So the big boys have been catching up with the independents in a three new developments. Two of them are great from an independent creator’s point of view, and one doesn’t bode so well. And you’ll be surprised at which one I’m worried by.
1) DC launchs DC2
DC2 is essentially a new sub-brand for their experiments in form, like my own comics, or the work on thrillbent.com – the difference is that they have Batman in theirs so they get a Wired article. This is not bad for independents like me, this is good. While they might be coming a little late to the format party, Batman will expose more readers to the format than McCaw & Co ever could. Plus, part me of me just fantasises about people in the DC offices are looking at sites like mine to inform their own work.
Indie response: A rising tide floats all ships.
2) Comixology launches digital subscriptions
You can now subscribe to comics of interest in Comixology, meaning comics are automatically delivered to your device (and charged to your account) as and when they are released. Here is an example (hint hint, nudge nudge). No more tracking release dates, or checking in, or falling behind on a comic series. Sure, most mainstream comic readers will just load their pull lists with Walking Dead or the Avengers, and possibly browse new titles less, but if an indie using Comixology’s Submit program can create a killer issue 1, (and get some exposure) she can hold those readers amongst all the distracting articles about Black/Gay/Ghost Spiderman.
Indie Response: Anything to help new titles retain readers against the tide of PR and advertising is a good thing.
3) Image launches DRM-Free downloads direct from their site
Everyone in the digital space is aware that we don’t *really* own the digital comics that we purchase from Comixology. If you can’t sell it or lend it, you don’t own it. Sure, you can log into your account and read them wherever you wish (which is cool), but that’s different. You can imagine how this happened – Comixology has done some very big deals with some very big companies to get to where they are. And some of those companies are likely a little old-school when it comes to protecting their intellectual property.
Image has long been regarded as the most indie of the big comic publishers, and with good reason. They are widely regarded as offering the best deals to people interested in creating and retaining control over their own stories, and they’re doing very nicely, thank-you-very-much , taking out the two top slots for Graphic Novel sales in June 2013.
It’s a weird day when an independent speaks out about against DRM-Free or selling direct to consumers. Heck, you can buy my comics direct from me (so I retain more of the price), as DRM-Free downloads from my site. Webcomic folk have been doing it for years, as have the smaller digital comic retailers like Drive Thru Comics.
It’s where it needs to go. We all win when we go DRM-Free; the audience gets more flexibility, digital products have more value and there’s a better relationship between consumer and producer. But the transition might be nasty for independents, and here’s why.
Browsing. Right now it’s easier to get my comics in front of browsing comics readers than it ever has been. Moth City has been on the front page of the Comixology app and webstore at the same time as Superman, Wonder Woman and Straight-Spiderman. Sweet. You could argue that it’s easier to reach digital readers all over the world via Comixology than it is to reach local readers via print and local retailers. Comixology and Comic book stores are a little like playboy – we all hope people come for the tantalising pic’s (Brand-X Superhero crossover event) but they might stay for the articles (independent, character-driven mini-series).
Basically browsing is an indie’s chance to entice a brand-conscious comic reader (and we must be the most publisher-focused crowd in all of publishing) with our work and entice them to try something new. Image is the hip, creator-friendly, professional-indie publisher. If I could go to their store, and buy their comics, direct and without DRM I might do it. And I might browse their selection, and I might never find all those indie comics published by others.
So it’s fear. Plainly. I’m worried that the best chance indie authors have of reaching the mainstream audience is going to be diluted just as its really starting to work. And I’m worried that segmented purchasing is going to blindside comic buyers even further than brands and legacy characters already have.
Now, you can’t stop Image from doing this – the consumer and creator in me believes they’re making the right decision.
The answer is for Comixology to respond in kind. To completely revamp their systems, allowing purchasers full rights to download, move and lend comics purchased. As a seller on their platform they would have my permission. But would they ever get it from those big companies with big fears that I referred to earlier.
Indie Response: I liked it better when all the big publishers where gruff and old-fashioned. Waaaaaaaa… (Or, How I Left My Point of Difference at the Playground and Lost Exposure)