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Digital Comics and New Consumers

I got a text message about digital comics today.  A classical lapsed reader of comics who periodically dips his toe back in the water had a couple looooooooong planes flights in the near future and wanted to load up his iPad with some comics.  Preferably DC and Marvel.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to recommend digital comics to a lapsed or casual reader?

The first problem is figuring out what’s online right now.  At least with DC, I know the current issues are online.  Marvel is going to take a good six months to get to that point.  Past current issues, the back issues are still coming online and you have to hunt and peck for them.

Then there’s the bigger issue of crossovers.  It’s really hard to point a casual reader at Marvel titles from the last 5-10 years because of crossovers and events periodically taking over the books.  “You’ll love this — download 89 comics for this one story.”  No, that really doesn’t work.  Actually, that’s something he’s complained about in the past and specifically skipped Secret Invasion because of.

Then you’ve got the issue of ongoing serials.  I’m very big on Brubaker’s Captain America run (well, perhaps except for Captain America: Reborn).  Can you honestly say there’s a good stopping point in that?  I realize from a publishing standpoint, that’s a plus, but Mr. Casual Reader wants to download a run and read it.  Brubaker’s Cap has more jumping on points than it does ending points where I can say “get these 6/12 issues and see if you like it.”  If they really had Daredevil online (huge gaps), I’d be hesitant to recommend the Bendis/Brubaker run, because it’s 100+ issues of the overall storyline and you don’t so much have ending points, so much as you have “…and things just got worse, enter the new arc.”

Since the fellow texting had expressed an interest in catching up on Green Lantern, I had to include instructions on which crossover issues to get and which to ignore.  Especially with Blackest Night, which was shameless in its cash-grabbing.

A lot of these problems have been reflected in how comics are collected in book form, and I’ve long thought DC and Marvel have been chasing monthly sales at the expense of collected editions with these events.  (If you don’t buy the Secret Invasion tpb, but you normally get Spider-Man, you’re going to have a couple Spider-Man tpbs that you’re either going to skip or that aren’t going to make complete sense.)  The second you put the monthlies into the greater reach of the digital realm, where you do need to denote where the issues fit in a story for the casual reader (Blackest Night does this… all 89 parts), it becomes readily apparent how silly this has become and instantly obvious how much it’s going to cost.

If comics publishers are going to truly embrace digital and the return of the casual reader, they need to think about these things a little harder.  Having comics available simultaneously in print and digital is a good first step.  For current DC titles, I just passed on my relaunch notes.  Still, Marvel’s still prepping their next crossover.  Animal Man and Swamp Thing are heading out of the gate on a crossover collision course and there’s that hooded woman in most of the DC titles, heralding the coming event.  It would be nice if DC and Marvel would worry a little less about quarterly number and a little more about this new audience they claim to want.

Right now, with all the crossovers still brewing, I find myself recommending a lot of decade old titles and independents, where the Event of the month isn’t a factor.

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