I admit I don’t follow comics terribly closely, but I do keep one eye on Marvel Comics. They have my favorite superheroes (Spiderman and the X-Men) and I’ve consistently enjoyed their comics when I’ve had the opportunity to read them. I’ve noticed they’ve tried to keep up with the changing eBook world, and they’ve offered e-Comics through apps and ebook programs for a while. But they’ve made a giant leap forward in their embracing of digital content this week, one that eBook fans have begged publishers to try forever! Yes, Marvel is trying to bridge the digital and paper gap by offering a free digital comic with the purchase of a physical comic book!
This is a brilliant idea, and I can easily see why it fits the Marvel strategy, as well as why it’s easier for them to implement it than many other publishers. This lets Marvel continue to build their digital offerings, but at the same time, they give people a reason to visit comic book stores and bookstores. In fact, it’s more advantageous to buy the comic book and get the free digital copy, especially for collectors who like having a pristine physical version sealed and stored away. Even if you’re not a collector, there are times when you might want to have both. A paper copy can be rolled up, shoved in a pocket, or shared with a child, while the digital copy sits safely in the reading app of your choice. It bridges both divides, since digital-shy consumers can dip a toe into reading comics on a smartphone or tablet, and e-reading fiends can still get a paper copy if they want one handy.
But I think this is the type of thing that Marvel (and DC, and Dark Horse, and other comics houses) can do more easily than traditional book publishers. For one thing, as I said above, comics are one of the few mediums where a good portion of the fanbase would want both a physical and digital copy. Two, Marvel (well, Disney) has simpler rights to the stories than publishing. In book publishing, there’s no universal contract that says the publisher of the physical copy has the rights to the ebook. That means that even if, say, B&N and Random House agreed to try this, not every book would be available for this promotion. It would probably also require modifying the author’s royalties contracts to reimburse them for the dual format sale. And we all know if Amazon tries this, the Author’s Guild will probably have a heart attack. I don’t know a great deal about comics and royalties, but given the ease that Marvel seems to be able to pump out movies, comics, and tie-in toys, the rights to the stories are not nearly as complex as with individual authors and publishing houses.
I can’t help but think local comic shops must be torn about this concept. On the one hand, it may bring back people who were exclusively digital buyers, but on the other hand, it’s just going to lead to more digital-only sales down the line. However, that’s probably somewhat inevitable, and if it helps ease the transition it’s not so bad!
Will you be taking advantage of the new Marvel digital downloads offer? Are you already digital-only in your comic book reading? Or are you a purist who must have the paper version? And who else is ridiculously excited for The Avengers movie? Let us know in the comments!