Comics/Graphic Novels

My Comics Dream: Digital-Plus-Trade Subscriptions

C.P. Hoffman

Staff Writer

By day, C.P. Hoffman writes about digital accessibility and the law; by night, they write about comics, pop culture, books, and gender for Book Riot and other sites. They have lived across North America (Indianapolis > Chicago > New York > Montreal > Indianapolis again), but now reside just outside of Washington, DC. C.P. has a particular affinity for Spider-Women, but also loves Wonder Woman, comics about witches, and stories about time travel. For inexplicable reasons, they also tweet a lot about the Fantastic Four. Twitter: @CPHwriter

I’ve read comics in a lot of different formats over the years: single issues (floppies), trades, digests, oversized hardcovers/omniboo, black and white phonebook reprints, digital editions, and probably some other formats I’m forgetting. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages, and your preferences are probably different from mine, but I’ve realized I strongly prefer reading comics in one of two formats with surprisingly little in common: oversized hardcovers (OHCs) and digital comics.

Also, carrying books in barrels isn't good for their spines.

Also, carrying books in barrels isn’t good for their spines.

I love OHCs and digital for different reasons. OHCs are a great way to really appreciate the art (being “oversized” and all) and the books are often things of beauty.The problem is, those OHCs aren’t exactly portable; they aren’t great for tossing into a bag and reading on the subway. For portability, you can’t beat digital. I can now take my comics practically anywhere I go, without needing to load up a pack mule. Digital comics rock my world, and if the industry changed to go 100% digital, I’d ultimately be okay with that (though I’d shed a tear for the sadly out-of-work comic shop owners/employees).

On the other side of things are my two least favorite ways of reading comics: the black and white phonebooks and single issues. The phonebook-style reprints have largely been phased out as color printing has gotten cheaper, but floppies are still with us despite years of predictions otherwise.

With few exceptions, I really don’t like reading floppies. Part of it is the constant worry that I’m going to damage them, but I also just don’t enjoy the tactile experience. Floppies don’t feel substantial in my hands. It’s so bad that with my Marvel comics (at least those that come with digital copies) I will usually open up the comic to get the digital code and then read it on my iPad.

This is basically my Twitter feed every Wednesday.

This is basically my Twitter feed every Wednesday. National Lampoon, January 1973, cover photo by Ronald G. Harris.

Because of the way the industry is set up, reading single issues is still incredibly important. Single issue sales are used to decide whether a title is going to be cancelled, so trade-waiting a title on the bubble can be risky. Another, less discussed, consideration is that single issue sales provide incremental revenue to the creators and publishers, allowing them to continue making great books without having to wait 6+ months for a payoff on their investment. So, as much as people have predicted that the industry would move to 100% trades, it hasn’t happened yet, and I am starting to doubt it will ever happen.

So why don’t I just go digital, if I love it so much? Part of it is that while I prefer reading digitally, I also like having a physical copy to sit on my bookshelf just in case. Add to that the fact that digital pricing of new comics currently doesn’t make sense for anyone other than comic shops and the risk inherent in buying any digital content subject to DRM restrictions, and I’m just a little too wary to dive completely into that pool.

Heading to the comic shop.

Heading to the comic shop.

Because of this, my comics-reading/buying is a crazy mishmash, with different strategies for different publishers, all with the goal of offering support to creators while not going into bankruptcy. (I’ll spare you the details.) But this isn’t really a good long-term solution, so I got to thinking: What if we could take the best of the Kickstarter model, mix it up with the “digital first” concept, and throw in a dash of the old school comics subscription? In other words, a digital-plus-trade subscription.

Here’s the idea: you preorder/prepay for the trade, and in the meantime you get a digital copy of each issue the day it’s released. Then, when the story arc is over, the publisher mails you a copy of the trade. You get to stay current on the book while it’s coming out and you get a copy of the trade, but you don’t have to worry about paying for the same book twice and you don’t have to figure out something to do with your old floppies now that you’ve bought the trade. (My recommendation: decoupage!)

Decoupaged Sandman Dresser

There are undoubtedly a lot of complications for setting this up: predicting how many issues will be in a trade in advance, for instance. And, publishers will need to figure out how this fits in with the direct market, though they’ve already been feeling pressure from digital copies and online trade sales. But, assuming the hurdles aren’t too high, this is my comics dream.