I used to collect comic books as a kid throughout grade school and high school. Lately I've been getting nostalgic for those old superhero stories (maybe it's the upcoming Superman movie, I dunno). I even checked out a couple graphic novels from the library to get my comic book fix. However, it struck me that the web is a great medium for getting readers to these stories.

I'm talking about delivering the comic book stories over the web for direct viewing, not the ordering of paper books to be shipped to you. Sure, it takes some adjustment to be reading things on the screen instead of leafing through a physical copy on paper, but I think if enough material was available over the web that readers would flock.

I can think of a few different business models for this:

  • Free reading with lower-quality images and ad-based support
  • Let me pay a monthly fee ($10/month?) to let me read any issue (via a web-based reader) from the immense archive of DC or Marvel Comics.
  • I'd even consider a pay-per-issue option. Let's say 50 cents per issue and I get to save a local copy on my hard drive to read whenever I want.

Heck, why not go with all three models and see which one makes them the most money? This is about the Long Tail here. This is about giving access for those people who are willing to pay for the stuff they've been craving. And give it to them now. And make it easy to get. And make all of it available.

I did a search and came up with this good read. The article mentions how Marvel Comics (Spiderman, The Hulk, etc) are just starting to get into the web-comic area: You can read certain issues (some old, some recent) online for free. They are delivered via the web browser in Adobe Flash, with a not-too-shabby reader that lets you zoom, navigate pages, etc. The only catch is that you have to register your information with them. Unfortunately, DC Comics (Superman, Batman, etc) have done nothing (aside from some sample pages in PDF form).

I think DC Comics is missing an opportunity here. First, I'm sure they aware how important it is to digitize their work in some form to preserve it. Second, their immense catalog spans over 70 years of publishing, starting in the 30s with the introduction of Superman, Batman and spanning to today. I'm just obsessive enough that I'd consider wanting to read all 70-years of Superman or Batman stories (not in one sitting of course!). I think it would be fascinating to observe how the stories changed over time, how characters were refined, etc. And I know I'm not alone. This guy has digitized all the covers of all DC comic books since the beginning. If you've ever read superhero comics, just flip through those covers and tell me you don't want to pick one of them up and actually read the story.

This would not affect the collector's market in the least (people still collect original film negatives, for instance). The problems here are really all business-related. Primarily the problems of piracy and the problem of upsetting the traditional publisher's business model (putting printers out of business). Note that I classify "piracy" as a business issue, not a technical one. You can make piracy difficult, but there is no absolute way to prevent piracy of any media. Anyone dedicated enough can buy a scanner and sell scanned comic book images over the internet. The point is that publishers/content producers need to adapt such that it's not worth a pirate's time when the material is already available from the source, easy to obtain/download, high quality and cheap enough.

These are problems that the music and video businesses are dealing with as we speak - the difference being that those mediums had already digitized their content for the consumer on optical disks, which made it easier for piracy to thrive via distribution of computer files. Those industries are being forced to adapt quicker.

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