200711131054Marvel is putting out webcomics!

But they are their own comics!

Marvel’s much rumored online initiative was made public in several news stories today, starting with USA TODAY:

The comic book industry makes a long-delayed step into cyberspace today when Marvel Comics unveils the industry’s first online archive of more than 2,500 back issues, including the first appearances of Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk.

Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited will offer the archive in a high-resolution format on computer screens for $59.88 a year, or at a monthly rate of $9.99, at marvel.com.

New issues will be put up six months after they are released in to the direct market, a far longer period than the 36 hour delay in posting to pirate sites, as someone alludes to in the article. The comics will NOT be downloadable, however. They will only be able to be read at the Marvel site via a Flash interface.

In a show of journalmalism rarely seen in comics book quarters, writer David Colton actually asks questions:

To help sell the experience to an audience unaccustomed to paying for content, Marvel will offer a free sampler of 250 titles. Asked why people would pay for superheroes when newspaper websites have been unable to charge for content, Buckley says, “You can get the news anywhere. We’re the only ones who have Spider-Man.”

The AP’s piece is even more analytical:

Still, it represents perhaps the comics industry’s most aggressive Web push yet. Even as their creations — from Iron Man to Wonder Woman — become increasingly visible in pop culture through new movies and video games, old-school comics publishers rely primarily on specialized, out-of-the-way comic shops for distribution of their bread-and-butter product.

“You don’t have that spinner rack of comic books sitting in the local five-and-dime any more,” said Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Publishing. “We don’t have our product intersecting kids in their lifestyle space as much as we used to.”

After even a brief consideration, it’s self evident that this is an inevitable move. It’s also another coffin nail in what we think of as “normal” distribution of comics periodicals. We’re not for one moment suggesting that the graphic novel or book is going to go away — however, the normal means for dissemination of periodical comics, whether in strip or story form, is swiftly moving online.

Our second question, as prompted by a saucy Beat correspondent: are creators getting royalties on these comics?

PR in the jump:

For the first time ever, Marvel Comics, a division of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: MVL), is opening its comic book vault to the masses and making its legendary Super Hero(TM) adventures available in one location with the launch today of its online subscription service Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Curated by Marvel editors, this ultimate digital comic Internet destination allows unparalleled access to thousands of titles from Marvel’s historic comic book archives – from the first issues of Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men, Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four and other favorites, to unforgettable recent storylines, mini-series and special issues. The easy-to-navigate Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited site presents each digital comic in the highest-resolution ever available and offers innovative viewing options, user-friendly search and recommendation features, and personalized reading list tools. Accessible by both PC and MAC users directly through Marvel.com/digitalcomics as well as via the www.marvel.com homepage, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited will have subscription rates as low as $4.99/month — making it affordable to new readers and longtime fans.

Also, for a limited time only, Marvel will offer audiences the opportunity to experience Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited at no cost with a special free sampling of 250 titles. Featuring a mix of epic classics and current favorites, the free sampling program will enable users to get a true sense of this highly appealing and unique Marvel Comics online service.

“We are truly excited to be able to present in one location such an expansive treasure trove of Marvel Comics’ favorites to a mass market audience. We wanted to make sure we presented a site that would set the standard in digital comics and offer readers an affordable way to experience our vast archive of content,” said Dan Buckley, President, Marvel Publishing. “With Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, we believe we have built a state-of-the-art online destination that will not only engage comic book readers of all ages, but also serve as the ultimate complement to our primary comic hobby market print business through which all new Marvel Comics monthly titles will continue to be released before their availability in digital format.”

At launch, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited offers more than 2,500 comic books. Each week, Marvel will add at least 20 additional titles to the site that will be chosen based on editors’ picks and subscriber requests. The initial offerings will run the gamut from unforgettable classics, to current favorites, to titles designed for young readers.

Selected highlights include:

Unforgettable Classics

— The first 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man

— The first 100 issues of The Fantastic Four

— The initial 66 issue run of Uncanny X-Men

— The first 50 issues of The Avengers

— The issues marking the first appearances of such Super Heroes as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, Daredevil, and Silver Surfer

— The issues marking the first appearance of such renowned villains as Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, and Dr. Doom

— The issue that showcased the first appearance of Spider-Man’s black costume

Recent and Current Favorites

— Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men

— Selected titles from the Ultimate line including: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates

— The House of M

— Amazing Spider-Man

— New Avengers

— Young Avengers

— Runaways

Young Reader Series

— Marvel Adventures Spider-Man

— Spider-Girl

— Spider-Man & Power Pack

— Marvel Adventures Avengers

— Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four

— Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius

Each Marvel digital comic will be presented in the highest resolution ever available. To ensure this, Marvel has gone back to the original source material and optimized it for the web by painstakingly re-coloring and re-digitizing select content.

To further enhance the online reading experience, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited will offer three distinct viewing modes. Subscribers will be able to read the books in traditional single and double-page formats. Additionally, Marvel has developed an innovative, patent-pending “Smart Panel” viewing feature. In this mode, viewers will be presented with an unequaled experience as they are taken panel-by-panel through the comic book in a smooth, action-packed progression.

The user-friendly nature of the site enables subscribers to easily navigate this ultimate Marvel Comics collection. Readers can search in a variety of ways, including by character, creator (writer and illustrator), specific book title, mini-series, and date of publication.

The site’s recommendation engine will also provide subscribers with top selections based on member feedback and ratings. Additionally, subscribers will be able to customize their experience by building personal reading lists that can be shared with other members.

John Dokes, Vice President of Online Operations and Marketing, Marvel Entertainment, commented, “With Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited we have created the simplest way for fans to have instant access to our comic book content. All someone needs is an Internet connection and a computer. We have made it so that our content can be read seamlessly online, without the need to download material.”

Look for more details as they become available.


  1. Huh? I can’t decide what I think about this. Well, any innovation is positive,so I guess it’s good.

    On the one hand, $60 to be able to read all of House of M and Runaways without having to clutter up my house anymore or pay for shipping is pretty appealing,
    on the other hand,
    I’ve never liked reading comics online that were meant to be read on-line. How would I feel about scrolling through the pages?

    The real question is… can I finally find out what happens in Solarman #2?

  2. Now that I think about it, reading the old POWER PACKs and CLOAK & DAGGERs that I haven’t had a chance to hunt down would be cool. And I wonder if they’ll have the NEW UNIVERSE up on there? Hmm… it’s tempting.

  3. First, while I think this is a very nice way to present older material for those that just want to read the issues without taking up valuable space either in long boxes, on the shelves, or on the hard-drive, I have a problem with their comment about the books being at the highest resolution possible. Maybe the previews are at a lower resolution than the product once it’s bought and paid for, but on my monitor these scans look awful. The line work is jagged and the lettering fuzzy. Again, maybe this is just an issue with the previews being offered.
    Second, I too am curious how/if royalties are paid on this. While this isn’t an issue for older books, I would think new material would be questionable. Does Warren Ellis, for example, get a piece of Thunderbolts trades? Does Bendis get a cut of the Daredevil trades? And what of the artists? I thought newer contracts with creators included some royalties on trades. While I don’t see this on-line initiative cutting a huge chunk out of that money (particularly, if the on-line comics are in such a crappy resolution), but surely it will bite somewhat into trade sales of collected runs, won’t it?

  4. There servers are definitely overloaded, and I agree with Sean B. You kind of have to use the Smart Panel thingee… but it didn’t work superwell for me as I tried to look at Runaways #1. It’s buggy. I got lost.

    If it worked, though, I could see reading comics via smartpanel as being okay. NOT as good as reading the actual comic, believe me… there’s something about seeing a whole page… but good. It’s good.

    I’m going to try this out, but I’m not saying I’m dropping $60 just yet.

  5. I wonder if the standard Marvel contract covers royalties for online or digital media. If so, does Marvel simply not pay?? Is it gravy for them?

    I find the timing somewhat ironic, given that’s one of the contentious points of the WGA strike. It would really be ironic if Whedon, Heinberg or Vaughn don’t get a cut of the online Marvel stuff.

  6. As with DC’s ZUDA site (and every other comics site I’ve visited) the text is too small to read, making enlargement and panning around a neccesity.
    Seems to me the solution would be to present each individual panel at 3 to 4x the size now seen and have the reader scroll left to right only. A panel at a time. No scrolling down, scrolling back up, panning over and scrolling back down again. Of course splash pages and 2-page spreads would be a problem in that format. Maybe a larger scan that runs the width of your screen? Then you’d simply scroll down to read the next tier of panels or the next page.
    Essentially, the traditional dimensions of the comic book page is the problem here. It’s just not compatible with computer monitors.
    I don’t want to have to pan and scan to read a comic and I’m sure I’m not alone. Surely someone’s eventually going to step up and get this online comics thing right.

  7. …well, I can’t tell what I’d be surprised at since their site seems a little out of whack right now, with the entire web wanting to read Fantastic Four #48 at the same time to see if Galactus’s costume is colored in its orignal green and magenta. No? Just me?

  8. To M. Lusk: What you’re describing is basically the gyst of the “Smart Panel” thing that they have on there. Either it’s buggy or it takes developing a knack for, because it messed up for me… but that’s what they are trying to do.

  9. “We don’t have our product intersecting kids in their lifestyle space as much as we used to.”

    And at a $60/yr. or $10/month price point you won’t have many kids intersecting your webspace…especially if they can’t download them, put them on their ipod, etc…

    Whatever happened to the idea that comics were an inexpensive form of entertainment?

  10. “Whatever happened to the idea that comics were an inexpensive form of entertainment?”

    Well, if you want my single biggest gripe in comics it is this, dead on. Comics cost way, way too much. Whether they are on-line or off-line. The price of comics has risen way past the price of inflation.

    Why are we using fancy paper and high end color reproduction and whatever else drives up the price for comics? Save it for the trades of the really good stuff.

    BRING DOWN PRICES!!! Profits are likely to IMPROVE. See, “elasticity of demand.”

  11. “Whatever happened to the idea that comics were an inexpensive form of entertainment?”

    It died. They buried it in Avi Arad’s backyard and had a very nice little ceremony. They served crab cakes!

  12. BradyDale hits the nail on the head.
    I’ve been reading comics for almost 40 years. I’ve written and drawn professionally and I was a a retailer from 1996-2001.
    I love the comics medium, and seeing comics survive (especially print comics) is very important to me.

    But I have to say, every time my 7-year old wants me to buy him a copy of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, I hesitate. I hesitate, and half the time I say “no.” I remind him that he has tons of comics at home, and thousands of mine he can read.
    Because three freakin’ dollars is too much. About three times too much.
    The average parent (or young adult for that matter) looks at that $3 price tag and walks away, never to return.
    We need to make them that way again, especially with all the competing media they face.

    Now that I have reading-age kids of my own, I meet and talk to plenty of other kids their age and I can assure you: 95% of them would rather be hitched to an X-Box or PS2 than read ANYTHING.
    We have a very uphill fight on our hands.

    And yes, $10 a month for undownloadable online comics is way too much. I would think it far more desirable to attract 10x the subscribers at 1/3 that price.
    “$2.99 a month for all the comics you can read!” Works for me.

    Comics were always inexpensive entertainment til the early 80’s. Which was about the same time the readership began shrinking.
    Nevermind dollar volume, how many READERS do we have now, compared to 1967? Back when Fantastic Four sold over a quarter-million copies – as compared to the pitiful 60,000 or so it sells today?

    Whoever finds a way to make comics affordable again will reap considerable benefits. If I were Marvel, I’d make new issues available online the same day as comic shops for an additional charge of about a dollar per title. That’s more than Marvel clears per copy now, I’m sure.

    This generation of readers is not as attached to the printed page as my generation.
    My guess is the next generation will probably PREFER electronic comics delivery *and* collecting. To have every Marvel comic ever published, digitally restored and viewable with a keystroke? What a great thing. No gooey tape to remove, no disintegrating paper to protect.
    Your own mint-condition Marvel library, safely stored in cyberspace forever… I’m almost convincing myself.

    Let’s just hope Marvel doesn’t offer new comics online a week EARLY.
    I wouldn’t want to be a retailer if that happens.

  13. M.Lusk said:
    “Because three freakin’ dollars is too much. About three times too much.
    The average parent (or young adult for that matter) looks at that $3 price tag and walks away, never to return.”
    Several years ago, I was in a local store that still had comics on the rack. Comics were $1.99 then. A family walked to the book section. The kid wanted a comic. The father said it cost too much. The father then proceeded to buy a Big Truck magazine for $4.95.

    Apparently, comics are only too expensive when a kid wants it, not when a parent wants it.

    HMM??? :)

  14. This is CRAZY. This pricing is NOT too much. It costs less for unlimited comics than a trip to the movies. ONE trip. Video games cost $60+ and will not give as much entertainment bang for the buck. Three DVDs or THOUSANDS of available comics.

    I think this is the equivalent of my parents constantly going on and on about how Coke used to be a nickel and gas used to sell for a whistle and a little Fred Astaire dance. $3 for 30+ minutes of entertainment that you keep is a BARGAIN. Compare it to renting a DVD or buying 1/7 of a DVD or getting three songs from iTunes. Comics are properly priced in comparison to competitive entertainment. People who want comics to sell for a dollar do the medium a disservice. I’m just saying a bottle of soda at my job is $1.35 from the vending machine. I bet comics have always been about 3 times as expensive as soda so I think if you really freak out about how expensive comics are, consider your alternatives and how old and cheap it makes you sound. I have a nephew and his toys cost me 3 or 4 times what a comic costs.

  15. No. I remember when a comic and soda from the local convenience store were the same price. And just because so many other media are grossly overpriced doesn’t justify comics being the same. Also, a truck magazine may cost 5 bucks or better, but you are looking at 5 times as much content or better and that being the sole periodical purchase for that person for the month. If say, comics still had that range of publication and exposure it would probably go a long way toward driving down the price instead of a the premium prices we pay in today’s niche market.

    And TEN DOLLARS a month just to BROWSE Marvel’s archive? In yet another clumsy Flash viewer?! HAHAHAHA!

  16. The average joe’s perception is what matters, not the converted.
    And the average joe thinks $3 for a comic book is highway robbery.

    And no, comics have not always been 3 times as expensive as sodas. If anything, they were close to the same in price until the 1970’s, when comics began to increase dramatically in price.

    Perceived value is everything.

    Erik Grove: “I think if you really freak out about how expensive comics are, consider your alternatives and how old and cheap it makes you sound.”

    My alternatives are trade paperback collections that are reasonably priced or how about a paperback novel that will give me 20 times the entertainment time for less than twice the price of a comic book?
    I don’t think that makes me sound old; I think it makes me sound like someone who knows price-gouging when they see it.
    As fewer and fewer people buught comics, publishers charged more and more for those comics. And those increases have not been consistent with the increase in printing costs.

    Erik Grove: “I have a nephew and his toys cost me 3 or 4 times what a comic costs.”

    Apples and oranges.
    Unlike comics, toy sales haven’t dropped 70% in the last 20 years, so kids (and parents) must feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

    Average parent’s reaction to expensive toy? They’re annoyed. But they usually buy the toy if it means something to their kid.
    Same parent’s reaction to a comic’s $3 price tag? They’re incredulous. I’ve seen and heard it more times than i can count.

  17. Fanboy Menace said:
    “Also, a truck magazine may cost 5 bucks or better, but you are looking at 5 times as much content or better and that being the sole periodical purchase for that person for the month.”
    A kid will read the same comic over and over until it falls apart.

    We have no way of knowing how many magazines that guy bought every month. I only report what I actually saw that day.

  18. $10 bucks a month is still cheaper than the amount I pay per month for my subscription to play “City of Heroes”. And $60 a year is quite a bargain! $10 bucks a month is still less than I would pay if I got each title at Border’s or at my local shop.

    Once they get their servers in order, I’m going to take a serious look…

  19. This is a good thing. How many issues lie forgotten in the archives?
    My nephew (23) bought and read the recent Captain America DVD-ROM. All of it. I’m slowly perusing the MAD Magazine DVD. Yes, it’s awkward, but also very powerful. (partial word search, foldable foldins, super special extras… )
    As for the cost of comics, I would like to see Marvel And DC follow the Japanese model. Print a black and white anthology every week. Collect it in trade in color later. Sell it for $5.

  20. I can see this business model working if: you could pay the flat fee to read EVERYTHING, including this week’s comics in Flash online. Then you potentially begin to attract new readers, some of whom who might eventually want to purchase a trade at the bookstore. OR begin buying new floppy copies of a title at the local gaming and comic shop.

    As it is so far, a person would just be subscribing to an online Marvel library of back issues.

    Good start though.

  21. I don’t think it’s that bad* that users can’t read new issues immediately, as there’s already a similar existing model in the rental dvd market. Marvel’s DCU is essentially Netflix for comics. Still, the price is a little high to attract me.

    $5 a month or $40 a year and I’d consider it.

    There’s a deficit with digital in that I can’t read it on the pot or in bed or on my lunch break at the local Fuji Grill. It would take a lower price tag for me to sacrifice convenience like that.

    *note: of course being “not that bad” is not really the same as being “good” and/or “sensible” – I think that at their current price point, they’d need something like “Today’s Comics: Today!” to bring in subscribers. Maybe, I’m not sure how big a need the average reader has to remain on the edge of what’s going on. I know I’m perfectly content to wait for trade, and I’m not even the casual reader.

  22. “I don’t think it’s that bad* that users can’t read new issues immediately, as there’s already a similar existing model in the rental dvd market.”

    uh, no.

    As the former director of marketing for a dvd label, let me assure you that the day DVDs go onto shelves at the Blockbuster is the same day (every tuesday) they go on sale at a retail store.

    There’s no reason why the same couldn’t be done at Marvel.com.

    I would rather see more ads on the Marvel site and have access to cheaper comics (or free!) with additional content – forum boards, galleries, interviews, etc… then I’ll go buy the trade collection at my LCS.

  23. Ah – you mean release windows…and even those are shrinking considerably. If Mark Cuban has his way, elease windows will go away altogether. His movie BUBBLE was released day and date at theaters, on HD Net and on DVD.

    Back to comics.