Last week’s hot topic was pricing for digital comics. We saw several retailers raise hell when it seemed Dark Horse Comic’s newly announced day-and-date digital releases would be priced lower than physical copies sold in stores. After a few days, Dark Horse released a statement saying this was not the case, and that they would essentially be following the DC Comics pricing strategy, of same day digital releases at the same price as print, followed by a $1 drop in prices a month after release.
The conversation rippled throughout the social media sphere, with prominent creators chiming in on both sides of the issue, fans scolding Dark Horse for caving to retailers, and plenty of assertions tossed about.
However, the fact is, NO ONE knows how best to navigate these waters. It’s the Wild West, right now. Digital is still in its infancy. Actual sales numbers are kept under lock and key. We all have our own opinions about digital, and because we’re passionate about comics, our opinions are strong!
I don’t have answers. That’s not what this post is about. But I have observations, and opinions, and I want to have this discussion. I think it’s an important one to have.
So here are a few things I think…
1) The Most Important Thing is That Publishers Have a Clear Digital Strategy.
I applaud DC. They were the first major publisher to launch with a clear and consistent digital strategy that was communicated effectively to the public. The DC pricing model:
- Books are released at the same day, at the same price, in both digital and print formats, most at $2.99, some at $3.99.
- After a month, the prices on all books will drop one dollar, to $1.99 or $2.99.
- Every week it seems, there will be a discount deal of some sort on DC’s extensive backlist, where books will be sold for $0.99.
- DC will release a weekly digital preview book for free.
Now, you may hate this. You may swear you’ll never pay full price for a digital book. (I probably did, too…until I got and iPad, and couldn’t get to the comic shop and just HAD to hear why everyone was talking about Animal Man!)
Regardless, the most important thing is that this is a clear strategy that fans, retailers, and DC’s creators can understand. ALL content producers should take note, and come up with a clear strategy for their digital content as well.
2) Most People Are Discounting the Value-Added Features of Digital Books
“I am NOT going to pay the same price for something I cannot own, something that I cannot hold, and for something that doesn’t contain any extras…$4 is EXPENSIVE. I can’t pay that for digital. Without extras, it’s thievery.”
The above came from ComixTribe’s own Steve Forbes, in our recent spirited discussion on digital pricing. Steven’s sentiments are shared by many. There is an inherent belief in many that digital books are simply an inferior product to print, and thus should be priced lower, sometimes MUCH lower, than their print counterpart. They bring up the fact that:
- Digital books can’t be resold, traded, or passed on.
- The screens on even the iPad are smaller than print.
- You don’t OWN digital books, you’re essentially renting. (If Comixology goes belly up, there goes your collection.
- Digital is a physical product that requires actual production, shipping and selling, compared to the transfer of thus ones and zeroes. Digital products should be cheaper for that fact alone.
These are all valid knocks against digital, and for some collectors, reason enough to avoid the medium. And if that was the end of it, then yeah, expecting $1, $2, or hell full discounts on digital books seem warranted.
But that’s only one side of the equation, and is discounting the ADVANTAGES digital has over print.
- Instant gratification. You can download and read the book you want, when you want, in three clicks or less…
- …And never leave your house. No putting on pants, getting in your car, driving to the comic shop, parking, and hitting the racks in hopes your book is in stock.
- It will never be out of print or out of stock.
- Hi-resolution. Reading comics is like viewing the files exactly as the artist created them.
- No ads breaking up the flow of the comic, you get the entire story, uninterrupted.
- Guided view/Zoomable. Kind of cool
- Device agnostic…Start a book on your iPad, continue on your phone, finish on your desktop. Most digital provide support them all.
- Your collection is stored in the cloud, available everywhere, and is easily searchable.
- You have the knowledge that greater % of your sales makes its way back to the creator.* (Might not be the same with all pubs.)
- Takes up NO ROOM in the house. (My fiance loves this.)
Again, for some comic fans, none of the above value-added features of digital resonate. But pretending they don’t exist is silly.
Also lost in the valuations is the simple fact that NONE OF THE ABOVE take into account the value of the story itself!
My fundamental point is that I REJECT the notion that digital comics are an inferior product for all comic readers
3) Why Not Add Even More Value to Digital?
Okay, you’re not convinced?
That’s fair. And I think many of the biggest publishers are missing the chance to add more value to their digital offerings. Maybe I’m the only one, but I LIKE the ads and bonus content in the back of most physical comics. (Okay, not the stupid ads mid-comic in Big Two books) but the full page ads for new comics in the back of Image books are great. These and letters pages are often scrubbed from current digital offerings. I think that’s a mistake.
The most efficient page count for print comics is 32 pages. But for digital, it costs basically the same to deliver a 1 page book as it does a 100 pager.
I expect savvy publishers to get on the horse and starting to add MORE content to their digital offerings, not less. Throw it in there! And push the envelope! I’m excited about the news that Graphic.ly acquired Double Feature Comics, who were doing some interesting things with regard to bonus content for their stories. As one of Graphic.ly‘s publishing partners, I intend to take full advantage of whatever they have to offer. (Keep reading to find out more about what we may be doing.)
Point being, savvy publishers should play to the advantages of digital to truly create a product with value added.
CRITIQUE THIS DIGITAL STRATEGY FOR A INDY PUBLISHER
We can all have are opinions about how much Marvel, DC, or Darkhorse should be charging for digital. However, most of us will NEVER be in a position to actually impact their decision one way or another.
However, we independent creators will need to decide on an approach to digital for ourselves. How best can WE take advantage of the power of digital to expand our readership and help out our bottom line?
What follows is a plan that ComixTribe is considering, and the rationale behind it. We’ll be announcing a finalized strategy in early 2012 , and by no means is everyone on board. But I’m posting this now to get some feedback, and continue the digital discussion, hopefully in a productive manner.
ComixTribe 2012 Digital Release Strategy
ComixTribe books will be released through all of our digital distribution channels, on the same day physical books are made available for purchase on our website and on the shelves of our retail partners.
- All ComixTribe books released digitally will be branded as “Digital Deluxe” versions.
- Digital Deluxe books will contain the full story featured in the print version, plus 5-25 pages of bonus, digital only content. This may include sketches, script, pin-ups, essays, discount code off a physical version or rare variant, access to audio or video “creator commentary”, etc.)
- When also being released physically, Digital Deluxe books will release at the same price as physical. ($2.99 – $4.99)
- After two months (or at time of the next issues release) price on the books are cut by 50%. ($3.99 books go to $1.99, $2.99 books go to $1.50, etc.)
- After six months, the price drops to $0.99 cents.
- After a year, the price may either stay at $0.99, or drop to FREE if sales under a certain threshold.
- This pricing stands for the individual issue or “floppy”. For all of our series, we would also create collected/trade digital versions, with bonus content. Pricing on these would not necessarily fall to the same pricing rules, but would be comparable to emerging pricing of graphic novel collections.
Here’s my thinking:
At initial release- We don’t want to undercut any retail partners, or cannibalize our own physical sales. Now, many might be thinking, “I wouldn’t pay $3.99 for a Marvel or DC book, why would I pay it for an indy?” Good point. But I highly doubt someone with that attitude would buy it for ANY price.
No, the people who are buying ComixTribe books are our fans. They’re the early adopters, the people already closely following the title. They are people who can’t get a hold of a physical copy because their retailer doesn’t carry, don’t want to pay for shipping, or are really interested and making an impulse buy.
The two months later price drop- Why two months and not one like DC? Well, ComixTribe moves a little slower than DC, obviously. We’re STILL getting books into stores for THE RED TEN, for example, while some stores have had it for two months. I think the $1.99 price point is decent value for digital comics. Plus, dropping the price gives a reason for another round of promoting the book!
At Six Months – Drop again! – Okay, I get it. $0.99 is the price everyone wants. It’s a great impulse buy price. It’s nearly impossible to pay a buck for something, no matter how crappy, and feel you got ripped off. It’s a lousy buck! And again, the drop to $0.99 is something we can advertise to give a new spike to interest in the title, more impulse buys a half year after initial release. And at this point, other books in the series will likely still be at higher prices, and a tasty entry price might be just what you need to encourage more sales.
After a year, why not just go FREE? – Seriously, why not? You’re talking about year old content. It’s the back issue bin…something less and less comic shops even have any more. If you’re going to go bargain basement, why not go all the way.
The reality of the current digital market is that the two most important price points are FREE and EVERYTHING ELSE. Even at $0.99, I’m skeptical that our titles will have much heat on them a year out. Looking at hard data from more than a year of digital sales, I can tell you that FREE ComixTribe books across our digital channels get downloaded at a rate of 70 to every 1 of our books priced at $0.99 cents.
Now, if we were talking 70,000 Free to 1,000 paid downloads, then I’d be just fine keeping the $0.99 cent price point. But we’re not. It could be argued that we’re better off getting the eyeballs and readers through free books, than trying to force the pennies out of on the fence reader’s hands to sample our books.
And of course, the FREE drop gives us yet another announcement to make to plug the title, and ideally drives the purchasing of newer stuff, or may encourage trade collection purchases (digitally or not.)
Okay, I’m 1900 words deep. It’s my turn to pass the mic?
What aren’t I thinking about?
Where am I wrong?
What do you think about the digital strategy outlined below?
I’m all ears.
Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of superhero murder mystery maxi-series THE RED TEN, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.
Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.
Category: Comix Counsel
About the Author (Author Profile)Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at [email protected]
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