DC Comics’ New 52 – Time to Go Digital?

The DC reboot is here, and it’s time to make some decisions:

  • What new series should I buy?
  • Should I stick with print, or go digital?

I’ve figured out the first question, but the second one — brought on by the fact that DC has finally started releasing digital and print comics on the same day — is a bit trickier.

I love books. Print is familiar. I don’t have to worry about batteries, or restrictions on lending, or format-shifting as technology changes…

And yet…

I’ve got 10 long boxes sitting in my bedroom, and another dozen or so sitting in a storage unit, and I’d estimate that at least half of them are comics that I’m never actually going to read again. Even if I salvage one box worth of kid-friendly books to save for my son, that’s still 9 or 10 long boxes that might as well be filled with junk…and I could really use that space. (Incidentally, I’ve got some trades and stuff up on eBay. Why do I mention this? Oh, no reason.)

Digital files take up a lot less space than physical comic books.

I’m not big on being shackled to the desktop for reading, but tablets have reached the point where you can comfortably read a digital comic while lying on the couch. Plus with a tablet, you can take your entire digital collection with you while traveling, or if you have to evacuate your home for an emergency. I’ve gotten really used to having all my music available on an iPod during car trips. On the downside, it’s a lot easier for someone to steal your iPad (and your entire digital collection) than those 20 long boxes.

I’ve already used ComiXology to try out Justice League #1 (sorry, it didn’t grab me), and I can see myself testing the waters of other books down the line. Especially if I pick up a tablet (I’ve been thinking about getting one for non-comics reasons), it may turn out to be the best way to pick up the occasional “hey, this might be interesting” book even as I buy other series in print. If I’m only likely to read it once or twice, long-term restrictions (both those inherent to the format like technology changes, and those imposed like DRM) cease to make much difference.

I’ll probably end up going digital-to-trade with some series, reading new chapters online and buying the collections to reread later. That’s how I follow Girl Genius already (though in that case the digital edition is free), so it’s not a huge leap. Collected editions have some big advantages, too: they’re usually a complete story, for one thing. For another, you can store them on standard bookshelves instead of in specially-designed boxes or drawers. The big risk, of course, is that they’re still seen as secondary to the monthly magazines. Not every story gets collected, and if sales on the individual issues drop too low, the publisher will cancel the series before you even have the chance to buy the latest volume.

And that brings up an interesting question that I don’t think I’ve seen discussed much: Where do digital sales fit in DC’s (and other publishers’) marketing analysis? What level of digital sales will be considered successful? And if a series tanks in print, but pulls solid numbers online, will they still cancel the book? Will they keep a small print run going, subsidized by the digital sales? Or will they go digital-exclusive?

It’s going to be really interesting to watch how it all shakes down.


23 thoughts on “DC Comics’ New 52 – Time to Go Digital?

  1. Dylan

    I don’t know… buying something digitally has never felt like “owning” it to me. It’s not tangible, you know? I like having the physical item in question (beit a comic, a CD, a movie, whatever). Only owning something in digital form makes as much sense to me as “owning” a completely interactive, 3D model of an action figure instead of the actual action figure. I wish that companys would provide a code with each purchased comic to legally download a digital version, much like the home video market has done. Obviously, just one man’s opinion though.

    1. Kelson Post author

      Unless you can easily back up, transfer, and convert the file as you replace computers, players and readers, digital ownership is pretty much renting until the publisher or manufacturer shuts down access and you’re left with something that will vanish entirely when the hardware fails. (There’s a reason I buy digital music as plain old MP3s, not through iTunes.)

      But if I’m only going to read the book once, what does it matter? If I like a story well enough to re-read it, I’ll buy the trade. Or I’ll buy it in print to begin with.

  2. Dylan

    Not to mention that a digital copy of a comic will NEVER be worth more than it’s print counterpart on the collector market. And with digital, you miss out on part of the experience. I’ll never get tired of popping the tape away from the bag, carefully sliding a comic out, and sitting back and enjoying a good story.

    1. West

      Most comics don’t go up in value. Most depreciate substantially and immediately.

      If you could sell your comics for half price AND retain the ability to read them, you’d be in the same boat as a digital consumer (of comics over 30 days old) since they cost about half price (and less during sales).

  3. Kyer

    There’s enough things in life that we purchase and ‘own’ without really doing so without adding to the list. (Property taxes and association fees make really owning property a joke.)

    Until you can download to your hard drive (and thus also create a backup on your external drive) digital comics would be like buying a trial-size product…just sampling and saving my real purchases for trades and floppies.

  4. KC Flash

    I actually can’t wait to NOT have to bag and board comics. I am leaving the collector mentality behind, knowing that I have plenty of books left to read for quite some time anyways.

    For the books I genuinely love, I purchase hardcover collections such as Marvel Masterworks, DC Archives, or Marvel/DC omnibuses.

    With Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, I can access any book on their service any time I want. The service may not have every issue available currently but, gee, I think 6,000 comics or so that I have never read should keep me busy reading for a while.

    I hope that DC eventually has such as service as MDCU.

    Ultimately, every reader needs to find a format that he/she is comfortable with. My journey as a comic reader is not the same as everyone else but I respect your reading habits. There is no right or wrong way to read the books that you love, find the format that is to your liking and enjoy the adventure.

    Just my three cents worth…

  5. papa zero

    If everyone that typically goes to the comic store buys their copy online what happens to the local shop and the loosely knit community?

    1. Kelson Post author

      1. How likely is it that everyone who typically goes to a comic shop today will switch to exclusively digital?

      Hypothetically, if they do…

      2. The same thing that happens if the customer base rejects digital, but keeps shrinking past the point that it can sustain the comic shops in the first place?

      1. papa zero

        I don’t believe that absolutely everyone that collects comics will decide to go exclusively digital tomorrow. Given the local comic shops that have gone out of business in the past year and the marginal profit that those that remain claim to be making it seems a reasonable assumption that increasingly drawing the market away from retailers will definitely be a hit.
        Your point is not lost of course… the industry is having a rough time.

      1. Mike W.

        This is a good point. I never thought I would see the day when Blockbuster Video went away. And then I have to think back a few years. With the ipod came the downfall of the music stores and with Netflix and the emotionless Red Box it was inevitable. Do I see this same thing hurting the local comic book market? Hmmm.. I don’t know yet. Whereas everything is going digital and I do have to admit that DC Comics being made available on day and date as the print version. I am in a similar boat as Kelson. However, I unloaded a bunch of my comics a few years ago. I didn’t even care what I got out them because I was tired of moving them and having them take up space. I have been a hold out on the whole Kindle and Nook and tablet so far. I want now and know that as soon as I pick one up I will never buy a print book again. A tablet or even my laptop or hell, my cell phone being used to read a comic book isn’t that un-appealing to me.

        Will this digital trend eventually replace the print form for comic books? From a collector standpoint, I don’t think it will.

    2. West

      Not enough comic shops seem to care enough about their customers for me to keep worrying about them. Over the past decade, I’ve watched them pass on opportunity after opportunity to capitalize on comic movie successes, Free Comic Book Day attention, and simply giving their customers good information about what books they can expect or reorder.

      I’m not heartless. These places matter to me, but their continued existence ought to matter more to some of them. And they ought to do something about it besides just diversifying into the gaming market. If they don’t care (and I’ve talked to some who didn’t care about digital encroachment or even about comics as anything more than pulped wood, staples, and ink) then I can’t do it for them.

      1. Mike W.

        I have seen this first hand in my area too. Luckily there was an alternate to going to the same comic book shop which I had frequented for the last 20 years. I switched because customer service at the one was less than stellar. And I haven’t had any complaints about the new store I go to.

  6. Fastest

    I have wanted a tablet for a while, but when DC decided to go same day digital, I knew I had to get one before September. I’ve had one for 2 weeks now, and I’m never going back.

    First of all, with comixology, you don’t have to worry about losing all of your comics if your tablet gets stolen (aside from losing your expensive tablet), all of the comics can be redownloaded as many times as you like. I love that feature.

    Second, I am somewhat of a minimalist, and the 12 longboxes of comics I have really bother me. I like that digital comics take up no physical space. Although I have not had a tablet for a long time, I have been buying comics digitally on comixology for a year or so, in anticipation of getting a table. I now have over a hundred comics on my iPad for reading at any given time. And still, no extra room.

    Third, I often find myself not as excited about owning a comic after I leave the comic store. While I’m in one, I think, oh man I need ALL these books. Then I buy them and take them home and think, nah, I really don’t. So then I sell them on eBay to try to make my money back and if I’m lucky I’ll make 25 to 50% back. And then I sometimes buy them again years later. I have purchased Ultimate Fantastic Four in print, in trade, and then in trade again. If I purchase all the issues digitally and don’t want them, I can just remove them from my device, and that’s that. I still own them though.

    Fourth, eventually, you have to think about why you keep your physical comics. And why you go through the effort to bag and board them and keep them safe and nice. It is because I grew up in the 90’s, and they said if I didn’t do that I’d hurt the resale value. But lets be honest, unless it’s from the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s, it doesn’t have a whole lot of resale value. I personally have nothing invested in needing to feel the paper in my hands as I read. Plus, a lot of my comics I wouldn’t ever want to sell anyway.

    Fifth, my local comic shop as a comixology account, that means that if I buy my comics digitally, but do it through their digital storefront, they see money for the books that I buy, even though they didn’t do anything! This way, I can still support the store that I love, still have it available for trades, and the random single issue not available digitally, and I still get what I want.

    There are many reasons to go digital or not, but it’s all personal. Lots of people need their stuff. Lots of people just need the content, and the delivery system is unimportant. I for one am loving the switch to digital, and look forward to having thousands of comics available for me to read at anytime, without 12 longboxes in my house.

  7. Kyer

    I just thought of something.

    If you can’t capture a comic book image from Comixology (because of the proprietary software they use to prevent this) then that means there’s going to be less fan scanning of material for websites. It was such sites that got me hooked on comics rather than just the DCAU in the first place.

    *mutters something not fit for public viewing*

  8. Eyz

    I know some fans have problems with that, but I wouldn’t mind letting issues go altogether someday… That’s why there’s trade paperbacks, soft or hardcovers collections.

    That’s the way European comics went a loooooooong time ago, and the market’s going stronger over (t)here.

    Digital issues+TPB in store, that’s the way to help the market!

  9. Javi Trujillo

    I’m finding myself in a sitution where I’m moving from my house to an apartment and space is an issue, as well as money. I’ve tried to sell stuff that I feel is valuable and the market feels much differently. No one cares that I have a run of the JSA series started by Robinson and Goyer and continued by Johns. MY Ultimate Spidey collection with variants? No store wants to buy them off me.

    I’ve got an iPhone, not an iPad and even with the smaller screen, I am loving the comixology app. I’ve bought quite a few issues I even own when they go on sale for 99 cents and now they are with me wherever I go. There are a few issues of the new 52 I plan on buying when they get their one month later dollar price drop. I still plan on keeping a few in print, but I can see myself going 50/50 on a print/digital purchasing ratio. Lately I feel that as long as I can read it, I’m good, and I’ve been collecting seriously since 1989!

    1. Luke

      Javi, can you please expand upon your reading experience on the iPhone? My wife hit me with the Shutdown Corner when it came to getting a tablet, but I might be able to convince her to let me get a smartphone at some point.

      How is the zoom? Does the text get blurry? How easy is it to jump around the page? Most everyone I know who likes digital comics uses a tablet and not a smartphone so I would really like to hear your thoughts, thanks!

      1. Javi Trujillo

        Luke, Zoom is good and text doesn’t seem to suffer on the blow up. If you go EXTREME it gets a little pixilated, but when reading in general on the iPhone it automatically zooms in a bit on the dialogue. It moves panel to panel with a swipe. You can also tap the top and flip pages that way so you don’t have to move panel to panel. Also, you can change your settings so you can control the rotating of the panels yourself for a better view or use the defaults. Settings also lets you decide if you want to see the entire page in full before and after you start to read the page panel by panel. They are also always updating the reading experience as well. The Comixology app got upgraded a week ago and now you can jump to a specific page, too, instead of flipping to it. It’s not as “perfect” as a tablet size wise, but I’m pretty happy with it just the same. It’s much better than the computer as I can take my phone to bed with me and read to the kids from it (they love Tiny Titans as a bedtime story). Hope that helps!

  10. Luke

    Regarding going Digital, I am somewhat torn. I like the idea of cutting down on space because longboxes take up room, and with two young kids and a non-comics reading wife, finding space for them can be tough. But without the right device, being tethered to my computer to read new comics, let’s face it, sorta sucks. So for right now I am considering using it to “try out” books which I am interested in but not 100% sold on. The new Swamp Thing and Detective Comics books are perfect examples of comics I will buy online to see if I want to “invest” the space required to buy them physically.

    I do really like the “digital storefront” concept. Keeps retailers in the loop at a minimal cost, and if I am buying my digital comics from my shop, that’s the same shop I will go to for FCBD or a big sale or what-have-you.

  11. Savitar

    The best advantage to digital is that the issue(s) will always be there for purchase and download. I don’t have to worry about sell-outs at the stores or hunting down issues at various stores.


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