Everything You Need to Know About the Current State of Digital Comics

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As if to prove that prohibitive pricing wasn’t enough to reassure specialty stores of the industry’s desire to keep them happy in the oncoming digital revolution, direct market retailers have been invited to the digital comics party in a surreal example of misunderstanding the value of digital distribution.

Both Diamond Distribution, the near-monopoly in charge of print distribution for periodical comics, and ComiXology, slowly becoming a near-monology in charge of digital distribution for periodical comics, have announced the option of creating digital storefronts for direct market retailers, giving them all the benefits of digital comics, but with the added benefit of a physical location (Diamond’s offering will actually require consumers to buy the digital comics at the physical store, and then download them later). ComiXology’s option rolled out earlier this month, and was met with something between apathy and anger by retailers over contractual terms and conditions.

Just like print, the best entry point for new readers in terms of price and content may lie in archival material. Marvel recently issued an excited press release announcing “the first major digital release of super hero comic collections,” with the launch of ten collections starring the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor and other characters familiar to mainstream audiences through movies. Each collection is offered at a price lower than buying the digital issues individually or, as Marvel calls it, “an unbeatable price”—unless you want to buy the print versions through Amazon, which discounts them to an even lower amount.

(MORE: ComiXology Lets Your Local Comic Store Sell Comics Online)

While Marvel’s effort does amount to the “first major digital release of super hero comic collections”—plural—it’s not the first major digital release of a comic collection, or even a superhero collection by a major publisher. Its main competitor, DC, offered a limited release collection of the series Planetary earlier this year, and at a much better example of “an unbeatable price”: 27 issues of content for $24.99, or less than $1 per issue.

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