So, that link up there is to Amazon’s page for the collected Avengers vs. X-Men hardcover. I couldn’t find a solicitation for it from Marvel directly, which is too bad, because the Amazon discount kind of messes with the point I want to make. Which is this: The Avengers vs. X-Men collection comes really, really close to being what I think digital comics need to be in order to be a viable money-maker. The key to it is that the collection — 528 pages — comes with a free download code for the entire book, to read on your tablet.
That’s a big deal. Single issues have been coming with download codes for a while now, but what’s the point? It takes, what, 10-12 minutes to read most 22 page comics? On my iPad, it takes me 3-4 minutes just to open the proper app, type the code with my clumsy thumbs, and complete the download. It’s not worth the time involved to get your comics digitally that way, especially since single-issues are light and easily portable anyway. A 500+ page hardcover collection, though, is not something I am going to pack up and take with me on an airplane, so this is a good thing.
Here’s what’s missing: let me pre-order the collection (at full price, sure, I don’t need the Amazon discount) and then give me access to everything that will be in it via the app as it’s released. Hell, make me go into my local comic book store to do it — set it up as a retailer exclusive, so we don’t rush the job of putting the stores out of business any more than we already have just by our changing consumer habits. But give me the opportunity to go down to Austin Books, pay $75 for a pre-order of the hardcover, and then give me the content in it for my iPad — which you’re already going to give me in a few months — right now.
Because for a long time, the industry’s made its money off of people who buy the single issue when it comes out, and then buy the collection when that’s released — taxing its most loyal customers by forcing them to buy things twice. This is not a very good business model (proof: the industry is dying!), and it’s not sustainable.
I know lots of people who feel entirely justified in downloading comics from torrent sites as they are released, and then buying the collections when they’re available. Who has space for all those long-boxes anymore? A big part of the fun of being a comics fan is being part of the conversation about comics as it’s occurring, and having something to look forward to each Wednesday. Right now, Marvel and DC charge you for that experience, and then they also charge you for the same material in a format that will look good on your shelf.
It’s silly, and it’s an easy thing to fix. Digital comics are too expensive (which the companies themselves seem to know: DC releases its tablet-only Legends Of The Dark Knight title for a dollar an issue every week, and Marvel’s 70-some page Infinite Comics are half the price of their 22-page regular titles), and thus people rarely buy them. You can’t lower the price of the titles that have print counterparts without infuriating comic shop owners, and probably driving them out of business. But you probably can sell pre-orders like this — 23 issues for $75, with a collected edition to follow — through your LCS and treat your customers right, your retailers well enough that they wouldn’t revolt, and take better advantage of the tablets that it’s obvious are the future of the industry.