Diamond Comics Distributors and iVerse media announced plans today to allow customers to purchase certain digital comics exclusively in their local comics shop on the same day the print editions are released.
That's right: Digital comics that you buy in a store. Not the iTunes store, nor, apparently, through the store's website. In. The. Store.
The special editions will sell for $1.99 for about 30 days after the release date, and customers also can buy a digital download for 99 cents with the purchase of a print comic. The digital comics are purchased via code redemption, although retailers who do have websites will be able to sell back issues that way.
Admittedly, this seems to be at odds with the current notion of digital comics, which involves downloading comics onto your computer, tablet, or phone from the comfort of your own home, but there is a certain logic to it. After all, who knows what the release date is for a new comic and cares enough to want to get it on that date? The Wednesday crowd, and they are heading to the comics shops anyway. Viewed from that point of view—What will please my regular customers?—it makes sense, as it adds some value to the trip to the store.
What it probably won't do is bring in new customers, because the whole setup makes no sense to anyone who isn't a comics shop regular. The one piece that seems to work that way is allowing comics shops to sell back issues via their websites, and if they can sell the digital editions that way too (that's not clear), then yes, it might make sales pick up a bit.
The publishers who have signed on so far are all over the map. Archie and IDW have been working with iVerse since the days when every comic was a single app—to be read panel by panel on an iPhone—so it's not surprising that they are on board, although they both have their own digital comics apps. Archie plans to release all its comics simultaneously in digital and print form starting in April, so it will be interesting to see how that matches up with the 30-day comics shop exclusives. (Presumably the exclusives have additional content, although that isn't spelled out anywhere in the press release.) Most of the other publishers are small and indy houses: Bluewater, Red 5, Tokyopop, NBM/Papercutz. Notably absent are DC, Marvel, Image, and Boom! Studios, all of which have their own digital comics apps... powered by comiXology, iVerse's biggest competitor. Coincidence? I think not.
The lack of Big Two comics may be the Achilles heel of this whole concept—that's who the Wednesday crowd is showing up for, after all—or it could be the hidden genius of the idea, because it allows retailers to continue to sell higher-priced print comics to their regulars and tempt them with a variety of indy comics without the risk of carrying the inventory.
Regardless of the details—and there are a lot of details yet to be revealed—the real significance of this initiative is that Diamond is establishing itself as a digital distributor. Initially, it looks like they are setting themselves up not only in partnership with brick-and-mortar retailers but possibly in competition with the iTunes store—and if that's true, that might be the more interesting part of the deal.