Marvel moves comics into the digital age

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The internet has long been hailed as the harbinger of death for the print industry.  It’s never really happened though.  Newspapers are still going strong as they have found ways to leverage the internet for expanded coverage, breaking news, more reactive editorials, and interactive content.  Book publishing continues to thrive as e-books continue to be largely ignored (though I’ll admit that I like them for the sheer convenience of carrying a whole library in my pocket; currently through Mobipocket), and has even grown with the ability for author’s to self-publish books on demand.  Magazines and other trade periodicals continue to carve out niches for themselves by expanding content online, and even providing digital versions of their publication through services like Zinio.

But the common element amongst those printed mediums are that they are predominantly text-based, centred around articles and editorials as the bulk of their content.  How do you move a largely graphical printed medium into the digital age?  This is the problem for the good’ol comic book; long standing icon of many a male’s youth.

Marvel Comics, creators of such cultural icons as Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, are trying to push their medium squarely into the digital age with a new online "publishing" service they call Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, first unveiled last week.  This subscription service ($5 USD/month prepaid for a year, or $10 USD/month) allows user unlimited access to digital, somewhat interactive copies of hundreds of Marvel comics.

Marvel has pledged to continue to add numerous titles every month from their 70+ year archives.  There will be all of the big origin stories, the big events/crossovers, famous first appearances, and impossible to find first runs of their big franchises.  I really hope they expand this further and start providing brand new content day and date with what lands in comic shops, but perhaps that’s cutting off a big chunk of your core business model.

Still, from a cost standpoint, this is a big money saver for those of us who just want to read the story and not so much try to save the comic book in pristine condition hoping it increases dramatically in value.  $5 a month for thousands of comics, versus $4-8 for one printed comic?  Not too shabby…  And how else will I get to read the $200,000 Amazing Fantasy #15 to see Spiderman’s first appearance??

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