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RU’s Views: Digital Comics And Why I’m Not Convinced

Written by GHERU on Thursday, May 17 2012 and posted in Columns

Your good buddy RU is here to explain why he is not up on the digital comics bandwagon.

Hello there, internet people, it's your good buddy RU here to talk to you about digital comics and why I am not convinced, yet.  The main reasons for my trepidation to dive into the digital pool are price and ownership.  Not wanting to "read from a screen" or "missing the feel of holding a comic book" are outside the scope of this article and will only be referred to as tertiary problems associated with digital comics.  Also, for the purposes of this argument, I am talking about legally obtained and paid for digital comic books.

Comics are too expensive.  There is nothing anyone can say that will convince me that $3 for 32 pages (12 cents a page) is worth 10 minutes of entertainment.  I appreciate the fact that both DC and Marvel have lowered prices (kind of) recently, but why should anybody try out a $3 or $4 comic book they can flip though in minutes when for just over the price of two comics they can buy either a 1000 page novel, or a Netflix account. 

Why should a kid start a comic book collection when a respectable pull list could cost him/her (or the parents) about the same amount as a new video game that takes up way less space and will provide hours, rather than minutes, of entertainment?  I know that there are many local comic book shops (LCS) that have a pull list discount to reward loyal customers, in my experience this is roughly 10% off the cover price and mail order comic book services offer larger discounts (up to 40% at DCBS and MoC), all of which helps to take the bite out of a monthly comic book bill that has been rising well above the rate of inflation in the 25+ years I have been a collector.

For years we have been told that one of the main reasons for these price increases is due to the high cost of paper.  Fair enough, I have no idea if that is true or not so I'll take them at their word, but, why then, are digital comics the same price as physical ones?  Just by going through an app store any one can see that $3 for a digital comic is too much when compared to the other entertainment options available on a tablet or smart phone.  Furthermore, as a customer of a mail order service, even waiting a month for the comic to go down a dollar in price (some comics decrease in cost when the next issue comes out) is more expensive than the physical copy I get delivered to me.

There are two main reasons for the cost of digital comics advertising and LCSs.  As far as I know digital comics do not have any advertisements in them, much like physical collections, and that, along with binding, probably has a lot to do with why trades are often more expensive than the single issues.  But, surely the decrease in the overhead costs to produce a digital comic book offsets the lack of advertising. Also, why not have ads in a digital comic? Ads pop up all the time in my other apps, and it's not like flipping past an ad showing a hamster driving a Scion is all that difficult or time consuming. The lack of ads is not an excuse for the cost of a digital file the purchaser doesn't even own (we'll get to that in a minute).

The other reason given explaining why digital comics cost the same as physical ones is that the comic book companies do not want to scare or threaten LCSs who were able to stay in business even with the rapidly decreasing comic book reading population.  I love my old LCS.  When I moved 6 years ago one of the hardest things was to leave the shop that got me into comics, and I still make a point to stop in and buy something I could have found way cheaper online.  If I ever heard that they went out of business I'd be very sad.  It took a while, but I finally found a shop in my new city that is serviceable for my needs - Comics missed due to me not paying attention when I filled out my DCBS order, a free Previews Magazine, and a pretty cool quarter bin – it would be very inconvenient for me if it went out of business. 

But, my wallet, bank account, and wife are all happy that I have found a cheaper way to buy comics that doesn't rely on a LCS, and if reasonable prices for digital comics are what forces some LCSs to close their doors then so be it.  I don't want to sound harsh, but much like the local record store, the shops that can adapt to the digital age will be the ones that survive, and those that can't update their business plans will close down.  This is how capitalism works.  There are still music shops, there are still places to rent movies, there are still book stores (even without Borders), and there will still be some version of the LCS surviving the digital revolution.

Yes, I have purchased some digital comics, mostly from Comixology, but it was because of awesome sales: 99 cents per issue of Rasl, Superman: Red Son, Red, and Atomic Robo collections for $4 (~99 cents an issue).  I don't really mind reading comics on my Ipad, but once I've read one what then? There is nothing I can do with the comic.  I can't rename the file so that it fits with whatever I find myself using for this collection, I can't loan it out to a buddy, unless I want to give them my whole tablet, nothing migrates over to my computer for me to point to and say "That's what I bought." In short, I do not own this comic; I paid for a long term lease.

Ownership implies many things, but the main one is that once you have purchased something you can do whatever you want with it as long as you do not violate the creator's copyrights.  If you really like a cover, you can take it into Kinko's (are there still Kinko's?) and have it blown up into a poster for your personal use and you have done nothing wrong.  You can loan it out to your best friend, you can give it to a neighborhood kid, and, yes, you can sell it when you are done with it.  None of this is possible with a (legal) digital comic.

An admission: I have stolen digital comics.  I have torrented (it's a word) whole collections.  I can make up any reason to justify my actions, but it comes down to the fact that I wanted something but didn't want to pay for it, so I stole it.  After each download I spend time, sometimes hours, renaming each file so that there is one unifying structure to my torrent collection.  I have talked to many collectors who go to the "torrent store" every week who talk about renaming and filing away their comics, so I am not alone.  Figuring out a filing system is what collectors do and it's not something you can do with your Comixology file, because there isn't one. Legal digital comics stay on your tablet and do not sync over.  If you buy a new tablet you have to wait and re-download your collection before you can enjoy what you paid for, unlike your digital movies, music, or games that sync right over and are immediately available.

I've lent out Sandman, Watchmen, X-Men, Fables, 100 Bullets, Ultimate Spider-Man, and a whole host of other books to friends, some of which started buying comics because of what they read.  You can't lend with digital comics.  CDs, MP3s, movies, movie files, and everything else I own I can give or lend to anyone I want, but not digital comics that cost the same as product I can do with what I want.  Even after purchase, access to the comics is dictated by whoever I bought it from.  Amazon's Kindle, an e-reader whose books are cheaper than physical ones, has the ability for owners to lend each other digital books, but comics do not.

DCBS gives a small discount based on any Comixology purchase, and I have searched comixology.com up and down and I have not been able to find a record of my purchases.  I am not saying that there is no way for me to know what I should have access to; I'm just saying there is no easy way to do it.  So, if Red Son suddenly disappeared from my IPad there is nothing I can point to that says "yes, I bought that" from Comixology.   

Although I'd feel slightly less ripped off, none of this would matter if I was able to download and sync a .CBR file to my computer.  I have no faith (based on previous experiences with other digital services) that if I bought a new tablet, if my IPad died, or if I had to restore my tablet for some reason I'd be able to re-download all the books I've paid for.  Even a downloaded file would be no guarantee that my lease with the comic would remain valid considering the fluid nature of digital rights, and If you think this is an over-reaction, ask Kindle owners about George Orwell's 1984and how it disappeared from their machines.  Futhermore, I've had hard drives die on me without backing up purchased music that I was not able to re-download because the store no longer had the digital rights to the music.  What if DC decides to go the way of Dark Horse and have their own digital platform? Would I be able to re-download something I bought from Comixology?

There are other reasons I am not excited by digital comics, but cost and ownership are the ones that make me angry.  I wouldn't mind so much if I had to wait six months to download Avengers #5000 if it were 99 cents.  I'd even be ok with the lease agreement since it was so cheap.  Instead it's a full priced (no pull lilts discounts on Comixology) download to which I have only very specific and very limited access.

For now, my wife will have to deal with the decreasing amount of free space in the basement as I squeeze filing cabinets and shelves together to find room for more physical storage.

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RU on Twitter @IamGHERU

Written or Contributed by: GHERU


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About the Author - GHERU

RU, or as he’s known in the writers’ room: the cute one, is relatively unappreciated in his time.  RU’s YouTube show, RUviews is watched by literally multiple people every month and his Outhouse articles have helped line many a bird cage.  Before you send RU a message, he knows that there are misspelled words in this article, and probably in this bio he was asked to write.  RU wants everyone to know that after 25+ years of collecting he still loves comic books and can’t believe how seriously fanboys take them.  RU lives in Akron Ohio (unfortunately) with WIFE, ‘lilRuRu, and the @DogGodThor.  You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, & even Google+ (if anyone still uses that).


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