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Prophetic by Exactly Two Days
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for February 26, 2007
(Note: Red text indicates a dead link.)

 

For the second time since launching his latest online forum, Warren Ellis started an "Ask Warren Ellis" thread three weeks ago. Industry wonk that I am, I asked:

Since you have ties to the bubble even if you aren't actually in it: Have you seen any real signs that Marvel and DC recognize the challenges that the changing comics marketplace poses for them?

Ellis got distracted by other things — apparently, writers have to work to earn a living, or some such — but last Wednesday, I got a reply:

I'm in the unusual position of working with people I like, these days, so add as much salt as you like. I genuinely like both Paul Levitz and Dan Didio, Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada. It's weird. Especially since both Joe and I and Paul and I, in particular, have not exactly seen eye to eye in the past.

Marvel recognises that there are challenges: but they have shareholders to answer to and a mandate to keep their creative library in action. So, frankly, they pick and choose their fights. Dan Buckley is, I understand, concerned with an entry into digital comics. Joe has always been worried about the difficulty of doing comics in genres other than superhero, and is certainly aware of the bookstore market in that regard.

DC, I'm more separate from, these days, but... I'm not getting a sense that, top-to-bottom, the company understands the breadth of the challenges that the shifting market places. DC moves so slowly, Dirk. It's like the entire company is built on the principles in "The Tortoise And The Hare." So comprehension and reaction occur in geologic time. Dan D hasn't seemed to make much of a dent in that — and, again, print periodical remains their core business, and looking at their last six-months-to-a-year of their output, especially their launches, indicates that their resources there are scattered enough as it is.

I don't see DC making a major move towards digitising works or internet distribution. I'm not aware of all that's going on around MINX, but I do know their bookstore footprint has been eroding for going on two years now, and perhaps the MINX line will fix that.

Marvel, I can see moving into some kind of digital enterprise.

 

A random panel from the utterly brilliant science-fiction tale of journalism gone bad, Transmetropolitan, because Ellis' name was just mentioned and some kind of artwork should go here, ©2016 Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson.

 

Ellis proved to be prophetic by exactly two days: At Friday's comics-publishing panel at the New York Comic Con, Marvel's Dan Buckley announced that the company was indeed hard at work preparing a major online-distribution initiative for its comics. In a rare burst of actual news relevance over the weekend, Newsarama's Matt Brady caught the story:

Buckley explained that Marvel already has roughly 200 issues available to read on Marvel.com; however, those are seen mostly as promotional and marketing elements which drive sales towards trades and collections of the arcs.

"[Digital distribution] is a very real thing that we're all going to have to deal with, because whether we like it or not, our books are already on the internet," Buckley said, just prior to confirming that Marvel will be directly involved in the distribution of digital versions of their comics.

Before you break out the "Marvel gets it" flag: Buckley went on to state that the company had no intention of placing its entire catalog online, and that it was looking at "alterations" that would "enhance" the online reading experience, which doubtlessly means proprietary software and possibly even digital-rights management restrictions that would likely cripple the company's ability to compete with online piracy. Still, as baby steps go, this would be a fairly major one, and after what would likely be a less-than-stellar first attempt, Marvel would still have the option of retooling their strategies toward something that could actually work. "Would, would, could" — yeah, I know, I know. But it's still early days. This may well be news with long-term significance to the future of the comics medium, and it's certainly worth keeping an eye out for future developments.

And it must be said, the potential for such developments to fuck with the bread-and-butter publishing is entirely real. The same day, Top Cow's Filip Sablik announced that his company was partnering with IGN.com to offer current comics for sale at the same time they were offered to retailers... and for full cover price. One would imagine that the howls of outrage from retailers and derisive catcalls from fans (Full price!?!) must have quickly begun ringing in Sablik's ears, since he began back-pedaling the next day:

"Currently, the only thing we're putting up on IGN are the materials that make up the three compendium books — Witchblade #1-#50, Darkness #1-#50, and Tomb Raider #1-#50; books that have been out for years," Hawkins told Newsarama. "I don't think there's any material in there that's less that five or six years old. That was something that was part of the deal we made — we didn't want anything up there that was new. We want it to be in the direct market for comic book retailers to handle for at least a year — so not only do we want this material out in the 32 page format, we also want it out in the trade format before it ever gets to the digital version. We may change our minds on that eventually, and I know Marvel and DC are looking at an approach to it, but right now, we see this as a great place for readers to pick up the more archival material, and it's not full price."

Well, like I said, it is still early days...

 

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