Digital Comics: Year One in review

Over at Comics Alliance, David Brothers sums up the state of digital comics in a comprehensive article that covers all the bases: Format, cost, DRM, file-sharing, and more. Spend ten minutes reading this article and you will know pretty much everything there is to know about the state of the digital comics scene today.

People talk a lot about price and day-and-date releases, but Brothers points to a more fundamental issue: Who really owns "your" comics? A few weeks ago, Marvel accidentally released Ultimate Thor #2 a week early. Benjamin Simpson of iFanboy.com bought it on Tuesday night and woke up on Wednesday to find it had disappeared from his "My Comics" list; it was still on his device but locked so he couldn't read it. Marvel e-mailed him to explain that it would be unlocked a week later. When Amazon pulled the same stunt with an unauthorized Kindle version of George Orwell's 1984 last year, the resulting outrage (and lawsuit) forced them to apologize and promise never to do it again. The Marvel incident aroused little comment, but it should be worrying; as Brothers points out, the Marvel app lacks that most basic bit of boilerplate, a statement of Terms and Conditions:

What's all this mean? It's a huge step in the wrong direction, to be perfectly frank. Simpson paid for the comic and it was downloaded. Someone elsewhere flipped a switch and his access was removed, but the comic remained on his device. The lack of Terms and Conditions is also worrying. There is no document that details exactly what you can and cannot do with a comic, nor what a publisher can do to a comic you've purchased. If you buy a video game or album from a store before its street date, you can still play that game or listen to the music when you get home. Mistakes happen, but the consumer generally isn't punished for someone else's mistake. Why should it be different for digital comics?

More directly, why is anyone modifying something you have paid for without your permission? If the answer is "to protect the integrity of the story," the only appropriate retort is a series of four letter words. This is a prime example of what not to do.

The next time a publisher pulls a move like this, the pitchforks should come out, as they did with Amazon. Otherwise, how will they know we care?

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