Reading the Tea Leaves: DC Goes Digital

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DC announced its long-awaited digital publishing initiative this morning–and there’s a lot of interesting subtext to pull out of its announcements. (See Peter’s interview with DC’s Jim Lee and John Rood for the details.) Here are a few notes on what some elements of the announcement might mean.

Simultaneous announcements of comiXology deal (with iPhone/iPad app) and PlayStation Network deal – That’s a really smart move: it suggests that DC isn’t hitching its wagon exclusively to any outlet, and that they’re experimenting to see what works rather than declaring that they’re just going to do it this way, dammit.

Creator incentive payments — If DC offers royalties for digital sales and Marvel doesn’t step up, that might be a significant weapon in the ongoing battles for talent.

(More on Techland: Beach Reading! Techland’s Summer Comics Preview)

Launch offerings on both platformsBatman: Hush is the bestselling catalogue title drawn by Lee; Green Lantern: Rebirth is right up there in Geoff Johns’ catalogue; Fables is the bestselling Vertigo series that’s still running; and Planetary is arguably the strongest Wildstorm title that’s not written by Alan Moore. In fact, Moore and his various creations are curiously absent altogether from this press release.

Tiered pricing format — Because nobody has any idea what consumers are willing to pay for a single new or old digital comic right now. If more than three times as many people are willing to pay 99 cents as $2.99, obviously the lower end is the way to go. If they all sell the same, the higher end prevails. Note that this is only pricing for individual issues; as John Rood told us, DC’s “very eager to work with our launch partners and digital partners moving forward to have a digital representation that includes our analog collection, which is a wide array of periodicals, collections and graphic novels. But this launch is focused on the periodical.”

Justice League: Generation Lost available day-and-date — If you had to pick one DC title to be sold simultaneously in print and digitally… it might not occur to you to pick a biweekly miniseries whose fourth issue comes out this week. But this is actually a reasonable trial balloon: it’s safe to assume that anyone buying JL:GL is also buying Brightest Day, so while it’s a popular enough title to gauge interest in day-and-date distribution, it’s not going to be the only thing someone goes to a brick-and-mortar comics store for.

Freebies available at launch — Well, Bayou was already free online, but this is a nice way to see if people are more excited about reading it on iPhones. Those Batman: Black & White stories aren’t the jewel in DC’s crown, but they’re standalone, continuity-free, short, and very pretty.

Free preview of this week’s Superman — They really, really want to push the “Grounded” storyline, it appears.

(More on Techland: Superman: All The Anniversaries)

Sandman, week by week, as a comiXology exclusive — If you have to pick a DC perennial that’s not by Alan Moore or Frank Miller, that’s a fine one to pick. Although I don’t know if it’d read as well on tiny screens as Y: The Last Man.

Digital comics available for sale at DC’s site later this year — Rather than now, curiously; maybe they haven’t settled on a format. But it appears that they’ll be available for a la carte purchase, rather than in a Marvel-style all-you-can-eat arrangement.

Read all downloaded issues on all DC-branded comiXology platforms — Although it’s still not as flexible as a more open standard like .cbr/.cbz.

Direct Market Affiliate Program — It’s not clear what exactly this involves. But getting brick-and-mortar retailers to come to the table on this is quite a feat: DC’s at least demonstrating that they’re trying to enhance the American comics physical retail business rather than supercede it. The iPhone app does include a “buy it on paper!” button, and I could tell you more if it didn’t crash every time I tried to open it.

PlayStation Network Digital Comics — So: who wants to buy non-moving comics for a game system? It’s not clear if that’s a big market yet. But Marvel and other publishers have been there for a while, and given that “DC Universe Online” is coming to the PlayStation 3 on November 2 (with a newly confirmed subscription fee), it seems like a smart idea to establish a DC toe-hold on the PSP. Putting WildStorm’s videogame-based comics on the system seems like a natural fit, too–although it’s notable that World of Warcraft is not one of the titles listed in the press release.

The section of the press release that includes the words “leverage,” “grow,” “consumers,” “convert,” “experiment” and “remains additive to our traditional business models” — Also includes the phrase “partner relationships with companies such as Apple, Microsoft and other online distributors.” Read that as “we’re going to open DC digital stores in a whole bunch of places; this is not the end.”

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