Dear Marvel and DC: You’re Blowing It on Digital Comics

The Devin’s Advocate has a great column on the shortcomings in Marvel’s Digital comics. I’m a believer in digital comics, and I do think that devices like the iPad may someday become the preferred way of consuming digital content. But through a couple of momentous decisions, I think Apple, Marvel and DC are delaying that day–perhaps by years.

Problem #1: Pricing

The Marvel Unlimited program for their regular comics is a perhaps over-generous way of dealing with comic content, but the $1.99/issue pricing that their comic store sets overshoots the mark in the other direction–probably by around 50%. I understand the complexities of pricing and positioning, but the adoption rate for a digital comic would explode if the price for at least inventory releases got to the magical 99 cent mark. Or why not explore bundled pricing (like when you buy tokens at an old arcade) where you can charge up your account with money, and the more you spend, the lower the per-comic price. So, for instance, if you committed to a $50 spend, comics would drop to a buck each, whereas at $25, they would cost $1.65 each. (or some such).

#2: Flash

As I’ve written earlier, Apple has apparent decided to throw down with Adobe over Flash support, and companies that have invested in Flash content delivery–like Marvel–are getting caught in the middle. Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t look like it’s getting ironed out anytime soon. Either Android tablets have to make headway and solve the issue by effectively obsoleting the Apple offering (unlikely), or Marvel is going to need to re-do their content delivery mechanism in a hurry. The alternative just reeks of a failed digital initiative and burned customers.

#3: Resolution and Typography.

Images pop on the iPad, and I’ve no complaint with the level of detail and color I can see on the iPad. Unfortunately, the now almost entirely-computer-based typography of the panels is often dense and nearly illegible without magnification on most current comics. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if publisher pass a “no fonts smaller than 14 pt” rule, or if some next-gen iPad with super-hires display solves the issue. Right now, however, the reading experience isn’t quite there.

#4: Lack of Content

If you’re going to wade in to producing Digital Comics, for goodness sake don’t tiptoe your way into the pool. Dive in, hire a small army of interns if necessary, and get entire titles converted to your preferred viewer format. Having been produced in digital editions multiple times, there’s no reason that the DVD compendium editions of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, etc. shouldn’t be available in their entirety in digital format. And for goodness sake, every new issue published should be available in digital format moving forward.

In short, either do digital or don’t–half-assing it will make you a burst of money to start with, but you won’t see the years of bumper profits that the record companies saw with the shift to CDs unless you embrace the platform for real.

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