Pullbox Online Launches

Devil’s Due Publishing has launched Pullbox Online (no longer available), a store selling online versions of comics (choice of CBR or PDF) for 99 cents an issue. (Clearly, they’re inspired by iTunes.)

They’re not the first to offer legal downloads — already in this market are Slave Labor (choice of CBR or PDF, 69 or 89 cents an issue, but it’s hard to find their web store even if you know what you’re looking for) and Wowio (PDF, ad-supported, free to user if you’re comfortable giving them your credit card information (why?)).

Pullbox Online is clearly not the cheapest. But they might be the best-positioned to survive so far, since they’ve come the closest to offering titles that the traditional comic book audience will be familiar with and want. Selection and ease of use are what’s going to make this particular comic market able to survive and compete against free copyright violations.

Pullbox Online header

They can’t seem to decide who they’re targeting, though. I’m not inclined to applaud someone who opens their About Us statement with this sentence:

PullBoxOnline.com is the premier online site for affordable, high quality downloads of your favorite comic book product.

It’s overblown hype, and I want good reads, not “product”, thank you. The name is also an odd choice, taken from the most obsessive quality of the direct market, the need to know that your pre-ordered comics are waiting for you. (Ironic, since some of those retailers are already mad about this approach to undercutting their sales, offering the same stories at one-third the price.) They go on to say:

We believe that the proliferation of downloadable comics is healthy for the industry, and will allow collectors of physical comics to catch up on hard to find issues they missed, and enabling them to continue to collect the physical series rather than dropping it. It is an enjoyable way to try a comic book series before deciding on trade paperback purchases, and opens the doors to millions of potential comic book readers not familiar with the tightly knit comic book collector community.

I know they’ll take whomever they can get to start, but is this really an avenue for outreach to new readers? Or is it likely that a hardcore collector, once he buys a non-physical issue and interrupts his run, is going to keep buying print comics?

And wouldn’t that necessitate having current issues available? They promise that they won’t release online versions before the print ones, fair enough, but the current selection looks much more than a month old. Aside from some DDP titles, the store also features three IDW titles (but nothing licensed) and comics by Jim Mahfood. They promise new additions weekly (on Wednesdays, keeping with tradition), with Steve Rude’s Nexus mentioned as coming soon.

Most intriguing is this bit, from owner Josh Blaylock’s Newsarama interview (link no longer available):

We are not going to overload the site with tedious DRM features. After a lot of consideration and study, it was decided that it’s more important for Pullbox to be the easiest place to download a comic. We want to embrace the currently existing online community of downloaders, not exclude them. Most of these communities are looking for a cheap legal alternative and we’re providing it.

People are already sending them around via scans from print comics, so if they’re determined to do that they’re going to do it anyway. And to be frank, if Pullbox can sell 10,000 downloads of a title and reach a new audience, we don’t care if 100,000 people are reading that same product. That will just make us try to get the circulation up to 1,000,000 so we can be selling 100,000 downloads.

That’s certainly user-friendly, but if I was an investor or content provider, that cavalier attitude would make me awfully nervous. Is that factor-of-ten valid, or based on anything concrete? Maybe it’s really a factor of 100, so that 100,000 readers means only 1,000 sales? I suspect nobody knows, and nobody can know until this effort, and others like it, have been running a while.

Blaylock goes on to say:

it’s not like anyone’s discontinuing to print the books, so there’s really nothing to lose with the downloads. It’s gravy!

Unless the sheer fact of offering the downloads causes retailers to cut orders. With no shelf space, you’ve got no ability for customers to browse (unless you start offering free online samples). And a number of commenters at that Newsarama thread seem to be ready to switch from print to screen, based just on price, meaning fewer physical copies sold. (Then the naysayers claiming 99 cents is too much for an online copy start appearing, so maybe responses there aren’t a good way to judge anything.)


11 Responses to “Pullbox Online Launches”

  1. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » The future is here Says:

    [...] UPDATE: Johanna has more. [...]

  2. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I noted last night that I thought Pullbox launched a bit prematurely, with a too-limited selection that’s only going to appeal to a very narrow audience. Wowio’s got a broader selection (both of comics, if barely, and of non-picture books) but their business model is questionable and they compete with much bigger players like mobipocket.com.

    Of course, if there’s any real money in this concept, DC and/or Marvel will come up with their own platform, or Diamond will do it for them.

  3. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Also note that the Family Guy comics aren’t 99 cents, but rather $1.99.

    Blaylock is dead-on right by removing DRM from the content; who wants to give a start-up company control over their computer, which is effectively what you do when you place DRM’d files on your PC? I semi-trust Apple with DRM’d iTunes files, burning them to CD and re-ripping to mp3 when I can’t find the music elsewhere; I’m not going to trust a new company with DRM’d comic files.

  4. Journalista » Blog Archive » Dec. 6, 2006: Dave Sim’s nose and a pair of pliers Says:

    [...] Related: Johanna Draper Carlson refuses to believe the hype. [...]

  5. Mark Says:

    I had a look at their offerings and given that some of the stuff that is offered probably won’t ever see the light of day again through any other channel I guess it’s reasonable to offer it online. Still I think the $0.99 tag is too much compared to 2.99 for a printed issue. If it’s suppossed to help readers catching up with back issues it should have been cheaper. That way more people would try it and then perhaps start buying the new issues (if available, especially in the Devil’s Due section some titles seem to have been raised from dead to make one last dollar with the content).

  6. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    What everyone seems to forget when a place like Pullbox says something like they’ll take 10,000 of the 100,000 who are reading the book anyway: comics have always had a larger readership than purchase population. Just as more people listened to music than ever bought it, comics have always been shared or read at the newsstand. The “This ain’t a liberry, kid” cliche came from reality, after all.

    So I’d say that Blaylock is just saying out loud what has always been the reality. He’s not saying that if downloadable comics went away, those 100,000 readers would all of a sudden be purchasing. He’s saying that he thinks he can convert some of those non-purchasers into purchasers of a different form. It’s an important distinction, i think.

  7. Johanna Says:

    What insightful additions! I agree, as a customer — no DRM is the way to go, because it plays to the collector mentality (“you’ll be able to keep these files around”) without an additional hoop to jump through.

    I can’t agree, Mark, that the comics should have been much cheaper. People won’t pay for crap no matter the price, but if you want them to see some value in their purchases, then they can’t be too much less than the print price. Especially if you intend to transfer them from digital to print.

    Jim: Good point, and an important refocusing.

  8. Kevin McShane Says:

    One player that hasn’t been mentioned in this whole downloadable thing is DriveThruComics.com. They have a proven track record (from their sister site DriveThruRPG.com) and their DRM is pretty minimal (an unobtrusive name and purchase # watermark on the PDF). I use them for e-versions of my book and, while the whole downloadable comics thing has yet to produce a viable buisness model (a la iTunes), DriveThru seem to strike the best balance between the freedom desired by the user and the protection desired by the publisher.

  9. Johanna Says:

    I’d mentioned them back in September, actually. I suspect that their almost $2 price is too high for most people to seriously consider them, though.

  10. Kevin McShane Says:

    Hmm. DriveThru lets publishers set your own price.

    So if $1.99 is too much and $.99 is too little, then where’s the sweet spot? $1.50?

  11. Johanna Says:

    It’s not that simple, because “too much” or “too little” depends on which group you’re talking about. New readers wanting a cheap way to sample may find $1 too much. Comic readers used to print copies for $3 consider $2 too much. Retailers seething about undercutting find $1 too little.

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