Thursday, April 19, 2012

Marvel Comics Digital Failure

This is a follow up to my earlier post about Marvel Comics Season One.  This is a look at Marvel's digital pricing policies, and how I think they fail both the company and the customer.

As I get back into reading some comics, I've decided not to go back to having boxes and boxes of physical comics to store and care for.  So I'm doing my comic reading digitally, on my iPad.  I started with Atomic Robo, which is a great comic with some really affordable collections available digitally.  I then decided to check out a few DC titles to see how their "New 52" was.  I'll save my conclusions on that for later, but whatever I felt about the re-boot, I was really impressed by their digital pricing scheme.  It's a simple scheme:  full price for the latest issue, but all back issues are $1.99, with the price falling to that level as soon as a new issue comes out.

As long as I don't mind being a month behind on my comics, I can keep up in an affordable manner.  Possibly more important for DC, if I want to get into a new series digitally, I have an affordable way to catch up on back issues, which has always been one of the big obstacles to starting a new comic.

Then Marvel Heroic Roleplaying comes out, and I decide to check out some of Marvel's current comics.  Until I see what they want me to pay.  The new price for Marvel digital comics is $1 more than that of DC, and they have issues that are a couple of years old still priced at that full price.   The result is that even though I'm specifically looking to check out Marvel comics, I've still probably spent ten times as much on DC.

This might make some sense if they were trying not to undercut the sales of their reprint volumes, but in many cases those reprint volumes themselves are out of print!

A rather glaring example of the stupidity of Marvel's digital pricing is with the Season One comics I discussed before.  I was going to buy them online, but they are charging $20 for what was essentially a collection of four issues (five if you count the "current" issue, but I didn't care about that one).  Then I checked on Amazon, and found that they are going for less than $15 for a hardcover physical copy!  In addition, each physical copy comes with  a code you can redeem for a free digital copy!

It's cheaper for me to buy a physical copy and throw it away in order to get my digital copy than it is to just buy my digital copy!

As an aside, I've read comments from publishers that it isn't fair to compare the price of a digital copy to the price Amazon charges, because they can't control the price that Amazon charges for their books.  I actually somewhat agree with that argument to a point, but unfortunately for those publishers, this is a case of life not being fair.  Pretty much every consumer out there is going to compare the cost of the digital copy to the lowest cost they can get a new copy of the physical book for, and that cost is usually the one Amazon charges.

More signs that Marvel doesn't really get digital pricing come up once I redeem my digital code.  First, I have to redeem the code on Marvel's site instead of through the Comixology site that I've been using for most of my digital comics.  That's annoying, but not a big deal, as I just have to download an extra app to use it.  The bigger issues is that when I sign up for Marvel Online, I start getting offers from them.  The problem is not the offers themselves, which I can opt out of, but the nature of those offers:  if I buy a particular digital comic they will give me a $5 coupon... for use at a local comic store to buy physical comics!  Clue time:  I don't want physical copies, that's why I'm buying digital!

All this together seems to point towards Marvel being one of those publishers that would just rather the whole issue of digital publishing would go away, and that's too bad, because with the new game out and the movies doing so well, there's a real chance to increase their sales online if they just made the slightest effort to give people what they want.


librarian said...

Having been a comic retailer, Marvel knows who butters their bread. Of course, Marvel also has a looooong history of pissing on everyone's loaves.

I don't own a digital vector that I can read a comic book on in a convenient way. However I do like the sound of DC's model.

Fulminata said...

I worked at a comic shop back before the distribution of comics became a monopoly. The market today is radically different in multiple ways, but Marvel in particular seems completely incapable of dealing with those changes.

While I have to somewhat admire the company's dedication to comics specialty shops, it's that very dedication that is why the industry continues to shrink despite the success of comic IP in other areas, especially the movies.

Many, probably the majority, of comic specialty shops are not nice places to visit, even for comic fans that have been going there for many years. Almost no one goes into one unless they are already a comic fan, or are dragged into one by someone else.

Just about every new comic reader I've ever heard talk about getting into comics mentions how they had to get past the unwelcoming atmosphere of the local comic shop, usually with the help of a friend who already shopped there, before they were able to become a regular comic reader.

And that's the men. If you happen to be female you have an even bigger barrier to get past if you want to start buying comics at the local comic store.

It's sheer stupidity for a company to rely on something like that as their retail face to the public, unless its just for the short term while they look for a better solution.

That's one of the reasons I find their discount offers to me as a digital customer so stupid. The last thing that Marvel wants is for new comic readers that are introduced to their product digitally to walk into their local comic store. You do that and you stand a good chance of losing a customer for life.

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