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The Cost of E-Books and the Future of Digital Comic Books

Most of of what I read and the discussions about the problems of the digital age seem to revolve around privacy issues, identity theft, and how the new iPhone’s connector doesn’t work with the rest of the iGadgets. The first two are of course serious problems, but generally we are living in a truly amazing time. Someone in grade school today might never have to buy an actual college textbook.

I have for some time been working on digitizing my life. That stack of boxes there? That’s all that is left of my once formidable library – the tablet (also pictured) holds the rest. I’ve always been a gadget aficionado and early adopter. I owned one of the first commercially available MP3 players of all time, and haven’t purchased a CD in over a decade; it was a natural extension to buy the iPad on day one, and start moving my library over as well. Since its release I don’t think I have purchased a single physical book. I recently read a great article that reminded me of my greatest frustration when switching to a minimalist, digital lifestyle: the outrageous price they try to charge you for pixels and bits.

I know, because I had to weigh them in the autumn of 2001, I had 700lbs of books. Gradually (I have moved several times since) I grew tired of schlepping this treasure trove around, and sought a better way. Until the last few years, there really hasn’t been one though – all one could do is be discerning about which books you owned and which you borrowed from the library.

I used to spend a couple hundred dollars a year between local used book stores and Barnes and Noble; today all of that money goes to Amazon instead. Oh, I was an early adopter of ordering from Amazon too, but there was something about the feel of a good bookstore that kept me loyal until I went digital. Since then, I’ve tried to be tolerant of digital vendors’ desire to rip me off. I really have. The last straw for me was when I opted to buy the digital four-pack of “A Game of Thrones,” in preparation for “A Dance of Dragons” to give me more flexibility in reading locations, and it was several dollars more than the same four-pack in paperback. I was very annoyed.

Publishers don’t think that consumers know what margins are, and most of the time they’re probably right – but I think just about everyone knows that it costs less to send an email than to print out a few hundred pages. If they wanted to lower the price to whatever their profit margin is on the other version, I could live with that even, but they actually want more when I buy it the second time. I don’t understand how they think this is okay, though there must be some wisdom to it because I paid. I bought a couple of dozen titles at that $9.99 boundary they love so much until I made the mistake of purchasing Brin’s latest work, a 3/10 prequel to his famous uplift material, that I made the mistake of paying $12 for. Since then I have stayed below the $5 mark when book buying, and have given my money as much as possible to indie authors; it’s much better to regret wasting the hours it took to read a $2 book than a $10 one after all.

But at least I buy digital books. I can’t say the same about digital comic books.

Sure, I buy them off of indie sites and Kickstarter projects, but never off all these fancy new apps. I love digital comic books, but I will NOT pay the full price or greater that the major try to charge for their DRM locked down monstrosities. I have zero interest. I would love to be giving Marvel $.99 or $1.49 several times a week to pick up all my favorite titles, and frankly I find it very frustrating that they won’t find a better way to move into a digital age.

Given that they have so much content to offer, this is very frustrating. They could be offering to let people read their silver age and golden age backlog for $50/year. They could be charging subscriptions to read every issue of the X-Men or Green Lantern. Their price point, just as the article that started this rant off said, is there to shield their print businesses, not make a profit in this new media. The only problem is that .CBR and .CBZ files are available all over the internet. If they figure out a way to make a DRM .CBR file, and charge me $.99 a copy, then I will give till it hurts – until then… Well, I stopped buying graphic novels a couple of years ago.

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This entry was posted by David Winchester.

5 thoughts on “The Cost of E-Books and the Future of Digital Comic Books

  1. I best start this reply with saying. . Dave, you are my friend…. BUT haha! I can only speak on the comic book front, having owned and operated a comic store for 8 years. It is my thought (and I have to pay the same price as you for the digital comic) that the big boys, Marvel and DC, have to placate somewhat to brick and mortars.
    I remember there being talk long ago, when comics went to web download, before the tablet craze, that if it ever really took off, that they would charge the same price, as to not cannibalize sales from the people that got them where they are today.
    As a result, it was up to us (the store owners) to create the reason to buy locally. . . think of the atmosphere, the camaraderie between shopkeep and patron, the friendships that form between customers that see each other once a week on Wednesdays to discuss their favorite titles and why they like them. Even the smell of a comic shop has an unspoken allure. (and no I don’t mean the smell of a game store, that is a totally unwanted, and somehow un-avoidable thing).
    So I leave you with that piece of knowledge, that sometime long ago when Marvel and DC went “digital” as far as web comics were concerned, that they often said they would not discount the books in fairness to the local comic shops.

    • Thank you Jeff, for your perspective. I welcome debate on all the issues I raise here, so by all means, disagree! Your points, and experience are of course very valid in this discussion, and I’m glad you chimed in. Where as I am only a reader, you are infinitely more involved in the commercial aspects than I.

      You think the price point is more protectionism than greed then? That’s entirely possible. Don’t you think they could be doing more wither older catalog a la Netflix, or Googles ‘Play,’ to provide a fan service though? Or do you think this would negatively impact another powerful constituency: the collectors?

  2. I love my kindle. I have intentionally not bought books that I wanted to read because they weren’t on the kindle. I mean, fuck it, I want to read 100 books at any given time. Why not prefer the one I can read on my phone?

    The only problem with kindle is it doesn’t support non-standard characters very well and it makes it impossible to use for programming and math books. I have an entire bookshelf of just programming/math books and it is a pain in the ass that I can’t transfer them over to digital. I wish the technology would hurry up and improve non-standard characters instead of making them color and having them play movies because I want all my books on my kindle already.

  3. I understand completely, though I don’t see the need to have another tablet just for reading, I love many of the kindle’s features. I wish they would port over the book loaning bit to the app.

  4. Pingback: Digital Storage « Caffeineforge

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