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Thoughts on Digital Sales…Particularly Pricing


I came across an article on Bleeding Cool–The Digital Drop – Print Sales are Up eBook Sales Are Down–and it made me think on several points.

Number one: It’s Bleeding Cool, which while I frequent the sight for what can be gleaned, I also take with a grain of salt and a definite recognition of perpetration of click-bait headlines and “articles” and such.

Number two: Publishers don’t actually disclose numbers for there to be any concrete thing. And when small percentages are cited, it’s not like there’s been some catastrophic, cataclysmic shift all at once or anything.

Number three: I am not personally surprised in the slightest if “digital sales” (“sales” as in “transactions,” not as in “discounts”) are down on comics. The article seemed to indicate that this is more a books-in-general thing (or that’s how I took it) more than comics-specifically.

But sticking just to comics: at this point, I would think that the “novelty” of “digital comics” has worn off. We’ve had nearly 5 years (HALF of an entire DECADE) of “day and date” from DC (I believe that begin with the launch of the New 52). I don’t remember if Marvel beat them to the punch (that factor is irrelevant here). Being able to buy this week’s newest comics digitally simultaneous with being able to go out to a local shop and buy the print edition is no longer a new thing–it just IS. And I would guess that it now being such a common/accepted/routine kinda thing might mean that those who may have initially been excited no longer find excitement in it, and aren’t going to be chomping at the bit to get that newest issue at 6am digitally that they could get in print a few hours later.

Along with the newness having worn off, I’d imagine that pricing has set in. Since it’s not a new/novel thing now, paying the “premium” to have ’em right away probably is no longer a “thing.” That “premium” being the fact that buying digitally has no print component, and yet for those initial sales, one is paying the same price for digital-only that one would pay for a print edition.

With DC that’s not so much an issue at this point–I believe they stopped doing the bagged $1-more-expensive-but-comes-with-a-digital-code editions at least a year ago. But for Marvel stuff, I will flat-out refuse to buy anything digital at $3.99 because for that same $3.99 I can buy the print edition, peel the little sticker and redeem the code for the “free” digital edition. Even if I intend to READ the thing digitally, I’ll buy the print edition for the code–that way I can read digitally if I prefer, but still have the tangible print edition to help “justify” that $3.99.

When you’re dealing with established comic fans who buy print editions anyway…I would think it’s possible that any novelty or “experimentation” with the digital format may have trailed off for any of a number of reasons.

Then there’s me, personally: I have not bought any digital comics in over two years now, thanks to Comixology and their ill-handled Amazon transition to not allowing in-app purchases on Apple devices. While I’m sure I’m in an extreme minority, it would not surprise me if the format has simply lost favor with people the same as any sort of comics format or publisher.

To the side of that: any initial “rush” to the format, for people to buy a bunch of “old” comics now available digitally (again speaking for myself, there was some great satisfaction several years ago at finally being able to “own” Batman: A Death in the Family in single issues, as well as several other “key” issues). Once long-time collectors/buyers/readers have “acquired” access to those issues and whatever others, they don’t’ need to re-buy them; the issues are just “there.” (Whereas with print editions, one could always continue buying additional copies, with OR without even realizing they’re buying duplicate copies).

It also would not surprise me if some of those pulled “into” comics via digital purchasing would make the “jump” to print…whatever the motivations behind it.

While I would not be “surprised” to see most print comics go away–I do believe the ridiculous and sometimes seemingly unpredictable pricing schemes are entirely unsustainable long-term–I cannot see “print” totally giving way to digital–comics OR books.

On the books side–while I might in some cases prefer the ebook (especially to read on the tablet where it can be propped and I don’t have to break the book’s spine or get fancy attempting to force it to stay open) there are times that I’m far more likely to want the print edition, whether it’s more expensive or not–because a $10-$15 “paper” book getting damaged/lost is far, far preferable to a much more expensive tablet!

I tried going “digital only” for books a couple years back and yet have since found myself “back to” buying hardbacks in print–for only a few dollars more than the digital price.

Which is all a relatively stream-of-conscious way of saying “I’m not surprised” even while I don’t much care. I don’t specifically want to see one format or the other fail; but once you get past the shiny/new/trendy/fad stuff, things will tend to stand on their own or not.

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