The Digital Controversy

The internet has gone wild today with news that Marvel’s entire Ultimate line of comics will join the single-title Avenging Spider-Man with printing a free digital code of the comic inside the print issue so that people buying the comic can get some extra value with their $3.99 price tag at little cost to Marvel themselves.

And retailers are freaking out.

Larry’s Comics on Twitter, the biggest proponent of the retailer hashtag #comicmarket, is joined by a few other retailers who vocally believe that the printing of the digital code in the back of the issues is Marvel trying to entice readers away from local comic stores and into just buying digital comics. They think Marvel’s trying to cut out the middle man and get all the profit for themselves. Because of this, they’re trying to boycott shelf sales (basically non-pull list copies) of the Ultimate line of comics in response to this perceived attack on their way of business.

To them, I say, how does that make any sense?

As an average, off-the-street comic book reader, when I go and buy my $3.99 comic, I’m damn glad that I have a print copy of the book to back up spending that much money per issue. I could never justify spending $3.99 on a digital comic just because Marvel gave me a teaser of what digital comics are like when they gave me that digital code for free. I don’t think Marvel is trying to suck away business, because I can’t see it working in any way, shape, or form.

Comic books aren’t doing too hot lately. Can we all at least admit that? Good. It’s the truth. I think that boycotting good comics from good creators is something that just hurts the market in general. If you’re not carrying Hickman’s Ultimates because of some kind of shaky moral high ground, and you have a customer who loves Hickman’s FF and wants to read more of his current superhero comics, you just lost a sale. You have a customer who loved Paco Medina’s art from X-Men early last year and wants to know where he can find the guy’s work lately, but you aren’t carrying Ultimate X-Men because you think Marvel’s out to get you? You just lost a sale. You want to support the introduction of half-black, half-Hispanic Miles Morales as the new star of Ultimate Spider-Man, but you’re thinking you better not, because Marvel will assuage your fears about digital distribution if you pull support from a well-written book featuring a character that a lot of people can relate to? Well, Marvel will probably think it’s because readers aren’t responding to Miles Morales, not because the retailers are quaking in fear of a nonexistent threat. And when folks come in off the street because there’s still buzz going around about the “black Spider-Man,” well, you just lost a sale.

As for me? I didn’t redeem my digital copy at all. I gave my digital code to a friend who doesn’t read comics. I told him if he likes what he read, he can come with me next month and buy a copy of Avenging Spider-Man #2 himself to keep reading the story.

It’s up to local comic shops to encourage growth like that themselves. You want comics to succeed and keep showing up as a reader? Introduce your friends to them. You want your store to thrive? Encourage your customers to help their friends find a comic that they’ll love.

Don’t blame a faceless corporation that you think is trying to steal your business in a plan that doesn’t make any sense.

****

Hunter Lambright is a nerd. A huge nerd. Nerd enough to be editor-in-chief of premier fan-fiction site Marvel Omega. But despite his nerdiness, you can follow him on Twitter, find him on various forums under the handle of “Crawler,” and e-mail review copies (if you really want a blog that no one reads to review your stuff) at hrlambright@gmail.com . 

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