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Two Comic Book Companies Float Plans to Begin Digital Distribution of Their Comics

Newsarama has good coverage of the two digital comics stories that broke at the New York Comicon.

First, Marvel's announcement that sometime in the future it "will be involved in, the digital distribution of their comics" is probably the bigger news, but it's still breathtakingly vague. There is no technical reason preventing Marvel from distributing its comics online (as Marvel President and Publisher Dan Buckley noted, its comics are largely already online illegally) - it's simply a business decision. And given the lack of a date or clarity on the strategy it's likely that no final business decision has been made.

This isn't this hard though and the longer Marvel and DC wait the worse I suspect it will get. Buckley is quoted as trying to distinguish music's transition to digital with what comics is going through but its much more alike than different. Maybe the biggest danger in waiting is that more people get used to getting comics online through illegal means - when you do get around to digital distribution, you'll have to retrain consumers. Does "comics" want to (and have the money to) sue ISPs, consumers and others to change this behavior? (Here's a related link: Jeff Parker writes on his blog about using bit torrent to get digital comics. (link from Comics Reporter))

More importantly comics is missing out on the long tail that digital distribution makes possible. I've already argued that webcomics is a way to get past American culture's stigmatizing of comic books (manga has largely done this as well) - with that out of the way the key is to get stories into the hands of the niche market that wants to read it. In comparison to movies, television and music nothing in comics isn't niche anyhow (I don't see any evidence of "blockbuster" numbers in any form of comics anymore) so why not get with the most efficient way to connect with niches every devised in the history of the world.

Last, I can't believe that Marvel and DC continue to sit on their massive catalog of work. Scarcity of such work in its original pamphlet form is good for collectors but how are Marvel and DC tapping the value of all of those years of work? Right now they get zippy basically. Online how much would you pay to read the entire archives of a decade of work; or everything by Jack Kirby; or every Swamp Thing story ever written? There is money to be made there. If I was a shareholder I'd be screaming at management for doing so little.

Which brings us however to the second story out of New York: On Friday, Top Cow announced it was partnering with videogame/entertainment online giant IGN.com to offer online versions of their comic books for full cover price to be released at the same time that they are offered in stores (in PDF format). By Sunday, however, Top Cow released a statement that they would only be releasing online work that was more than a year old. I think Top Cow President Matt Hawkins sounds like he understands the pressures his company is under (he also flat out says he won't do more online until after Marvel and DC do) but his company's multiple announcements this past weekend demonstrate how hard it will be for companies in the direct market to aggressively and successfully go after digital distribution.

Finally - speaking of the New York Comicon, for completeness's sake, The Comics Reporter has a link to about every story, blog post, etc about this past weekend's New York Comicon.