Digital Comic Resources: ComicsPRO, Archie on Facebook

In the wake of the ComicsPRO retailers' meeting, there's a lot of chat about mixing digital with bricks and mortar. Brian Hibbs went to ComicsPRO and picked up some interesting tidbits, Diamond and iVerse announced a digital comics reader app to go along with their Diamond Digital program, and retailer Christopher Butcher explains why the current digital model doesn't work for retailers--and how it could. Plus: Archie Comics launches digital sales through Facebook, and two comics journalists play detective and smoke out the source of pirated digital scans of Marvel comics.

Digital Comics: Brian Hibbs took rather sketchy notes at last weekend's ComicsPRO meeting, but he caught some interesting points, including DC executive vice president of sales John Rood's statement that "We were surprised to find out that the conversation we're having about digital is about aiding physical (format) growth, not managing physical decline." As Hibbs notes, that changes everything. Also, the redemption rate for the download codes in physical comics are shockingly low, with customers buying those comics not for the downloads but as yet another variant cover. Comics people! One more point: Sales of DC comics peak on the date of release for same-day print and digital releases. That isn't surprising. What is surprising is that the peak on the day the price drops from $2.99 to $1.99 is relatively small. Hibbs takes this to mean that digital buyers are not that sensitive to price; I would interpret it as meaning that digital prices are still too high for price-sensitive buyers who think 99 cents is the sweet spot.

Digital Comics: Archie Comics announced today that it will sell digital comics through its Facebook page, via the Graphicly app. "Facebook has been a huge source of fan interaction, feedback and energy," said co-CEO Jon Goldwater. "The ability to merge that with our significant digital output is really a no-brainer. No company with our level of reach on Facebook has done this. It's in the numbers."

Digital Comics: Diamond Comics Distributors and iVerse Media announced a digital comics app that will work hand in hand with the long-awaited Diamond Digital program. Diamond Digital, which was supposed to launch last July but remains in the development stage, would allow retailers to sell digital comics in their brick-and-mortar stores (with printed download codes) and through dedicated retailer websites. The app is simply a reader, with no in-app buying function, as iVerse CEO Michael Murphey explained in comments at The Beat. He compared it to the Nook and the Kindle iPad apps, and he said that iVerse's existing comics app, Comics +, "will continue to operate as is."

Piracy: Comics journalists David Brothers and David Uzumeri turned tech detective this week to sleuth out the source of digital scans of Marvel comics, which seem to be of suspiciously good and uniform quality -- and are turning up before the legit digital comics are released, which means they can't be simply ripped from comiXology's digital store. (What's more, various clues point to these scans as being intended for print, not digital, distribution.) The two Davids conclude that the scans are coming from an inside source, although they later determined that the source was a security hole, not a person, and notified Marvel. Exciting as this was, it may not be that big a deal; Brothers concluded, "I don't think it'll lessen how often or easily Marvel's books can be pirated, except in a few very specific instances. This was one hole that was very easy to exploit. There are others that are completely unavoidable."

Commentary: Comics creator Paul J. Holden has some thoughts on digital comics, and a few are surprising. One is that landscape, rather than portrait, will be the dominant format, and another is that creators should offer DRM-free versions of their work to readers who buy them in DRM environments like comiXology. And he talks common sense on pricing: "You can scream and shout about how people don't value your work because they refuse to pay $3.99 for 20 pages of comics, but you don't get to decide how much someone is willing to pay for it. You can refuse to sell them at other prices, sure, but you're forgetting the work is probably available elsewhere, for free and without DRM (and if you succeed at stamping that out, well done, you've done what millions of dollars and thousands of US attorneys have been unable to do). Figure out a way to give readers value for money. You will be rewarded with their money."

Piracy: Big tsouris in the manga world this week as Viz Media shut down a group of scanlators who were translating their properties, including the uber-popular "Naruto," "Bleach," and "One Piece." This comes shortly after the launch of "Shonen Jump Alpha," Viz's digital manga magazine, which is designed to beat the scanlators at their own game: The magazine publishes weekly chapters of top manga within two weeks of their Japanese release. The scanlators in question, Mangastream, regarded themselves as a bit more legit than others because they took the bootleg chapters down after eight weeks, but Viz wasn't buying that. Because a number of manga aggregator sites (like MangaFox) run Mangastream's scanlations, this may slow them down a bit, but there are other groups scanning these manga as well, so someone else is likely to pop up. Meanwhile, Mangastream has come up with a substitute: J-Preview, a magazine with text summaries of the latest manga chapters but no art.

Digital Comics: Dark Horse launched its first digital-exclusive comic this week: "Prototype 2," by Dan Jolley, the writer of the "Prototype 2" game. The comic will consist of three two-part stories that bridge the gap between the "Prototype" and "Prototype 2" games. Their second digital-only comic, "Dragon Age," kicks off next week; again, it is based on a game and written by the lead game writer, David Gaider.

Retailing: Christopher Butcher, comics commentator and manager of the comics store The Beguiling, looks at the current digital comics model from a retailer's point of view and finds it wanting. Retailers are cut out of the loop, and readers aren't buying comics, they are renting them. Butcher concludes that retailers should be pushing for something different: "A standard-format digital comic that can be read on every device and on any format, a download that exists independently of the store that sold it, and that can be sold by us (rather than just marketing someone else who's selling it, and being paid a pittance to do so)."

Commentary: Shaun Huston discusses one of the problems with digital comics: It's hard to share them, short of handing over your iPad (or whatever) to the other person. At the same time, handing over that device makes all the comics accessible -- not such a good thing if he's sharing with his young daughter.

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