After a few glitches, like a site crash, Marvel’s comics online program — Digital Comics Unlimited or DCU– rolled out yesterday. While that name DCU keeps reminding us of something else, although we can’t remember just what, generally speaking, we’re thrilled, because it means more books we were keeping around for reference can now be cleared away. Of course, we found the interface just as clunky as most online comics reading interfaces, but it isn’t really aimed at us. We only read comics online in a pinch; others may find it more satisfying. We could sorta read a whole page on the roomy 17″ monitor of out iMac, but on the 12″…forget it! (We did like the “page turning” effect, though.) Over at MySpace, of all places, Douglas Wolk interviews Marvel’s John Dokes and EIC Joe Quesada on the larger iTunes-for-comics ramifications:
Was there any talk of going through a central retailer like iTunes–making issues available through other means, rather than directly through Marvel?
JD: We explored a lot of different options, including partnering with other people. But at the end of the day, we felt like it was just easier for us to do internally–we have access to the files, we have access to the editorial team, and they can pick the best content to put up online.
Marvel’s comics are already circulating on the Internet–what’s your take on the online file-sharing of comics?
JD: I think the other thing that we’re offering here is really a legal way to read our comics. I think there are going to be people out there who are going to go to those sites; I think most of our loyal fans, once they know that we have somewhere they can go to purchase comics online, and make sure that we’re able to reward our fans with a large library, and our creators with a way to protect their investment, I think they’re going to come and purchase comics through Marvel.
JQ: Let me also say that as a creator, the whole bootlegging thing just doesn’t hit me the right way. In the comics industry for the last 60 to 80 years, there have always been people who have been clamoring about creators’ rights and making sure that creators get their due, and I can’t help but think that every time someone downloads a comic for free and illegally, they’re really going against that particular wish. As a creator, even outside of Marvel, that’s always been troublesome to me. I think this is a much better system, where you can do this, do it legally, and the right way.
He also asks the key question:
Is Marvel paying royalties to creators when people read comics online with Digital Comics Unlimited?
JD: That’s part of our plan.
Hm, wonder if this was part of Marvel’s recent move to get people to sign “Special characters” contracts?
When works that were created to be consumed in book form go online, things get rougher. It’s the literary equivalent of trying to surf the Web on your phone. The layouts just don’t look right, and there’s a lot of scrolling involved. I was discussing the matter a few weeks ago with a fellow comics reviewer; she said that after taking an informal survey of our peers, she discovered nearly everyone would rather receive a comic in book form or even as a galley (a paper-clipped preview of the book) than as a PDF.
That said, it’s tough to argue with free. Marvel Comics, the home of Spider-Man and the X-men–and arguable the most popular publisher in the medium–has announced plans to republish original issues online.
Motley Fool didn’t think it would be an immediate stock boost:
But let’s be fair about what that means. Having DCU probably won’t do much for revenue. Operating income and cash flow could enjoy a modest boost, however. Think about it; Marvel’s sole cost for previously published editions would be royalties, hypothetically.
If I’m gonna pay for a comic I want to be able to retain a copy; be that in paper or digital format.