Robot 6

Why is ‘returnable comics’ an attractive idea?

Reading, not buying

Last week, a reader alerted The Beat that there’s a grace period for returning DC Digital Comics on Amazon, just like other Kindle titles. Heidi MacDonald pointed out that, “in theory, someone could buy this week’s DC lineup for Kindle, read them and return them.”

Although commenters point out the folly in actually trying that (and Heidi specifically discourages it), it got me thinking: Why shouldn’t comics be returnable? I mean, we could put whatever restrictions on it you like, but my question isn’t so much about policy as it is about why people buy periodical, single-issue comics in the first place; particularly, monthly superhero comics. I agree that it would be a crappy thing to read and return a publisher’s entire weekly lineup. My question is: Why is that even a temptation?

If a comic is worth reading, shouldn’t it also be worth owning? This isn’t about piracy, it’s about paying for a story, reading that story, and then giving it back for a refund. Regardless of your intention going into the purchase, if you ask for your money back, you’re saying that you don’t care to own the story. In other words, you don’t care to revisit it ever again. And isn’t that on the people making the comic?

What if every issue of every comic was so good that you wanted to re-read it over and over again? Isn’t that what storytellers should be shooting for? I don’t actually want to make comics returnable, but the issue does raise the question of what readers are willing to settle for. If we’re only reading because we want to stay caught up on plot points, then owning comics isn’t really worthwhile as long as we have the opportunity to read them once. They’re disposable.

But what if they weren’t? What if they were so good that we wanted to own them and read them over and over again? Isn’t that a standard worth shooting for? And if it is, shouldn’t we be holding publishers and creators to it, regardless of whether or not we can return the books? If I don’t want to own a comic, I need to question seriously why I want to read it in the first place.

(Image from Comic Attack)



You could put comics to that standard, yes, but then you’d be placing them at a higher standard than TV, movies, or books. We all watch shows movies that we don’t end up buying the DVD for, and libraries have made a pretty good business out of people who just want to read a book without owning it.

If you go back and look at the WWII-era of Japanese comics, pocket comics, kids would go to a bookstore or corner shop, and pay for what they called “rental manga.” I’m no manga scholar, but I recall reading that kids were able to essentially purchase, say, three or five comics at a time, and then go about reading them as best they could, like a library system. Does that sound right?

I think that comics should be returnable, but not by consumers, by retail outlets. Comic Shops should be able to return superfluous copies of books to Marvel, DC, etc much like other magazines are returnable to their publishers.

I agree with Hostile. If these were still offset printing on newsprint then it wouldn’t be worth it but these glossy, heavier paper (and more expensive) single issues should be returnable at a retail level. Might actually be able to get more reliable sales numbers if returns were considered, too!


That could have very interesting repurcussions on the collector aftermarket as well as publishers’ trade and digital collections.

I just discovered that my public library has monthly comics for checkout. I sat down last night with a dozen issues of Mark Waid’s Daredevil. Awesome stuff that I have no desire to own. I don’t have a Kindle, but a similar, “returnable” rental option sounds like a winner to me.

Isn’t this essentially what we’re doing with digital? You don’t really “own” anything but a license to access a file from a server. In a sense, a comic on permanent loan.

For me, digital is a question of disposability. I don’t necessarily want to own much of anything coming out of the big two or some smaller independent publishers. I’d like to read some of it, though. Since it’s dirt cheap, and I likely won’t read it again, it’s no skin off my back if I don’t get to keep it indefinitely.

Comics doesn’t need more “collectors” to thrive. It needs more “readers”. But then I would say that, I’m a librarian not a retailer.

I do think that the publishers should offer “temp” copies of the digital books for a lower price. Like for $.99 you can get a copy of the digital book that is only valid for like 1 month. It would give them the ability to offer the lower price point without taking anything away from the “permanent purchase” model, and would give people a $.99 price point to encourage sampling.

Readily-returnable stock doesn’t work in a sales environment (like a comic book store), just like magazines are non-returnable.

If a comic was returned by the purchaser, who expected a full refund just because the purchaser didn’t want to keep the comic, the distributers would most likely cause the store owner to take at least a partial hit on the cost of the comic.

However, if the environment is geared towards lending, like a library or even a digital store like Amazon’s digital lending program, then this approach can and does work.

Don’t expect store owners to be open to yet another way of losing money through no fault of their own. But maybe some will convert some of their store space to be a lending library until digital comic archives like Marvel’s ‘Digital Comics Unlimited’ take over completely.

I kind of wish they had a way or returning comics for a return. Meaning, return 10 comics, get 10% off on a future buy or such. I like certain stories and keep the collection but then there are some that I just want to get rid of after awhile. I’m not a collector in a monetary fashion. But I don’t want to just scrap them either. I used to give them to my nephew but he’s at that “age” where comics aren’t cool anymore. Either that or it’s not cool to get those comics from his obviously crazy

@Chris @Glenn Simpson

Personally, I’m waiting for someone to figure out how to make a Netflix-type subscription for older comics to work. (I know Marvel has its service but it’s still tied to the desktop for the most part. But I think it was announced at NYCC that they were moving it to their mobile apps as well.)

I almost never re-read my comics, so they’re just taking up space after I’ve read them. I’d like a system where you could pay a monthly fee and read as much of the collection as you’d like. Kind of like a Netflix for comics.

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