Is There a Future for Digital Comics?

This past weekend I was catching up reading some Walking Dead comics and came across and ad for the digital comics app Comixology.  It was at that point I realized after a very exciting start I had all but abandoned digital comics.  I have always been a media hog who loved buying CD’s, DVD’s, video games and comic books. Since the introduction of iBooks by Apple I even now prefer books digitally as well.  However while I prefer all my books, music, movies and video games digitally, comic books never made that transition.

digital comics

In 2009 Comixology released a digital comic book reader and store for mobile devices.  When the app was launched it was an instant hit (at lease for me) especially on devices like Apple’s iPad.  Additionally around the same time a company called Bitolithic released an app called Comic Zeal.  While Comixology became a central place to purchase and read mostly new and some older comic books Comic Zeal became a place to gather and collect libraries of comic books you already owned or “found” online.  In the following years Comixology would get their new releases in line with actual new retail releases and it became a great place to get your comic books digitally day and date.  However in 2014 Comixology was purchased by and became a subsidy of Amazon.com and with that came the removal of the in app store thus removing what many credited the apps top selling point.

When I started purchasing digital comics one thing I never did was stop buying the physical comics themselves.  For a short time I did consider weaning myself off physical comics and going all digital, especially since buying duplicates was getting expensive. There is a lot to be said for going digital and the biggest selling point is storage.  As someone who already had a pretty decent sized comic book collection I was running out of room.  Even today although I don’t purchase a lot of comics each month they do add up over time.

Yet over time I continued to purchase my comics at the comic shop but seemed to move away from digital.  So I had to ask myself as someone who refuses to purchase an Xbox One game on disc why do I now seemingly refuse to buy digital comics.

The first thing that comes to mind is that comic books are first and foremost a collectible item.  Physically owning a comic book means you can read it, display it, store it and possibly sell it.  A comic book can go out of print, become hard to find and possibly become valuable.  If you store your collection properly you can pass it along generation after generation for enjoyment.

Secondly on the opposite side of my first point is that digital comics are not really able to be “backed up”.  When Comixology was purchased by Amazon more than a few people really questioned who owned their digital comics.  If the app ceased to operate and exist tomorrow how would you access your collection.  When all of our mp3 files were finally free of DRM we bought a lot more digital music and these days Ultraviolet has made it easier for your digital movie collection to be more secure, but for the most part you can’t even download a copy of a digital comic.  I mentioned earlier in the post about Comic Zeal which used a file format called CBR to read comics but that falls more on the pirated side of comic collecting rather than the legitimate one.

Digital Comics
Comics on the Green, Scranton, PA

Finally and most importantly with comic books there is still an experience to going to the store and buying them.  Unlike buying a CD or DVD at Best Buy or Wal-Mart or a video game at Gamestop where buying it online at Amazon.com is really no different, going to the comic book shop is still fun.  I guess it’s ironic since Amazon.com bought Comixology. It’s a great thing that comic books were never something that has been taken over by mass market chain stores that have put out of business all the smaller locally owned stores.  Going to the comic book store is part of the experience of buying your comics.  It’s that social experience of going somewhere to meet people and discovering something you may not have found while browsing a friendly store.  Even today on Amazon you can’t buy new comics other than graphic novels.

What’s “In Store” for Digital Comics?

Digital comics aren’t going to go away but where do I feel the future of digital comics should go?  The answer is simple, included digital editions in print copies.  I spent about an hour yesterday inputting codes that were included with the comics I had purchased (mostly Marvel Star Wars comics) over the past year into the Comixology app through the Marvel website.  I will admit I had put this off mostly because I didn’t want to tear off the cover to the code because I felt would lessen the value of the comics.  Of course when I realized I’m not putting anyone through college with these it became an easy task.  It was great to have copies of these comics which I owned in my Comixology app.

There are of course positives for digital comics. Digital comics are a great way for someone to easily catch up with recent back issues they may not be able to find in the store in order to catch up on story lines and most times older digital versions are much cheaper to purchase than physical copies.  Digital comics also can introduce someone to comics that may not have a good local comic book shop in their area or perhaps may get them to seek one out.

My future with digital comics will be strictly with included codes.  Much the same way I only buy new Blurays if they include a digital copy code I see comics purchased headed the same way.  I want both and buying the digital edition doesn’t get a physical edition sent to my house.  Picking up comics with digital editions included is the best of both worlds and also allows me to keep supporting my local comic shop (which in my case happens to be Comics on the Green) because we need to keep the experience alive for future generations to enjoy.

What are your thoughts on digital comics? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

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