The Biggest Digital Challenge: Pricing

I didn’t mean for today to turn into “The World in Digital” in terms of posting, but most of the stories coming out of convention season that interested me related to that area, since it’s a brave new world for the industry.

And the biggest issue remains: how much will it all cost? Jim Campbell does a cost analysis of comic creation to argue that digital distributors are taking too big a cut, which requires publishers to sell more electronic copies to make a profit. Based on a reasonable 99-cent price, the difference between the traditional distribution model and the digital one is about 5,000 copies — that many more digital comics are needed to sell to make the same profit. As he says:

at least some online comic distributors have fashioned a business model that is even less favourable to publishers than the one Diamond uses, despite having lower overheads.

From a fan perspective, Eric Burns-White uses lots of words to point out that buying all of the 52 series costs $54 on Amazon, while on Comixology, it will run you $102. Because of the per-issue pricing, digital is almost twice as much as print when it comes to back issues. He has some complicated pricing suggestions to remedy this.

I found that link via Brigid Alverson’s piece on the subject, which makes a key distinction between current and catalog work:

Marvel, DC, and Archie comics have over 50 years’ worth of comics whose costs were paid off decades ago. The creators should continue to get royalties, of course, but aside from that, every cent a publisher makes on those comics is pure profit, which should offset the costs of the newer comics. And if you look at comments on digital comics, these are the comics people hate to pay more than 99 cents for.

Many people are still waiting for a comic Netflix, a flat-rate all-you-can-read subscription, but that seems like a far-off dream at this point. Unless copyright violation doesn’t bother you.

17 Responses to “The Biggest Digital Challenge: Pricing”

  1. Scott Says:

    I’m fairly certain that Comixology is getting more money than Diamond and the printer are. Retailers are only getting $1.30 for each $3.00 comic from DC in September, and that’s far smaller than what we’d get from Diamond.

    CMX’s cut is pretty hefty, indeed.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    I thought Marvel had a $20/month, read all you want service? (Though with even less availability than Netflix Streaming…)

  3. James Schee Says:

    If CMX is getting a hefty fee, then I hope they & others improve their user interface. They are really clunky to use right now on my IPad 2, I hate having to go back through the entire list to download every comic I want. Plus the My Comics section needs a way to sort comics a lot better too.

  4. Tom Ramirez Says:

    Bigger question for some of us: What’s the royalty cut paid to publishers?

  5. Eric Gimlin Says:

    One thing I keep liking to throw into this discussion: there are a LOT of comic books that have passed into the Public Domain when the copyright was not renewed or even not registered in the first place, and are available freely and legally. I know that the books that fall in this category are far from the most wanted ones by a lot of people, but I always get frustrated when people completely conflate “scanned” with “pirated”. And at least some of the books are now related to the biggest publishers- a lot of the early MLJ books were not renewed, same with large chunks of the books from Fawcett, Charlton, and Quality.

  6. James Moar Says:

    “I thought Marvel had a $20/month, read all you want service?”
    It’s $10/month (or $5/month for a year’s subscription), and it’s kind of strange how it gets left out of digital discussions.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Is the Marvel service being kept updated with new publications?

    Tom, along those lines, how much is paid to creators? Marvel worked for three years on a royalty program, and I have yet to hear that they’re actually paying for reuse of work.

  8. James Moar Says:

    “Is the Marvel service being kept updated with new publications?”

    Average of 5 new books a weekday.

  9. Johanna Says:

    So 25 books a week? Not bad! How long does it take a new comic to make it to the service? If I wanted to read the latest issue of Avengers Academy, for example? Does Marvel list the contents anywhere?

  10. Ralf Haring Says:

    I think they only have the first two issues of Avengers Academy online – . So they’re clearly they’re not keeping certain titles up to date. It looks like they list what comes out each week at . The most recently published title from this week’s list is from September of last year. Had Marvel announced that they were going day-and-date yet? Or was that just DC?

  11. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for that link, Ralf, that was what I was curious about.

    Marvel did announce that they were doing same-day digital release, but only with big properties when they had an obvious jumping on point. For example, the two new X-Men books coming out with #1s in October and November.

  12. Ralf Haring Says:

    I will say that finding the Avengers Academy books took a few passes. At one point there was a section for “Avengers family” titles which didn’t include it (or many other Avengers series I know exist). So a better search engine is probably desirable.

  13. Bill Williams Says:

    WOWIO still has their sponsored download model working. This month, DirecTV is underwriting customer downloads including my awesome cat book.

    The books are PDFs which means you can keep them if the company goes away.

  14. Atom! Freeman Says:

    At the ICV2 Digital Conference, Bob Wayne addressed the pricing question as it relates to the Amazon pricing you mention. Essentially DC controls the Comixology pricing and is legally bound from controlling the pricing of resellers.

    Also, the average retailer gets closer to 1.65 on a 3.00 pricepoint.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for the information! Always good to have facts to fill in the speculation.

    It’s a sign of a robust market that there are sales, deals, and used copies available, in my opinion, which affects how many options there are to buy at places like Amazon. Since there’s no legal resale market for digital, companies can keep prices fair (from their perspective) / high (customer view), leading to discrepancies like that pointed out in the linked article.

    I don’t think it’s always the case that companies value their products more highly than customers do, but it seems to be so the majority of the time.

  16. Atom! Freeman Says:

    But, that’s the push/pull of a free market innit? I would worry too much about pricing. When digital sales stop their exponential spike, expect prices to start falling. Until the, none of the pubs wants to cut open their golden goose.

  17. Dark Horse Goes Same-Day Digital, Raising the Price Debate Once Again » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] the hard-core comic buyer often gets a 10-20% discount from their retailer. Or there are the more obvious price discrepancies once you start looking at collections available used vs. individual digital copy prices. Since […]




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