Free Schmee: Readers Say Paying for Digital Comics is Future

Readers Want to Pay for Digital Comics

Is the future of the comic book online and on handheld devices free? Not according to over 2600 comic book readers polled on Newsarama, the large majority of which say they expect, and in fact, prefer to pay for comic books when and if they make the switch from buying traditional hardcopies to e-versions.

If, how, and when comic books will shift from a traditional publishing model to electronic distribution has been a matter of some experimentation and speculation among publishers big and small for years. Industry giant Marvel Comics has aggressively launched a full out effort to establish a viable publishing-for-profit model online called Marvel Digital Unlimited, choosing to offer viewable (but not downloadable) comic books on a monthly subscription-based fee. Others like Dark Horse Comics see the online delivery of comic book stories currently as just marketing support for their traditional publishing efforts.

"I haven’t yet seen a viable model for delivering online comics for profit," Dark Horse Senior Editor Randy Stradley told Newsarama recently. "I’m not saying it’ll never happen, just that I haven’t seen anyone do it effectively yet."

However, with the price of printed comic books on the rise and recent technological advances in the delivery of traditionally published material electronically, the topic is beginning to pick up steam.

At least one prominent theory is the most viable model will be to offer comic books online for free, at of course a greatly reduced cost to publishers in terms of printing and distribution, with revenue generated from advertising support.

Filip Sablik, Editor-in-Chief of Top Cow (publisher of the properties Witchblade and Wanted), recently Blogged about the issue here on Newsarama. While on one hand relaying a sound argument someone made to him for a $0.99 price point, Sablik went on to express his belief that the free model is the future.

"Personally I suspect the only correct price point for the internet is FREE," Sablik wrote. "The real question for most publishers is how to effectively monetize what we do while giving away our bread and butter for free."

Newsarama readers, however, don't seem to agree with Sablik.

In an open poll that began last week (and you can still vote in), only 31% of Newsarama readers said the free, advertising supported-based model is the one they think is best, with the other 69% voting for some sort of fee-based model.

42% voted for the iTunes model - $0.99 for a single "issue" or story (although iTunes is beginning to experiment with higher price points). Another 23% voted for a $5.00 or more monthly subscription based service (ala Marvel's, though with downloading as an option) that would allow for the bundling of multiple issues that would average less than $0.99 an issue for readers. And even 4% said via their votes they'd be willing to pay more than $1.00 to legally download one issue of a comic book, given a desirable and robust reading platform.

"I don't think from a business standpoint that it should be free," wrote on Newsarama reader 'DarkJared' in response to the poll. "That sends the wrong message and sets them up for failure down the road when advertising directions change and revenues disappear (like back in the day when website advertising revenues dropped out). They should build in long-term stability. Get the public used to paying for these comics right from day one."

"I'd go with 99 cents," wrote 'Cartoon Jay'. "Creators (of all kinds) will have to work to build a relationship with their audience so that the audience wants to support them. The model is simple: ‘Please pay $0.99 cents so I can keep bringing you the content you enjoy’."

While various arguments for each price point listed in the poll were given and alternative options proposed, it's the very succinct arguments of some of the 31% of readers that did cast their vote for "free" that still may be the biggest obstacle in the path of viable electronic distribution, despite the poll results…

Wrote reader 'tridon': "Honestly, I don't care. Comics belong in my hand, not on a computer screen."


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