Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Digital Comics - The Idea Everyone Has (But Comic Publishers Won't Offer)

We all know we're in the Age of the Internet. There is more computing power in a modern wrist watch than there was in the Saturn V rocket that took the astronauts to the moon. The latest Iphones and Android devices have so many features that if they had pussies attached to them every guy's dick would fall off from fucking it. Music has gone digital thanks to Napster, Itunes, and the pricks at the RIAA. Books have gone digital thanks to Amazon, the Kindle, and it's slightly douchier yet versatile big brother the Ipad. Everything is going digital and people are finding ways to make money off it. Even though there are still a shit ton of websites you can find that will offer free downloads for music and books, people are still willing to pay a small fee to download these materials cleanly and with a certain expectation of quality that doesn't sound like it was slapped together by a couple of code junkies working in their dad's garage while tripped out on Mountain Dew.

Yet there's still piracy out there and not the sexy Johnny Depp kind. Comics have been a major source of piracy for years now. It's hard for them not to be. Anyone who has ever dealt with Marvel or DC's subscription service knows it's absolute shit. I had several subscriptions over the years and they were all terrible in the sense they were painfully late. There were times when books wouldn't arrive until three weeks after they were released in stores. Now that may have been okay in pre-internet days, but now every book has spoilers posted by Wednesday evening so late comics are a no-no. I've since let all my subscriptions expire. I just can't take the lateness anymore and I know I'm not alone. More and more people are turning to digital and there's a clear and present demand for digital books. And as economics dictate, if there's a demand for something there's some enterprising genius out there willing to supply it.

It's become bigger news. Newsarama recently did an article on the issue:

Newsarama: Is This The New Digital Age of Comic? Can Piracy Become Profit?

Unlike music it's a lot easier to make a digital copy of a comic. All you do is take the book, run it through a scanner, organize the images, and compress it into a single file and boom. You got a comic. Any high school kid with a scanner and the ability to Google shit knows how to do it. The genie simply cannot be put back in the bottle anymore without destroying the bottle, except in this case that bottle would be the internet and nobody is willing to destroy the internet for the sake of a few comic companies. Think of all the porn stars that would lose their livelihood.

But companies like Marvel and DC aren't completely retarded. They do have a digital comics library and service. For a nominal fee (translation: overpriced) you can access a library of hundreds of comics. There's a catch though. For one, you can't download and burn the comics to a CD or anything. You have to log or have an internet connection to view them. Another and more egregious flaw is that the titles offered are months old. Some of them are years old. Now this is okay for some rare comics that aren't in print anymore, but for anything not more than a couple years old you're fucked.

Compare that to the pirated comics. They're released within a few days of the street date. You can download them onto your computer and burn them onto CDs or flash drives to take with you and store in case the zombie apocalypse destroys the global infrastructure. Also, they're free, but that's besides the point. Yeah, there are the cheap bastards out there too cheap to pay for comics, but what's more appealing to the major fans is the ability to access the new comics on the day or a few days after they come out. That's like a weekly blowjob from Scarlet Johannson. It gives fans the comic book experience without having to leave their room. Also, no mess to clean up afterward.

Now as fun as this is, the system is cumbersome. These pirated comics don't come out on a predicable schedule and sometimes they get shut down so fans will have to go searching for other sources. That's a hassle, but even when Marvel and DC issue notices to sites and they get shut down it only opens the door for someone else to fill the void. It's like the drug war. Throw one dealer in jail and six more spring up. You can't stop this because it's too easy to do and the technology can't be uninvented.

The solution is as simple as it is obvious. Marvel and DC need to offer same-day digital comics. They need to do what the music industry did and turn the pirating into profit. That's how Itunes came along. At a buck per song the model works. People pay and get their music. The music industry gets their money. Everybody's happy. Why can't that work with comics?

Well for one there is no Itunes medium to work with, but it's not like the groundwork hasn't been laid. Marvel and DC do have digital interfaces. Marvel has an app for the Ipad and there are sites like Comixology out there which offer digital comics for the Iphone. However, none of them offer same day downloads. You still have to get them the old fashioned way. You can order them online, but that shit is late too. Even if you order express (which can cost up to 30 bucks extra) you still won't get your book for nearly a week if you're lucky. And if you live outside the continental United States, you're fucked.

It's not like the companies haven't entertained the idea though. Marvel did offer the Iron Man Annual this year as a same day download, but it was shit compared to the pirated copies. It cost five bucks, even more than if you bought it off the racks and had to be downloaded in pieces. Now I don't have an MBA from Harvard, but even I can see the flaws in that model.

In a perfect world Marvel and DC would have it work like this:

Step 1: Fans sign up and pay for a special service like they do with Netflix
Step 2: Fans sign into said service on Wednesday Morning at a given time (usually 9 am EST)
Step 3: Fans brows the new selection of books, pick the ones they want, pay .99 or 1.50 for each book (same price as an itunes song)
Step 4: The book is downloaded onto the user's computer.
Step 5: The book is opened and read with a special program that Marvel and DC create and distribute which must be opened to read the file.
Step 6: The book is opened and the fan enjoys their favorite brand of comic book awesome.

Now not forgetting that Marvel and DC are a business and they need to make money, there is something in between those steps. Within the files there could be full page ads like there already are with print books. But since it's digital the files could also allow for some space on the ends where Google ads can show up. This way whenever a fan clicks an ad, the company makes money. And since those ads are always refreshed, a book can keep making money long after it's been downloaded. Is there any publisher in the world that wouldn't love that? If fans had this option and had to just pay a little bit extra for it, they wouldn't hesitate for a second.

Plus, who says these books have to be in English? If they're digital the text can more easily be translated so that other countries can download them and not have to rely on expensive imports. You broaden the appeal of comics worldwide and get richer in the process. There's no losers except for the print shops. That seems to be the big concern for comic companies. Nobody wants to let go of the print shops.

Well it's sad, but an unfortunate part of business. Print medium is dying, but unlike typewriters or Betamax it's never going to go away completely. But like newspapers, they'll have to be scaled back. There will always be room for books and graphic novels, but the old model of releasing a single trade on paper is not going to work in the 21st century. I can see a day when only graphic novel compilations are sold in stores while the trades yield to the online medium. To make the graphic novels more enticing, companies can put in the equivalent of DVD extras and commentary from the creators. It works for movies. Why not comics?

If I'm smart enough to come up with this shit while sitting on the toilet someone in Marvel or DC has to have come up with it or they're serving lead at the company functions. I'm sick of having to drag my ass across town to comic shops and dealing with constantly late subscriptions. The pirated copies are never going away. Music helped stem it by doing more than just arresting users through the RIAA. They took what the pirates were making, copied it, made it better, and charged people for it. And guess what? It worked! It's time comic companies got on board! Fans want this shit. I guarantee there are lines of fans holding out money, begging for a service like this. If there are any competent business people in the comic business they'll listen or the pirates will continue to win. Nuff said!

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