Looking to expand the “buy print, get digital free” model for their comics which began with this month’s AVENGING SPIDER-MAN, Marvel has announced
that every issue in the Ultimate line will be sold with a code for a free digital download of the issue. The price will remain $3.99. David Brothers interviewed Marvel’s David Gabriel and Peter Phillips for all the details. The rollout begins with ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #6, ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #7, and ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES #7, but the downloads will be available ONLY for Marvel’s DCU store on iOS and Android and the Chrome browser — the codes cannot be redeemed via comiXology’s Marvel store. According to Phillips, “We’ve got right now two different digital offerings: we’ve got the [back issues] of MDCU, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited… and then we’ve got the brand new stuff that comes out that you can buy on a by-issue basis digitally. [The codes] are focused on the latter.”
Although some retailers — namely Brian Hibbs — have taken up arms against the program, Gabriel says it has not impacted print sales, and instead is reaching a new consumer — “Digital is the new newsstand”:
DG: Yeah, we started with the same-day-as-print books about a year and a half ago, measuring what the effects were on the sales of those comics to retailers and then really watching what was going on with the backorders on those books. If the digital comics going same day as print had taken off like this monster sales horse and destroyed the in-store comic shop sales of those print books… they wouldn’t have sold out each time we did another one. The retailers wouldn’t have been looking across the board for second prints on those books. Reorders wouldn’t have been coming in on the books. I think people thought at the beginning that everyone was just gonna turn to digital to get the book and not go up to a retail shop, and we watched that not be the case time and time again.
While there is much more juicy stuff in the interview, Brothers adds his own commentary at the end, and finds the program something of a value-added program to make up for Marvel’s higher cover prices.
The Ultimate titles generally contain 20-22 pages of story, and $3.99 is a bitter pill to swallow at that length, no matter how good the story is. Marvel’s method helps make paying $3.99 for a comic book a little more reasonable; a free copy of the comic, an extra that you can give to a friend or sell later on, is an okay bandage for that wound. It’s also closer to what may be the platonic ideal of the relationship between print and digital comics. If you shell out cash for the print version, why shouldn’t you receive a digital copy for free? If you purchase a CD or record, odds are good that you’re going to get a free download code for the MP3s, and you’ll always be able to make the MP3s yourself. I can’t remember the last time I bought a movie that didn’t include a mobile version of the film. Having a free download code lets you take your comic collection on the go, or to lend out your print copy without worrying whether or not you get it back.
Gabriel — who is our new hero for using the word “trepidation” in his interview — has been making the rounds and told Newsarama as much:
David Gabriel: This is something we see in many other media, from music to movies, and it’s clear customers like not only having a physical copy of their purchases but also a digital copy to load on their mobile devices. We’re also always looking for a way to add value to our comics, especially those at the $3.99 price point and this seemed like a great option for everyone.
In their stop-off at CBR, Phillips and Gabriel answer more questions, yet raise even more:
Will your graphic novels stay available digitally when they go out of print on paper?
Gabriel: Sure, unless we don’t want them to.
While nowhere is there a whiff of an actual number, Gabriel’s talking point for digital is that it is like “adding another top ten store” which is good enough for now. Throw in veiled and disturbing references to “things that have been going on here lately” for added paranoia.