Diamond Digital Details; Stores Can Sell Online Comics in September

Five months after the Diamond Digital program was announced, a plan for physical comic stores to sell online comics, we finally have some details. A press release reveals that the program will launch in September.

Diamond Digital logo

The reason for the delay? According to Dave Bowen, Director of Diamond Digital, they want “to get every detail of this launch right.” Good plan. It’s kooky enough to start that bugs would likely kill it. After all, the appeal of digital comic shopping is downloading titles instantly, whenever you want them — forcing customers to travel to a shop to get a code to download an issue is somewhat convoluted in comparison.

The only likely customer scenario I can envision is that there might be some appeal to browsing. A customer already at a comic shop sees an issue, flips through it, and decides he doesn’t want the book but will pay to read it. So he buys a download code from his retailer, since he’s already at the shop.

Not very plausible, I know, since it would require a retailer being willing to advertise to customers that the codes are available. And once the customer downloads through iVerse Media, the merchant partner, their information is available to that vendor, for direct advertising of future issues or related titles, to buy directly from them. Anyway, in September,

“Diamond’s retail comic shop customers will be able to pre-generate codes redeemable for new digital comics. … Many of the comics in the program will be available first from comic shops or will contain special bonus material unavailable elsewhere. Participating stores will be able to sell a wide range of new comics, digital back issues, and digital backlist graphic novels. A key feature of the initiative is the Print PLUS option, which allows consumers to purchase a digital companion copy of a print comic book, usually for just 99¢ more.”

Well, that’s another positive — retailers can stop stocking back issues so deeply (although many already have, since that market was killed by ebay). I’ve been a proponent of the double-copy system myself, since it works better in our household, but tacking another dollar onto a four-dollar comic isn’t economically feasible. Five bucks for 20-some pages of story is simply stupid, and I don’t believe it offers enough value to compete effectively with free — especially once you add in taxes and gas costs these days.

Back to Diamond Digital. The project has been in beta testing since it was first announced, and the “Beta Test group, an international assembly of more than fifty businesses… suggested many great ideas and improvements, including added functionality in support of the individual retailer web-site based part of the initiative. The advanced group, companies with existing sophisticated e-commerce web sites, are beginning to integrate our API into their processes.” I would love to read a business case on this, but I suspect the details will never be released.

The actual codes for sale in store locations will start beta testing in August. More information is available from DiamondDigital.com. Logins will be available in September for all Diamond accounts, and participating publishers will be able to “see how their material is being represented, monitor their sales, and gauge the effectiveness of the program.” I hope some of them are as forthcoming as Michael Jasper was — I’d love to hear what kinds of percentages of sales this program drives in comparison to other digital outlets and print copy sales.

More than 30 publishers are promoted as participating, but the American Big Two, DC and Marvel, are not among them. The biggest names are Image, Top Shelf, NBM, IDW, and Archie. The latter two are notable as participating in just about every digital distributor out there. The program is said to be launching with “dozens of new releases and nearly 2,000 back issues”.

Retailers get 33% of the copy price for a digital sale. Since they’re selling the codes, that means they take in, let’s say, $1.99 for a particular issue code. Then, the week after a customer redeems the code, the retailer is invoiced for the product. Since they keep 33%, that means that Diamond then bills the retailer $1.31. No idea how that money is split up between Diamond, iVerse, the publisher, and let’s not forget: the creator. This also seems to provide an interesting loophole/bottleneck. If the customer doesn’t enter the code, then the retailer never gets billed, and they keep all the money. I don’t know why a customer would do that, though.

The FAQ is fascinating in the situations it postulates:

For example: A consumer buys a comic. You then say: “Hey, you can also get a Print PLUS version for an extra $0.99. Since you’re buying a print copy, you qualify. If you pay for the Print PLUS version too, we’ll give you a code for a digital edition.”

For example: A consumer wants to buy a title, but your shop is sold out of the print edition. You can say: “Hey, there’s a digital version available for $1.99.” This gives the customer a reading copy while they wait for a reorder to arrive.

For example, let’s say you’re overstocked on a particular print comic. You’ll have the flexibility to leave the $1.99 digital version off your custom in-store sell sheet. If and when you sell out, you can always reinstate that option and print out another copy.

In another example, if there’s a digital back issue we make available through you, but you have a pile of the physical copies to sell, just unselect that digital back issue and it won’t appear on your web site.

Every aspect of this program has been and will continue to be customized to the needs of the comic shop.

We expect that long-form content like graphic novels and trade collections will make up an expanding part of the digital sales offering as the material is converted. This will give you higher ticket items to sell.

Also note: retailers will charge sales tax.

This program still seems to me like a solution in search of a problem. I don’t believe that this really addresses any of the concerns or opportunities digital comics bring to the industry. Instead, it just inserts another unneeded middleman into the equation. But I’m willing to be wrong, if this is the brave new frontier that provides additional profit for the comic shop direct market.


11 Responses to “Diamond Digital Details; Stores Can Sell Online Comics in September”

  1. Anthony Says:

    Couldn’t the comic companies sell these codes (basically glorified gift cards) at stores that offer gift cards? Drugstores, Walmart, etc all have gift card racks… more mainstream than comic shops too…

  2. Johanna Says:

    The whole point of this endeavor is to keep comic shops (and their distributor) from being cut out of the loop, so what you propose doesn’t meet Diamond’s needs. It does make sense for a company like Comixology to do, though.

  3. Rob McMonigal Says:

    I was gonna write something about this, but I think I’d just be duplicating you. Basically, I don’t see how this helps retailers because who needs a “reading copy” these days. Are there people who actually think comics printed today have value? This is 1990s thinking from the comics industry. Shocking, I know.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Well, they’re not the only ones trying to bring back the 90s — look at DC’s creator list for September.

    If you assume that there will always be comic fans, then this would be a great time to collect, because print runs are so low. But that assumes that there will be readers in 10 years or so who care about what’s being printed today and will want hardcopies.

  5. Edward Sizemore Says:

    I see the whole enterprise as inherently silly. I’m moving to digital to get rid of physical books and the storage space they take up. Also, I’m only willing to purchase my digital comics digitally. I like the convenience of online purchasing. If I get a wild hair at 3 AM and want some new Hellboy story I want to download then and there, not wait until the next business day and have to drive to a comic store to get a code. I still shop at my local comic store but now it’s for books I can’t get digitally.

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