Posted by on Apr 5, 2012 in Digital | 19 Comments

At Wondercon last month, Sam Humphries moderated a 50-minute panel/debate between myself and Chip Mosher of Comixology as we discussed the various pricing models of digital comics. (I’m the one who, for right or wrong, keeps screaming “ninety-nine cents!”) Though Chip and I are friends, it got pretty spirited in places–kudos to Chip for maintaining an even keel throughout. You can download an audio recording of the discussion here.

Digital Pricing Throwdown at Anaheim

19 Comments

  1. Steve Broome
    April 5, 2012

    I think $.99 is the key for long term expansion of the actual audience. Interesting discussion though. I wrote recently about the idea of making money through syndication of landscape oriented strip comics using iframes, I’d be interested in seeing what the pricing model would be if this idea ever took off:

    http://coalminds.com/blog/2012/02/syndicate-your-webcomics-pt-2-iframes/

    Reply
    • John Rogers
      April 5, 2012

      That is a nice bit of coding there, ace.

      Reply
      • Steve Broome
        April 5, 2012

        Thanks, I tried to make it simple enough that (a) non-coders could get it and (b) the code that you’d pass to your syndication partners would be very simple.

        Reply
  2. Ziggy
    April 5, 2012

    I look forward to listening to this.

    Personally I think $1.99 is a fair price for new monthly materiel. I would say charging the same as print is absurd at any price, even in that first month. I really don’t think charging the same that first month is saving many converts. People will either pay the price for digital anyway or just wait the month.

    In addition to $1.99 being a fair price for new material, it leaves the door open to sales. That’s a big think. $.99 sales drive people to purchase. It’s not just the price, but its the immediacy and the ability to feature new books.

    I never would’ve read Oni’s The Sixth Gun or IDW’s Locke & Key if not for there being sales on Comixology. Not only did it give me the opportunity to buy them at $.99 each, but it featured them and let me know they even exist. And since it was a limited-time sale, rather than some sort weekly feature or something, the immediacy drove me to actually purchase the books rather than just saying “oh, that sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll try that one day.”

    Reply
  3. optionald
    April 5, 2012

    It sucks for comic shops. All the comic shops in my area closed. Drug stores hardly carry them anymore. Most bookstores still carry some titles but those stores are closing just as quickly.

    That being said, fighting progress is not a fight anyone can win. So it’s ridiculous to inflate prices to try and prolong the death of a medium. It’s going to die as a mainstream means of digesting comics. It will survive as a niche industry for collectors. Pricing digital music the same as records & CD’s wasn’t going to save Tower Records anymore than inflating the price of digital movies or DVDs would save VHS. I think minus the distribution and printing costs that digital comics are fair to both sides at 99cents. I don’t think that should be a required price. But it should be the average. Some books you’ll gladly pay more for. And in the end I think people will make just as much money. No more shipping or printing or storage overhead. But if they think they can use price to block the rise of a new popular medium then they should ask the book publishing world how that’s working out for them.

    Reply
  4. Tim Simmons
    April 5, 2012

    I’ve been on Mark’s side w/ the 99c price point for quite some time now.

    It’s all about competing with the perceived entertainment value when you’re in an app store. Look, we can all rip through a comic in roughly 10 to 12 minutes– the common argument is comparing it to music: A 3 minute song, but songs have a high repeatability factor–

    But really, it’s Angry Birds. My wife (who is an admitted Angry Birds addict) picked up the new “installment” for 99 cents on launch day– she’s still playing it. She even picked up the DLC (another 99c) in the app– because she wanted more.

    Angry Birds is profitable because it moves TONS of product– and that’s what digital comics should be focusing on: Not two bucks for the audience we have– but rather 99c to build an audience of millions.

    At some point in the future, I do believe we’ll see an “Angry Birds of Comics”– one of those breakthrough apps that’ll sell 10 million copies through Itunes– and it won’t be a title from Marvel, DC, or any other publisher for that matter.

    Reply
    • Ziggy
      April 5, 2012

      The problem with the Angry Birds comparison is there is one angry birds and hundreds of comics.

      If you took all the sales Angry Birds has gotten and split them evenly over all the titles available on Comixology, you’d have a very high selling app consisting of a lot of low selling comics.

      Reply
  5. Steve Broome
    April 5, 2012

    I’ve been working for a month or so on the idea of a pricing scale for digital comics. The premise is that the more people pre-order, the cheaper the product would get at intervals (every 200 orders drops the cost by $.25 for everyone as anexample). The issue is that you’d need the digital equivalent of a promissary note, which you get through sites like kickstarter (which takes a fee, which screws up the pricing). It could be an interesting way to not only create transparency for consumers but encourage them to help market the book so that they could save money as well. The possibility of making their favorite comic or anthology $.99 instead of the opening price of $2.99 by getting 1,000 people to buy it could be enticing.

    Reply
  6. Mike
    April 5, 2012

    The pricing is a worthless point of debate unless you specify exactly what you are getting for the money. Mark (in interviews I’ve heard…and I haven’t listened to the posted debate) has talked about his belief that shorter, weekly books makes more sense than longer monthlies. If i get half the content for half the price….well…. yes, you could possibly capture more impulse purchases, but I question the satisfaction that could come from a 10 page book. Personally, I believe longer is better. Mark compares things to TV, and I agree it provides an interesting point of discussion, but a single 30 page comic provides MUCH less story than a 60 minute TV show. A 10 page story is barely more than a couple of scenes. That’s not the kind of storytelling I’m interested in.

    Digital provides flexibility. I as the consumer should be able to decide how I want to consume the content. Long form, relatively pricey. Ok, you can have that. Short from, rapid delivery, cheap. You got it. Let the creators and consumers match up. What I think is the total key is the discovery process. How do I as the consumer easily find the content that I want. Don’t make me work for it, cause I won’t.

    Reply
  7. Matt Amylon
    April 5, 2012

    If every comic on Comixology went .99 right now, I would be broke within a week.

    Currently I’m a month behind on all my comics because I only buy digital and refuse to pay more than $1.99 for anything except Action Comics. I don’t harbor any real grievance against a $1.99-with-.99-sales model. It gives me incentives to binge on things when I can do so at low cost.

    Reply
  8. James Schee
    April 5, 2012

    Interesting discussion. 95% of the comics I read are digital these days. Ever since I got my IPad I wanted something to do on it, and so comics were that something. I hadn’t read a single issue comic in 3 years or more, quality and just the very nature of going to a shop was not something I was interested in.

    I can’t say I’m over joyed at the prices, but the convenance of just opening an ap and getting basically any comic I want is nice. The retailers in my area are little more than catalog stores (heck you can’t even get all the DC/Marvel comics from them anymore as they didn’t even order shelf copies) and even then my “Weird indies” often got forgotten.

    At first it was incredible to get back in the hobby, as having not read anything in so long it was catching up. During my time away I said I’d just buy GNs/collections, but as often as not I’d forget or lose interest by the time it came out.

    The newness is wearing off though, I’m buying less because the price is just more than I want or can spend. I’m hoping Mark’s 99 cent thing pans out, or even some type of subscription plan can bring costs closer to making it more affordable.

    I’d like comics to become disposable entertainment again. Give me something fun I can enjoy then move on from. With the occasional classic that I’ll later buy in a collection.

    Reply
  9. D.J. Coffman
    April 6, 2012

    A tip on pricing for indy creators, or collecting $$$ via paypal. You can actually go into your settings and change your cut to “micropayment” and they take less of a fee. 5% + $0.05 per transaction. So you can collect this yourself instead of worrying about going through an app or virtual distributor who is going to take a lot more.

    Also, I suggest pulleyapp.com as a way to distribute your work, or e-junkie.com which also has an affiliate program built in. It’s always been my vision that popular digital comics could in fact allow it’s fans or online retailers to sell the items via affiliate link and take a slice of each sale. (kinda like Amazon) For progressive comic shops, they could then say something like “Buy your digital comics through us!” and probably end up making MORE $ in the long run. Of course, that would only be if Comixology or some broad range of titles had an easy affiliate plan.

    Reply
    • Ziggy
      April 6, 2012

      Comixology DOES have an affiliate plan. I buy all my digital books through my local store’s Comixilogy affiliate store so that they get a (admittedly pretty small) cut. It’s also why I don’t buy any digital Marvel books. They’re the only publisher on Comixology that doesn’t participate in this program.

      Well, that’s one of the reasons. The other reason being I refuse to pay $3.99 for a digital comic.

      But it comes down to what the one audience member asked during this panel, about the 80/20 thing. It’s apparent Marvel feels they can make more money overcharging a small audience willing to pay the high prices than use reasonable prices to help expand the audience. Sometimes I feel like they take that position in both digital AND print.

      Reply
      • D.J. Coffman
        April 6, 2012

        Cool, I was not aware. Thanks for the heads up. I totally agree that the price of digital is way too high.

        Over in eBook land, the same thing is true though. People who has ebooks for 2.99, raise the price to 4.99 and 6.99 and saw their sales TRIPLE. It makes no logical sense, except that humans are stupid.

        Reply
  10. Mike
    April 6, 2012

    I don’t understand why were are all assuming that digital needs to mirror the print world with 20-30 page “books” serialized monthly? Is that the optimum way to tell every story? I certainly don’t think so. Why apply constraints when there is no reason too? That format is not a requirement for the comic book…it was simply a function of the distribution channels available at the time. Digital is a whole different distribution world. Find what works for in that world. I think $.99 pricing can be an important tool for attracting new readers (or old readers to new stories), but that does not mean it’s optimal for all books. Maybe some books want to do 50 page episodes and charge $3 and come out weekly. Others want to do 15 pages weekly for .99. No problem. As a consumer I just want to know what I’m committing to/buying into at the outset.

    Also, like Marvel is doing with AR, I think digital comics could easily provide “extra materials.” Artist commentary track. Links to related stories/quick side story summaries to get the reader caught up, etc. Comics are daunting to get into (trust me, I’m recently returning and trying to get friends and family into it…there are some huge hurdles), and digital can, and should, provide means to remove the hurdles as much as possible.

    Reply
  11. horsey
    April 7, 2012

    here’s an idea, $0.05 per page. 20 pages = $1, but you can make books any number of pages. wouldn’t a per page price be better than trying to shoehorn to fit. so pages*.05 = price. (or more per page if you choose)

    Reply
  12. Adriano Ariganello
    April 8, 2012

    Though I buy one or two of my comics weekly, I’m usually a trade-waiter. Worse yet, I don’t buy those in the store, but wait for the local con (Fan Expo here in Toronto) and pick them up at reduced prices.

    Yet, if I can find a trade for under $10 on a regular day, I buy it where I find it. (Like Walking Dead 1 or Morning Glories) $10 is the random price point I’ve set for a trade to be “worth it” in my mind.

    The argument that comics should be $1.99 so that they can have sales and drop to $0.99 doesn’t make too much sense to me. If I could get the books I want to read at $0.99 all the time – I would. Instead, I check Comixology frequently and wait for the books on my wishlist to drop to a reasonable price. Effectively, it’s the same tactic, just more random.

    Reply
  13. David
    April 19, 2012

    I think DC’s biggest misstep with their attempt at getting new readers with digital IS price point. When it comes to pricing it matters a great deal less what it costs to make something than what the market will pay for it. Now the current market will pay 1.99 to 3.99 for digital, but I would gather that most of these purchases are old readers, not new. To get the coveted “new reader” the barrier to entry has to be low, 99 cents low. I think that had DC drop the digital price to .99 the “new market” would have exploded. With ipads and tablets popping up everywhere the digital market is ripe for the picking and I think a guy like Mark Waid, has a huge opportunity to disrupt the status quo. I wish him luck and will be buying, especially if the barrier to entry is low.

    Reply
  14. Christo
    April 19, 2012

    Digital for the same comic HAS to be cheaper than the printed comic… As you’re getting 22 pages in the digital, opposed to 32 in the printed one…

    “But the 10 pages are for ads!” I hear you say… So shouldn’t it then be subsidizing the print costs?

    In any case – the digital version should cover new fans and “old” fans like myself who like the new digital format for what it brings – easy access to 1000′s of titles. As said elsewhere – what would make the digital format even better – have a writer/artist commentary, or include the FULL comic, from script to just pencils/inks/colours/letters in the comic as layers?

    And for printed comics hold-outs – the decreasing print run on your title is actually MUCH better for the resale value!

    Reply

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