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Thinking About the DCnU: Digital Release

July 11, 2011

So, there’s all that buzz about the DCnU that we’ve talked about thus far. But the arguably biggest thing about the DCnU has nothing to do with its content. DC Comics is making the unprecedented move of making all of its DCnU books available digitally the same day as their print release to expand their readership. It’s true that there are many, many fans online who would like to read these books, and it takes away the annoyance of having to travel to your local comic book store to buy books every Wednesday. Instead, you can just buy it and download it online. Piece of cake. Plus, it eliminates a huge amount of potential clutter. I personally have half a closet of stacked-up drawer boxes fit to bursting with comic books, and I can’t say that I would be adverse to a way of preventing that number from increasing.

Does that mean I plan to purchase digital comics instead of the print versions? Absolutely not. There’s just something about being able to actually touch the books as you read them. I think it’s the same argument that many people use who still love to read normal books as opposed to buying them on Kindle or what have you. Books and paper go hand in hand, and there’s a certain romanticism about being able to physically turn the pages of a comic book as you wait with baited breath for the next exciting panel. Maybe the people who feel that way are a small minority, but I think we number enough and are vocal enough that print comics will still be here for quite a while. True, DC’s move here may turn out to be the first step toward complete digitization, when comic book companies (and maybe even publishers) decide that there just isn’t enough profit anymore in keeping up book printing for just a few people.

However, I can’t say that I think this will be as momentous as DC thinks. If DC’s readership increases with the DCnU digital initiative, it will be because DC has finally decided to advertise seriously, not because of the digital releases. Comic book companies never really advertise their books enough, particularly when there are great opportunities to pair advertising initiatives with major comic book movie releases, so most big new changes don’t really reach very many new people. That’s what advertising is for in the first place. But DC is really stepping up here with all the publicity, the road tours, and the advertisements, so should their readership increase (honestly, I think it’s a matter of how much it increases, not if it does at all), that’s what I’ll attribute it to, all other things equal.

Plus, I think that this won’t really have much of an effect on internet piracy, truth be told. People who don’t want to pay for their comics just won’t pay for their comics, no matter whether they become more conveniently available for pay or not. It’s just too easy for them to get access to comic book scans, as it’s rather unfeasible to completely prevent such things from leaking online. All it takes is one person who’s actually bought the books to feel like posting scans online, and there you have it. And DC and other companies can spend tons of time pursuing litigation against the pirates, but new pirates will just pop up to replace them, and the cost of all of the lawsuits will quickly outweigh any potential benefits from their successes. The internet enables this kind of piracy, and I think it will take some completely new idea to be able to curb that.

So will this digital initiative be a success? Probably? How much of a success? Probably less than DC is hoping. And will it be a game-changer for the comic book industry? In the short run, no, but perhaps in the long run, people will look back and see that this started the move toward digitization of the industry. For now, I’ll stick to my nice paper comic books, thank you very much. Still, I can’t complain that much if readership improves, since that’ll help the industry as a whole, no matter how it’s achieved. I just hope that doesn’t go to DC’s head and make them think they can pull crazy revamp stunts like this every time their sales numbers sag.

At any rate, I’ll wrap up this look at the DCnU with next post, in which I’ll discuss other miscellaneous things and provide a final judgment on the whole thing.

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