance aren’t enough to keep me loyal, that sort of thing is likely to drive me away.
So the survey wanted to know a bunch of interesting things. How much I spend, what my education level is, how much money my household makes. Yes Marvel, you could get more money out of me, but you FAIL. It’s not that it’s just Marvel doing the failure, it’s the entire industry letting me down. I had a dream that when Apple released the first iPad that comic book apps would be hot on the heels of that release. In my head I had an idea about how things ought to have gone:
- My device would be a great platform for reading digital comics (it is)
- That I would be able to register a debit or credit card with an app (I never have yet)
- That I’d be able to check mark comic book lines, like “Fantastic Four” and “Booster Gold” and have them billed to my card-on-file, that I would then have the ability to either download them in some sort of app or if I wanted to, be able to download .PDF, .CBZ, or .CBR files directly from the comic book company. (So far half of that is realized, you can buy comics in an app… but wait… there’s so much more!)
- That once I set my preferences, my pull-list with Marvel and/or DC that I would get each release as it came out, or at most a day later than “Comics Wednesday”, they could have called it “Electronic Thursdays” and I would be all set. It could be a set-it-and-forget-it thing and every Thursday I could start my iPad, open an app, and there would be a list of all my comics that I wanted to read.
- After I read my comics, I could move the files anywhere I wanted, on my laptop, my computer at home, my computer at work, a USB stick or even have them engraved in stone if I so wished. My “longbox” could have been slung around my neck and I’d never have to worry about my collection again.
Of course Marvel and DC don’t do it this way. Instead they make three or four issues available and then when you’ve got a taste they shunt you to a comic book store for paper! Thanks guys, BUT IF I WANTED PAPER I WOULD HAVE !@#$ BOUGHT PAPER TO START! I’m a “DIGITAL CUSTOMER”. I’m not going to come in out of the cold. I will stop altogether if it’s just dead trees you’re selling! They can’t seem to get that central idea. Right now they hide behind their digital app, which is just a rebranded Comixology app to make the experience “rich for digital presentation”. NEWS FLASH GUYS, I don’t give a flying rip about “rich digital presentation”, all I want is my comics on my device. Not on dead trees! So that is where my cognitive dissonance comes into play. These companies HAVE TO ship all their fancy bits using some sort of electronic means, so say it’s a PDF or a bunch of images in a ZIP file (that’s a CBZ kids!) so what exactly is the cost for “publishing digital content” when all you have to do is create a channel for your customers to pay for you to SEND THEM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY SENDING EACH OTHER?!? That’s all people like me really want. Yes, having the fancy Comixology app is pleasurable, but it isn’t the make-or-break for us people. It’s having a dependable source of your product, product we wish to pay for as long as you are upright and fair, so will we be upright and fair.
But since you ignored us…
That’s what happened. Marvel and DC ignored this new infant business model. They could have pioneered the way with people like me. People who really could give a flying rip about dead trees. They could have caught us right at that magic moment, could have gotten up to $1200 a YEAR in PURE GIMME GIMME PROFIT. It wouldn’t have required any actual human resources. They could have simply created an email list and included us, their digital subscribers in a CC with the email they send to their printers in China for mass production of their dead-tree product. We would have gone that last-mile and repackaged it, polished it, hell, even put the pages in numerical order and forgiven bleeding errors or color variations if we could have gotten what we wanted for the same price as the dead-tree product a day later than the dead-tree product hit the streets. The credit transactions would have been PURE GIMME.
Nobody did. The window closed and the digital customers, still to this day are locked out in the cold. We see the comic books in the stores. We look at our stores, the sometimes nice people behind the counter, the sometimes obnoxious. The owners hovering like worried nannies, we browse, we fiddle with the dead-tree copies but we don’t buy them. We don’t want dead trees clogging up our lives.
What has happened? Some of us in the digital-only crowd have given it our best rational shot. We wanted to make a pull list at www.marvel.com and www.dccomics.com. We wanted to subscribe! We had credit cards in hand! We saw the app, we were intoxicated by its candy sweetness and we saw we could buy issues. We squealed with joy, and we bought a few. Then the reality set in. The files weren’t open, they weren’t ours. Despite buying something we had nothing to show for it. No way to back up those files on CD, DVD, or USB Memory Sticks. Then we noticed that we couldn’t get the Fantastic Four from this point forward on digital. We could get three oddly-mislabeled comics (contemporary 1990′s huh?) and then an icy shoulder and a bony finger pointing us to our “Local Comic Book Store”. Something we never wanted to do. We are the digital only crowd!
So an anonymous group appeared on the network. They bought dead-tree product and hacked it up, then scanned it and created files. They bound them into CBZ or CBR files and included them in giant archives and made them available to the entire network. They effectively undid the abuse the original digital files endured by hauling them back from the dead-tree world and back into the digital one. In the meantime Marvel and DC watched all these potential sales simply NOT HAPPEN. What’s the worst embarrassment of all is that resources could have been saved, trouble could have been avoided and a certain segment of your customer base could have been gratified if you had simply sold us the images and skipped the dead-tree part of your business model!
Again with the cognitive dissonance. Why isn’t it this way? It seems mind-achingly stupid that this hasn’t happened already. There has to be another reason, nothing can remain this deaf and absurd without some sort of extenuating circumstance. This got me to thinking about what those reasons might be. There is a fly in this ointment. That is Diamond Publishing and Comic Book Stores. The idea of a comic book producer skipping that part of the equation all together has to scare the daylights out of Diamond Publishing. They have a monopolistic lock on the distribution business for all comic books produced. This digital comic book thing has to be a monumental concern for them, because as the middle-men, digital comic books effectively eliminate them from the equation altogether. So really, is it Marvel and DC who are being pigheaded about sales and what they’ve lost or do they no longer have full control over their figurative testicles? The only thing that properly explains all the odd behavior from the big two content creators is that Diamond Publishing has giant C-Clamps screwed down tight on both Marvel and DC’s collective testicles and each time this idea comes up, the clamps get screwed down a little tighter. I have to assume that there was a meeting between Diamond and Marvel/DC that went something like this: “If you sell directly we’ll fuck you. We’ll walk away from the table and your product can just sit in the shipping containers at the port and rot. You need us because a majority of your business is about US, not about YOU.” and then the content creators whined a little, and went back to being obedient Diamond Publishing customers. Meanwhile as all of this might have happened, Nero fiddled and Rome burned. I don’t know if this really happened or what, but it does explain why Marvel and DC behave the way they do. It’s the only thing that makes sense. If Marvel and DC could get $2.99 per issue and have a flat production cost and maximize their profit AND THEN DROP IT, something has to be going on.
So does Diamond have a leg to stand on? No. I’m not going to rush out to my Comic Book Store and pay for dead-trees. Not reading is preferable to filling up my life with murdered trees for temporary gratification. If I’m not ever going to come in from the cold, then my buying directly from the source shouldn’t upset anyone, other than the guessed potential that I might go to a comic book store, even when it’s obviously, and plainly stated that I will not.
So I just read what Scott brings home. He puts the comics on the countertop and I rifle through them and pick out what I want to read and that’s life. I’m not going to buy the flesh of a murdered tree for a reason as slim as “wanting to support an industry”. While I’m rifling and wandering downstairs and picking through the longboxes in the basement for comics I want to read, those people who put every comic book in creation in giant BitTorrent archives and make them available for free are exsanguinating the content creators and eventually a lost opportunity will grow into business poison. January sales aren’t what they were last year, and last months was better than this months. How far can this particular scenario carry on before something breaks?
I know that Marvel and DC care very deeply about what they do. It’s art for goodness sake! But eventually all this lost revenue will have to be addressed. This letter is to Marvel and DC both. I’m willing to pay you the fair published price for fair-trade goods. No DRM, no lame bullshit, no “Enhanced Presentation” is required. You know what a CBZ is and you can make it happen. I will stop rifling thru my basement and buy “another copy” of each comic book I enjoy if only you cut the bullshit. It’s a reason why I started commissioning art at conventions. There are artists I adore and so, paying them cash, knowing that it helps their bottom line is about as far as I’m willing to compromise on this. I categorically refuse to buy the flesh of murdered trees. I’ve been waiting for Apple to go the distance and create the iPad. It’s now in your corner to grab the brass ring of turning me into a paying customer.
It reminds me of a funny song line I once heard, “I don’t want the whole world, just your half.” Really I don’t even want that. Making a CBZ and sending it to me should be negligible, and I am willing to pay for that. Only that mind you. If it’s wrapped in DRM Comixology silliness then forget it. Fair Trade. Fair Play. I believe one of your characters has that as his historical tagline. Ring a Bell?