Marvel made the media rounds at SXSW yesterday and most of the announcements were for things off in the future. SXSW is fast becoming Marvel’s mainstream outreach equivalent of SDCC. That’s right. SXSW isn’t really about the Direct Market comics fan. It’s about getting Marvel’s name and their *digital* offerings in the mind set of the world’s tech community.
Those aren’t comic sites and, for the most part, they have a larger readership. The “venture” in Venture Beat is venture capital. Marvel isn’t looking to get funding, they’re looking to market their digital comics to people in the tech industry. It should be a decent demographic match. Techies tend to have read comics at some point in their life and a pretty healthy portion of them have tablets, which are the consumption device of choice for digital comics.
This is Marvel’s best chance of the year to get inserted into that space. As a result, we get some immediate products and some things far off in the future (so they have an excuse to talk about something to the press).
The immediate announcements:
The long overdue iOS editions of the rebranded “Marvel Unlimited.” I’m looking at the App Store ratings for that right now. 191 ratings in and it’s averaging 2.5 stars. A lot of 1 star ratings and angry reviews. Crashes. The library feature isn’t working for everyone. Problems logging in. The usual missing issues problem.
Marvel Unlimited is a good idea that just hasn’t been managed very well to date. To look at the App store reviews, the app may have been rushed out for SXSW and probably needs some updates to fix it. We all know the comic selection has some odd gaps. This is all fixable, but it’s going to take some time. It’s not Netflix yet. They need to be a little more upfront about things like the update schedule, too. We’ll see if this all gets fixed or it continues to lie in the background. At this point, I’d say it’s a whole lot more useful to the new fan or someone who’s been lapsed for several years (and has verified what he wants to catch up on is online right now).
Then you’re got the Comixology-powered “700 free #1 issues” promotion. You may have had a little trouble getting on Comixology on Sunday? That means the promotion was successful in phase 1. We’ll see how many people it drives to start picking up digital copies on a regular basis. (Well, actually we won’t see. That data’s kept pretty quiet.) We’ll also see if there’s a print trickle down. Normally the print trickle down comes in the form of graphic novel sales. (We’ll also see if anyone protests all the Orson Scott Card comics in that promotion.)
But those two announcement are immediate.
Then you’ve got Blair Butler hosting a web show for Marvel. No launch date on that, but they’re at least far enough along to have shot a promo trailer. Butler is a good pickup for Marvel. She’s got legitimate geek cred between her time with G4 and her comic over at Image. I get the impression this is going to be an attempt to link the movie promotion with the comics promotion and try and pull in some of the old G4 audience. Makes sense.
Then you’ve got the _July_ launch of the Infinity digital comics. Well… it’s an excuse to get in front of the media and talk about the app and the free #1s. DC’s been doing weekly digital comics for awhile now. It’s no shock Marvel’s finally getting around to it. The rest of the names involved will be interesting. Will there be star power behind it, aside from co-writers?
Finally, you’ve got the “Project Gamma” thing. This is what got most of the tech press attention. Marvel’s _eventually_ going to have sound tracks for some of the digital comics. Is it a reaction to some of the motion comics revival we’re seeing, with places like MadeFire having sound effects and music? Possibly. And yes, done right, music and sound effects can add to the comic. Particularly with something in the Infinity/motion comics wheelhouse. It all depends on how well it’s done. No schedule was released for when this will actually get implemented. But, it got everything else a lot of coverage.
Will the tech press come back when the Infinity comics and Project Gamma comics go live? Not in the force they did for SXSW, one of tech’s equivalents to SDCC. But Marvel got their attention.
If none of this really grabbed you, you might not have been the audience they were going for.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.