|Announced on February 9th, Diamond Digital is the|
veritable distribution company's first foray into
the digital sphere
Normally, such an announcement would be heralded as an important step forward for the industry and forward motion towards the digital future that the comics medium undoubtedly faces. Unfortunately, Diamond's announcement was poorly communicated and led to all sorts of wild speculation, ranging from higher prices for digital editions to lack of iPad support to bizarre distribution schemes that made less sense than Diamond's previous resistance to going digital. Thankfully, due to the journalistic diligence of the fine folks at Robot6 via CBR, we have a much clearer picture as to just what Diamond Digital actually is.
|iVerse is having to play catch up|
to competitors Comixology
So... what is it? In terms of technology, iVerse is a comics/literature purchasing platform similar to those proffered by Comixology or Graphic.ly. If you're unfamiliar with those platforms, both offer ways for publishers to sell their comics digitally, protecting it with some form of DRM, and allow the publishers direct control over release schedule of back issues and current releases. Some of the publishers have even waded into the "dangerous" area of releasing the digital edition of the comic same day as the print edition, to somewhat mixed results. Of the three developers, Comixology leads the way, having made developed the apps for the majority of the major comics publishing companies including Marvel, DC, Dynamite, Image, Boom, Dark Horse, and more. Graphic.ly also works with Marvel and Boom, while also distributing more independent publishers such as Archaia, Archie, Devil's Due, and 12-Gauge. iVerse works largely with the same clientele as Graphic.ly, but includes more independent publishers such as Top Shelf, TOKYOPOP, and Bluewater Productions.
|iVerse's platform, ComicsPlus,|
has to play a lot of catch up
with its competition
Beyond the baffling choice of platform, Diamond's actual scheme for distribution makes some business sense, but some of the decisions make none at all. While it's clear that Diamond's main interest is to prop up existing brick and mortar stores, their methods make no sense or still haven't been properly explained. In the way of getting customers in the door, Diamond is allowing retailers to sell redemption codes both in store and through a digital storefront. The digital storefront as proposed by Diamond and iVerse is a personalized storefront for each retailer on the retailer's own website. Essentially, iVerse is envisioning a veritable swap meet of sites, all having their own iVerse-powered storefront to sell comics through. On the in-store side of things, the sales strategy gets a bit bizarre. By Diamond/iVerse's thinking, the in-store customer will buy an issue of a new series of the shelf at the comic store. Either intrigued by what they read or wanting to buy the entire story, the reader will look for the back issues. If, catastrophe of catastrophes (maybe I'm hyperbolizing a bit here), the shop should not have the back issues in stock, well then don't worry! You can purchase a digital copy of this back issue from your LCS guy who will print out a redemption code for the digital copy.
|Steam has turned gifting and impulse|
buys into an art form.
Moving on, there's the greater issue of how publishers are pricing and releasing their digital comics that needs to be addressed. Currently, the big 2 are pricing their day-and-date releases at the same price at the printed version, expecting customers to dish out equal amounts of dough for a 32 page floppy as a 30 MB file that incurs no shipping or printing cost on Marvel. Additionally, there's the problem of release dates. Unfortunately, same day release comics are the exception to the rule. Indeed, many of Marvel's and DC's digital offerings are riddled with incomplete runs and tremendous delays between print and digital release date. Examining the back issue allure of the in-store digital sales program, it's easy to imagine several customers disappointed to find out that the "back issue" they're looking for has yet to be released. However, I don't think I can fault Diamond for that one as it's up to the publishers to decide those things, but it puts a definite damper on their plans.
So, how should it be done? What comics needs is its own iTunes. It needs one central app or program where all or at least most publishers release their comics through in a DRM-free format with scheduled regularity. The price of the digital copy should be much lower than the physical copy and I think over time, the single issue physical floppy should be mostly phased out with an emphasis placed on buying the physical collections. Now before any of you cry heresy at this, and I'm sure some will anyways, let me explain my reasoning behind this platform. One central platform is more of an inevitability than a recommendation. Looking at the trends of other industries who have moved on to digital media, one platform has risen above the others either after a growing pains period where several competitors hacked it out to see who was left. Steam rose above competitors like Direct2Drive, Impulse and Xfire. iTunes rose above Rhapsody, Napster, and eMusic. Those who didn't fold in the wake of the "killer" platforms rise contented themselves with serving a small niche and exploiting that. It also unifies the customer base as more customers have a shared shopping experience. Additionally, having that one main app makes the prospect of gifting or buying gift cards a much simpler transaction. It's much easier to pick up a gift card for someone who likes comics if there's one main site to buy through rather than several. Having all or most all major publishers release through it is another factor in contributing to the shared shopping experience. Now the next point is surely going to be a sticking point with at least some of the publishers. With piracy on the rise, companies have been looking for ways to protect their content against theft, whereas this is seen as enabling it. However, iTunes got rid of DRM on all of their products over two years ago, and sales haven't suffered for it. Steam allows publishing companies to decide on their own DRM, but implements none of their own. Companies such as Ubisoft that have implemented DRM on Steam-sold games (often in ass-backwards ways) have, for most part, received such a public backlash over the policy that they are quietly doing away with the practice.
|Superman: Earth One|
was a near unmitigated
success for DC.
One thing I know I haven't covered is pricing. The problem is that comics hasn't hit it's "99 cents" sweet spot yet. That sweet spot being where the comic becomes an easy impulse buy, but still brings in enough revenue per issue to make the selling point worthwhile. Creators such as Jason Howard, Skottie Young, and Chris Eliopolous have experimented with the $2 price point to relative success, but pays to notice they are distributing the digital comics themselves so the sale is as pure a profit as is possible. $2 may yet turn out to be comics' sweet spot, but I don't think we can can infer that just yet.
So there's my plan for how to fix Diamond's digital app and how to make it for the needs of the customer. Which is the biggest fault of Diamond's plan. Diamond is looking out for the retailer here and until it focuses back on the customer, it's not going to find success in its digital ventures. So, what do you guys think should be done with Diamond's Digital venture? Fine as is? Needs tweaks? Sound off in the comments below!
|A funny from Incredible Hercules for those that had the|
patience and fortitude to read this whole rant. Or
for those who merely scrolled to the bottom.