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Direct Current 2.0

By Jim Durdan

Week of July 24, 2013

Psst, Hey you, Want a copy of Action Comics #1 cheap!

In the last 10 years the world of Comic Book publishing has forever been changed by the advent of the Digital Comic Book. Within the last few years same day availability has sparked renewed interest in our beloved hobby.  According to the publisher in 2012 digital sales accounted for $75 million dollars of DC sales, a 200% increase. That is an incredible jump, and certainly bodes well for the future of DC (http://venturebeat.com/2012/11/07/dc-digital-comics-sales-2012/) . But it does raise an interesting question. What about the back issue market? Sure I can get a copy of Catwoman #22 in digital format, but what happens if I want to get a copy of Catwoman’s first appearance in in Batman #1 from Spring 1940? In a search of the DC app it doesn’t appear.  Neither does it appear on Comixology.  I could go out and buy it; a near mint book is only worth $120,000. But I don’t have that much open on my debit card.

Batman #1 is only one example out of thousands of comic books that don’t have a digital presence. Both DC and Marvel have a huge catalog of back issues that do not exist is digital form.  Marvel has made a modest start with Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, but it contains a small fraction of the publishers back catalog. DC has done far less.

If digital comics are to continue to grow at a healthy rate I submit that publishers have to begin to address the great digital divide that is the back issue marketplace. Many comic book readers are collectors, they have long boxes full of comics. For those who have switched over to the Brave New World of digital comics they are now in a situation where they have all of their new issues on their Ipad, Android or Laptop, and all their old issues in paper (to be called floppies for the rest of the column.)  It’s like having some of you favorite movies on VHS tape and some on Blu-Ray.  Indeed that is a very apt analogy. The movie industry realized that for people to adopt the new technologies of DVD or Blu Ray they had to reissue classic films in the new formats.  It worked and people adopted these technologies. There was one other thing that the movie studios did, the lowered the price on these classics to basically the cost of burning and printing the disc and the disc sleeves.

What can DC and Marvel take away from this? First, if you want a lot of new customers for the digital format, then you need to open up the back catalog. At one point Marvel released a series of DVD’s that had all the back issues for certain characters and teams, i.e. The Avengers, Spider-Man, Hulk and Fantastic Four. All the files were in PDF format (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portable_Document_Format), and most impressively were DRM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management) free. That last item is very important and is a major problem for all media content creators, but we will just focus on what that means to comic book collectors.

If you go to the DC App and buy Catwoman #22, you own it, kind of. You app authorizes you to read it, and enjoy it, but you never actually have a file to call your own. For example if you cannot authenticate with the DC App server that you bought the issue, then you can’t read it.  We all know that technology has come a long way, but Digital Rights Management is a disaster waiting to happen, ask the early adopters of the latest SimCity game, (http://www.policymic.com/articles/29213/simcity-drm-always-online-mode-results-in-disaster-for-gamers).  To this day they are having major issues with DRM. Indeed that same issue almost awaited XBOX 1 early adopters. Microsoft had developed what some considered to be a very intrusive “always” on mode for the XBOX, which would have meant that unless the system could have authenticated that you owned the game you are playing, it would have shut it down. (http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/19/microsoft-heeds-gamer-feedback-dumps-xbox-one-drm-restrictions/).

So we now have 2 things that a back issue digital library of comics needs to be, it needs to have a depth of back issues, and it needs to be DRM free.  Image comics just announced that it is doing away with DRM on all its comics in the Image store (http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/2/4488112/image-comics-launches-drm-free-online-store). That is a huge move and hopefully will push the big 2 in that direction. But there is one other component that needs to happen before a back issue library of comic books will be adopted by the collectors market, it needs to be cheap, dirt cheap.

Action Comics #1 sold last year for 2.5 million dollars. Reprints of Action Comics #1 litter the dollar bin of many comic shops. What should a digital copy be worth? How about a penny? Or better yet, nothing. That last part probably won’t happen, but the same economic model that drives the back issue collectors market for floppies does not exist for digital comics. A digital back issue comic has marginal costs, the old issue would have to be scanned and cleaned up, but that’s about it. No printing cost, not shipping cost, nothing. Be it 1 copy or 100 copies they all cost the same to replicate. Once the initial labor of digitally transcoding the images is done, the only other cost are hosting and server costs. Granted those may be costly, but not as costly as publishing 100,000 copies of one boot every month.

It does sound like a lot of work to scan in all those issues, some may not even exists anymore, however the reality is that it’s already been done by scores of fans. That’s all I will say about it, but like many things, if DC doesn’t step in and fill the void, it will be filled by others, and a huge marketing and money making opportunity will pass by DC Comics.

The music industry learned long ago that Bootleg copies of concerts, passed from fan to fan, were a golden opportunity to make money. Bruce Springsteen bootlegs were fetching hundreds of dollars, the quality might have been abysmal, but if you needed a fix of The Boss you could get it.  Springsteen’s record label took notice of this and issued a live set on CD, Tape, and Vinyl from his concerts, and it was for a while the bestselling live album of all time. The quality was great, the promotion was easy, and it made the label and Springsteen big bucks. DC needs to take notice of this. The product that is out there now is like the bootlegs of old. If a clean, professional, presentation was offered, at a suitable price, fans would flock to it.

 

Item 1: A Superman-Batman movie! I have died and gone to crossover heaven. While details are few we know that Zack Snyder will be involved and Henry Cavill will reprise his role as the Man of Steel (http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/07/20/report-supermanbatman-movie-planned), no word on who will portray The Dark Knight, but it would seem that Christian Bale is out.  Next on the list will be a Flash film, and then after that Justice League it would appear.

 

Item 2:  I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak viewing of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox which is due for release on July 31st. All I can say is WOW! While some major reductions to the story line had to occur, this is a great movie, and yes (spoiler ahead) it does reboot the DC Universe. I am not sure if future direct to video DC movies will now take place in the current continuity, but the door is now open.  Perhaps one on the best movies from the extended DCU.

 

Item 3: Best book of the week, Batman and Catwoman #22. What makes this the pick of the week is the usage of Carrie Kelly. I’m not sure if she is going to be the new Robin or not, I hope so. She is a great character and plays off Bruce wonderfully. The list of possible Damien replacements is fairly short, but my vote is for Carrie. I love the character and the concept, and since it would appear that is the current DCU Batman has never had a female sidekick, the time is now!

Nothing functions very well in a void, so please feel free to contact me at jdurdan@hotmail.com with any feedback ideas or suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.