It’s pretty easy to poke fun at DC Comics these days. The Big 2 comics publisher has really made some pretty public messes in 2013, and my personal DC pull-list has never been sparser (Batman, Wonder Woman & Animal Man, with Wonder Woman solidly on the chopping block).
Nontheless, the more I think about it, the better I feel about DC’s “Digital First” comic book strategy. I don’t usually attribute digital savvy to DC, but their experiments with a digital schedule might mean more for comics than anyone is letting on.
For those not in the know, DC has a weekly schedule of $0.99 “digital first” comics. The schedule includes one comic for each weekday, with two on saturday, and each issue priced at $0.99. And instead of waiting a month in between issues, you get a new issue each week (unless you’re collecting Sunday’s bi-monthly “Batman: Li’l Gotham”).
Aside from a savvy digital price point, this is fairly revolutionary in terms of comic distribution and reading timeframes.
In general, individual comics are released once a month, every month. For the major comic publishers, most issues also fall into 4-6 issue narrative arcs. This means you read one sixth of a narrative a month, and it takes half a year to complete a storyline you started reading HALF A YEAR AGO.
In many ways, this is a huge reason why it took me so long to get into ongoing comic book collections in the first place. I very much prefer having a complete story in front of me, and if I had the patience, I might still be in “wait-for-the-trade” mode.
DC’s weekly digital releases turns this substantial waiting period on its head, aligning comic books with television. When Breaking Bad returns to AMC for its final season, viewers won’t watch a single episode, and then wait a month before the next episode airs – that type of gap between story would kill most shows.
Now I understand why the comics industry has this gap between issues – comics take time to produce. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to see DC flip that expectation around and prove that on a smaller scale, they can churn out weekly series at $0.99.
That price point is so essential, too – while the weekly episode places comics on TV’s level, the $0.99 value finally puts comics on music’s level, equating with the early iTunes Store digital download price.
While comics are unique, and part of their appeal is derived through that uniqueness, comics could also benefit from aligning with mainstream consumer expectations. People expect episodic story to continue weekly, or at least bi-weekly from TV. People also expect to be able to download quick entertainment for $0.99 from iTunes.
I love that DC is testing this model and creating a potential new comics landscape on the digital end. It’s good for digital, and if it’s bringing new readers in the door because of the ease of access, it’s good for comics.
You could easily make the argument that long-term this cheap/quick/easy comics strategy might be damaging for the quality of the stories, but as a supplemental strategy to the core monthly comics, it’s nothing but icing on the cake.