Comic Revolt with David Gillette: Going Digital
This week’s Comic Revolt looks at the digital market for comic books and how it’s shaping comic publishing by grading out each major company or upstart. This is based on three subjective categories rated 1 through 10:
Category 1: How well has the company transitioned to digital if they were originally print?
Category 2: How much has the company changed the way consumers purchase comic books?
Category 3: How much has the company changed the consumer’s experience with content?
They have been making the transition over to digital for some time now, but haven’t fully committed to pushing the envelope with all of the possibilities afforded by the digital platform. DC has put out a sizeable list of digital only releases written by top shelf writers like Damon Lindelof and Steve Niles for series like Legends of the Dark Knight, but they have done little in the way of promoting or marketing the digital titles. It’s almost as if they are doing it to keep up with the Jones’ without putting some real skin in the game.
However, DC has the largest catalogue of titles available if you’re looking to dive into the history of their company. You can hit their website, which is powered by Comixology, to buy just about anything the company has ever published. For most readers, that is enough because DC Comics is more of a legacy company than innovator in today’s digital world. There is a lot of money to potentially be made in the digital medium with all of the tablets and smart phones out there, so what better way to boost lagging sales numbers than make the entire back catalogue available?
Category 1 receives a 9 because of the prolific undertaking DC made to get their back catalog ready for digital. Category 2 receives a 7 because DC has yielded some impressive gains in the digital market by selling print copies as a digital package and working with Comixology to sell their product online, but they haven’t really changed the market more than anyone else. Category 3 receives a 6 because this is where DC comes up short with their lack of commitment to increasing their original titles in the digital line and for not enhancing the reader experience.
Frankly, Marvel’s digital presence pales in comparison to DC. While they are releasing new comics digitally, they have a lot of work to do in making their back catalog more available. Their site, which is also powered by Comixology, doesn’t seem to be as well organized as DC’s.
Marvel seems to be invested in the print medium more heavily than DC with their push for comic subscriptions offering free shipping and 45% off a 12 issue subscription. Also, I failed to find any digital only series that might attract consumers to the digital realm.
Category 1 receives a 7 because of how far Marvel is lagging behind DC in filling out their back catalog and making it available digitally. Category 2 yields a rather pedestrian 5 for not making a sincere push to take advantage of the burgeoning digital movement. Category 3 receives a 4 for not offering up much in new titles or ways of pushing the medium to be more creative or innovative.
A common thread amongst all of the major comic publishers is Comixology. Image, for many obvious reasons mostly pertaining to their business model which emphasizes creator rights, has a very basic presence on the digital store front through Comixology. You can’t really compare Image to the big 2 of DC and Marvel because whether to offer a title digitally is completely up to the creative team on a title.
For instance, one of Image’s founders, Todd McFarlane, does not have Spawn available for digital sales through Image or his own site, so it’s hard to examine Image in the realm of digital comics. On the other hand, many of their newest titles are being made available same day as print.
Category 1 -3 receives and incomplete because of Image’s unique business model. Even though they have a growing market share, they have limited latitude to undertake carving out a digital presence.
Their business model is a bit of a mix between traditional and creator owned, so they do not have a huge digital presence either. Dark Horse offers sales through their own website rather than using Comixology, which may be detrimental to their overall presence, but they are making a solid run at things considering their new titles also are available same day as print.
Category 1 -3 receives and incomplete because their business model isn’t quite conducive to developing a real presence at the moment. Even though they have a growing market share, they have limited latitude to undertake carving out a digital presence much in the same way as Image.
The young upstarts in this game are Madefire, but they have already come out of the gate guns blazing because they offer original content for the digital platform only, and they have an amazing group of creators adhering to this model. While they don’t have the deep back catalog of companies like DC or Marvel, they may be the first company with a chance to build their presence in digital comics through their combination of original content used in conjunction with their amazing motion tool app that makes reading their stories and immersive and engaging experience.
The downside to Madefire is that they’re only available for use in Apple devices like the iPad and iPhone, which limits their ability to reach a wider audience; however, they firmly believe that this platform is the best way to experience their content at the moment because of the touch capabilities of the devices as well as the viewing space of the iPad in comparison to the Nook or Kindle.
Category 1 receives an incomplete because Madefire is a start-up. Category 2 receives a 7 based upon the fact that the content is free even though they are only available through a single platform. Category 3 receives a 10 because of the sheer innovation and quality of content being offered by their range of creators like Dave Gibbons, Liam Sharp, and Ben Wolstenholme.
While there are more companies out there publishing and creating fantastic comic books and experiences for comic lovers, the aforementioned companies either have the greatest influence on which way the comic industry will go in the digital realm or could greatly influence it for years to come.
I want to hear from you if there’s a company out there that I missed or a publisher that you feel has made big strides in the digital publishing realm. Leave comments below or tweet me at @DavidGillette1 to keep the conversation going on this pertinent and fascinating topic of comics evolving in the digital realm.