DC Comics grapples with release times as it expands digital reach

Almost three weeks ago, DC Comics expanded its digital distribution of periodicals beyond comiXology (and its own branded app, which is run by comiXology) to a number of other platforms, including iBooks, Kindle, and Nook, and in the process, the notion of a coordinated release time got scrambled.

To recap: When it was just on comiXology, DC delayed release of new digital comics until 2 p.m. ET each Wednesday to give comics shops a chance to get them onto the racks before the digital editions came out. However, each of the new platforms has its own timing and queuing, and as a result, the comics go on sale at different times on each platform — in some cases, as early as 12:01 a.m.

Is this really a big deal? It must be to someone, because DC sent a memo to comics retailers last week, stating that from now on, comics would go live on comiXology at 3 a.m. each Wednesday:

DC acknowledges that with regard to release time, "total parity is proving impossible across all channels." It argues that the variable digital release times "by title, timing, tablet, and town" are "minimizing any specific effect on [comic store] sales opportunities." Early reporting indicates that "the majority of sales on the comiXology platform between 12:01am and 9am Eastern have occurred outside of North America," DC said.

In other words, comics shops are not losing sales to digital because of the earlier release time. Would they anyway? It's hard to believe that any significant number of people would switch from a planned print purchase to a digital buy because of a few hours' difference in availability, especially if the comic becomes available while they are sleeping. People seem to buy print or digital comics for very specific reasons. DC's chief goal at this point seems to be to ensure that no digital distributor can sell their comics before comiXology, and they took the opportunity to encourage retailers to join comiXology's digital storefront program.

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