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A Few Notes On Marvel Comics’ Digital Strategy - Warren Ellis [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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A Few Notes On Marvel Comics’ Digital Strategy [Jun. 30th, 2011|06:32 am]
Warren Ellis

Marvel Comics’ digital-comics strategy is that… they don’t seem to have one, really. Full disclosure — I’m on work-for-hire exclusive to them until the end of the year. But they’re all used to me moaning at them anyway.

Marvel may now be owned by Disney, but you can be damned sure attention is still paid to their quarterly reports. And it’s hard to keep your lines buoyant when everything else in your business is a constant fight against diminishing returns. I personally believe that taking much of the print line to a sales point of $3.99 will defeat growth in the print sector. I know they’re doing it to protect themselves, but I think it’s going to hurt in the long run.

Are they then, like DC, looking to digital as a way to increase reach? Well… not yet. I believe they have done some original digital comics. (By which I mean company-owned Marvel comics created for digital-first release.) But I’m not sure there was any great plan to their release. One of the things I like about Marvel is that they move pretty fast and are capable of an entirely random “hey, let’s do this thing for five minutes” move. The whole Marvel Architects cascade-of-events structure they do these days are frankly as organised as Marvel’s ever been on the macro-scale.

Their digital store, then, is a big back-issue bin, with the occasional experiment in day-and-date simultaneous release in print and digital. They’re unlikely to go line-wide day-and-date like DC unless DC’s numbers are explosively successful and stay that way for six months — in digital AND print. Right now, Marvel own the comics stores in terms of dollar sales and market share, and probably see no compelling reason to risk a dilution of those figures. Those figures look good on quarterly reports. And that’s not a knock against Marvel, just an observation of the reality of their business life.

All that said: I can conceive of a point where there’s pressure on them to do something more with their digital store. And also, pressure to do less. I recently noted that if I, say, wanted to buy the first part of Walt Simonson’s THOR run (in my case, because I wanted to remind myself of some of Simonson’s tricks in page design), I couldn’t buy a digital edition of the collection in question. I had to buy it as single issues in digital form. Which suggests to me that, somewhere, someone decided they didn’t want Marvel Digital to be seen as affecting bookstore sales. That would seem to me to be a cautious shuffle too far, and possibly indicative of conflicts ahead.

I am looking to Marvel to do more original material for digital. They’ve done it before, there’s obviously a system in place to make it happen, they can reprint in trade paperback, and it’ll make a good business narrative. It’s the march they can steal on DC, it doesn’t screw with their print market share, and it fits Marvel’s profile better.

It could make for interesting times in the commercial medium.

sent from [device: spacebook]

Posted via email from warrenellis’s posterous

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[User Picture]From: spiffystuff
2011-06-30 02:07 pm (UTC)
I used to be a marvel fan in the 90s and stopped because
a) I recall one of the issues I picked up was about HALF adds O-o seemed stupid to pay (what was it, $2?) for something like that, decided to just wait for TPBs.
b) when you fight the Ultimate Worst Battle Of Our Lives Ever for the... 5th? or so time, and dead characters get ressed, wolverine gets his adamantium back (sure it took a while, but we knew it would happen eventually), marriages fall apart... basically everything starts seeming like a futile soap opera. I didn't see the point in reading if any given thing would likely be undone and forgotten or even retconned at some point.

*whine whine moan moan*. I still like your comics and uh, jonas hex. That's about it for mainstream for me these days.
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[User Picture]From: lots42
2011-06-30 05:05 pm (UTC)
The nineties...god. I think the only worthwhile mainstream book back then was Avengers West Coast. And Punisher War Journal.

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[User Picture]From: lots42
2011-06-30 05:04 pm (UTC)
Dear all print people: Print is dead. What we are seeing now is the last few twitches of the corpse.
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[User Picture]From: mrph
2011-06-30 05:25 pm (UTC)
Maybe. Then again, as Warren said elsewhere: a lot of people buy Freakangels in print, even though it's free online. There's something very nice about having a solid object sometimes.

Similar to the way people buy books even when they're available free from a library, or buy new instead of second-hand. The item itself appeals.

However... I think that only applies when there's some certainty about the quality. It's harder to delete a book if it's rubbish. Digital is a better bet for pitching an entirely new story if the creators don't have an established following, perhaps?
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[User Picture]From: lots42
2011-06-30 07:00 pm (UTC)
Well, there is the fact that Warren Ellis is completely awesome.
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[User Picture]From: lots42
2011-06-30 07:01 pm (UTC)
And just the other day I bought myself a Peter David Star Trek in hardback. But 'being awesome' won't keep the print industry alive.
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[User Picture]From: randomgirl666
2011-06-30 09:31 pm (UTC)
I don't really do superhero comics, but I still joined Marvel's digital comics thing for a couple of months last year, just because there was enough stuff by creators I liked to make it worthwhile. I got my money's worth out of it and left, mainly because it's a back issue bin (and a fairly outdated one at that).

If they could get a day-and-date type operation running, I probably would have paid twice the price for a subscription, just to be able to go and browse through things when the mood takes me. I really think there's something in that because a few quid a month is something I can afford to pay even if I'm not really making the most of it. A lot of the focus in the industry right now seems to be on getting the "not all that arsed" crowd interested again. As part of that crowd, I tend to think easy access to digital issues is probably the best way to get at that audience.
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[User Picture]From: cdennismoore
2011-07-01 01:10 pm (UTC)
"I personally believe that taking much of the print line to a sales point of $3.99 will defeat growth in the print sector."

This is exactly why I don't buy more comics. I'm not saying they need to go back to 75 cents (MAN, those were the days!), but Jesus, when I've spent $20 on FIVE comic books, something's not right.
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[User Picture]From: fatal_blue
2011-07-01 09:12 pm (UTC)
You've hit on one of the major reasons I stopped buying Marvel comics last year. The price point is prohibitive for me to continue collecting, which is sad since I've been doing it since the 70s. I don't expect them for free, but I also don't expect to pay nearly the price of a paperback.

Especially when, as a long time reader, the other thing that's bugging me is complete and total loss of respect for any sort of continuity and, as someone above said, the ridiculous, life ending, earth shattering crises of of the moment, which is then conveniently forgotten five minutes later. Or handwaved off with a contrived solution. Still, I might even be able to live with that if they could make it convincing.

I still like books and magazines and comics I can hold and pages I can turn, but let's face it, digital is what's coming. It's more convenient, costs less to produce, and doesn't require tons of physical space. Any company or industry that keeps refusing to acknowledge this is just shooting themselves in the foot.
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