A look at Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite and what it could mean for the comic book industry.
The incorporation of digital media into the comic book industry has been a slow one at best. The industry as a whole has been dragged into the digital era kicking and screaming, largely at the behest of retailers resistant to this potentially drastic market shift. Despite that resistance, the industry has made small steps toward a widespread acceptance of digital comics, with most publishers adopting a "day and date" digital release policy, and a very select number of comics being offered on digital platforms before they are sold in stores. Wednesday's release of Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite #1 is the boldest and biggest move towards making digital comics more relevant in the industry, and are the latest signals that a shift to digital comics will be happening sooner rather than later.
Most comic book retailers are firmly against digital comics, with good reason. Digital comics, especially "day and date" releases, are threats to their customer base. As it's generally perceived that the amount of readers is shrinking, most stores are hard-pressed to keep the customers they have and would suffer should digital comics become more viable. If the industry ever offered a convenient and more affordable alternative to a weekly trip to the comic bookstore, most retailers believe that their customer base would drastically shrink, leading them to go out of business.
Most publishers have appeased these retailers by selling digital comics at a price equal to hard copies rather than adopting a lower price point, à la digital music. In addition, the industry has been using a very stupid and dangerous method of providing digital comicbooks. Instead of simply purchasing and downloading a CBR or PDF file, the comic book industry sells digital licenses that allow readers to view certain books on specific applications, a structure that basically amounts to a glorified rental system of digital comic books. Should comixology or digital.ly (the two major providers of digital comic books) ever go out of business, it's likely that subscribers would lose thousands of dollars, as the licenses do not transfer to other companies. These two factors have served as disincentives to most readers. Customers are wary of purchasing digital comics due to these issues, which have stunted the growth of the digital comic platform.
Interestingly, Marvel and DC have been quietly reaching out to fans using the hard copies of comics to promote their digital line. Both publishers have begun to offer digital combo packages that give readers a digital copy when purchasing a physical copy of the book, similar to digital copies of movies being packaged with DVDs and Blu-rays. While DC still charges an extra dollar for the digital copy, Marvel has begun to offer them for free with their higher priced books. However, this pitch is widely believed to be making only a small impact on digital sales, and its rumored that this initiative has had little effect boosting digital downloads.
Many in the industry have argued that there is a place in the comic book industry for both digital comics and brick and mortar retail stores. Many cite the resurgence of vinyl record stores despite digital mp3s being the primary format of music today and argue that the collectability of comic books will prevent hard copies of comics from ever dying. However, vinyl stores have one thing that comic book stores do not: vinyl has a much higher quality than mp3s, whereas- when viewed properly- digital copies are far superior to hard copies.
Case in point is Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite, a digital-only comic written by Mark Waid with art by Stuart Immonen, one of the top artists in the industry. Infinite is one of the first comics that makes an effort to show off the strengths of the digital platform and demonstrates exactly why digital comics are the future. Unlike other digital comics, which are basically scans of a hard copy of the book, Infinite was specifically created for digital platforms. Infinite is presented in a more cinematic format than current digital comics, using motion animations and transitions to move the story along in a way that a traditional comic book never could. In addition, the pages are presented in a widescreen format, specifically designed for the iPhone and iPad. The best part about Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite is that it's free with any purchase of Avengers vs. X-Men #1, giving any fan who purchases March's best-selling comic a chance to at least try it out.
While I've read other digital comics before, this is the first time that I thought that digital might actually be the better platform. When viewed on my iPhone's retina display, Immonen's art is the strongest it's ever been. It leaps off the page and the colors are positively breathtaking. While Infinite's story is a bit lackluster, the product itself certainly sells the full potential that digital comics have in today's market. There's simply no way that a hard copy of Infinite could compare to the digital version. A hard copy would lack the dynamic and cinematic experience that the digital version offers. The draw of Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite is not in the story itself (which is admittedly a forgettable affair), it's the experience that one has while reading it.
Eventually, the comic book industry will shift largely to a digital format, much in the same way that the music industry has. It's only a matter of time before some corporate bigwig realizes that selling comics to kids with iPhones for $0.99 a piece will make a ton of money and start heavily leaning on Marvel and/or DC to start developing a more profitable way of selling comics in the digital format. With the release of Avengers vs. X:Men: Infinite, it seems Marvel has finally seen the light, and is looking for ways to make digital comics stand out from their physical counterparts. Change is coming to the comic book industry; the only thing that readers are waiting for is to see which publisher sees it first.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer