To the Comic Book Publishers of the World,
An Open Letter
I want to give you money.
I like your products.
But, your medium is inherently flawed. Being a lifetime collector of comic books is a dangerous course of action. You end up with whole tracks of your house taken over by longboxes, stacks of unsorted singles, bookshelves full of trades. And the longer you’re a fan, the more you collect, so the mass swells to mammoth proportions. I know people who rent houses. Whole fucking houses, mind you, to store their metastasizing collections.
In an era when we’re attempting to go green, this is an untenable state of affairs. God only knows how many trees are being felled so Billy can have his next issue of SUPERHERO SPANDEX FETISH ACTION DELUXE. I think it is time that the industry looses their attachment to paper products, and starts to embrace the pixel products.
So here’s the deal, comic publishers, I’m willing to give you money for your products in a digital form. Not to even own, mind you, to borrow. Think of it as a Netflix for comics. Charge me a monthly fee, I’m fine with that. Tier off your archives, so I have to pay more to read archives of older books, I’m fine with that. But, you’ve ignored this business opportunity for too damn long. I want you, either together or separately, to get off your collective asses and join the 21st Century and the digital revolution.
Here are a few general ideas to get your noggins rolling.
-Marvel. I know you’ve got this digital comic thing going already. But, here’s the deal, it fucking sucks. You’re trying to short your digital subscribers by holding back on the hot, on-the-shelf, titles and giving them spotty coverage on back issues. For God’s sake, I don’t even know why, but you were hyping Civil War #3 today on your website as a new comic. That book came out THREE YEARS AGO. When I can, with a few clicks, some loose morals and a bit of patience download EVERY COMIC YOU HAVE EVER PRINTED, having a digital service that is this bad almost criminal on your part.
-DC. Admitting that the Internet exists might be a good idea. Marvel’s got you beat across the board here. And with the level of complexity and crossing-over that your stories have, offering me a digital package of all BLACKEST NIGHT books (something like 80 books over 10 months) would save me and you a hell of a lot of pain in tracking them all down.
-Dark Horse. I know you deal in a lot of movie properties, so this could be weird for you, but there’s no reason you couldn’t let me read all of Hellboy in a digital format for $20.
-MP3 downloads come with vinyl records at Best Buy. Why don’t digital versions of comics come with trades? It’ll give you another reason to shrink-wrap the trades and keep those wankers at Barnes and Noble from reading them all.
-The basic model should be something like this: A base rate that lets me read all of your new books for, say, the month of their release. Maybe delay them two weeks to keep your brick and mortar stores happy. I can live with that. From their you start tiering up. For another few bucks, I get access to all books from the last year. For a few more, I get access to all books from the last five. Give me the option to read a few trades a month, and then charge me once I hit my limit. Finally, the big package should include access to all of your archives. And I know you have them. If the nerds out there have them, you have them. And if you don’t have them, you’d damn well better get on having them otherwise you’ll loose your history forever.
-Next year, we’ll start seeing the rollout of the big tablet devices. Tabloid-ished sized devices from Apple and a few of the PC manufacturers. I imagine at some point there will even be on running Google’s Chrome OS. The point being is that these devices are perfect delivery methods for your digital content. Sure, I love holding a comic book in my hand and turning the page, but these devices are going to get close to that without cutting down tree.
-I don’t want to hear that any part of this is hard. I know that what ever program you are using to print your books can spit out a PDF. All you need to do then is find a DRM partner and build a system that lets me stream those PDFs. Take a look at services like Issuu. Things like that were made for digital comics.
-If you want me to put a dollar amount on what I’d be willing to pay for a top-level subscription to just Marvel, then how about this: I was paying ~$100/month for hard copy books. I’d be willing to pay $60/month for the full blown archive subscription. You could even put the ads in the books, I’d be fine with that. And if that doesn’t make you stop and think, then you’re out of your mind. Cutting out the paper middleman would probably save you at least 70% on production costs and distribution alone.
There is a great line in SportsNight, an early TV show from Aaron Sorkin. It is toward the end of the show when the characters don’t know if their fictional sports show is going to be picked up or not. A character appears who says “Some one who can’t make money with SportsNight shouldn’t be in the business of making money.” It was, of course, a fuck-you to the network that was canceling them, but it holds true as a mantra. You comic publishers are leaving gobs of money on the table here, now get off your ass and grab it before I do something else with it.