After enduring years of poor sales, comic book companies and their distributors have entered a renaissance, mostly spurred by the spectacular success of superhero movies. A less flashy contributor to the industry's ascent however is the proliferation of digital comic books.
Tablets are the ideal device to display the graphically rich world of comics, and since slates have become dramatically more affordable in recent years, digital comic books have steadily gained popularity. But two recent events suggest that the comic book industry may not be as ready for this digital world as fans would hope — which in turn highlights some common consumer anxieties about investing in digital media in general.
When Marvel announced at SXSW that it would team up with digital comic provider comiXology to give away digital downloads of over 700 Marvel comics, fans were elated, and our own readers made it one of the hottest deals of the week. The offer proved to be so popular in fact that it crashed the comiXology servers within the first 24 hours. "We expected a high degree of excitement for the Marvel initiative — and had believed ourselves prepared — but unfortunately we became overwhelmed by the immense response," said comiXology CEO and co-founder David Steinberger in a statement on the company's blog. "We're still struggling to keep our systems up." In the end, Marvel and comiXology suspended the promotion indefinitely, leaving many fans disappointed.
That same week, JManga, a slightly lesser-known digital comic service specializing in Japanese manga comics, announced that it was going out of business and deleting its entire catalog — including content in user accounts that had already been paid for. According to a statement on the JManga site, as of May 30 "users will no longer be able to view digital manga content on JManga.com. At this time all purchased and free digital manga content will be erased from all JManga Member's accounts." Furthermore, the site stipulates that there's no way for users to download their purchased content before it's erased. The Digital Reader, an e-content blog, cites this as an example of DRM gone horribly wrong: "All that was accomplished with JManga was that the legitimate customer was punished for being honest and paying for the content they received. The pirates, on the other hand, weren't bothered at all."
Here we have two separate conundrums, both indicative of two major problems facing digital comics: popularity and piracy. On the one hand, comiXology, a website solely dedicated to the distribution of digital comics, greatly underestimated its ability to respond to high levels of demand. On the other, JManga's desire to protect its content from pirates punished its paying customers. And in both cases, eager digital comic book customers were left extremely disappointed.
So what do you make of all this, readers? Comic book fans are certainly embracing the new digital content, but are comic book providers ready for the digital age? Have you downloaded any digital comic books? Did you encounter any snags in the process? Do you trust digital media purchases in general? Sound off in the comments below.
Update: Marvel has worked out the bugs to its free promotion, again offering consumers the ability to register for a specific time slot to download the comics. The publisher hopes to avoid overloading the ComiXology site by controlling when everyone accesses the files. To register, click here.
Front page photo credit: Google Play
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