With November’s release of Avenging Spider-Man #1, Marvel Comics instituted an interesting program: with every print copy of the book, readers also got a digital code allowing them to download an electronic copy, “free.” And I was ready to write this off as a quirky experiment, until I started reading Game of Thrones… And now I believe it’s not just a good idea to include them in every comic and graphic novel, it’s necessary for the survival of the industry.
Wait. Game of Thrones? What? Let me explain: a few months ago, like most of the English speaking world, I got obsessed with George Rudolph Reindeer Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and started reading the books. This was actually just before San Diego Comic-Con, and rather than lugging around four giant novels (even in paperback), I decided to download a cheaper bundle on my phone… And found the experience was excellent. I still prefer the paper books, and it’s a little easier on my eyes, but having the book available in my phone, to read a few pages here and there whenever I wanted was excellent.
Still, when it came time to read the fourth volume – A Dance With Dragons – I hesitated from buying it digitally, mainly because my wife hadn’t been able to read the books off my phone (because, you know, I need my phone), so we had bought the paperbacks for her. She surprised me, and bought the hardcover book, which is massive. I’ve been plowing through it for the past week, dragging it everywhere with me, and I love it… Again, the physical act of reading a book is very pleasing, particularly to someone who basically grew up in a library like I did.
That said, I miss the convenience (and you know, lack of weight) of reading off my phone. I began to wonder, what if I could leave the hardcover at home, read that at night before bed, and take the book on my phone on the subway, for convenience? It’s easy enough to switch to a new page in the phone, and same for the hardcover (though the pages aren’t always directly analogous on the phone. Point being, having two copies of the book would actually enhance the reading experience… But I can’t afford to buy two copies of a hardcover book.
I’m not going to get into the greater pricing strategies here, as that’s a whole other discussion, and I know I’m going to hit this with a broad swathe here, but: once I buy a book, I own it, right? So why CAN’T I own it digitally, too? Yes, I realize extra work goes into getting a book from print to digital, but if I’ve already paid the money (or the gift-giver has paid the money), it’s a nice bonus that enhances and increases the ease of the reading experience… And that’s not a bad thing for the publisher, or the creator.
About the same time I started thinking about how much I wish I had both a print and digital copy of A Dance With Dragons, Avenging Spider-Man came out. And then Marvel announced that their upcoming Season One graphic novels would also have a “free” digital code in the book, allowing people who buy the books in print to download an electronic copy of the book. That’s when it clicked for me: we need to have these in every single comic book, across the board.
Particularly for fans who like print – and I like print – but also enjoy the ease of digital copies, being able to purchase both for the same price is, not to oversell it, a godsend. Yes, I’m going to skim over the downsides, but there’s the convenience factor – particularly with graphic novels. But there’s also the sharing factor, which is important, and unique to this experience.
The digital codes allow you to download your copy of the book to your Comixology account, and no others. So you can get the book on your phone, tablet device, or computer if you so choose. You have the print copy at home, to read through, keep pristine if you want in a bag and board, or sell back to the store. But then you also have the digital copy, which you can carry everywhere. And if you can carry it everywhere, rather than saying, “Oh man, you have to check out Avengers Academy, it’s awesome…” You can pull out your phone, and hand it to your friend, and sell them on it right there.
It’s the comics equivalent of handing your friend your iPod so they can listen to a song from the album you just bought, right? Giving them a sample, so they’ll go out and buy it themselves. That’s good for everyone, from the retailer, to the publisher, to the fans. Plus, it has the added bonus of not really pissing anyone off. The retailers sell their physical copies, Comixology (or similar platform) gets their cut, the creators too, everybody wins – even the fans.
I’m going to take this one step further, and I think – particularly if Publishers are going to keep charging a print price for digital downloads – that they allow the option to get a print copy mailed to you, no charge… Which sounds a little crazy, I know, but it’s not unprecedented, and it’s not as out of the realm of possibility as you think.
Let’s talk about coupons (yes, this is the most focused Op-Ed of all time): coupons work because not everyone uses them. If everyone who bought Scott toilet paper rolls mailed in their, “Get one roll of toilet paper free!” coupon, Scott would be in big trouble… But that doesn’t happen. The coupons expire, they sit on most shelves forgotten, or most people just don’t think it’s worth the effort. Some do, but not enough that it’s to the detriment of the company.
It would be the same with print copies with digital purchases. You’d have to add a few hoops (“fill out a form each time!”) but sending out print copies of digital comics you’ve bought wouldn’t hurt enough to make a difference, and in fact, could probably be used to inflate sales figures a bit (never a bad marketing strategy).
In fact, you could do something like what GetGlue does, where they allow users to get a bundle of physical stickers (like Foursquare’s badges) after they’ve gotten 20 in a row. Yes, stickers are less expensive than a 22 page comic, but the idea is potentially the same: once you buy, say, five comics from a publisher, they’ll send you a pack of your purchases if you request it, as a bonus.
Would I like to see digital prices fall? Yup. Would I like to see physical copy prices fall too? Surely, I’m super poor. But if comic book companies are going to continue to charge the prices they’re currently charging for comic books, giving people a bonus – either from print to digital, or digital to print – will go a long way to making it feel like its “worth it,” with a minimal effort on the comic company’s part. And, just to reiterate, I think you’ll see an increase of legal sharing (which we call “promotion” in some quarters) as well as a more pleasurable reading experience all around.
Let’s make it happen, comic book companies: digital codes in all print copies by the end of 2012. We can do it!
Now if someone could come by my apartment, that would be great. I’m currently trapped under my copy of A Dance With Dragons, and desperately need food. Maybe you have some coupons I could use?