Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Here Comes Tomorrow...

Check this out. Marvel Comics is stumbling into the 21st century right behind the music and movie industries. They are going to launch an online comics archive containing more than 2500 back issues. It'll be in a high resolution format that can be accessed to view for a mere $9.99 a month.

Oh boy, where do I sign up?

Seriously, talk about behind the times. I've thought online is the way to go for comics for a long time, but this isn't the way to do it. If I'm reading the news right, it won't be a downloadable product - they'll retain control of the files and you pay for the priviledge to read them. What?! Um, no thanks. I want to own what I buy, and I want to view it when I'm not online.

There are some interesting quotes from the NEwsarama article:

"We did not want to get caught flat-footed with kids these days who have the tech that allows them to read comics in a digital format," Marvel President Dan Buckley, told the publication. "Our fan base is already on the Internet. It seemed like a natural way to go."

"About 90% of the comic books sold today are scanned and put online within 36 hours," Newsarama’s own Chris Arrant is quoted in the story.

"Our quality is much higher; the library is huge and will never go out of style," concluded Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. "This is the legal way to do things."

Um, ok. Legal maybe, but not exactly right. Just like the music and movie industry, they've missed the boat on online comics (they're already online in the same way music and movies are available for free), and unless they figure out an iTunes for comics type of deal, this isn't going to save them. It might be worth checking out as a novelty, but if no downloads are available, and no new comics until after 6 months, then it's not going to be a huge draw. The other methods will still beat them to the punch.

Granted, if they put new comics online right away, that'd would be the end of comic book shops. On the other hand, I would bet they would sell more comics. A person has to really like comics to go out of their way to hunt down a shop, let alone go in one. They're hard to find, and often look like holes in the wall, especially if it's open to gamers. So where exactly are new comic readers going to come from? How are they going to even know about the product or how to get it?

The answer is online, of course, just like everything else. There are fantastic, well written, mature stories being told and illustrated in the comics medium. However, it's like the world's best kept secret in a lot of ways. Everybody knows about comics, but only a few really know or read whats available. And even fewer know where to go to get their hands on them.

I feel bad for what online sales could do to local comic shops (ie, shut them down), but it's going to happen anyway if you don't get new readers. You're pretty much down to your regulars now, what happens when they're done? Kids today aren't creating a link to comics or a nostalgia to them like the current customers, so where are the next customers going to come from?

Make the product available in a legitimate, affordable way, and maybe your industry won't be dying anymore. Show people you've got a great product, and let them buy and own it easily. This online venture is a step in the right direction, but it's way too late to be effective. This should have happened five years ago, but just like the movie industry hasn't learned a thing from the music industry's fall, comics isn't learning a thing either.

And if you're looking for something good to read, check out these titles for older readers (you can find the trade size collections on Amazon):
Punisher MAX
100 Bullets
Jonah Hex
...just to name a few

Oh, and the way I've always wanted to see online comics done was a reduced rate for a downloadable file of the monthly comic in a deal with the trade. For example, I would gladly pay a buck or so for the digital monthly and agree to buy the trade when it's printed (but make it affordable.) That way, I get the digital copies right away, the authors can still get paid, and I get a trade shipped to me right when it's printed - because as nice as online is, it doesn't always beat having an actual book in your hands. Especially when the art is great.

But that's just me.

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