Digital Distribution, Story Of The Year?

Is digital distribution of comics going to get its breakthrough this year? Marvel confirming digital distribution and Top Cow‘s first Bambiesque steps on the digital ice, as well as whatever it is that DC has planned has been making headlines so far.

The people at SLG Publishing, who publish Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Lenore among others, have taken a more hands on approach and opened their own online store. About 40 issues are available so far. The price varies a bit, but starts at 69 cents, and the issues are available as both cbz or pdf-files. The Forbidden Planet blog makes an attempt at crunching the numbers involved:

If you go to the digital distribution model using a price point of 99cents (not that I think people will actually pay this) then at 11,500 downloads there would already be a profit generated. Maybe as low as 7,000 downloads would pay the cost of producing material you can then feed into the book channels as collections

Jennifer de Guzman, SLG editor in chief, responds that it’s not all profit though. Credit card companies takes a hefty cut of a 69 cent transaction and labour and bandwidth cuts into the profit as well. She ends her post with:

I just wanted to note digital comics is not exactly a pie-in-the-sky enterprise. […]We are approaching it cautiously as we, like the rest of the industry, move away from pamphlets and toward graphic novels. For us digital comics are not yet a way to support the cost of printing a graphic novel, or even close to a profitable venture at present. However, as we add to’s catalogue, we hope that the sales will increase as well.

Newsarama interviews what must be said to be the people who potentially stand to lose the most if digital distribution takes off, the retailers who don’t seem that worried.

“I think digital comics are inevitable, but I don’t think, at this stage, they should be feared by the quality direct market retailer, because the disadvantages of the experience, portability, and presentation don’t prove much of a ‘threat’ to the physically printed object,” Hibbs said. “‘Cause, you see, right now this very second, you can get this week’s comics, for 100 percent free, from the net, yet comic sales are on their sixth straight year of rise.”




  1. Dee:

    Okay, on this we’re less far apart than I think you think. What you said above — that’s kind of what I meant by “they probably won’t target the material correctly, and they’ll probably fail.”

    Spider-Man online is a lot less interesting to me (and, I’d argue, to most webcomic readers) than, say, Fables online.

    Which, I know, isn’t quite what you were saying. But there’s some overlap there.

    The best thing about this kind of debate is that neither one of us will “win” it with words. It’s the kind of thing that will either happen, or not, and will either be a good thing, or not! We’ll all get to see!


  2. …For Marvel, DC, Image, etc, to create actual, original web based comics (adventure, scifi, horror, comedy, etc) that existed beyond the print comic worlds of their bread-n-butter comics/heroes if they wanted to. They don’t. Their business is not based on “the original”. The original (concept, story, character, comic, comic medium) is a threat to what their real business is. Their REAL business is based on trying to reinvent 40, 50, 60, 70 plus year old comic franchises either by co-oping what has become popular (manga) or trying to make them SEEM new and trying to make them as popular as they once were by calling them “Essential”, or “Ultimate”, or trying to make them seem dark and edgy by calling them “Xtreme”. I mean, when the Punisher went manga with the macho man version of the big doe eyes you just knew something was wrong with the world. LOL. Ultimately, Marvel, DC, Image, etc, have NO REAL INTEREST in creating original webcomics. Why? Because unfortunately for those caught up in wishing it weren’t so, what we do (that would be WEB comics) just isn’t big enough for them to even consider doing it themselves. I’ll add a “Yet” for good measure. Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  3. I'll use myself as an example, forgetting for the moment that I'm also a webcartoonist. Pretend for a moment that I don't do anything in comics except read them. I'm 36. I stopped collecting the current super hero comics about 15 years ago, because it's too much of a hassle and too expensive. I still like comics but I'm not in a regular, 'every Wednesday at my local comic shop' kind of comics reader.

    But you know, if Marvel and DC started selling digital versions of all their titles for under a buck, I think I would seriously start reading them again. I wonder what kind of demographic I represent? And I wonder if there is a huge demographic out there, 30 to 40-somethings that used to collect comics but gave it up years ago. Those people are still around, with more money, spending it on other stuff. Most of them are online, all the time.

    Scott Reed

  4. I'm even less of a current comic book reader – b/c I don't read them in the monthly format at all (except for indies I might pick up at a con). I don't go to comic book stores… but I might be tempted to read them online.

    Think of it this way – Marvel and DC like many film studios – are sitting on a huge archive of stories. There whole business model is repurposing those characters in new stories (and licensing of course). Why not pursue a DVD like strategy of re-releasing all of that older content in a new format? Comic book's DVD (well, really it's iTunes) is webcomics.

    And if you're going to do that then you have to price it and provide it in a format that makes it something people would actually buy. That might not be something Marvel and DC can get over. How much is access to the archives (say pre-2000 to make it easy) worth? Not sure really – I think they'd be in a similar spot to the Keenspots/Modern Tales, etc of the world in trying to figure out which business model to pursue (free, sub, etc) but if they awoke to the fact that that library of content is worth something they'd start trying to get a new revenue source out of it online. Right now it seems to me that they get very little out of it…


    Xaviar Xerexes

    On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

  5. Gentlemen, you misunderstand me. I’m a capitalist. The dollar bill is my personal God and I am devote. That said, I’m all for anybody trying to increase the profitablity of their business by any means necessary. And if selling digital versions of their print comics online makes DC, marvel, Image, etc, and extra buck yippee for them. My concern is that somehow digital versions of print comics somehow became Marvel, DC, etc, making webcomics, and that is not the case. And more to the point, digital versions of print comics may make webcomickers check out more and more print comics (which is exactly what the print publishers are hopng for), but it won’t bring print comic readers to us. You click on the links on the original article above and the first or second response post are “There is nothing like holding a print in my hands and turning the pages” or “I’ll never get used to reading comics online”. Which, again, is exactly what the print publishers are hoping for. Why help turn your audience on to the medium competing for your viewers attention and their dollars? Marvel, DC, Image, etc, are trying to bring US back to THEM and not trying to benefit us in anyway by chancing a foray into creating actual webcomics themselves which would serve to expose webcomics as a medium on a grander scale then any of us could do collectively. Don’t make this more than it is. This move IS NOT them doing what we do. This move is just them doing what they’ve ALWAYS done–Only in our backyard. Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  6. I could see where offering print comics online could eventually lead to original content from the big guns, provided the initial phase of distribution was done correctly. Marvel throwing out “Marvel Adventures” and yet another version of “Classics Illustrated” as sacrificial lambs to the digital world doesn’t scream out confidence. It sounds safe, and why not? Print comics are doing very well these days and there’s no need for risk. Yes, digital distribution could be a way to get back some old readers, provided Marvel, (or whoever), doesn’t charge $4.00 a download, but I don’t think they will gain many new readers. Anyway, to get back to my point, if digital distribution became highly successful, that could inspire the Big Guns to produce original content for the web. (Mind you, I define Marvel original content as yet another Spider-man title, only online). This will be the make or break point. Being the animal that Marvel is crossovers with this new digital comic and print comics would be inevitable. Then, of course, there will be the TPB. The faithful will buy comics in whatever format and the paper loyalists will bitch until the TPB comes out. Score another point for print comics either way. But is that such a bad thing? This highly hypothetical move on Marvel’s part may be purely for their print kingdom, but they are at least moving toward digital and that in itself says something. As Dee pointed out, it’s the same old thing, only in our back yard, but it’s in our back yard. Truly these first baby steps the Big Guys are taking into the digital world are not because of webcomics. Hardly. There may be a handful on their radar today, but in another ten years, who knows?


    Clan of the Cats

  7. Well. As we (webcomickers) all know, there is NO REAL MONEY in selling webcomics to a readership that prefers that their webcomics be free. Webcomic readers instead have more and more turned to supporting the webcomics they read through paypal donations, etc. So their is no real incentive for Marvel, DC, Image, etc, to make webcomics if they’re not going to make money doing so. This is a business move on their part. So we need to stop looking at it as a way that will advance webcomics. Ten years from now–Or ever. Folks keep saying “Well, at least they’re moving toward digital” without finishing the sentence which is “…moving toward digital DISTRIBUTION”. Which, again, has nothing to do with webcomics. The extra money that can be made by them by selling their wares online in addition to comic shops and newsstands is all that is important to them. Remember, boys and girls, this is business. Big business, at that. And in business money is all that matters. And if you ain’t making money, in business, you don’t matter. So why should they bother taking the time and effort to make a product that isn’t going to benefit them financially and improve their business? Webcomics aren’t making money. So, like it or not, in a business sense, we don’t matter. And I’m not being cynical, I’m just being realistic. Anything else will only lead to disappointment. But on the bright side–This is just MY opinion. Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  8. In an industry that has major story arcs stringing through 1400 different titles and killing off major characters all in the name of the all mighty dollar, I can certainly see that some day there will be web only content designed to drive readers back to the comic shop. No, it’s not going to help webcomics one bit. Still I think it’s a big deal for the comic book industry because they are dealing with something they don’t really want to deal with, even if it is just digital distribution. Besides, if Comics don’t come to the internet, how are we going to get really cool versions of this?


    Seriously, I get what you are saying, and I agree with most of it. I don't believe Marvel, etc will make any webcomics any time soon, but I do believe they or someone will eventually create some form of online content to reinforce sales of their print books. That is, IF digital distribution really takes off. Whether it will be a success or not is an entirely different question.

    Clan of the Cats

  9. What surpises me about the whole “BIG WOW” effect of digital distribution and everyone jumping up and down about it is this. Not that they’re doing it–But what took them so damned long to do it! Distribution of your product to the open market in all it’s forms BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY is just good business. The fact that it took print publisher THIS LONG to distribute their comics digitally just shows how far their heads are truly up their asses. And what I ask myself most is why is it that in the same week that Captain America was “killed” by an industry built on “the death of’s”, miracle resurrections after “the death of’s…”, variant covers, “In this issue somebody dies” issues, and killer crossover issues spanning 4 or more sale lagging titles, can’t you see the gimmick HERE? Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  10. As I said, Still I think it’s a big deal for the comic book industry because they are dealing with something they don’t really want to deal with, even if it is just digital distribution.

    Translation: They're going to fight this until the very day they start making gobs of money from it.

    If digital distribution becomes a success they will act as if they have reinvented the wheel, when in reality it was the culture that forced their hand. A culture they resisted. I personally find that interesting and I'm curious as to what role Big Comics will play in internet culture.

    As for all this, I'll simply say that I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but as to the rest, I respectfully agree to disagree. Goodnight.

    Clan of the Cats

  11. You don’t have to explain your opinion to me, Jaime. Your opinion can’t be right or wrong, it can only be yours. Like my opinion is only mine. And I respect that. But in the year 2007, comicbook companies with websites JUST NOW deciding that it might just be a good thing to sell digital versions of their print comics on their websites is hype disguised as innovation concealing stupidity. If, in the year 2007, your local retail store announced that they had decided JUST NOW that they were going to accept credit cards as payment in addition to cash, wouldn’t your first thought be, “Why haven’t you been accepting credit cards as payment up until now, you dumbasses?!”. I guess what I’m really trying to say is try not to read wishful thinking into a good business decision made years too late. Go back and re-read the statements in the article above. All they talk about is how digital distribution of their print comics, if successful, will help offset the costs of their print costs. As one quote states, “…We are approaching it cautiously, like the rest of the industry, as we move from pamphlets to graphic novels. For us digital comics are not yet a way to support the cost of printing a graphic novel…However, as we add to’s catalogue, we hope that sales will increase as well”. Nowhere–NOWHERE in the original article above does it make any mention of webcomics. Nowhere! Only that they hope that digital comics will help pay the cost of print comics in general, graphic novels in specific. Anything else folks are bringing with them to the conversation in the form of wishful thinking because it’s print publishers doing something on the web so they figure the next logical step is webcomics. No. In business the ONLY logical step is to funnel all additional revenue (advertisng, merchandising, tv/movie rights–Digital distribution) back into the core of the business–Making print comics. Remember, there is NO MONEY in webcomics. So why would they bother? Wishful thinking won’t make it so. God, I feel like the Grinch who stole webcomics. LOL! Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  12. In the case of Marvel, the core of their business is licensing — mostly to movies.

    I’m not jumping up and down with excitement. I just think it’s a good idea — for them. The benefits to webcomics are tangential, but real, and mostly have to do with getting the business press, and maybe investors, to pay more attention to what we’re doing. But that’s solely from the point of view of a person who owns a web services business related to webcomics (and maybe more than webcomics, shortly). From the point of view of a creator of webcomics — yeah, I can see how this isn’t big news. Unless your goal in life is to do work-for-hire at a pagerate for Marvel or DC. Which does seem like a step backward for those cartoonists who are already doing extremely well online, and also seems like a less exciting goal for the rest of us to dream of reaching.

    So, yeah. For the record: I don’t think that the entry of print publishers onto the digital scene will bring in a significant number of “new readers” to webcomics — as somebody noted above, we’re already absorbing readers of print comics pretty well. The movement of readers, if readers move at all, will come from webcomics, and go in the other direction. But there will still be plenty of readers left, too. We’ve got enough readers to go around!


  13. Just like when kids nowadays can’t imagination a time before MTV, 10 years from now there will be an entire generation of comic readers who won’t have print comic or webcomic, separate but equal, back of the bus mentality. They’ll just read COMICS. And how you gain access to those comics: in print, on the web, on an ipods, or beamed directly into your brain, won’t make any damned difference. Webcomics as a medium don’t need print comic publishers to legitimize what we do by daring to do it themselves. Time changes all things. I mean don’t we already overlap? Aren’t webcomic folks selling print versions of our comics? So why not print comic publishers seling digital versions of their comics online. But waiting and hoping for them to make webcomics is madness. AND unnecessary. Webcomic awareness increases every day. It’ll never take the place of print comics. Nor should it. It should be what it always has been–A viable option. That’s a goal that’s obtainable. Now I’m going to bed. Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

  14. But one thing will remain the same: there will still be Indy vs. Mainstream comics. Right now, that's what webcomics means for me – indy created, indy distributed. Big money will get in on it, eventually, but it will never break the independent spirit. It's the difference between an artist changing their style to suit a house style that sells and an artist finding their own unique voice.

    God, I love indy comics; God I love webcomics.

    OK, so here I am with the tangents…

    Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

  15. What you forget Joey is that they aren’t creating webcomics–They’re selling their PRINT COMICs DIGITALLY!!! Some folks are just so hopelessly optimistic about where they’d like webcomics to be in the future (Joey) that they fail to see that digital distribution of PRINT COMICS has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH WEBCOMICS! If this was a post about DC, Marvel, Image, etc, creating WEB EXCLUSIVE origin comic content (you know, webcomics) then I could understand Joey and others wanting to jump up and down. But the’re not. They are just selling their wares (you know, their PRINT COMICS) online. And simply that. And a PRINT comic sold online does not a WEB comic make. And lets not forget–This is business. If they’re already moaning about how little they’re making in digital transactions, and knowing how few webcomic readers are willing to PAY to read webcomics, that webcomic readers prefer their webcomics be free, and admiting (at least to yourselves) that webcomic people and print comic people travel in different circles, who do DC, Marvel, Image, etc, hope to sell these “web” comic versions of their print comics to if their print comics readers don’t read webcomics to begin with and webcomic folks aren’t likely to buy them? Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It’s like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

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