Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Digital Discounts

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 30th, 2013

The era of the $3.99 standard-sized comic book is upon us, and there’s no sign of it going anywhere. In some cases, it’s an understandable development. When smaller publishers — such as Oni Press or IDW Publishing — ask a higher price for its wares, I can see why it’s needed. They don’t post the numbers larger publishers such as DC and Marvel do, and to ensure the viability of a project and remuneration for the creative talent, it’s easy to get behind such a scenario.

But when it’s Marvel and DC, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Actually, sometimes, it can feel more like a suppository than a pill. However, when it comes to Marvel’s more expensive, 20-page titles, there’s a way to eliminate the discomfort and even bring your out-of-pocket expense down below the typical $2.99 price many comics customers would prefer.

Marvel includes in its $3.99 (and up, sometimes) comics a “free” digital download code, or, as it’s advertising on the covers of such comics these days, a “bonus digital edition.” Inside such a comic, one can find a code, covered by a glossy little piece of paper.

Now, I’m not interested in downloading these “free” digital comics. I prefer my comics reading material to be tangible, and I typically find reading comics on a computer screen to be a less-than-satisfying experience. So I’m left with these codes, meant to be value-added items that turn out to be rather useless to me.

But not to others.

I discovered a few months ago some folks sell these codes on eBay. The same is done by some people when it comes to digital copies of DVDs/Blu-Rays, so a similar development in the world of comics was a foreseeable development.

The eBay practice isn’t something that seems to be curbed in any way, so I don’t know if it qualifies as a “grey market” for comics or not. There’s nothing overtly listed in the details outlined by Marvel that precludes the resale of the codes. The only real conditions mentioned on the page featuring the code are the following: “Digital copy requires purchase of a physical comic. Download code valid for one use only.” There’s no mention that the person who bought the comic is the only one who can use it, nor does Marvel state the code isn’t for resale.

I rarely list my codes on eBay anymore because I’ve developed a short list of regular customers who are happy to send me some money via Paypal for the codes. I typically get around $1.99 per code, but one has to bear in mind Paypal takes its cut every time. Nevertheless, that makes my net cost for a Marvel comic priced at $3.99 US to about $2.36. And when one factors in the discount I get from my comics retailer, I shell out less than $2 for a $3.99 Marvel (plus applicable taxes).

Aftermath of using Marvel codesIs the resale of these codes good for the marketplace? It depends on your stance. Take wholly illegal, copyright-infringing downloads of comics through torrent sites. While many are vehemently opposed to them, several industry insiders have relayed that illegal downloads of comics are, in the long run, good for the marketplace, and they lead to many online consumers of such files to seek out the printed products through conventional, profitable means. If one subscribes to that thinking, then these potentially “grey-market” digital comics would logically be of benefit to comics publishers and retailers as well.

Interestingly, I’ve never been able to find corresponding eBay listings for download codes of DC titles. DC offers combo packs of its $3.99 titles at $4.99 US, which include the physical copy of the comic and a digital one. I’ve never really looked at those combo packs or the codes, but given the apparent absence of any such codes on eBay, I assume the procedure for downloading DC’s titles makes resale of the digital copies difficult.

Or maybe nobody’s bothered because of the extra buck tacked onto the $3.99 price tag. Maybe some investigation/experimentation is in order…

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6 Responses to “Digital Discounts”

  1. Jer Says:

    Don wrote:
    I typically get around $1.99 per code

    This, right here, is the best evidence I’ve seen yet that the price on digital rentals of comic books are way too high.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Jer wrote:
    This, right here, is the best evidence I’ve seen yet that the price on digital rentals of comic books are way too high.

    How do you mean, Jer? Are you suggesting I charge too much for the codes, or that Comixology and the like charge too much?

  3. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 4/2/13: Foodtown Says:

    […] Don MacPherson jumps into the digital comics grey market: “I discovered a few months ago some folks sell these codes on eBay. The same is done by some people” […]

  4. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    I listed some codes on eBay after reading your post, which unfortunately led to a slap on the wrist and my remaining digital code listings being taken down.

    The reasons given revolved around not being legally authorized to distribute digital codes, and that downloadable content can only be sold by its original creators or those licensed by the content creator.

    I don’t know what the terms and conditions are for other “free” digital media, but when it comes to Marvel comics at least, as you’ve stated above, no stipulation is imposed with respect to distribution, whether gratis or otherwise.

    In other words, this practice is not only curbed on eBay, but outright disallowed.

    I believe I made around $4 after eBay and PayPal fees from the sale of four codes.

    I have since taken up selling codes on message forums for one dollar apiece and have made around $50 so far, all owed to your post. I’d offer a kickback, but I know how modest you are.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Ebrahim wrote:
    I have since taken up selling codes on message forums for one dollar apiece and have made around $50 so far, all owed to your post. I’d offer a kickback, but I know how modest you are.

    I think the term is “commission,” not “kickback.” And I’m not modest at all. :) But it’s not like I developed this grey market, I just stumbled onto it.

  6. Nick Carmine Says:

    Arriving late to the discussion, so apologies.

    I’ve been away from the comic scene for over a decade, and have recently been drawn back in, via the aforementioned torrent sites. Unlike some, I’ve actually come to appreciate digital-only publication (I was as surprised as anyone), and have purchased many books in said medium.

    But not comics.

    It seems to me that the big 2 have failed to adjust to the digital realm in an appropriate manner, in pricing their wares at the same cost as physical copies (which have such rolled-in costs as printing, shipping, etc.), in attempting to prevent pirating by requiring an active internet connection to read digital copies, and in not allowing sample reading to encourage purchase.

    In terms of cost, the magic number, for me, is 99 cents. The difference between buying a song on iTunes, and stealing it via torrent, is 99 cents. I have, in the past year, spent well over 50 dollars on music downloads (which, in the plus-forty demographic, is significant), but only at the 99 cent cost.

    In terms of books, I’ve purchased several at full price, but only after reading sample chapters and being convinced that it was something I cared to collect.

    To pay $3.99 or more for a digital comic, without the benefit of sampling, is simply not appealing enough to be encouraging. When you factor in the sad, obvious attempts to milk every last dollar out of fans, via poorly-written crossover events, it becomes even less so (seriously…the purchase of every tie-in for a series such as Marvel’s ‘Fear Itself’ event would end up costing well over $500.00).

    I’m not one who tries to justify piracy with arguments about corporate greed, etc. It’s not morally defensible, but it is ubiquitous. I would posit that the best defence — for the publishers — would be to make ownership more appealing. Digitizing back catalogues would be a good move, and lowering the price for digital issues would be a better one. Allowing actual downloads (because collecting is all about ownership) would be best of all.

    But this, I suppose, would require a long-view style of thinking, with a certain level of appreciation for building and maintaining a fan base. Unfortunately, fans appear to have been re-purposed as viral marketing tools, for promoting the next feature film, etc. “Look — it’s the Mandarin! Now fill the blogosphere with how cool this movie will be!”

    *sigh*