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Digital Comics, Unfriendly Page Layouts, and Black Vortex

double_spreads_01I was recently reading some online posts about Thanos, Thane, Infinity, and Black Vortex…and realized that while I had STARTED reading Black Vortex, I never finished it.

I believe it was a 12-issue story…and you can download 12 issues to your device with Marvel Unlimited, and I’d done just that, intending to binge-read the story…and yet I never finished the story.

The reason?

Page layouts.

I enjoy digital well enough…but even turning a tablet sideways, it’s virtually impossible to actually make out the text–captions, speech bubbles, etc–on a 2-page spread shrunk to fit even on the sideways-turned-tablet.

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And in thinking about it, I’m certain that was what stopped me in my tracks: I just got so incredibly annoyed at CONSTANTLY having to turn the tablet and zoom in, because it seemed like every couple pages was a double-page layout!

While a "standard" single-page, vertical, is generally a decent read on a table, it then either is showing only half of the layout, or turn the device sideways and it’s reduced to a much smaller size.

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Sure, there are the various "zoom in to read" modes–Comixology has its "guided view," Marvel Unlimited has some sort of panel view, and I imagine other similar platforms have their own thing to allow you to basically zoom in or view just a given panel in lieu of an entire page.

But part of what drove me to get a tablet, looking forward to the digital comics side, was that the tablet in standard vertical orientation–a bit taller than wide–was roughly the size of a single page of a standard comic book.

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"Modern layouts" can be quite cool, and interesting, and presumably fun for designers, and allow artists to "experiment" and all that (and please believe me, I can totally appreciate that and see immense value and necessity for it) but it all rarely translates well to a digital screen, at least in my own opinion, for my own methods and purposes.

I can’t see "digital" ever totally replacing "print" for me, though I would not be entirely opposed to "switching" to "digital only" for single issues and collected volumes as my "print edition" or "archival copy" if I really dug something… though that’s largely its own topic and for some other post. But for newer comics with the constant full page panels and double-page splashes (already a "cheat" to my pagecount for $3.99 in many cases), it’s even more annoying to experience attempting to read digitally.

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And so–particularly with Marvel, as this specific example–as much as other elements are "barriers to entry, I’m already ok with reading some stuff digitally.

I just can’t stand the double-page spreads that seem to be far too common, recklessly used and even "abused" by way of throwing out pages for something being double-shipped or otherwise trying to make a deadline.

If I’m gonna have to fumble with something physical, do more than just a gentle "swipe" across a screen to read an entire page…I’m darned well gonna just stick with a print edition comic!

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Dipping Back Into Digital…Over Two Years Later

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It’s been over two years now since Comixology did away with in-app purchasing for Apple devices. Being an Apple guy (simply by way of having iPhone and iPad), that stopped me in my tracks as far as digital comics went.

back_to_digital_openscreen_marvelI wrote about the one-year mark last year… and not too long after, “discovered” Marvel Unlimited.

I’ve enjoyed Unlimited a great deal, and found it to be SUCH a great value that even doing the $10 month-to-month subscription (rather than lay out $70-80 in one go for the entire year), I have zero problem with going a month or months without using it yet still paying for it!

The six-month “delay” or “embargo” or whatever–the gap between what’s available without separate purchasing and whatever’s out this week–does not bother me at all. I’m so far behind on “current Marvel” in general anyway that it doesn’t much matter…and for the cost, any mattering there is is offset by reading relatively new stuff for such a small cost–given Marvel‘s $3.99+ price point, really all I have to do is average 3 comics read per month to ‘break even’ with anything else being total bonus. And for what I read just last summer, I’d mentally decided it more than covered over a year, and it’s not yet BEEN a full year since then, so I’m golden. It allows me to–should I choose–read up on a lotta stuff, catch up, etc at my relative leisure without laying out a lotta money (and while I may not like to admit it, keeps me tethered enough that I’m then going to be interested in buying other stuff as a result of things I read, whether newish issues, some collected volume(s), or just stuff from bargain-bins.

back_to_digital_openscreen_dcMaking the “purchase” one time, and being all set until I cancel my subscription and otherwise being free to browse and select and download at my leisure from the app–without constantly logging in or having to juggle multiple apps and interfaces for single-issue selections and such (i.e. purchasing through Comixology without in-app purchases) works extremely nicely!

Just about 3 weeks ago, heading toward DC Comics‘ big Rebirth issue, I’d gotten excited enough that I searched for and downloaded DC‘s digital-comics app to “check” on what a friend has told me a number of times…the individual companies’ apps still allow the inn-app purchases, even though Comixology‘s app itself does not. So, for the first time in over two years, I was all set not only to make “a” digital purchase…but was excited, anticipating, and ready/willing to pay full price digitally…just to satisfy the craving, the immediate gratification of getting to read an issue before work rather than have to wait until a late lunch break to go to the store to get the issue (which I’d already had a copy being held).

back_to_digital_2Taking advantage of a “sale” I had noticed, for a mere 99 cents, I bought the recent Superman Annual that I believe led into the final stuff just ahead of The Final Days of Superman with the titles big #50s and such.

EDITING 6/15/2016 to add: Can’t believe I forgot that I also dropped another $14 or so on an Annual and 12-13 or so issues of Batman for the “core” Zero Year story!

And then after so thoroughly enjoying the new Action Comics issue last week, just to “support” the title and legacy numbering and in-app purchasing and $2.99 price point in general, I bought a digital copy to just have it.

Which I’m sure–for me–may have opened the floodgates as I rediscovered the joy of the digital purchasing–being able to learn of something and/or just being flat-out “in the mood” to read it, and even if I’d consider its print edition nothing more than “a quarter book”–something I wouldn’t pay more than 25 cents for–I’ll pay the “convenience tax” for the digital access and get to read whatever issue(s) immediately and without it taking up a lot of physical space!

back_to_digital_openscreen_tmntCue, then, adding the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles app to my device–because darn it, the TMNT have always been a soft spot for me and an “exception” I’m willing to make to things I’ll otherwise completely avoid on principle…so might as well check that app out, and at the very least see if I can access old purchases I’d made of some of those books.

Much like the DC app, the TMNT app does indeed allow for in-app purchasing…which may well mean some trouble for me down the road, but I especially like that they have stuff priced well below print, at least on some of the collected volumes.

And much to my shared chagrin and enjoyment, there’s currently a sale going on…not just for a couple days or the week, but the entire month of June.

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So, I ‘bit.”

I was curious.

I had to check into the prices of the collected volumes…especially after realizing how far behind I am on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures volumes.

back_to_digital_3With the sale going on, the volumes were $3.99 apiece…and contain at least 4 issues each, if not 5.

For the price of one single Marvel issue that I’d read in a few minutes, I could buy a collection of issues I’ve been intending to re-read soon anyway and that I know I’ll enjoy.

So, utilizing the ease of in-app purchasing…I bought volume 10 for the Future Shark Trilogy story. And that included references to the Eye of Sarnath and such, so decided I might as well get the next volume as well, for the Black Hole Trilogy that I remembered quite enjoying.

Yet after reading the Future Shark stuff, I wanted to backtrack a bit…so got volume 9 for the United We Stand “crossover” story with the Mighty Mutanimals, and a couple more “key” issues I remember from back in the day.

And at this point, I’m honestly thinking that–while it’ll add up to the same thing either way–being able to spread the purchases out, I maybe completely backtrack on these volumes to take advantage of the $3.99/volume price, just for the ease of re-reading the issues on my tablet.

Ultimately, the point being: I was completely soured to digital comics, my interest (and weekly purchases of at least a handful of 99-cent issues) had been killed in its tracks. And I wasn’t just mouthing off or “complaining online” while still giving over my money–I stopped cold, and did not spend another cent, period, sum total on any digital comics from Comixology.

That lasted over two years, some 25 months.

While some of it is the re-“novelty” of the stuff and diving back in after some time away, I’m obviously somewhere in the audience for digital comics! And willing to (on impulse!) purchase digital comics if only to read one time and be done.

Just a drop in the bucket overall, but nearly $20 in just a couple weeks while planning on several more purchases (and who knows from there) on top of buying print editions…and Comixology itself lost out as I’m now going through the individual companies’ apps rather than theirs directly. Sure, they might get a cut, but I imagine it’s smaller than what they’d get if I was going through their app itself even with the “Apple tax,” and all the more significant across time.

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.

More Fun Reading Marvel Digitally

I’ve been keeping track of the issue I’m reading on Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited.

And as of this typing, 27 days into my first $9.99/mo 1-month subscription (I assume I have 30 days), I’ve read 40 issues…which functionally makes these all like quarter-bin issues that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Trial of Jean Grey (6 issues)
Silver Surfer 34-38 [Rebirth of Thanos] (5 issues)
Thanos Quest (2 issues)
Thanos Rising 1-5 (5 issues)
Infinity Gauntlet 1-6 (6 issues)
Wolverine (2014) 8-12 (5 issues)
Death of Wolverine 1-4 (4 issues)
Wolverine and the X-Men 10-11 (2 issues)
Death of Wolverine: Life After Logan 1 (1 issue)
Storm 4-5 (2 issues)
Death of Wolverine: Deadpool and Captain America 1 (1 issue)
Nightcrawler 7 (1 issue)

I plan to move into the Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Project and Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy this weekend. I may backtrack through a couple of the earlier Wolverine volumes to the Killable stuff or whatever it was.

$10 and I finally got to read the Trial of Jean Grey without hunting singles or buying an oversized and overpriced hardcover; an overpriced Thanos Rising paperback, and overpriced Death of Wolverine volume. I’ve read some of the tie-in/aftermath to the Death of Wolverine, and quite enjoyed going back to early 1990s Silver Surfer and Thanos.

All this for little more than the price of two single issues. No variants, no waits between issues, no hassles.

This is the most fun I’ve had reading Marvel stuff in years, I think.

And I’m pretty sure this is going to be my primary source of "comics joy" for awhile, as I’ve become so disenchanted and put off by contemporary print stuff.

Now, if DC would do something like this, I think I’d be all over it as well!


[EDIT: 7/18/2015]

Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy 1-7 (7 issues)
Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Project 1-5 (5 issues)

Read the first several issues of Logan Legacy Saturday morning…then issues 4-7 and all of Weapon X Project in a single sitting. This brings me up to about 52 issues read in my first month’s subscription.

Now next up looks to be a Captain America Annual from 1986 (Cap vs. Wolverine, as referenced in the Cap/Deadpool issue) and then catching up on where I left off to the end of the original Uncanny X-Force volume.

Trying Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited

mdu_screenI’ve resisted Marvel‘s Digital Comics Unlimited for quite awhile, but as I’ve found myself getting sucked back into their products AND re-annoyed at their PRICING, this makes a bit of sense.

I also have to blame Mike and Shag (Views From the Longbox and The Fire and Water podcasts) for talking about it on a recent episode of VFtL, as well as a friend who informed me of a weekend sale on an annual subscription to the app.

I ended up deciding that the annual price was more than I could spend immediately, plus I still had some questions and curiosities about the thing, how it works, if I’d actually like it, etc, so I opted to go with a "monthly" subscription that I will either have to remember to cancel before it renews, or I’ll like this enough that I’ll let it go or upgrade TO one of those annual subscriptions.

mdu_library_grid_view  I found myself quite excited at the possibilities for this thing. Lots of stuff to read–either that I’ve wanted to re-read; will re-read because it’s available, or have yet to read because I haven’t gotten to it and/or the price for issues or collected volumes have been prohibitive.

Talking with a friend (as well as internally to myself) I’ve realized that a huge negative for me with Marvel has been their PRICING. When it comes to the characters themselves, I certainly have a great fondness, and so avoiding their stuff has been in reaction to the price and affordability to get stuff more than having any issue with the characters themselves. I’m going to be far more critical and demanding of something I’m paying $3.99 an issue for, for 20ish pages.

But with what seems so far to be available on Digital Comics Unlimited, this is gonna more than pay for itself in terms of what I’ll get to READ. And along with that, it’s DIGITAL, to boot, where I can download up to 12 issues’ content at a time to a device, so I can take it with me on the go even where I won’t have wifi access…meaning I can take this stuff to the gym or a fitness room and read on a tablet where I’m not fighting to get something to stay put or pages to turn when I want but not close when I don’t.

mdu_library_list_viewGranted, there’s a six-month "gap" between what’s "available" and whatever’s current this week in comic shops. But for the pricing, I will gladly, happily live with that.

I’ve had some "interest," for example, in reading the All-New X-Men / Guardians of the Galaxy crossover The Trial of Jean Grey. The collected edition’s price put me off–skinny little hardback of "only" 6 issues…$25. More expensive than the single issues (granted, it’s hardback).

a $10 subscription for one month means all I have to do is read 2 1/2 issues that would have cost me $3.99 in print, to "break even."

I want to read that Trial of Jean Grey story…and comparing against that $25 price point to do so…all I have to do is read that, and then anything else I (get to) read until September is pure "bonus" price-wise.

I can read the DnA run of Guardians of the Galaxy. I can read Infinity and Original Sin. I can go back and read all (or most) of the tie-ins for Marvel events of the past decade.  And beyond that, I can skip around, just browse stuff and read a random issue here or there. I can also delve further back to specific series and runs.

There’s a lotta gaps in early/mid 1990s stuff that I searched for, which is disappointing…but given I can find a lot of that stuff relatively cheaply in quarter bins and such, I’ll take that gladly with the tradeoff being I can READ a lot more of the more "modern" stuff.

And there’s the fact this is all digital, and it’s stuff I’ll "only" get to READ. I’m not buying anything to own; I’ll read, and move on, retaining the experience of HAVING READ the stuff, but no hassles with storage or tracking books down to buy, etc. I can read the stuff, it’s all in the SAME FORMAT (digital, to view on my phone or tablet screen) rather than varied print editions–oversized hardcovers, hardcovers, paperbacks, digests, etc.

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Seems a whole host of stuff put out by Dark Horse for Star Wars has passed to Marvel, and fitting that timeframe of being 6+ months old, that’s available on here…a huge wealth of Star Wars comics to poke through and read if it grabs my attention, continue to ignore if it doesn’t.

I’d once found one or two of the Star Wars Infinities series in a bargain bin…now I can read the third (and final?) series with no hassle. And where I wasn’t interested enough in Dark Horse‘s Star Wars to buy much…they certainly had high quality stuff, and available here, I may read it.

So in short…I’m excited for and look forward to diving in and getting the chance to just simply READ a bunch of stuff, enjoy it for the STORY and no issues with schedules, cover prices, pagecounts, ease of location of collected volumes, etc.

Outside of some spotty runs of ’90s stuff I’d love to get into, with the more modern stuff, I see getting a lot of "joy" back in Marvel reading.

I’ll surely post again somewhere down the road on the experience, and where this takes me.

Meanwhile…I’m about to embark on a week-long roadtrip with friends, which will certainly test the enjoyment of this app, as I intend this to be my primary source of (comics) reading material FOR the trip.

Comixology and Me, One Year Later

One_Year_Later_logoIt’s been just a couple days over the one-year mark. Just a scant handful of weeks after the Amazon deal, Comixology up and with no warning, no advance notice, took away “in-app payments” from Apple device users. I can’t and won’t speak to whatever the situation is with Droid/Google users, as I’m firmly rooted on the Apple camp.

With that one single change, for a number of factors including the simple PRINCIPLE of the thing, I bailed.

Oh, there were arguments for and against the situation. Like how it’s only a couple extra steps to go to a website, even on a tablet/phone browser and do a purchase that way. Or the arguments against, including the hassle of the browser, and having to go through steps of purchase and then still locate/download in a reader, blah blah blah.

My initial gut-reaction? Walk away. Boycott the thing. I’m not spending one more CENT on Comixology purchasing. If they want that extra 30% or whatever by screwing up what seemed (to me, at least) to have even made them what they were, fine…an extra 30% of 0 is still 0, coming from ME.

But I meant it. I wasn’t just saying it because it was some trendy thing to say, or something to be said and gone back on later.

It’s been a year, and I have not spent one more cent on anything Comixology-related. I’ve bought no random full-price issues. I’ve not kept up with anything on a couple months’ lagtime for the $1 off cover price discounts. I’ve bought no bundles, I’ve bought no digital bargain trades, and I’ve not participated in one single 99-cent sale, of which they seemed to have 2-3 per week where I usually bought at least one or two things, often spending $5-$20+ in a given week just on 99-cent sales.

And to make it worse? Thanks to Comixology‘s ‘stunt’, I don’t trust any OTHER digital comics platforms. At least, not enough to “invest.” I participated in a “Humble Bundle” thing some months back for a bunch of Valiant comics on another digital platform, but I never followed up with anything else. I believe I have those comics loaded to my tablet, but I’ve yet to put any serious time into trying to read them, lacking the “guided view” that was a huge part of my buying into Comixology.

Comixology‘s move was one heckuva wake-up call that things could radically change without notice, just literally wake up one morning and “dealbreaker” specific points are different. As “minor” as many would argue the payment vehicle shift was, who’s to say many comics don’t suddenly become unavailable…like if Marvel decides to “take its ball and go home” not allowing Comixology (or another digital platform) to renew a license? (Plenty of other questions along those lines, but that’s a different topic).

Considering where I started on the notion of digital comics, and how quickly I’d turned toward liking them and was beginning to experiment with and think more seriously about flat-out embracing the medium, I can’t even guestimate how much I would’ve spent–and increased my spending over time–since a year ago…especially while ignoring/refusing to consider questions of perpetual availability and Other Change and whatnot.

I refuse to use Comixology…yet other platforms’ lack of Comixology‘s “guided view” makes them less than ideal; and PDFs and the like on my computer don’t work well due to having a “widescreen” that results in–having a PDF viewer “maximized” onscreen–barely being able to see even half a page without manually scrolling around.

And ultimately…where once I was considering a shift to “mostly digital” I now resist the format almost entirely. Though perhaps in a minority and holding to an unpopular view…I’m sure I’m not alone with it.

More Marvel Digi-Code Annoyance

annoyanceThe other week I posted about some frustration with finding some of my AvX comics’ digital codes had expired. Last Monday I followed up with even further frustration at discovering INSIDE my AvX Hardcover a notice that the code expired…3 weeks before!

But I’m following up NOW because…even though I emailed in prior to that blog post…I have yet to even RECEIVE A RESPONSE. (I heard back from Comixology‘s Support almost immediately–not even two hours after my email–letting me know that unfortunately, they don’t control this–I’d have to contact Marvel).

I ordered a $75 hardcover, marketed (and printed on the cover itself!) to be a print + digital pack, but having just recently read the entire AvX story itself (not the crossovers) and having to return my original copy of the book due to shipping damage, it was nearly December before I had my copy, and I didn’t open it right away. When I did get around to opening it, the code had already expired. (There was nothing anywhere on the outside of the book, on the wrap, on the stickers on the wrap mentioning anything about an expiration). One year may be acceptable for a single-issue/”floppy,” but not so much a book…especially considering I saw a copy of this same print+digital edition at full retail price, two weeks after it turned out the code apparently had “expired.”

I mean, ok, I email Sunday evening right after the Thanksgiving holiday…I’m going to cut ’em some slack. I didn’t expect a response Monday morning, would’ve been surprised at Tuesday, even. But as of Tuesday morning, 8 1/2 days (six of them Business Days) later? Still nothing.

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