By Todd Allen
Digital comic downloads are a bit of a strange market. (Note: I’m talking about paid/legal downloads.) The big thrust, thus far, has been the battle of proprietary formats. Comixology has their own format. iVerse has a format. Graphic.ly has a format. Apple has a format. Amazon has a format. If you’re from New Jersey, you’ll probably want to tell me my mother has a format. Well, as of the ComicsPro meeting, the focus has changed a little, because now Diamond officially has a comics app.
Let’s step back from the old issues of file rental vs. file ownership and proprietary format. When iVerse rebrands a browser as the Diamond browser, we’re taking a cognitive move back towards the distribution issue. Who is going to be distributing comics to consumers? It breaks down into two types of storefronts: publishers and stores.
At this point, most of the major publishers have an app or storefront of their own. For DC and Marvel, Comixology is their vendor, but the consumer may not be immediately aware of the connection. Particularly if the consumer is more of a casual reader, than an active hobbyist. (If you want to argue there aren’t any casual readers left, let’s save that for another thread.) Dark Horse and Slave Labor run their own store front. In all these cases, and a few I didn’t mention, the consumer goes to the publisher’s app and effectively buys from the publisher.
The second category is the store. Comixology’s website and main app is a store. Ditto Graphic.ly and Panelfly. In these cases, the stores are run under their own tech and formats. For Diamond, they’re also doing a store and iVerse becomes their vendor. Now, if you’re a physical store running an affiliate program from Comixology, your website will fall into this category. Presumably, Diamond will be rolling out a more robust affiliate program. At least that’s what I’m reading into the following comment:
As iVerse’s CEO Michael Murphey put it: “By adding the Digital Reader App into the Diamond Digital program, we’re completely removing our own digital store. This is a much cleaner solution for retailers and will give them the same kind of tools companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are using to sell digital on these devices.”
This is opening up a whole new can of worms. In recent years, we started out with textbook channel conflict (retailers enraged that publishers sell directly to the customers, be it subscriptions or digital — even if the digital is really through a third party), now we’re seeing the last major print distributor standing emerge as a competitor to the retailers in a digital setting.
Am I over-reacting? Look at it this way: if the iVerse app (Comics+) is rebranded as the Diamond Digital Comics Reader, then Diamond is now selling directly to the consumer. If the consumer downloads that off the iStore or Android Market, will they have to set a default retailer for an affiliate program/payment? Yes, you can make an argument that the average comic retailer is going to need a technology partner for digital comics (although most of this is due to proprietary viewing formats). Still, this is getting murkier by the minute.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what percentages are involved with this theoretical new affiliate program, but the pure _distribution_ side of digital just heated up.
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.