All the relevant information worth considering when deciding how you feel about digital comics
For the few of you dedicated luddites out there still living in denial, I have two things to say to you. First, take comfort in knowing that when Skynet gains sentience, you do in fact get to let loose that big fat I told you so you’ve been saving in your front pocket. Let it rip loud and proud, you’ve earned it. Second, digital comics are a thing. They are not a passing trend, and they are not likely going to do anything but get more popular. In light of this revelation, you may ask yourself should I support this monster, do I want to be another cog in the gear that pushes this juggernaut forward, or perhaps most importantly is this good for comics? Well, despite your begging and pleading, I will not be telling you how you should feel about new-aged digital comics versus traditional print comics. The power and influence I wield here is too mighty, and it would just be unethical to use it (without being bribed) to corrupt the minds of the masses. I will, however, address some relevant points worth considering when making the decision for yourself.
First off, lets jump right in and address the big one: is the digital platform good for the comics industry? For most involved, the answer is a resounding yes! The advantages offered by digital extend to publishers, creators, and readers alike (plus, it’s earth friendly as well). It allows publishers the opportunity to again profit from their previously out of print issues, currently only being sold on the second hand market. It also saves them money in printing, manufacturing, and distribution costs, allowing them to improve their profit margin. These savings are also extended to the independent creator, giving them the ability to distribute their passion projects to the masses without having to go through a major publisher or pay the hefty costs involved with financing a print run themselves. More creators, creating more content outside the major publishers leads to more diversity in the marketplace, which means there is a little more of something for every taste. Are you that one of those rare few with deep yearning to read a good graphic novel about lactating tennis ball creatures and their age-old rivalry with broccoli? While I doubt very much that Marvel or DC would give that pitch a second thought, thanks to digital comic’s cost reduction for independent publishing, you can probably find something in that ballpark — and if not, it sounds as though you are uniquely suited to the task of making the book yourself! The other five people in the world searching for it will thank you.
All of that is wonderful, you may find yourself thinking, but my name isn’t Comics Industry, my name is Fred, and I just want to read the regular ol’ books about capes, crime, and cowls. How does this benefit me? Well, Fred, thank you so much for asking and allowing me to move this article forward. The benefits to the reader offered by digital comics don’t just end at a more diverse marketplace in which to shop. Availability and access are the biggest doors opened to the consumer by this platform. Readers are no longer bound by the hours of operation of yesteryear. If you’re a night owl and happen to catch a trailer at 3AM for that new comic based TV series coming out, you may decide you need to read a few issues from the series right this instant to see what it’s all about. You now have that option, you can purchase books any time. Day, night, weekday, weekend, holiday; it doesn’t matter, they’re always open for business. What books you have access to buy and read has been dramatically increased as well. Physical back issues of books that are now out of print have prices that are based off of a few different factors: rarity, popularity, cannon significance, and condition all combine to make the price of a book in a shop. Did you recently get into Punisher and want to check out his first appearance? You could try to hunt down a copy of Amazing Spiderman #129 and then drop $300-$500 on it, or you can spend $1.99 on a digital copy. With digital, the cover price is the cover price. All purchases are the same quality, and they have a limitless supply, which means no stock outs. You don’t have to hunt all over the world for that rare issue you wanted to read; it’s always there, and always available. These large databases of issues also offer the possibility of Netflix-style subscription services, allowing you access to a publisher or application’s library for a monthly fee, a potentially amazing value for an avid reader. There are currently only a few apps and one major publisher taking advantage of this model, but not unlike video streaming services, expect this to catch on more in the near future.
Now I know you’re probably saying wow, thanks Sean! I’m glad you’ve opened my eyes to this beautiful mistress that is digital comics. They sound perfect, how could anyone possible have anything against them? Well, barring the Amish of course. Now, I appreciate the help, but I can write this thing myself! Hold your comments for the comments section at the end and quit interrupting. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, I’ve saved the worst for last. While there are definite benefits to be found with digital, it is not without its own set of significant flaws. It is true the digital pricing structure can save you truck loads on ultra-rare issues, but that door swings both ways. The discounted issues and miles of long boxes stuffed with 99 cent gems at your local comic shop won’t be found here. With the exception of the occasional limited time sale or special, digital won’t get marked below cover price. On the topic of that cover price, you know the one you pay in the store for a book you take home with you and keep forever? Another significant downside to digital comes in the form of its definition of ownership. Once you pay that cover price, you still don’t technically own your book! The major sellers of digital comics all require you to have their own special app to access your purchases. Your cloud library is stored with them, and your “downloaded” books still can only be accessed through them. That is like paying for a book at a comic shop, but only being allowed to read it when you’re in the shop so the owner knows you don’t share it with your friends. That sounds outrageous, but when the exact same thing is done digitally, it is just accepted and moved past. What happens if one of these companies goes under, one of these publishers decide to pull out of the digital marketplace, or the software gets some hacker, virus, or malfunction that erases user data? Your vast collection of comics — and that small fortune spent on them — could easily disappear without a trace. I’m aware that isn’t entirely likely, but it isn’t impossible either. We just trust that these companies have our best interests at heart, and remain grateful that they continue to give us permission to access the products we bought at full price from them.
Beyond pricing issues, there are also the limitations of the medium that are worth considering. A digital issue of a book itself is one-hundred percent worthless and useless without having some device capable of viewing it. While a physical copy of a book you can read pretty much wherever/whenever, at absolute most needing only a reading light to facilitate this, the reliance on an external peripheral brings with it a natural set of handicaps. Your devices storage capability will limit the number of your comics you can have immediate access to. Any comics you want beyond that will rely on you being near a wireless signal, or a device on a data plan (and the spare data to be consumed from browsing and downloading). The other beautiful thing about a physical book is that it never runs out of battery. The same cannot be said about your Iphart or Samus Galactus 12.3. You want to relax and just binge on comics all day, or even just a solid few hours? Hopefully your favorite spot to lounge is next to an outlet and your charger has length to spare. While these may seem to be petty gripes for some, they could easily be big time issues for others (not least of which, those who aren’t into spending a small fortune on the highest-end devices to get more ample memory and battery life).
Digital comics, like most things, have their up sides and their downs. When you buy a digital copy, you get instant gratification from your living room. When you buy a physical copy, you are likely supporting a small business owner, who runs the shop for the same reason you shop there, the love of comics. Digital provides you unrivaled access and often times value as well, especially as the available subscription offerings grow. Value however, is in the eye of the beholder: some people place more value in something they can hold, cherish, and pass on. Many may also not see it as such a value when they need the app or publishers permission to access the things the consumer supposedly owns. In the end, there are really only two things that matter in making your decision whether or not to get your next book digital comics: first, what about the comic and buying experience is really important to you? And second, exactly how close are we to the singularity?
February 22, 2016
Thank you Obi Wan, or is it Darth Vader??