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

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If you’ve ever been tempted to start reading comic books via digital distribution, this may have seemed like the perfect month to do so; in addition to DC Comics relaunching its superhero line with simultaneous print and digital releases throughout September, Marvel Comics has also relaunched its “Ultimate” line this month, including a simultaneous print/digital release for its much-hyped new Spider-Man series featuring Miles Morales, instead of Peter Parker, in the titular role. But the true development of the format is actually happening elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of gems to buy in both Marvel and DC’s line of new digital releases (I’d recommend DC‘s Action Comics and Wonder Woman, personally), but there’s a very clear barrier in both cases: Price. For both publishers’ simultaneous “day and date” digital releases, the digital price is identical to the print price in an attempt to support – or, at least, not actively undercut – the “direct market” network of specialty comic stores, which currently represent almost the entirety of individual monthly issue sales for the industry. Which, while it may be an admirable tactic, is not exactly one that’s welcoming for newcomers to the medium: Does anyone really feel that the 20 pages of content in Ultimate Spider-Man #1 is worth $3.99 digitally?

(MORE: DC Comics to Relaunch Entire Line, Including Day-and-Date Digital)

DC, at least, has a policy to drop digital prices by a dollar four weeks after release, meaning that you can wait a month and get a better deal; Marvel doesn’t offer anything similar, currently. Far better in terms of value for money has been Archie Comics, the first major publisher to push an entire line for simultaneous release in print and digital with a digital price of $1.99 against a print price of $2.99.

One publisher has managed to avoid pricing questions between formats by abandoning print for digital altogether. SLG Publishing announced at the end of last week that it would be switching to what it’s calling a “digital first distribution policy” that will see periodicals released in digital format only, with print being reserved for eventual collected editions. “Digital has the virtue of being a great way to market and see if new creators and concepts can gain any traction and also has the potential to be a real growth area for the medium,” explained president Dan Vado.

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