Top Shelf Productions, home to some very successful graphic novels — among them, March and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — has announced it will make its graphic novels available digitally as DRM-free direct downloads. That’s something readers say they want, and it’s a model that Image Comics has already implemented.
Digital readers have been clamoring for this sort of thing on message boards and in comments sections for some time, although it remains to be seen whether the warm feeling of absolute ownership that comes with a DRM-free PDF trumps the convenience of cloud storage, easy syncing and Guided View offered by comiXology. As a matter of fact, Top Shelf’s Chris Ross and comiXology’s John Roberts discussed this very point in July at Comic-Con International and found a surprising amount of common ground.
But Top Shelf is also doing something new: add-on pricing, which allows readers to purchase both the print and the digital versions of a book together at a discount. For example, March costs $14.95 in print, $7.99 for digital alone, and $16.99 for a print plus digital bundle, meaning the digital copy is only $1.99. (Note that shipping on the print book is a minimum of $4.95.)
Depending on your preferences and the whims of the market, the Top Shelf bundle may not be a better deal: Right now, on Amazon, the print edition of March is $8.95 and the Kindle edition is $6.99, which comes to slightly less if you buy the two of them (and shipping is free if you have Amazon Prime). There are some downsides to this — in my limited experience, comics don’t look too good on the Kindle, and of course this version would have DRM. And the prices could go up at any time.
What’s interesting about Top Shelf’s move is that it cuts out the middleman. To get the special price, you have to buy the print and digital versions directly from Top Shelf, which means the publisher get to keep the full price; if you buy the book from a retailer and the digital comic from comiXology or Amazon, the partners get a cut. This model only makes sense if you can do the fulfillment for less than the money you would otherwise pay a partner, and apparently Top Shelf thinks it can.