Comics Enter The 21st Century. Finally.

Justice League issue 1 - 2011

DC's relaunch includes a skanky Wonder Woman and a fashion conscious Superman.

Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of a comic book geek and, aside from MMOs, they are one of my biggest hobbies. I wouldn’t say that I was extremely into them or a diehard fanboi or anything like that but I’ve been reading and purchasing my favourite series on a weekly basis since I was a teenager. However, over the past two or three years, it’s become harder and harder for me to keep up the hobby. Until now.

Part of the issue has been the rising cost of comics and the fact that it’s been becoming more difficult to justify their expense. A new issue purchased directly from a comic shop here in the UK now costs around £3.30/$5.30 which, frankly, is ridiculous. I can understand the fact that they need to be imported from the US adds to the cost but I’ve seen the prices rise steadily over the last few years and I can’t help but think that the more the comic stores up their prices, the less comics people people buy to compensate. That’s certainly what I’ve been doing.

Likewise, I have a problem just getting to the store itself. Although my shop isn’t particularly far away or anything, making a trip there on weekly basis becomes rather repetitive plus, what with starting my own business recently, I just don’t have the time for it and, as much as I love my comics, I can think of better things to do on my weekends. Forbidden Planet, the shop I go to (and pretty much the only one here that even sells comics) does have a rather crappy online shop for buying them but even then I have to pay for delivery costs and remember to do it each week. All-in-all, it’s a bit of a hassle and has meant that my hobby has suffered quite a lot as of late.

Then I got an iPad.

For a long time I’ve wished that I could just buy and read my comics digitally like I do with novels on the Kindle and it’s only been very recently that this wish has become a reality. Although still not perfect (not all comics are available digitally) it’s now that the point where I don’t buy any printed comics any more and only read them digitally.

The big shift for me was, of course, buying an iPad but, even then, it’s only been within the past few months that the comic industry has accepted the digital medium as a valid form. Marvel finally signed up to comiXology, a service for the digital distribution of comics, meaning that now issues from the big two, Marvel and DC, are available to read on a single app, on a single account. Likewise, they are slowly, every so slowly, starting to release more and more of their comics digitally, both as a backlog of older issues and also new issues at the same time as print.

The biggest step forward for digital distribution though has to be DC’s relaunch of, almost, their entire catalogue of superheroes. Resetting big names like Superman and Batman to #1 and starting again with brand new stories from this month onwards, they’ve also committed to releasing every single issue digitally at the same time as the printed version. This is a massive boon to people like me as it effectively means I can get pretty much every comic I want on my iPad on the same day of release in the shops and at a cheaper price, £2.49/$4. It’s basically revived my interest in the hobby.

Whilst this is all great news for me, I know a lot of the delay in finally kicking comics into the 21st century was the fear of how digital distribution, direct from the publishers themselves, would affect printed sales, and more specifically, the shops that sell them. While I don’t want to see any shop or retailer go out of business, much like the introduction of eReaders and digital books, I do think it’s all just a part of both human and industry evolution and something we have to accept and deal with. Just how the Internet changed the face of retail, digital distribution of books and comics will change the way we read. From a completely selfish point of view, I see it as a good thing because I can now get my comics sooner, cheaper and a lot more conveniently.

So if you’ve got any interest in comic books and making the switch to digital, you couldn’t pick a better time than now.

-Gordon

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28 Comments

  1. bhagpuss says:

    When I first started buying DC comics they were cover-priced 12 cents. I believe they cost 9d in pre-decimal currency. My first paying job was in a comic shop in the very early ’80s. I had the advantage of being able to read the entire output of Marvel and DC for free every month, yet I still bought nearly all of them anyway. I finally gave up in the early 90s, by when the price of an average issue was pushing towards a couple of pounds.

    It takes me around 5 to 8 minutes to read an average comic book. Something like a Don McGregor Killraven, heavy on words, might take 20 minutes. At 20p a shot, that seemed fair enough. It even seemed reasonable when comics had reached 60p. Once they went over a pound, though, it really couldn’t be justified. I kept going for many years by buying all my comics at comic marts, getting them in huge piles from the 20p bins. I read everything a year or two late and I missed a lot, but I could come home having spent £30 with a stack that would take me two or three weeks to get through.

    Eventually, though, even the 20p boxes became 50p boxes or even £1 boxes and I decided enough was enough. I’ve barely read any new comics for the last decade and a half and i can’t say I miss them all that much. I read some collections from the library occasionally and a few graphic novels at work.

    I’m afraid that £2.49 for the digital version does not seem like any kind of bargain. If it was 24.9p that might be reasonable. Although to be honest, having kicked the habit I’m in no hurry to get it back.

    • Gordon says:

      I totally get that £2.49 for a comic is a lot of money but I guess I stopped trying to align cost with pleasure a long time ago. Yeah £2.49 for 5-15 minutes of entertainment is a lot, but then you could equally say the same when paying £10 for a cinema ticket. I mean, if you’re looking for cost/pleasure efficiency why not just buy a book for £5 and get 20 hours of entertainment? Or heck, just go play football in the park for free. Plus, who’s to say that the 2 hours of entertainment you get from a film is more pleasurable than 15 minutes of reading a comic book? My organisms only last a few seconds but it doesn’t mean I don’t bother having sex :P (And some people spend a lot of money on that…)

      At the end of the day, people spend serious cash on everything from meals to clothes to art. Value truly is a subjective thing ;)

  2. Stabs says:

    Sadly I agree with Bhagpuss.

    Comics are just too quick to read. I find it difficult to get excited even about free ones because it feels that no sooner do I enter an amazing and exciting world I’m closing the comic book on the last page.

    It may well be personal style, I’m a fast reader and will just glance at the pictures as I devour the text voraciously like I’m power-leveling in a MMO. A friend who adores comics is an artist and a photographer, I guess he has a refined visual sense that I lack.

  3. gigahound says:

    The last time I bought a comic the cover price in America was approx. $2.95 a book. By then i had already slashed my monthly purchases from over a dozen books to only 3-4 per month. But if you only read 3-4 comics a month, you probably are not getting the whole story. So I had to give up in frustration.

    The argument for the high prices has always been about the publishing aspect. Newer, high-quality paper (glossy), new inking technology (special effects), the sheer cost of paper in general, the distribution costs, the shop take…

    If the industry goes fully digital, it will affect several other industries as well. Not just the shops, but also the distributors, the printers, the delivery services, the paper manufacturers…

    For a while I was concerned. The poor shop keepers. How are they going to remain in business without the printed comics?

    But after spending the better part of three years unemployed, I no longer care about them. Or any aspect of the printing/distribution process.

    I think that the digital medium will allow more artists and independent studios to strike out on their own. The shop owners have had their day, if they didn’t make enough money by now to retire off of, then they were in the wrong industry to begin with and need to move on.

    Just like me. My current job will not be the one I can safely retire from. It pays the bills right now, but in the future it won’t. If the price of gas goes up much further I won’t even be able to afford to make the commute. And no one will care. If I complain, they will just say, “Do something else.”

    So the shop owners can bite my big toe for all I care. They make most of their money through online sales these days anyway. They can find something else to sell, or lock the doors.

    As for things like the ipad…the only thing you should be paying for is the electronic reader (and whatever mods or apps you “have” to have) and the studio’s fees. Maybe a small surcharge from the “publisher” for formatting and distributing the digital files. And or a licensing fee for the major superhero stories that everyone knows and loves.

    Honestly, who could take comics seriously in any format if there wasn’t a Spider-man or Superman story to read? But small studios and other independent creators should be able to set their own prices. Got a great story to tell with at least some reasonable art to go with it? You no longer have to shop around for a publisher to “buy” the rights from you before they publish it. You no longer have to worry about low sales having an affect on the distributor’s choice to even carry your title in its catalog.

    The digital format is a good thing for creators and fans.

    It only hurts those who were taking an unfair share of the profits and abusing the system.

    Now, if we could get a few pirates to pay the creators, I think everyone could turn out happy…well, everyone that matters anyway.

  4. Syl says:

    I just can’t read anything digitally, comic or book – I love books, the physical aspect of them, the covers, the sound of pages turning, the smell. :)
    there are clear pros to digital distribution though, not just in terms of saving money but accessibility (for buyers as much as authors). maybe the book shops of the future should become “print on demand”, rather than selling a set palette of books.

  5. Jay says:

    Wow, I cant believe the price you are having to pay in the UK for digital comics!

    Ive always been a comic book dork too, but recently (within the past year or so), I had quit collecting, just because I was running out of places to put them! I came across comiXology just in the past couple of weeks, and I have purchased several comics so far! I dont have an IPad either – just looking on them through a browser.

    But, in the US, im only paying (depending on the book of course) somewhere around $1.99. How is it more expensive to DIGITALLY buy comics in the UK?!? I guess I can understand the hard paper copies being more expensive – even though even THAT seems way overpriced! – but digital delivery should cost the same for everyone!

    Cool blog btw! Ill be watching!

  6. Kierbuu says:

    For me it was never the price-per-issue or the whole print/digital thing. I quit comics a few years ago when I got tired of the endless crossovers and relaunches. I won’t be back until all the ’stunt casting’ type things are put in the ground and buried.

  7. Luk says:

    I quit collecting comics around 10 years ago due to price to entertainment quantity discrepancy. $4 for 10 minutes of reading sounds like a lousy deal to me and unless digital comics recognize that and reduce their prices to something digitally acceptable I would not be buying those either. Why pay $3 for 5 minutes of looking through 20 pages of graphics if you can by an entire kindle book or a steam game on sale for the same price? That is my problem with comics, they just not worth their price.

  8. tcotav says:

    Price for current releases in DC Store US (like JLA #1) is $3.99 — same as for print. Older issues are less (down to $1.99).

    Its absurd, but the reality is that the comic industry is leery of a massive change in their business model. Its inevitable. There is also the swallowing up of comic publishers into larger entertainment entities that can spit out movies, tv shows, etc… in addition to the comics.

    Related link:

    http://www.dharbin.com/blog/fifteen-thoughts-on-digital-comics/

    #7: “A big part of the reason that the digital iteration is so expensive is that the comics industry is terrified of devaluing the print iteration. Why buy something for $2.99 when you can get it for $.99? Publishers and retailers are worried that the appearance of low cost competition for floppy comic books will destroy the existing comic market, in its current state and shape. And they’re probably right.”

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah it’s very tough on current publishers and retailers but then… evolution…

      • Kierbuu says:

        Just to put a little bit of reality back into the thought process…

        The direct market is a very reliable profit center to the comic book publishers. It has been around for about 40 years at this point. Month in and month out the retailers have provided a very stable revenue stream to anybody selling product through them.

        In the last 10 years I can think of 5 major efforts to sell comics as a digital file. 3 of those attempts went down in flames taking any content provider that bet on them down with them. 1 is marginally profitable, but in no way comes close to replacing print sales. ComiXology is the new kid on the block and hopes to break the trend.

        Now, personally, I may see digital as the (forseeable) future of all information transfers. However, I can think of several reasons why comic publishers wouldn’t want to bet their jobs/income/employees jobs and income on destroying direct sales in favor of a brave (and possible illusionary) digital future.

        • gigahound says:

          It is my understanding that publishers do not make profit on the printed comic books. It is the licensing deals that bring in the money. Essentially, the printed editions are just advertisements for the publisher’s properties.

  9. Luk says:

    @tcotav
    If the existing comic market sucks right now, then let it die.
    It is not like comic books are flying off the shelves right now anyway.
    Maybe have digital only line of publishing that complements the printed comics instead of replacing it. There a many good series from Marvel and DC that are just not selling at all, so have those go digital and much cheaper price range while keep the flagship series to have the same price point between digital and printed material.

  10. mike says:

    this post not this post actually the poster of this post make me remember my childhood . that time i was so addicted to comics , i left it ages ago but i can feel the pain for the people specially kids who love it and it just over expensive to them. .

  11. Isey says:

    I used to collect comics. Nothing too crazy, but at one point had a couple hundred X-Men, a bunch of “new” #1s at the time (Spawn, etc.) and would go down to my local comic book store who knew what I liked to read and would have a stack waiting for me weekly.

    When I was accepted into university, i took my 4 cases of awesome comics, all mint condition and backboarded and sold them for cash for my education. I made a few thousand over the cover prices.

    Comics actually had value. I had a few issues worth a couple hundred bucks each. Digital versions won’t have that (and, going on 15 years later I’m unsure if the comic “market” actually works the same way any more..”

    Waxing nostalgic, I recently started reading up on my favorite characters after toying with the idea of entering the digital age of comics. Wikipedia has great articles on most characters.

    Inwas horrified. Colossus, a former X-men died several times, had multiple inter dimensional trips and/or storylines in alternate universes, etc etc etc. Just ridiculous and impossible to follow, and the storylines seemed outright stupid.

    What happened to the simplicity of a team of morally flawed heroes dealing with everyday bad guys in a relatable setting? I liked my favorite heroes because the stories fit. Where they took them from the 90’s is beyond silly, even in comic book terms. Which is ironic enough to state :)

  12. hordemaster says:

    I have to respectfully disagree, some comics are better than ever, a lot out there is drivel or less than original drivel. Marvel has some great writers and artists, but all their premium titles are not as imaginative as stuff they have put out in the past. I know, I have been reading them almost as long as you have. Maybe longer.

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