Hey, That's My Cape! - Should There Be a NETFLIX of Comics?

You’ve all heard the latest news about Netflix, right? The movie rental service has made a drastic change to its business structure by separating their streaming and physical DVD rentals into two companies. If you want whatever streaming movies or television shows they offer, you stick with Netflix. If you want DVDs alone or in addition to that, you must set up an account with the newly created Qwikster.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of problems with how Netflix has been operating lately but it got me thinking about their service, the millions of people who use it and how they use it. The entire time I’ve subscribed to Netflix I had the unlimited streaming account with one hard disk out at a time. It worked fine for me other than the times I’d find a movie’s sequel on the streaming service but not the original or when I’d find that one hard disk that had been sitting on my TV stand for five months. So, a few issues but nothing to really complain about for $10 a month. In my opinion, the recent price hike, while steep, is still a fairly reasonable price to pay for the entertainment you receive.

What happens when you breakdown what you’re getting when you pay for comics?

Recently on Twitter, Topless Robot editor Rob Bricken was discussing comics DC had sent him to review. He then thought about what this would have meant had he purchased them, “I got 12 issues, $3 each, or $36 for all of them. I read all 12 in about an hour. That... that does not seem like a good investment.”

Obviously, the movie and television industries have a very different business model than comic publishers in addition to a completely different market and marketing strategy. But if you think about it, Bricken hit the nail on the head. You can pay a lot of money each week for a few comics but pay $120 a year for a Netflix account you can use at your leisure or $60 for an XBOX Live Gold Membership. Sure, people read their comics at varying speeds but for the casual fan, comics aren’t a sound entertainment investment. Unless you’re a collector who hermetically seals their Justice League #1 in the hopes that it will be worth thousands one day, comics’ cover prices are rather high and that’s always been a complaint from fans.

Personally I’ve never given comic publishers too much grief for what they charge because I know what goes into making a comic and that even though the Big 2 sell more comics than others, they still aren’t making money hand over fist. That’s not to say my wallet doesn’t need some bandaging each week after I leave the comic shop but this is one type of entertainment I really enjoy so I shell out my hard earned money for it. But how many of us reread our comics? I do but the majority stay stockpiled away never to be read again. Is it smart to spend so much money on what is basically disposable entertainment?

By no means is Netflix a perfect company or the best option for everyone out there, but it is used by 25 million people. Twenty-five million people that each pay, at the minimum, $10 a month for the service. That’s a lot of dough. I own a good number of DVDs. How often do I watch them? Almost never. There are some films I’ve purchased that I’ve yet to watch and there are some movies I own that I’ll watch on Netflix streaming (if they’re available) instead of taking them off my shelf because it’s just easier. Not everyone is like me but I’m guessing a good number of you out there are finding some common traits here.

I’m still not all that big on digital comics, I like to physically hold a book in my hands and I find reading a whole comic on my computer screen difficult. Netflix was established back in 1997 but didn’t start their streaming service until ten years later. The main future for the comics industry is going to be digital, I’ve written about it before as have many others, but the delivery method is still in its infancy. Not many people are happy with the price point for digital seeing as how it’s even more of a disposable entertainment investment because you don’t have anything to hold onto after you make the purchase. We already have digital retailers like comiXology and Graphicly but no one has monthly subscription options, outside of Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited, which while it offers over 10,000 issues of comics, they're not always complete storylines, and not necessarily the same new comics coming out in print. It's also only viewable on a computer; the other Marvel digital options are separate, non-subscription options.

So what if there were a Netflix for comics?

Are 25 million people interested in comics? Probably not. But what if they were cheaper and/or available on your television like Netflix? Would more people consider trying them out? Could someone come along, make a massive investment leap and get every comic publisher on board to offer their comics for a flat monthly fee? Would we see a surge in readership because of the accessibility? I don’t see it happening in the immediate future but I know a lot of folks who’ve told me they would buy digital comics if they were cheaper or had a subscription. Would an unlimited option work in this instance? Only if it cost a lot I’d have to assume. People can read a lot of comics in a short amount of time as we’ve already established.

As I said, the comic industry is not the movie or television industries but perhaps they need to take a page out of their book so to speak. Comics may be worth a lot to us but they need to be cheap, fast and easy to acquire if we want an audience who will willingly set up monthly credit card charges for entertainment.

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