Will you walk away from a fool and his or her money?

John Jakala is pondering the possibilities of downloadable super-hero comics, making persuasive arguments for the delivery system. As I said over at John’s, I do think removing the necessity of a trip to a specialty shop might increase interest from casual consumers who are downloading music and games and movies anyways. It’s not much of a stretch to picture someone who’s curious about Spider-Man or Wonder Woman but wouldn’t set foot in a comic shop paying a little for a download just to see what’s up.

But I can understand there being reluctance to adopt that technology on a number of fronts. Comic shops have helped keep Marvel and DC alive, at least in terms of moving monthly product, so anything that shifts brick-and-mortar retailers out of the equation would have to be approached with extreme caution. (I still think the bulk of regular visitors to a comic shop who are looking for super-hero comics would keep coming. I’ve never seen much indication that those kinds of collectors or hobbyists are looking for a new way to get their fix. I could be very, very wrong, obviously.)

I also wonder if there isn’t some way for publishers to cut supportive retailers in on the action, if they do add downloads to their delivery systems. Let’s say it works like an on-line game provider, where you can deposit a certain amount into an account to be used at your leisure. Would it be possible to allow comics retailers to vend those credits? When you go to pick up whatever Wednesday offers, you can buy $10 in “Marvel Money” or $20 in “DC Dollars” to add to your online coffers? Gift certificates or cards or whatever, with a code that people can type in whenever they log on to whatever platform the publishers use?

I can’t see Marvel and DC teaming up for something like this, so platforms would probably be inconsistent and users would probably need separate accounts. I’m still wondering if the DC-Flex deal isn’t leading to some kind of electronic delivery system for the rest of DC’s product. (The first CMX/Flex co-publishing title just showed up in the latest Previews, by the way.)

It does seem to me that there are ways to implement this without cutting traditional retail outlets entirely out of the equation, which would strike me as extremely disloyal. And I know that loyalty can’t always be a factor in business decisions, but it seems like it should be in a relationship as weirdly symbiotic as the one between super-hero publishers and local comic shops.

9 Responses to Will you walk away from a fool and his or her money?

  1. gynocrat says:

    I’m still wondering if the DC-Flex deal isn’t leading to some kind of electronic delivery system for the rest of DC’s product.

    Not exactly. Flex is doing what they’re doing because most pubs in Japan are delivering content online, what? Will they be the only ones who aren’t? ^_^ If they want to be competitive, they’re going to have to ‘when in Rome’ their programs.

    I don’t see them having to do it here, ever, until a company comes along and makes a success at delivery purely digital content. 0_0. Let’s face it, it’s been ages since DC/Marvel have blazed any trails, regardless of what their press releases would love you to believe.

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    I thought Flex was primarily a platform/delivery developer that had just added content to its repertoire recently, so it seemed like the lure was the toys as opposed to the largely sight-unseen content, but… eh… I don’t even know how to text message without it looking like a ransom note from somebody enduring a severe bout of the DTs, so I probably shouldn’t talk.

    Also, I thought DC and Marvel changed everything all the time! Next you’ll be telling me that there’s no Easter Bunny.

  3. John Jakala says:

    I know the example I used was a superhero comic, but I think other material could work as digital downloads, too. The other example I was thinking of that I forgot to include was Shonen Jump. I know I could get the mag dirt cheap by subscribing to it again, but it clutters up my office so quickly, so it seems like another candidate that would benefit from cheap, impulse-buy availability. I wouldn’t mind checking out a random chapter of One Piece every now and then even if it’s not something I’m interested in following on a regular basis. (Cromartie could be another serial that I’d be willing to sample in small doses online.)

    For it to work, I think it would have to be one universal format that all publishers support and something that could be sold on a single site like Amazon. I don’t want to have to go to each publisher’s site just to see what they have available. That cuts down on the convenience and impulse-buy nature of the digital format.

    Since Viz has been making inroads with digital downloads of their anime lately, maybe we have to look to a manga publisher to pioneer the idea rather than those superhero stick-in-the-muds.

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    Jump or Beat would be good places to start, since they function more as loss leaders than anything else. And maybe the Beat scans could be in black and white, sparing my cranky old eyes all that pink.

  5. gynocrat says:

    Why yes, didn’t you know DC figured out that girls read comics? It’s true, I read it in the Wall Street Journal. 0_0

  6. ed chavez says:

    About Flex Comix… Flex isn’t really a delivery developer. Well they didn’t start off that way a few years ago. Flex has been around for a little while. Go dig through Comipress and you can find news on them when they started off as Comic BLOOD one of the first magazines published simultaneously online and in print. At the time there was already an online manga scene. Gentosha had an online magazine (and in English for that matter in mangapod/pdf format) and pubs like Kodansha already had online only manga.

    Then Flex partnered with the leader of online manga delivery Yahoo Comics. And to this day if you want to read Flex titles online for free (yes they are free online) you have to go to Yahoo Comic. Flex is From there things get a little murky… I know Flex would then debut Keitai BLOOD (basically cell phone BLOOD) their cell phone system. I don’t know if they developed that with Yahoo! (who is partners with cell phone giant SoftBank/vodofone) or if they did that alone but from that point on they seemed to be much more independent. Keitai BLOOD was not exclusive to Yahoo, as very cell phone service had access to these titles for a monthly fee of 315yen. From this point on BLOOD magazine is no longer printed. The Yahoo Comic version shifts from a regular magazine format to a more random format with some titles updated weekly, monthly, every other day…

    Now is it me but why are people forgetting that FLEX is a publisher? They are not a large pub but they have titles that fit in to CMX’s line perfectly. One thing I have always noted about CMX is that even if they have long been shojo heavy, their titles have great crossover appeal. Musashi #9, From Erioca, Tower of the Future, Recipe for Gertrude… These are examples of those cross over titles that bring in shojo readers but can appeal to guys who take chances on the content. Even their seinen titles like Emma and Chikyu Misaki can bring in female readers despite coming from manly men magazines. Flex’s BLOOD is filled with titles just like this except written for a “shonen” audience. And now that Flex has launched their new women’s line FLARE (btw a number of BLOOD titles are moving to this imprint) CMX in theory could have access to a number of well drawn “girls comics” (why do i get a slight shounen ai feel from that page…)

    The technology will be great and longterm that could be something that DC could use for more than manga, but in the meantime in an era where partnerships (Kodansha/Del Rey, DMP/Shinshokan, Viz/Sho/Shu, UDON/Haksan) and licensors are now publishing on their own in this market (Ohzora) getting access to titles is now much more difficult than ever.

    So while they might look like NETCOMICS on the surface they were and still are about content as much or more than they are delivery.

  7. davidpwelsh says:

    Thanks for the background, Ed! I suspect it’s one of those bits of chicken-egg confusion that often happens in my brain. I thought I remembered Flex being portrayed in the press around the announcement as a delivery developer who came later to content, but I was too lazy to look it up.

    And I’m still sometimes stunned by the fact that Chikyu and Emma are seinen.

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