From abcnews.com I see that Marvel Comics is finally making a (debatably) major push into online comics. In their release it says that they’ll make 2,500+ back issues available for viewing at a subscription rate of $60 a year (or $9.99 a month).
For the record, I’m a huge “Old School” fan of comics (my “Old School” being the late 80s to early 90s) and while I try to keep up with what’s going on in the Comic Book world through various internet news sites I don’t collect anymore because I’m really not a fan of the direction in which comics have gone. So this announcement is interesting to me. That said, there are some glaring issues here that I’d like to address.
The interface: The thing that has killed every attempt at online comics that I can think of is that comics just don’t lend themselves to the computer screen. Sure there are people willing to steal the pdfs to get free comics but when people pay money for the comic they want a pleasant viewing experience and the computer screen just doesn’t seem to provide that. Unless Marvel can find a way to make the viewing experience enjoyable this initiative will fall flat.
Availability of Comics: Right now this is how the Marvel press release lists what will be available initially…
At launch, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited offers more than 2,500 comic books. Each week, Marvel will add at least 20 additional titles to the site that will be chosen based on editors' picks and subscriber requests. The initial offerings will run the gamut from unforgettable classics, to current favorites, to titles designed for young readers. Selected highlights include: Unforgettable Classics
-- The first 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man
-- The first 100 issues of The Fantastic Four
-- The initial 66 issue run of Uncanny X-Men
-- The first 50 issues of The Avengers
-- The issues marking the first appearances of such Super Heroes as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, Daredevil, and Silver Surfer
-- The issues marking the first appearance of such renowned villains as Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, and Dr. Doom -- The issue that showcased the first appearance of Spider-Man's black costume Recent and Current Favorites
-- Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men
-- Selected titles from the Ultimate line including: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates
-- The House of M
-- Amazing Spider-Man
-- New Avengers
-- Young Avengers
-- Runaways Young Reader Series
-- Marvel Adventures Spider-Man
-- Spider-Man & Power Pack
-- Marvel Adventures Avengers
-- Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four
-- Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius
You’ll notice a lot of “select titles” or “chosen based on editor’s picks” in that list. My experience is that comic fans want a sequential experience and aren’t usually thrilled with the idea of “read whatever we throw at you”.
Effect on Current Business Model: For better or worse Marvel currently makes the lion’s share of their money off of local comic shops who sell their monthly issues. These shops make their money off of two things, current issues and back issues. So while Marvel isn’t putting their own business model at risk with this initiative (they only make money off of new issues) they are sacrificing the model of their main distributors. If Marvel is putting 2,500 of the best back issues online for $5 a month there’s little reason for someone to give $2.50 per back issue to their comic shop. If retailers begin to see a decrease in back issue sales you can look for Marvel to have a major conflict between this new initiative and their current business model.
I’ll admit to being a little over critical here but that being said I think this is a half hearted attempt by Marvel that won’t provide much to fans and which presents a serious challenge for retailers. Don’t get me wrong, It is nice to see companies such as Marvel acknowledging the online space I just wish they’d do it in a way that provides a few more benefits.