Robot 6

Mark Millar is wrong about digital comics

25621JupitersLegacy1-xlgHere’s Mark Millar explaining why he doesn’t want his creator-owned comics to be released in digital the same day as print:

Digital comics are like TV rights to me in that they’re the tertiary phase of all this. These are for the most casual, mainstream readers or viewers and much cheaper than the primary or secondary waves. They’re a great way of pulling people in for the next product coming out in theatres or in comic stores, but absolutely not the bedrock of your business. The fact they’re not on paper doesn’t matter as these guys aren’t collectors as such and the lower price point is very attractive to them.

That was in November 2011, when same-day release of digital comics was still something of a novelty. Now it is so commonplace that, as Rich Johnston noted, Twitter was full of confused readers last week who couldn’t figure out why the first issue of Millar and Frank Quitely’s new series Jupiter’s Legacy wasn’t available digitally.

You can’t fault Millar for not being able to see the future. It’s pretty counterintuitive to think that sales in the direct market would go up in tandem with the rise of digital media, but that’s exactly what has happened. There’s zero evidence that digital sales are hurting comics shops.

What really bugs me about Millar’s comment, though, is that he seems to be giving the back of his hand to readers who get their comics digitally. Someone should tell him there’s a large audience out there that’s fully engaged, to the point where they are willing to pay full cover price for digital comics in order to get them the day the print editions come out. Those fans seem to me to be precisely “the bedrock of the business.”

I won’t pay $3.99 for a single-issue digital comic, but there is apparently a substantial audience out there who will. Publishers and digital distributors aren’t in the business of losing money, and they wouldn’t maintain that full cover price if people weren’t paying it. Someone who will pay top dollar to get a comic right away, rather than wait a couple of months for the price to drop? That’s an engaged fan.

Millar doesn’t seem to realize many people simply don’t live near a comics shop. Until the advent of digital, a lot of potential readers were locked out by simple geography. One could even argue that both the availability of digital comics and the popularity of comic book movies in recent years have given customers more incentives to seek out comics shops and to travel farther to get print copies. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that digital readers also buy print comics.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear the comics marketplace is growing and evolving, and it really doesn’t need Millar to save it. New comics shops open every week, and smart retailers are developing new ways to create community and keep their existing customers coming in. Day-and-date digital is here to stay; denying it doesn’t help matters any. What’s helpful is to adjust to the new market realities, and retailers seem to be doing just that. When Steve Bennett — himself a retailer — went to buy Jupiter’s Legacy and found it wasn’t available digitally, he wondered, “will this actually lead to added sales for the direct sales market or lost sales for digital downloads?”

At a Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo panel, Mark Waid commented that Millar was “setting his money on fire” by not making his comics immediately available digitally. That’s his prerogative, of course, but it seems a bit mean-spirited to lock out potential readers simply because they prefer to buy digitally. That’s not treating his core audience well — and readers who are willing to spend four bucks on a bucket of pixels are indeed part of his core audience.

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32 Comments

Just another reason why I am not a fan of Mister Millar – uninformed, even if this was 18 months ago. I’m not surprised. Robot 6 is correct.

I buy digital and some hard copy (and sometimes both of the same issue. For example, today’s Winter Soldier 18.)

So where is the casual in double and/or triple dipping if I also get the trade?

Like CBR, I am avoiding $3.99 digital and hard copy comics (pre-ordering floppies to cut costs), but I certainly will pick up titles costing $2.99 or less digitally.

RegularSyzedMike

May 1, 2013 at 8:32 am

If the digital price is reasonable, I often times will buy the first few issues of a comic I find interesting via Comixology. I’ll then buy the TPB for the rest of the story if I like what’s there.

Millar can do what he wants, though. It’s not impacting me as I don’t like much of his work.

Patrick Joseph

May 1, 2013 at 8:36 am

Personally, I haven’t bought a new periodical comic in five years. On the other hand, I have bought hundreds of digital comics in the 3 years since it has become a viable platform. If I like the art enough, then I may get a hardcover edition if one becomes available. When it comes to work by Frank Quitely, I am happy to pay twice to have it on the bookshelf.

However, I have no interest in ever buying new comics in a physical form again. It’s so strange to me that Millar, who has always seemed game to try new things with comics has shunned digital. At this point his work and Spawn are about the only things you can’t get. The big difference there is McFarlane hasn’t made a big deal about it, and his books aren’t breaking the top ten currently.

Basically, he’s cutting off consumer choice. I’ve laid out my preference, and other people surely have theirs. Keeping me and thousands of others from material we want to read is really not helping anybody- me, you, Comixology, Millar, image, Quitely, or the comic shop that wasn’t getting my money for this format in the first place. I suppose 3 months from now I may pick it up, but at that point am going to expect it be a dollar less than cover price, as it will be a back issue.

This war on digital has completely turned me off to Mark Millar. I am a very engaged and avid fan and I buy all of my comics day and date digitally, I don’t mind paying the same high price points. It’s a matter of convenience and a lack of space to store thousands of comics that basically become worthless the second I purchase them (other than a few rare exceptions). Mark Millar’s continued baseless statements about this issue have done nothing except convince me that I should illegally torrent anything written by Mark Millar instead of buying it, whether it’s available digitally or not.

I live 50 miles from my nearest comic book store. That’s a 100 mile round trip to buy my comics. I love both digital and print but driving 400 miles per month does not make financial sense. I use online stores but they take too long. I’m still waiting on Jupiter’s Legacy.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why people are so up in arms about this. It’s one of the silliest arguments I’ve read online before. Millar is treating his comics as a business (because they are for him). He made a business decision and it works for him. He’s treating periodicals as if they are theatrical releases and digital as if they are DVD/Blu Ray releases. It’s literally no different than that. But everyone is up in arms because they have to wait a little bit before it’s actually released. Are people really this impatient? Because that’s what this all boils down to. He’s not slighting you, although everyone seems to think so. This is just all so amazingly silly to me.

How does intentionally limiting your audience and cutting off the supply of your product make good business sense? How is that “working for him”?

It works the same way I don’t have Iron Man 3 available to me at home the same day its in theaters. Thats limiting the audience too, since i will not be seeing it until its on digital or home video. If the book was never going to be released digitally I’d see an issue.

Of all the things Mark Millar is wrong about, you chose this? LOL But to the matter at hand . . .

I have to agree with Eric about some people’s level of impatience. I don’t think day and date matters as much as people like to make it seem. Nor do I think because its a back issue it should drop in price. It doesn’t do that in print, it shouldn’t do that digitally. That said, digital doesn’t cost much more than it does to print it on paper, so I don’t think digital comics should cost as much as their print counterparts.

I think Mr. Millar is playing on people’s desire to own his comics. Their want vs. need instinct which he’s using to drive people into comic shops to get his books. And I would bet that he’s winning. The very fact that people are arguing about how they can’t have his books digitally the minute they come out at the comic shop is a prime example that there’s a demand for them. Then how many of those people, knowing they can’t get it in print are going to go to a comic shop to get it? I don’t think he’s losing any sales he’d make in print because of it, what I do think he’s missing out on is the ‘digital-only’ audience. So he is indeed burning money . . .

He’s missing out on potential sales, by people who might discover his work if it were available digitally. But actual fan sales . . . I don’t think so. A lot of people here sounded off on not liking his work, I don’t think they’d buy his stuff digitally even if they could.

Besides, Mr. Millar tries to drive sales of his work by being incendiary in his statements . . . this is just something else that is garnering him press.

The Iron Man 3 example might work if 99% of other movies were available on Blu-Ray the same day as in theaters and IM3 was one of the only holdouts. Home release coming three months (give or take) later is the movie industry standard. Same day digital is now the comic industry standard, and so that’s what Jupiter’s Legacy is being compared to.

It’s interesting to see how quickly the tide shifts – a year ago, Mark would be a hero for supporting comic stores.

From a marketing standpoint, Millar is creating a problem for himself (on top of the negative backlash). Waiting 3 months means you just have to plunk more money down to promote it again when it comes out. Riding on the back of the print promotion is the smarter way to do things.

That said, I’m not sure this is going to have a negative impact on digital numbers IF the marketing is there. Fanboys are famous for their faux outrage over not getting their toys when and how they want them. Yet the Star Wars saga without the original version still sold like gangbusters. And people flocked to the Transformers movie despite Michael Bay directing it.

The argument that this is punishing people who don’t live near comic shops is…interesting, because “punishing” is probably not the right word. The fact that there are digital exclusives “punishes” the millions without internet connections, right? Why aren’t we up in arms about that?

If Millar wants to risk alienating annoyed fans, well, that’s his business (literally). But I’m guessing most will grumble, then buy 3 months later. But again – only if they are reminded that it’s on sale, which means Millar will have to invest in press releases, previews, and advertising. But hey, it’s his world, right?

i love comics but i never liked comic shops. Sure i had only been to bad ones (smelly, messy dungeons with rude employees and stock that was unorganized). I’m fully employed, have a family and other commitments. Getting to a comic shop on a weekly basis is something i really don’t want to make time for. The physical printed books aren’t all that for me. The paper is kinda crappy and its just not something i fetishize like so many other comic fans. I like the stories, creators and characters. I don’t care how they’re delivered. I might not be typical comic reader in that respect, but i’m not wrong. But i think its awesome if all that stuff makes you happy and brings fun to your hobby.

I love reading comics on my iPad and not having the clutter of print comics and long boxes taking up valuable living space in my home. I read comics every week, I’m fully engaged on sites and such. I have fun and I don’t really need the comic shop community aspect of the hobby.

The world is changing. Customers have different wants and needs. Iv’e never seen an industry so hellbent on making sure their customers have limited purchasing choices like comics does. Adapt or fade away.

The Iron Man argument doesn’t make any sense in this situation. Comics don’t have a theatrical release – that is, I don’t have to go somewhere, pay money, read Jupiter’s Legacy, and then leave without it. I go to a store, buy Jupiter’s Legacy, and take it home with me, much as I would a DVD/BluRay. And in the vast majority of cases, movies are available digitally at the same time they’re released on DVD.

Millar obviously has the right to make this decision, and I’m not offended by it or anything. But I’m also not going to break my comics buying system for him – I buy monthly comics digitally, then pick up hard copies of collected editions of stuff I really like. I would have given Millar (and, more importantly, Quitely) a few bucks for a digital copy, but they’ll just have to wait. It’s really more their loss than mine.

Marvel & DC do digital first comics that are followed 2-3 months later with a print edition. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid.

Why so much furore over a comic seeing print only followed 3 months later by a digital version?

I didn’t have any intention of reading digital comic books until I had to create one. So I read a bunch. The reading experience is of a different flavor than paper comics. Since then I have become a big supporter of mobile phone comics. The idea that I hope Mr Millar learns is that it isn’t on him to tell me how to read. Just like when comic writers (wrongly) attacked readers who waited for collected editions. You don’t know me. You don’t know my comically-small apartment. You don’t know my busy commute or how far it is to an appropriate comic book shop (sidebar: also remember when guys insisted that you should ONLY buy from comic book specialty shops?)

Don’t try to dictate the readers’ lives. Just do your part. Write the things. Draw, edit, publish, distribute, sell. But it’s really up to the consumer to decide what shapes and formats the work ought to be purchased in.

How DARE a creative artist make decisions about what can be done with his work? Just because a man creates and owns something does not give him the right to choose not to sell it! He is Satan!

I’m not surprised this comment section will be filling up with aging fanboys giving anecdotal evidence that THEY aren’t interested in digital, therefore (somehow) it’s not a feasible medium. Folks, the writing is on the wall, this is the way forward for the generation coming up and the numbers bear me out.

This article is right: Millar is wrong to view digital comics as an ancillary product. Picture what happened to music, newspapers, magazines and, at least to a noteworthy extent, books and realize that that’s what will happen to comics. It’s now the comics industry’s job to roll with it with the knowledge that this is a complete sea change, not a passing, inconsequential trend (some of the above-listed media have handled it better than others). This is why I give Mark Waid credit… he understands and is proactive about it. Millar should follow suit.

Look at the music industry: Comics publishers and creators should try to be MORE like a Trent Reznor or Thom Yorke and LESS like a Prince or Gene Simmons.

Although, on the other hand, the comments SO FAR have been positive on digital so maybe there’s been a change in opinion on the blogosphere. Hm… that’s interesting. Looks like Millar might have to rethink his “strategy” sooner than expected.

I don’t buy digital. I won’t until there is a drastic drop in the price of it. Physical paper copies – with store discounts and the like – are still cheaper for me to buy over digital, even after the prices drop a month later.

That said, I find it remarkably bull-headed to not publish and offer a comic digitally on the day of release.

Comics aren’t movies. Let’s stop comparing them.

There is no definitive answer to the digital vs print war. Collectors/purists love print for lots of reasons. Digital is good as it is immediately accessible but you can’t turn up at a con with a digital comic and have it signed. I can see Mark Millar’s point. His work, his decision. I don’t mind waiting on great comics.

“How DARE a creative artist make decisions about what can be done with his work? Just because a man creates and owns something does not give him the right to choose not to sell it! He is Satan!”

How DARE consumers disagree with what an artist decides to do with his work? Just because a man is expected to shell out his hard earned money to receive this product does not give him the right to express a want to have it in a certain format! He is most certainly Satan!

“I love reading comics on my iPad and not having the clutter of print comics and long boxes taking up valuable living space in my home.”

THIS. I already have an entire room in my home filled with comics and simply can’t keep buying hard copies due to lack of space. I’m only in my 30s and want to be in this hobby for the long haul. Digital has been a wonderful alternative for me. The New 52 and Marvel Now were my jumping-off points for physical comics. Now I only get digital unless there’s a fancy hardcover edition I can’t resist (e.g., select DC Archives/Absolutes, Dark Horse Library Editions/Archives, IDW Artist Editions, Marvel Omnibus/Masterworks books).

My comics may be on the cloud rather than in my closet, but digital comics are helping me avoid an appearance on HOARDERS.

Though it is not financially smart for Millar to not offer it day and date with print, there is the matter of ownership. When I go into the comic shop and buy a physical issue of a comic, I now own that copy and can do with it as I wish. However digital comics are similar to iTunes and we are essentially just borrowing from comixology. Then what happens if comixology goes under, all my digital borrowing disappears. Warren Ellis spoke about this and I have to agree with him, until I can own a digital version of a comic, I will be buying physical copies.

Vaughn & Martin got it right with “The Private Eye.” I purchased it digitally, and own a PDF copy now.

“Then what happens if comixology goes under, all my digital borrowing disappears.”

And if you have a fire, smoke, flood, mildew/mold, an infestation of silverfish, etc., your physical copies are trashed too. There’s no risk-free solution.

Some of us don’t live in countries with comic shops, yet still like to read comics sequentially (and prefer not to pirate them).

Millar is most certainly making a mistake.

By sequentially, I meant serially.

So let’s change media here and compare comics to TV shows, specifically Game of Thrones. I DVR Thrones every Sunday, with the idea being that I can watch it anytime after it’s aired … and yet I still find myself watching it on Sunday night, if not actually watching it live while it records. And even though I’m on the West Coast and the HD version airs later, I record the East Coast feed so I have it earlier.

Because I know if I don’t, I can’t check Facebook or Twitter until after I’ve watched it for fear of spoilers. I also have four or five people at my day job who are going to want to talk about it the next day, so even if I stay offline, there’s still that risk.

Comics, for a large chunk of people who visit message boards, Facebook, etc. to talk about them, aren’t just about the solitary reading experience; they’re also about what comes after — discussions, debates, outrage, whatever. When I see Dan Slott talk about people either loving or hating the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man on his Twitter feed, I start to think, “Damn, why didn’t I read that as soon as I downloaded it?”

If Jupiter’s Legacy is an “event book,” like Millar described, then I think it’s only fair that everyone be able to participate in the event at the same time who wants to participate in the event at the same time, regardless of where they buy their books. And participation goes way beyond reading it nowadays.

I just feel Mr. Millar is not seeing the big picture, nor is he being fair to the buying public.
Besides isn’t it the case more so than not that this book in question is produced digitally?

I have limitations in my options when buying books. In the sense that I cannot for a myriad of reasons make it religiously to the local shop every Wednesday.

In this case I was prepared to buy the digital release from Comixology or the Image app on my IPad. Much to my surprise it wasn’t available.

Why would this book be promoted through the same digital media through various websites and postings on fb and then not be available in the same manner?

I also pre ordered it through tfw just to be safe. As it turned out I made to the shop late in the day and only two copies were left, and of course, the variant covers. Not the original. Hey I am a rabid Frank Quitely fan, what can I say.

As to the issue, it was both disappointing and anticlimactic to say the least. There was only essentially a few pages of unseen content of the total pages and images blasted all over the Internet. So it was somewhat redundant.

I feel as do some others who have stated that as a whole this book will be epic. But judging by the first issue, it’s really going to pick up some steam and get going.

Hopefully the remaining issues will not have the overexposure this one had.

Mr. Millar has to embrace all media, everyone who wants to make it successfully does, he cannot pick and choose. Excluding some to sit at the table does not benefit anyone.

The part of Millar’s argument that completely baffles me is the hostility towards the “casual, mainstream” readers. I suppose that’s how he would view me, though what I am in reality is a former serious comic reader (in the 70s and 80s) who stopped reading comics completely during the absurd collector mania of the 90s. Digital is what has got me BACK into comics after nearly 20 years: the convenience of browsing online, the immediacy of instant gratification, the freedom from bags and boxes and storage issues. I’ve got my whole current collection on my iPad, and I’m excited about Wednesdays now just like I was when I was a kid.

So the part I don’t understand is, Why doesn’t he want my business? Why doesn’t he want other “mainstream” readers? Why not embrace the technology that potentially expands the comic reading audience to people who might never venture into a comic book store? Why go out of your way to limit the potential readership of your product to those who already read your product?

What led me to this discussion in the first place is that I learned about “Jupiter’s Legacy” through a “mainstream” site, the A.V. Club, and it sounded good, so I immediately went looking for it on Comixology, only to discover it wasn’t available. My question for Millar would be: Isn’t that exactly what you WANT to happen? I’m not going to go get it in a comic store: I’m just not that invested, and that’s not how I read comics now. Maybe I’ll pick it up if it ever does become available digitally, but probably not: “casual, mainstream” reader that I am, I probably won’t even be aware of it then.

Which is a shame, because I would have bought it on the spot today, for full price, if it had been available like all the other books I’m enjoying.

“The fact they’re not on paper doesn’t matter as these guys aren’t collectors as such and the lower price point is very attractive to them.”

That he uses the term “collectors” is very telling. I’m a comic book reader, and I always will be as long as the storytelling is good. I’ll never be a comics collector though, the way people collect coins or stamps.

I really love digital. Personally, I think print singles are dinosaurs. I’ll never stop buying print trades, because there’s nothing like holding a good book, but print singles at $3.99 each? Frankly, I’d only buy them if the price were much lower, and even then I’d read them once. If I liked the story, I’d buy the trade and I’d use the single as gift-wrapping paper. Why? because the format was designed to be disposable. Every element of the traditional single is disposable by design, because back when floppies first hit the stands, they actually were disposable. The people who kept them for decades were an extreme minority. they were treated with the same reverence as a magazine or a newspaper. Now that era has passed, and it’s only clinging on because of nostalgia.

The fact is, it doesn’t sit well on a shelf, you can’t see the title on the spine while browsing… In short, it’s a format only for collectors. In modern times, digital just makes so much more sense for monthly distribution.

By all means, continue selling the floppies, but don’t think for a moment that they appeal to the broader masses. They are a collector’s format.

So true, JK Parkin.

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