On DC’s Digital Comics

I *was* going to write about Batman 700 today, but I’ll leave it til I review Return Of Bruce Wayne 3 this week, and deal with both simultaneously, because DC have announced that they’re releasing digital comics in partnership with Comixology. This has good and bad aspects:

The good:
Creators get royalties from the comics, unlike Marvel’s digital comics at the moment.
That they’re doing it at all
A proportion of money is going to help brick-and-mortar comic shops who might lose customers through this – comics retailing is such a marginal business that otherwise many smaller shops could easily go out of business.
Likewise, while old comics will be priced cheaply (good), new comics will be priced at cover price, so not giving any great incentive to move away from paper comics – I don’t want to see comic shops going out of business, as they’re mostly run by people who do it as much for love as money.

The bad:
The obsession with the sodding iPad. While this material will be available over the web, you wouldn’t know that from the press release, which just says iPad iPad iPhone iPhone iPad app app app app app. And I consider the iPhone/Pad model to be *INCREDIBLY* dangerous – anything that hypes this more is A Bad Thing. Remind me to explain why some time.
The user interface. I tried the free preview of Superman 700 at work at lunchtime and it’s just *horrible*. Rather than presenting a full page, it’s a horrible pan-and-scan thing that swoops down to different panels when you click it, without giving any option (as far as I could see) to see the page the way the artist intended. While that’s not such a problem with whoever drew Superman 700, given that comics drawn by people like Frank Quitely and Brian Bolland are available through this site I’d want to see them as they drew them.
But of course I can’t see them *at all*, because if you don’t have some iCrap you have to use a web-based viewer which requires Adobe’s proprietary Flash 10, and I’m not installing proprietary software that a lot of people go to huge efforts to *block* on my Free Software machine. (And of course any machine not running one of a handful of approved OSes, or not running on x86 architectures, can’t run Flash at all).
You also can’t, unless you’re running an iPad ‘app’ (or application for those of us who speak English rather than marketese, or computer program for those who like to be understood), save the comics you ‘buy’ to your computer, making it reliant on having a permanent internet connection and on comixology’s continued willingness to serve the files.

The annoying thing is that these limitations could be overcome – there is already an accepted file format among online comics readers, .cbr or .cbz (I prefer .cbz myself, as .cbr files require the use of .rar, which is problematic, but either is better than a Flash website). Software exists for every platform to read these, people are already used to them, and they allow people to download the comics to their own hard drives.

One can only presume that DC want to prevent ‘piracy’, but these methods actually make it more, not less, likely that someone like myself would ‘pirate’ their comics (although the only comics I’ve got on my hard drive at the moment are either those I have paper copies of or ones that as far as I’m aware are out of print). If the free-but-illegal copy is actually more convenient, easier to use, and more flexible than the legal-and-costly one, then they’re really not providing any incentive at all to buy the legal one, other than a sense of fair play.

Luckily, paper copies of new comics are even *more* convenient than torrents, so DC won’t be losing any of the money I spend on them any time soon, but I suspect they’re going to have to learn the lesson that the record companies learned a few years ago – if everyone already wants MP3s, then just sell them MP3s, not DRMd proprietary files or expensive streams.

So, substantially better than Marvel’s offering, in that they recognise that the people who write and draw their comics, and the people who sell them, are their business partners, but wake me up when they recognise that usability and freedom matter too. In the meantime, I’ll be at the comic shop, buying dead trees.

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2 Responses to On DC’s Digital Comics

  1. Matt Duarte says:

    Kind of random question, but what’s wrong with .rar files?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      There’s a lot less wrong with them than with some other formats, but .rar is a proprietary, undocumented format with only one implementation, which means that reading .cbrs in future is dependent on the whim of, in this case, a single developer. .zip , on the other hand, has multiple independent implementations, including Free Software ones, so doesn’t have that problem.

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