The iFanboy Letter Column – 03.02.2012

Hi there! I’m famous, not-quite-leading man, Eric Stoltz. You might know me from such films as Pulp Fiction, Mask, and Back to the Future. Scratch that last one, actually.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time. For some, Friday means sitting back and watching episodes of Caprica, only to be beset by some distant longing you can’t quite recognize as the feeling of really not being as good as you’d hoped. You wouldn’t be alone. For others, it’s avoiding rolling your eyes as you try to have dinner while college kids ask you to recite the line “that’s my wife,” for the thousandth time since that movie came out. For other still, it’s about realizing that you are capable of growing one of the most badass red beards this side of vikings, and knowing, at least you have that.

Around these parts, Friday is letter column time.

You write. They answer. Very simple.

Hey, did I mention that I would have made an excellent Hank Pym, had they done that movie 5-10 years back? Totally.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of iFanboy’s shows or answered here, in the letter’s column keep them coming to contact@ifanboy.com


I would like to have your opinion on digital comics pricing. I would like to start my collection digitally but keep myself from doing it mainly because of the price. Let me give a quick example: this week I wanted to check out T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Vol 2 #1, but I haven’t read the first series yet. I thought “this could be the occasion for me to go digital, buy the collection online and follow-up with the Vol 2 after that”. As of right now, the 10 comics can be bought for about $19 on the DC store. But then I noticed the TPB would be released on the same week than the Vol 2 #1, I went on Instocktrades.com, “BAM”, around $14.50 for the TPB. I still prefer to own the book than the digital comics, so I would prefer to buy the TPB instead of the digital collection, but then I would prefer to buy the vol 2 digitally than to own the book, also because the price would be less in that format and I don’t like to wait for the TPB… But for my collection I don’t want to own one part in paper, the other digitally. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to go for, probably buy the first issue digitally and if I like it (to read digitally and the comic itself), continue like that. But in the end I’m still thinking comics should be less expensive in there digital format, at least as soon as they have been re-issued in TPB. Of course some would think I’m just a little greedy, but for me it more “the less I pay, the more I can buy”, as everybody, I have a budget and my needs have to fit in it… What do you think?

Eric

I think it depends on what you think you’re paying for, and what you want to pay for.

Before getting too into it, I thoroughly believe that “should” needs to be left out of the equation before we get started talking about pricing. The publisher, in this case, a business who wants to make as much profit as possible, has no “should” in terms of pricing for the consumer. If you think a digital comic “should” be $0.99, what you’re really saying is you “want” them to be $0.99. The publisher “wants” them to be $2.99 or more. So let’s just accept that the pricing it what it is, and it’s up to you, the consumer to decide whether you’re okay with paying that price.

So what is it that you’re interested in? Do you want to pay the least amount of money possible, regardless of format or convenience? In that case, mail order from Amazon or InStockTrades is probably the way to go. You’re sacrificing “right now” for the lower price, and that’s fair. Do you think comics are more valuable (for you, not on a secondary market) if they are an object, or do you think the content is what you’re paying for, meaning, are you attaching value to the paper that the pictures are printed on, or the pictures themselves. This varies widely by individual consumer. Personally, while I’m completely agreed with the idea that the art is the real object of value, I’ll also admit that I’m somewhat loathe to pay $4 for 20-22 pages of content in digital form. Or paper either, if I think about it. It feels like it should be cheaper, and I can accept that.

On the other hand, fuck all that clutter. Seriously. These boxes are burdensome, and only become more so every day that passes. Some things I only want to read once. I don’t like buying trades of books that I think are only okay. I want to buy trades and keep them, but I only want to keep trades that are excellent. It’s not even about the money at that point. Sometimes, you do want to read something “right now”. I forgot to pick up a book at the shop (a shop I go to mostly because I want to support my friends who run it, not because I love the objects), and I wanted to read it that day. That’s a digital purchase. After I read it, I felt no different than had I read it on paper, and like that paper book, I was never going to read it again. Same price paid, same feeling achieved.

So what’s the better deal? Clearly, it depends on the individual, and luckily, there doesn’t have to be one answer, because you’ve got more choices than comic book readers have ever had. You do the thing you want, and you decide if that’s the price you want to pay, and weigh all those factors, and you’ll have your choice. It might be different depending on your mood, your current cash flow, or the circumstances at the moment. Say you’re going on a trip, and want to have lots to read, but don’t want to carry a ton of comics with you (and that weight adds up), then digital comics on an iPad seems like a hell of a good way to go. You might be paying more or the same price as paper, but it’s so much more convenient for your needs. It’s about what’s important to you, and every choice has benefits and disadvantages.

Any way you do it, buying comics is good for the industry, and enjoying them is good for you.

Josh Flanagan


Do you feel like Kieron Gillen got the short end of the stick when picking his X-Squad? I really want to be liking Uncanny X-Men as much as Wolverine and the X-Men, but I think the problem is the Uncanny squad is so damn dull. Cyclops, great character, but stoic and pretty vanilla. Danger’s a robot, Emma true to her name is frosty, Magneto’s so damn serious, and I’ve had just about enough of Emo-Colossus. Namor’s the only member with any personality, and I still don’t feel like he belongs there entirely. Maybe it’s just such stark contrast to Aaron’s team, full of so much quirky personality.

 Jason from Chicago

I can’t say I disagree with you when talking about the X-Men characters featured in Wolverine and the X-Men. Jason Aaron has grouped together an interesting collection of mutants and they’re really making the quirky fun angle work in ways we never would have anticipated. But I do disagree with you when taking a look at the squad in Uncanny X-Men.  That said, I can understand how/why you’d feel this way, but I simply don’t agree.

When Regenesis hit the X-Men books, we discussed the necessary difference in tone between Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. Once we saw the humorous approach that Aaron was taking would have to be contrasted with a more serious take in Uncanny X-Men. When Gillen introduced his squad as the self-dubbed “Extinction Team,” it was clear that this was an X-Men team that meant business. Now, admittedly I’m biased because I’m a big Cyclops fan, but I think that that if you look at the team, it’s hard to argue that it’s full of some of the most powerful mutants around. Hell, simply having Cyclops, Emma and Colossus (now with the Juggernaut powers) would be enough, but adding Magneto and Namor puts them way over the top.

But I have a feeling in your evaluation of the Uncanny X-Men lineup, you’re not too concerned with power levels, and more focused on personality and the entertainment factor. Now, while this team is a bit more focused and serious, there’s already been their own brand of personality present. First off, you have the triangle between Cyclops, Emma and Namor, which is always amusing to watch. Then you have the swagger and confidence of Magneto, who at any given moment can flip and go back to his evil ways. And while you dismissed Colossus as being “emo”, the relationship between Peter and his sister Magik is a source of conflict, as well as struggle with the new powers brought by the Juggernaut. Now, I absolutely do agree with you that they’re not as quirky as the characters in Wolverine and the X-Men, but they absolutely do bring personality and enough interesting situations to make the book more than satisfying, at least in my opinion.

The great thing thought is that if characters of Uncanny don’t do it for you, then don’t read the book. Nothing says you have to. If you’re looking for quirk, then Wolverine and the X-Men, and perhaps the New Mutants are the X-Books for you. There truly is something for everyone!

Ron Richards

Comments

  1. The problem with the X-Men books (from my opinion) is they took a great book – Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men prior to Schism – and took many of the best characters out of it – Shadowcat first and foremost – and stuffed the interesting characters into a book with polarizing art that turns many people away. I’m left with two X-Books that weren’t as good as the original, and instead have to get the X fix from X-Factor and New Mutants. Schism took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to Uncanny X-Men and demonstrated the wisdom of said expression.

    • X-Factor is excellent! So, I’m happy 🙂

      I am enjoying Wolverine & The X-Men, though I do agree I am not the biggest fan of the art on that book.

  2. “Hey, did I mention that I would have made an excellent Hank Pym, had they done that movie 5-10 years back? Totally.”

    Admit it, Josh, you’re having having fun poking this dragon, aren’t you? at least slightly 😉

  3. I agree with the first letter; I strongly desire there to be an effort on the part of the publishers to lower the prices of digital collections. I understand how the single issue model works, and I’m totally down with paying the current price points for my current monthly titles. I would also be willing to buy a digital collection, but only if it were a significant discount compared to the dead tree counterpart. In fact, I would buy tons of digital collections if they were, just say, $9.99. I’m not a comics finance person, so I can’t speak to the feasibility of that, but it’s just my two cents.

    • I’m sure they will do “Sales” on these at some point. Collected editions in the digital format are a relatively new concept.

  4. my real problem with the pricing for digital comics is that you’re paying the same price for something that you don’t really own.

    All the digital comics are really just long term rentals, you’re tied to one company (graphicly, comixology, etc.) and you can’t transfer between devices.

    This seems strange to me because if u were to pay .99 cents for a song in itunes, you’d actually get the file.

    • It’s like going to the movies. I pay a premium price to go see a movie in the theater. I don’t own the movie, I’m just paying for the right to see it. If I really like the movie, then I can buy the Blu-ray (or collection in the case of a comic book). The majority of movies/comics I’m only going to see/read once.

      At least with the digital comic book you can read it over and over and over again. I can only see the movie once for that one price I pay.

    • You own the paper of the actual comic book, or the file of the mp3 perhaps, but you don’t have rights to the content on it. Technically, you’re not allowed to make reproductions of copyrighted material and distribute it. It’s a step back, but books aren’t outright ownership either. You don’t own that song on the MP3. You’re not allowed to play it in a public setting, technically. Read the warnings at the beginnings of the DVDs or Blu Rays you’ve purchased. You’re not free to do what you will with that material. It’s not ownership. It’s licensing.

      Regardless, if that’s a thing that’s important to you, then you should take that into account as well when deciding where to spend your money. For each man

    • I definitely agree with wangman. The current digital market turned me off from getting back into comics. I don’t want to buy licenses that are tied to apps. Give me the actual file and let me choose where I want to view it. While yes like you point out Josh, we are still paying for a license, but we have something we can show for it. We can trade it, loan it, sell it, or donate it. We also aren’t at risk if the company closes its doors. My books, DVDs, Blu-Rays will all still work if the companies close.

      I also agree with Josh about the clutter though. I have been organizing and sorting an old collection. It sucks. It reminds me every time why I really don’t want a physical collection. At the same time every time I read a preview or free issue on my iPad I don’t enjoy the experience as much. Even if I felt the experience was equal I wouldn’t buy digital currently due both to the license tied to an app model and the prices. I would need Steam type sales where it would be foolish not to buy. $.99 an issue isn’t anywhere near where it should be. I can accept that price for new, but not 10 year old books.

      I guess for now I will just stick with what I can get for free from my local library or read for free on my iPad.

    • @conor: i don’t think that comparing comics to feature films is valid. I would liken it more to a straight to DVD feature like Justice League: Doom. Would you buy the digital version at the same price if you didn’t actually get the file and you had to play it on itunes every single time? In this case, the DVD is far superior and I just don’t think it would make sense as pricing model

      @Josh: Your comment got cut off for some reason

    • @ Conor Another excellent point. I like to think of going to the movies as less about the movie and more about the experience of going to see the movie. You’re not paying for the movie, you are paying to use the Big Screen and THX certified sound system that the theater offers so you can watch a movie that is not currently on Home Video.

      Again, if the price for those things is not worth it. I can wait for the Home Video rental, or for the movie to come on Cable.

    • @wangman31888: I think it’s very much valid. In both cases I’m buying the option of experiencing the story.

    • @wangman: And you can transfer between devices provided there’s an app to redownload the content. For example, if I buy something on Comixology’s website, I can read it on my desktop, a laptop or any iOS or Android device (and probably a few others).

      And in my experience, you DO have the digital file on your device, it’s why I can read comics on my iPad even when I’m not connected to a WiFi network. Now, you are right that I can’t (easily or legally) rip those files out of the app, but the only reasons I can think of for doing that are based on “What if?” scenarios.

      I know a lot of people fear for losing their collections if a company goes under, but I truly believe another company or the publishers would step in at that point and maintain the library (and if they don’t/can’t/won’t it means there are much bigger problems). It’s unlikely that ALL the digital comics platforms will go under, so the more believable scenario is that Company A fails because Company B has been more successful. In that scenario, Company B (or another company) would want to buy Company A’s user base and their download history.

      And even in that Doomsday scenario, as long as you’ve downloaded all your content to your device, and as long as you have the option to never update or delete the app, nothing will actually disappear.

    • @wangman31888 I think the Digital movie compared to a DVD Vs. Digital comic compared to a Physical copy comic is also flawed.

      A Digital copy of a movie is just a file of the movie, or rights to access that movie via an Application. When you buy a DVD (or Blu-Ray) the quality of the video and audio is superior to the Digital version, and in most cases the Disc comes with extra content.

      A Digital comic has the same content as a Physical comic. Though in some cases, I have heard of Digital comics that offer additional content (like commentaries, pencil only version of the issue, etc.), not to mention the convenience of having access to that comic on multiple devices and to get that product almost instananeously via download. So you could say a Digital copy of a comic is worth MORE than it’s Physical paper counterpart.

    • We can argue all day about whether digital or print is “worth MORE” in terms of the intangibles (convenience, the experience of reading, etc.), that goes back to Josh’s point in the letters “to each man his own”. Everyone derives different intangible value

      But IMO the bottom line is this:
      Anything printed has more monetary value than something that is digital (for example: I can actually re-sell a trade paperback) because it is a tangible item.

      It just seems bizarre to me that I would pay the same price for something that is worth less in a tangible way

    • i have to admit….the lack of ownership thing with digital comics gave me great pause when this whole thing was new, but eventually i got over it. In the past few years i’ve changed most of my behaviors away from owning media, to experiencing it. I tend to watch a show, movie, or read something once and then never again. Netflix really helped me get over the hoarding tendencies associated with buying media. If its something truly amazing then i will selectively buy the physical media. Its a much healthier, clutter free lifestyle for me.

      i’m not concerned about losing my “collection” if a digital company goes under. That database would be an incredibly valuable asset that would be easily sold or liquidated to another company if needed. Something will always come along, the world is always moving.

      Ideally speaking, i don’t want to pay ala cart prices for digital comics (or media in general). I’d love a netflix model where could pay either a flat or tiered fee to access a library and read what i want. I know its a blue sky thing, but i feel its much more relevant for the 21st century and where media is right now.

  5. I think the issue with Uncanny X-Men is not the line-up of the team or content of the book–it’s the art. I was sold on having Pacheco do interiors but Greg Land killed it for me and I dropped it cold. Surprising how any writer comes off as dull without a great artist holding it down.

  6. “If you think a digital comic “should” be $0.99, what you’re really saying is you “want” them to be $0.99.”

    @ Josh Great response regarding digital. It really depends on the person and what format you prefer and why. And another good point, you can’t control what publishers are charging, just like you can’t control what the grocery store charges for bread, or juice, or whatever the heck you’re buying. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. And if it’s not, don’t buy it. Or wait until it’s offered for the price you want it to be.

    All formats have their advantages and disadvantages. It all comes down to different factors and how they each add up to a final answer.

    How soon do you want it?
    How much are you willing to pay?
    Do you want a physical copy, or is storage space and issue?
    And there isn’t just one way to go for all books you are interested in…

    For example, I buy single issues of several comic series. I order them through DCBS. Then some titles, I purchase as Trades. Why?

    Price is important to me:
    I buy my single issues through DCBS because they offer a GREAT discount. I am willing to wait until the end of each month to get my books so I’m not paying every week for shipping (but I could do that too, and still save $$ on the issues themselves). The books come to my house, so that saves me a trip to the comic shop.

    Time is not that much of an issue:
    Hey, I love having conversations about comics. And I love listening to comic book podcasts (specifically iFanboy’s POTW). But, I can wait to listen, or don’t mind a spoiler or two. It’s just a story, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Some books I’m more than willing to “Trade Wait” and sometimes that more fullfilling depending on the title, to get a huge chunk of story at one time. Especially when it comes to a book that has a definite end, like many Vertigo titles that are current or now completed. I’m constantly dropping titles that I like in issues, but feel it wouldn’t hurt to wait a bit on and read the whole run at once in Trades (did that for Preacher, for instance)

    Ok, time is a bit of an issue:
    Alright, I said it’s “not that much of an issue” before. So, yes, for some books, I want to know relatively soon after they come out what’s happening. The One Month Later price drop that DC offers, might work for me at some point (not now and I’ll get that in a bit). I enjoy reading some books monthly. It’s a habit I got into when I was younger and I like to feed the monster. 🙂

    Digital doesn’t work for me just yet:
    I’ve seen what digital has to offer, and yeah, I’m not really buying. The main reason. I don’t have an iPad. And yes, I know you could read the digital books on a PC, which I do have. But interestingly enough, the majority of my comic reading is done on my lunch breaks at work. Also, I am of that antiquated notion of, if I pay money, I should have something to show for it. I like physical copies, if for no other reason than if something should go wrong with the digital version I bought, I have some kind of back up to fall back on.

  7. @ Eric You can get those 10 issues of Thunder Agents for .99 cents each right now! But I think the sale only last for the rest of today!

    • I just got all of them from comixology for $8.91 because the first issue is free.

    • @AlanRob

      I’m the Eric who wrote the letter
      Thanks for the link I bought them as well through the discount as well as Hard Time, the Catwoman of Brubaker, and the Black Mirror saga of Snyder. Pretty nice discount 😉

  8. **DISCLAIMER: This is going to seem like me simply kissing Josh’s ass, but I’m writing this so that the people who read this article will go back up to his response and give it some real attention.**

    I love it when Josh addresses issues concerning the marketplace. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was a grizzled old economics professor. He has the clearest, most level-headed understanding of how markets function I think I’ve ever encountered outside the profession.

    He seems to think the way I WANT my students to think. This line:
    “I thoroughly believe that “should” needs to be left out of the equation before we get started talking about pricing. The publisher, in this case, a business who wants to make as much profit as possible, has no “should” in terms of pricing for the consumer. If you think a digital comic “should” be $0.99, what you’re really saying is you “want” them to be $0.99. The publisher “wants” them to be $2.99 or more. So let’s just accept that the pricing (is) what it is, and it’s up to you, the consumer to decide whether you’re OK with paying that price.”
    is one of the first things I tell my students when be begin discussing things like equality and income distribution. (Though I typically have to discuss it in terms of prices AND wages to get my point across.)

    I’ve long believed that if more people were able to put aside what they felt SHOULD happen and instead focused on what actually DOES happen, the world would be an even better place. Once we understand what actually does happen we might be able to find a way to make it work the way we’d like for it to work.

    Thank you, Josh. That response made me smile at the end of a LONG day.

    • Oh *you*!

    • Is the publisher happy with the pricing though? We don’t really have any hard numbers on same week digital downloads do we?

      My thought is that with Marvel offering “free digital copies” they’re trying to get people hooked on the digital distribution. If they’re doing because they want more digital downloads because they’re not getting what they want that could be holding the price up. Maybe it’s “high” (meaning it’s not discounted from the price of the paper comic) because demand for digital isn’t high.

      Then again, even if demand rose and they could lower the digital price why would they? If the market is willing to pay that price why would they drop their pricing at all? If anything I can see the growth of the digital market making the physical “paper” copies increase in price.

      My only gripe(s) with the digital comics market are:

      1. No Subscriptions? Why the Face? (except for via a browser via Marvel… no tablets for you!)
      2. Seriously old issues should be priced lower if the secondary “paper” market wouldn’t be affected negatively (think dollar/quarter bins).

    • I’ve mentioned this many times on in the past, but it’s very relevant to markavo’s post. In order to understand pricing schemes you need to understand the concept of elasticity. Last year Jason Wood posted a really nice article about elasticity and comics. You should be able to find it by doing a simple search for the word elasticity on the site.

      One other note, all else equal, an increase in demand typically drives prices up, not down (think gas in the summer.)

    • That’s the one. Excellent article. I use it in class every semester. Thank you very much, Conor.

  9. My problem with Uncanny X-men is that so far it has focused more on the villains than the X-Men. I get the need to build up the villains, especially when the X-Men need new antagonists, but I would like to see some more focus on the heroes and have them interact with each other more.

  10. filippod (@filippodee) says:

    I’m a great fan of e-books. I hardly buy paper books anymore and read almost all the books I buy on a e-ink Kindle. Comics on an iPad? Only if cheap (I can’t accept to pay more than 1.99). For me the minuses of digital comics are more than the pluses so they must be outweighed with a cheaper price.

  11. Digital comical have become a larger part of my reading than I thought they would. I preorder through dcbs, I have 3 relativley local comic shops but I refuse to support one, another one is a nice little shop but offers no discount and is in a part of town that it is a pain to get to, and the third is also horrible to get to.

    I find myself using digital to pick up issues I may have missed. I have also been grabbing stuff during sales that I may have not grabbed otherwise.

  12. Josh’s point of the burden of all the floppies, boxes& trades is MY main reason for going digital. I love carrying 30 some odd issues in my pocket. As a commuter, it takes the sting out of the rat race.
    Also Wallythegreenmonster has the best idea. Netflix for comics? YES PLEASE! someone bankroll that idea

  13. Alternately, Wolverine and the X-Men did NOT work for me at all. I hated the silly, goofy and quirky tone of the book. I hated the art even more. I dropped it immediately after reading the first issue. The sitcom style, fast talking mash-up of spit take humor and after school special are not for me. I’ve never felt any special attachment for Beast or Kitty and think the ‘mentor’ role for Wolverine is just terrible and inconsistent with Aaron’s own portrayal of him in his two years on that book. If it works for you, that’s great, but its a bridge too far for my suspension of disbelief. I far prefer the more traditional, drama version that Kieron is writing in addition to having a much stronger affection for all the characters in that book; Cyclops and Emma have been, and continue to be, my favorite comic book odd couple. Though the last plot line was simply too long (then again I’ve been spoiled by Remender’s fast-paced action-action-ACTION! style in X-Force). I suppose, given what I’ve seen so far, that would be my only piece of advice for Gillen is not to hang on to that gun for too long. Pull that trigger and let her rip. Write me the story I know you want to write, don’t make me wait too long for the scenes I want to see because I will abandon you.

  14. I have boxes of comics and thought I was a loyal floppy comics fan, but after buying an ipad, I don’t want to go back. Now it just seems like a burden and I’m either throwing or giving away tons of comics that seriously I will probably never read again besides something like Preacher or Transmet. I guess once you get older, you start to realize life’s too short to be lugging around boxes and boxes and boxes of comics.

  15. Great answer on the digital pricing question, Josh. I’ve never seen such a good answer.

    The only thing I’d add is that reading physical copies isn’t only about “the object”. Studies show that reading things on paper vs. on a backlit screen tends to lead to better reading comprehension and remembrance of what you read.

    I’ll rephrase that again,since this comment is going to be read on a digital backlit screen, so maybe people didn’t get it the first time: Scientific studies show that people reading things on paper comprehend and remember the information better than they do when they read on digital backlit screens.

    The secondary aspect of this is that oftentimes the readers themselves don’t even realize that there’s a difference. They convince themselves that they understand and read things just as well digitally, but the studies prove them wrong. It’s sort of like people who insist that they’re great multitaskers and can do a million things at once, but then get in an accident because they were talking on their cellphone when driving.