Burnin’ Down The (Digital) House
This past week at The SXSW (South By Southwest for you old timers) festival, Marvel Comics broke the Internet. Teased for weeks, their mysterious “#1” teaser ad was finally unveiled, and no, it’s not leading to another reboot. Instead, the company has released 700 “#1” issues from their back catalog for free for consumers. The catch? They’re digital, and available only through Comixology (and the Marvel digital comics) app.
Within hours of the announcement, Comixology crashed, and millions of downloads stalled out, or just didn’t work completely. I’ll be honest, I tried to download some #1’s of series I already have physical copies of, and only one out of seven I clicked “download” on went through. Perhaps Comixology wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of users that their servers were going to experience, and if that’s true, they should’ve either been a little more prepared for it, or Marvel should’ve told them ahead of time.
More importantly than users not being able to download the free comics, Marvel’s move brings up the question of it’s loyalty to the brick and mortar shops that kept this medium going after comics went off the newsstand. I completely get why the big two want to push digital, as it cuts down on costs across the board. However, there’s been an increase in physical comic sales in the past year, so why make this push into digital? Even though Marvel’s shut down Comixology with the amount of traffic that it caused because of this movement, it’s only good until Tuesday, and how many of those people will click “download” on issue 2 when they see the thing they’re about to read will cost as much as the paper version, and they can’t get it signed if they go to a convention? Perhaps tossing up a comic shop locator link on the page (or even at the end of the of the digital book) could at least help those that would want to travel to a shop to pick up physical copies of the book.
I’ll be the first to admit that the only way I’ll be switching to digital comics is if I am forced to kicking and screaming, but for a show like SXSW that has a big focus on tech, movies, and music, this just may be a gate crashing movement to get the mythical “new reader” that the industry is always looking for. Of course, the other catch is that we now have to find a way to translate those digital freeloaders into people who drive to a local shop and pick up physical books, but for some reason I have faith that digital comic readers may be motivated to check out an actual shop the next time they walk by one. Whether or not this turns out to true is too early to tell, but at least Marvel attempted something to bring comics to a wider audience, even if it did end up blowing up in their faces.