Well, Marvel Comics dropped the hammer, and the interblogs are abuzz over their fancy announcement of offering comics online. And rightly so, considering this is something many of us – certainly including me – have agitated for for quite some time.
Things about their model are good and others are not. They’re only dipping their toe in the pool right now (2,500 comics is a drop in the pond, and “twenty new issues every week” doesn’t even cover a week’s worth of new releases). That makes sense considering how bold a move this is, but it’s disappointing to see such a small initial offering being treated as a holy-shit big deal. Wisely, it looks like Marvel will be offering a portion of the content for free in the first-hit-is-always-free method.
And the reader? Yeah, it could be awesome, but I’m not big on a web-based Flash app for something of this nature. I understand that Marvel probably doesn’t want to go big with their own downloadable application expressly for browsing comics stored at a central database – at least not yet – but again, it’s a case of “I understand their caution; it’s just irritating” because this sort of move is now long overdue for the Big Two. (And heck, Dark Horse and Image too, although they don’t have the capital required to really do this on their own. If Marvel is smart, as soon as is possible they’ll be offering other companies the opportunity to E-publish their comics on Marvel’s comic database.) It’s a shame, though, because I was hoping that when this happened, there’d be an option for e-reader tablets.
But the most important element of this model, the one that was absolutely key for it to be a going concern, was pricing. And in this respect, Marvel has done exactly the right thing by offering a relatively cheap subscription model for access to the database. Ten bucks a month for unlimited access, five if you go longterm? That’s a book and a half per month. If they get, say, a mere five thousand subscribers (and five thousand is a very conservative number for initial signups for this service, I think), that’s fifty thousand dollars a month in revenue, which is more than Marvel takes home from most of their individual mid-sales-range comics.
I know people wanted “iTunes for comics,” but reasonably that just wasn’t likely at a price people were willing to pay and would likely require some sort of at least minor protection (a la iTunes) preventing people from easily trading comics online amongst themselves. And, once that was in place, Marvel would also have to figure out a way from killing the secondary market entirely (and likely with it a large number of comics stores).
Bottom line? The service is priced right once the library expands, it can be expanded as Marvel sees fit, and the technical issues (such as comics availability and browser interface) can be tinkered with easily enough when necessary. It’s not quite a slam dunk, but I don’t think this ends up being anything but a winner for Marvel in the long run.