Beginning this June, Marvel Comics will be including free digital copy codes in all their $3.99 comics. These free codes can only be redeemed for a digital copy of the same physical copy of the comic the code is paired with. The codes will be redeemable via the Marvel App for iOS and Android devices.
Marvel Senior Vice President-Sales David Gabriel had this to say about the initiative:
“We’ve seen a tremendous response to the digital codes in Avenging Spider-Man, our Season One graphic novels and the Ultimate Comics line. (Marvel) …is committed to bringing fans the best value in comics. By including codes for free digital copies on the Marvel Comics app we are doing just that.”
For the last few months, Marvel Comics has been testing the “digital waters” in the titles Gabriel mentions in the quote. I get that it apparently has caused a “…tremendous response…”, but the phrase that strikes as being somewhat disingenuous (and more on the HYPE side) is the “best value in comics” part of the statement. I also understand that any “sales position” (especially the VP position Gabriel is in) is mostly PR… But let’s be blunt: It costs Marvel almost NOTHING to include these digital download codes for their already existing clientele.
Since I’ve already made it clear I think Marvel’s $3.99 per comic price tag is pretty much a rip-off to begin with… I don’t see how including a free digital copy for the SAME comic makes the book you’re holding in your hands a “better” value. But I can see how Marvel, using the right words, can make some in the public believe that. It’s all about the perceived value, isn’t it? I’m sure some people will see a free digital copy of a comic as a bonus– but for actual thinking consumers, it’s kind of a joke.
Even worse, this new offer also seems like it could have a damaging effect on the industry as we know it. Until just recently, Marvel included digital codes in some of their more recent comics, but those books were polybagged.
Now, imagine every $3.99 Marvel comic on the stands in June being polybagged. Customers would no longer be able to flip though Marvel’s more expensive comics. You would have no idea whether the creative teams listed on the bag are actually the ones working on the issue (which happens frequently). You would no longer be able to check if you are actually getting 20 pages of story and art instead of say, 17— like in a previous issue of Moon Knight. Putting blind faith in any company that shuffles the creative aspects of their products with little or no notice is only something the most ignorant of consumers would do.
Marvel obviously recognized that encasing every $3.99 comic book in plastic was a ridiculous, costly idea… And did away with the ugly polybags, replacing them with a printed code covered by a sticker. (Thanks for the update Tiger Topher!)
But here’s the problem with this code system: Marvel could easily start poaching your local comic shop’s customers. These codes are not intended to attract new customers. They are meant to be added feature for existing comic book readers… And the more these customers get used to the “ease” of downloading digital comics, the more likely it is they could just stop buying physical copies of comics altogether. If this happens, Marvel will have effectively cut out the “middle man”– YOUR local comic shop. The money will now ALL flow directly to Marvel.
I am really interested in what our readers think about this. Do you believe this is a good or bad move on Marvel’s part? Is it a benefit or a detriment to the industry? Will you miss your local store… Or the variety many comic shops offer– if Marvel converts their primary readership to digital formats?
The last question may seem extreme now… But these are all baby steps that could easily lead to something else. As a comic retailer with some 20 years of experience– I can tell you with a certainty that almost every comic shop will go out of business (or have to morph into some other kind of shop almost entirely)– if Marvel converts their primary output to digital sometime in the future.