If you want to read one of the most startlingly bullshit interviews I have seen in ages, go here and read Marvel publisher Dan Buckley’s comments on their new online initiative and illegal downloading.
It’s almost infuriating. The level at which Buckley flatly refuses to engage perfectly valid questions and concerns about Marvel’s digital model is just insane. A perfectly fair comparison to Rhapsody is mentioned, and Buckley says “no, it’s not like that” without even bothering to explain why. (The answer, incidentally, as to why Marvel’s online comic movement isn’t quite like Rhapsody is that culturally we’re used to paying to listen to music we don’t own, but we’re not used to paying for books we don’t own and want to read. Of course, that particular difference is one that actually makes Marvel’s digital position worse rather than better.)
And, of course, Marvel’s strategy towards illegal downloading is kept deliberately vague. Questions as to how the torrent model that exists – which is blatantly superior to Marvel’s in a large variety of ways for the consumer – will be dealt with are left unanswered, except to say that Marvel is going to be taking its cues from how the music industry has handled illegal downloading, which is like taking tips from a caveman on how to beat Gary Kasparov in a game of chess.
But it gets worse! Explaining the choice of initial selection and how new comics will be added each week, Buckley says: “This will include providing marketing support for our publishing and entertainment initiatives…”
No shit. Here is the list of comics currently available via Marvel’s digital delivery system. The majority of these comics can be summed up as follows:
1.) Failed miniseries and ongoings which didn’t particularly impact the market and which have no serious sales value (Gambit, District X, Jubilee, Doc Samson, et cetera), including whole runs of series that you can now get at remaindered bookstores (Spider-Man’s Tangled Web).
2.) One-shots not easily collected in trade format or elsewhere (Civil War: Choosing Sides, for example).
3.) …and first issues of things Marvel wants you to buy in trade or single issues (Moon Knight, Civil War, Runaways, Captain America, Immortal Iron Fist, Annihilation, et cetera). For longer-running titles, Marvel’s pretty blatant about this, giving you the chance to read the first issue in each trade.
There is a name for small teaser portions. It is called advertising. This is what Marvel’s entire digital initiative amounts to: you are encouraged to pay money to buy the real comics. They’re not even particularly shy about it, because when you read the first issue of any given comic that you’ve paid to read, they remind you to buy the collection.
Granted, Marvel’s strategy is to use the digital model to encourage new readers. That’s fine. I am down with encouraging new readers. But last I checked, not many people were horribly encouraged by the prospect of paying to read the same fucking comic twice.
And of course there’s a model they could have used. Amazon’s putting it out there right now with their Kindle reader: “you buy the book for a very low price, and anytime you need to download it from us, we let you.” It’s a fantastic model for a publisher to adopt, because it essentially lends control of a person’s library to the publisher. (I’m of two minds about it, personally, but there’s no question that it would be good for Marvel.) Use some proprietary software to keep illegal trading of the comics to a minimum and Marvel could be raking in bucketloads.
Sweet Jesus, how is it possible for a company to fuck up this badly?