Mark Millar: Digital comics should not be day and date

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201111231209 Mark Millar: Digital comics should not be day and date

Mark Millar has staked a place out for himself as both a franchise comics creator, able to sell books on his name alone, and someone who isn’t afraid to hold a renegade opinion — and he is prepared to defend his answer with his own logic, which may or may not conform to what is generally considered common sense. Thus this long piece in which he says day and date digital is not a good thing for comics, suggesting that a theatrical to DVD type model makes more sense — print being the theatrical release, digital being the DVD. Digital readers “aren’t as hardcore as the first group, but they’re a great place to recoup any money lost in the initial phase. Digital comics are like TV rights to me in that they’re the tertiary phase of all this. These are for the most casual, mainstream readers or viewers and much cheaper than the primary or secondary waves. They’re a great way of pulling people in for the next product coming out in theatres or in comic stores, but absolutely not the bedrock of your business.”

Part of his hesitance is because retailers really don’t like digital, and he’d rather partner with them for print. However, there is SOME room for digital:

“I think digital could be a useful tool, but I’m increasingly concerned for friends in retail that they’re going to get shafted here,” the wrier explained. “I really think day and date release is a disastrous idea and makes no economic sense at all to comics as a business. It’s potentially ruinous for comic stores, and in the long term it’s not going to do publishers any favors either. I see the attraction on a very superficial level.”

…”This decision I took not to release ‘Kick-Ass 2′ or ‘Superior’ or ‘Nemesis’ or any of my upcoming books digitally every month isn’t based on nostalgia. Yeah, I’ve hung around comic stores since I was 13, but this isn’t just because it affects the bread and butter of a huge number of friends (though that’s a pretty damn good reason). I just think it’s bad for the industry as a whole and since the Kick-Ass books in particular sell very, very well I hope it draws attention to the problem and encourages other creators to do the same. Speaking purely in business terms why would we want to marginalise or eliminate our greatest asset for the past thirty or forty years?”


Millar’s digital reluctance is particularly noteworthy given that WANTED topped the digital charts last year, and CIVIL WAR is Marvel’s best selling digital comic. Presumably he’s gotten the sales figures and seen the royalties. He knows the digital dental floss pipeline isn’t sufficient to maintain his Chivas Regal lifestyle.

Problem is, digital might be a direct path to a Night Train lifestyle right now, but that won’t be the case when everyone gets a tablet. We’ve already noted that comics apps are the highest grossing apps on tablets — to the point that Amazon and B&N really want to get in on the action. Who knows if some of those casual readers might convert to strong regular customers.

We don’t actually disagree with any of Millar’s actions in holding back his digital releases. He’s got a strong enough fanbase in the DM to make that viable for him. And by continuing to stand with his retail partners, he’s hoping they stand by him.

Comments

  1. Wally Strong says:

    Dear Mark, after my generation gets out of comics, you’ll have no choice but to go digital.

  2. DON’T BUY MILLAR BUY COMICS!

  3. Well, I suppose back in the day there was a bunch of people trying to protect buggy whip shops, too.

  4. “I really think day and date release is a disastrous idea and makes no economic sense at all to comics as a business…”

    Glad to see he’s putting his degree in economics to work… oh, wait.

    He’s also not a media guru as he equates the print release of a book with a theatrical release of a movie.

    A DIGITAL first release of a comic would be a far more appropriate analogy. Like a wide release movie – you would see advertising for it all over the web. It would also contain ads (trailers) for other books, toys, etc… You could also blog/Facebook/Tweet about it on community boards in realtime – just like those annoying teens who won’t shut up in the movie theater.

    PRINT would be the DVD (it’s a physical product after all) and could be filled with all sorts of valuable extras that a fan wants, but a casual reader doesn’t.

    I understand the allure and ease of equating comics to movies, especially in this day and age. But if you are going to go there – make sure you’re not driving backwards.

  5. Why would he think that digital customers are necessarily less hardcore than paper customers? That is so incredibly asinine that I’m not even going to gratify that with a witty pun

  6. I appreciate that Millar wants to advocate for his fellow artists and creators. We all want them toi succeed. He only wants to protect and industry that is familiar and safe to him. The reality is that the times of changing. Not sure you can bet the future on his extensive example of the movie/dvd model either since those industries are being forced to evolve too. The internet brings immediate streaming and day/date download options- and given the option, instant gratification prevails everytime. Better for worst, digital download is the future.

    If Millar holds tightly to the old model, he will eventually turn into a dinosaur. That’s ok, people love dinosaurs- and especially love watching dinosaurs die.

  7. Well, if people who read digital are held back for months, thus missing all the hype, all the enthusiastic discussion (online and off) and all the shock of the spoilers when they’re new–in short, if they’re kept out of the hardcore reading community… then yeah, they’ll either migrate to print or be less hardcore.

  8. geoffrey thorne says:

    Whatever. you see that oncoming headlight, Mark? That’s the future.

    Either get on board or get off the tracks.

  9. MBunge says:

    Millar is another example of how today’s pros can’t even conceive of what it’s like outside the Direct Market ghetto. In every other medium, it’s the casual audience that it the “bedrock” of the business because they’re the ones who buy/watch/listen to the vast majority of product produced.

    While I’m not a digital utopian, criticizing it because it might be the format more appealing to or accessible by the casual comic reader is bone stupid.

    Mike

  10. Charles Knight says:

    “a theatrical to DVD type model makes more sense — print being the theatrical release, digital being the DVD.”

    Except studios are now experimenting with allowing you to watch a film at the same time it is at the cinema for a premium. Sometimes not even a premium, a few films have been available via Amazon streaming at the same time as they have been at the cinema (admittedly those are mainly art-house films but the principle is there).

  11. Can anyone imagine Lady Gaga, Jay-Z or the Black Keys only releasing a new album to record stores?

    Making comics less available to consumers is not the answer. Instead of trying to preserve a dying business plan based around print, the publishers and creators have to focus on finding a fair price for digital comics ($3.99-$4.99 new comics is ridiculous) and bringing in new creators and readers to sequential storytelling on tablets.

  12. MBunge says:

    “the publishers and creators have to focus on finding a fair price for digital comics”

    That may be #1, but #1a is creating content more appealing to the casual audience and #1b is adjusting the format to fit the digital medium. Is there any reason why digital comics should be releaed in once-a-month chunks of 20 or so pages?

    Mike

  13. Charles Knight says:

    “Well, if people who read digital are held back for months, thus missing all the hype, all the enthusiastic discussion (online and off) and all the shock of the spoilers when they’re new–in short, if they’re kept out of the hardcore reading community… then yeah, they’ll either migrate to print or be less hardcore.”

    Or they will pirate them – a business model based on “let’s make it hard for the consumer” is never a good idea.

  14. @Mark Millar:
    ”This decision I took not to release ‘Kick-Ass 2′ or ‘Superior’ or ‘Nemesis’ or any of my upcoming books digitally every month…”

    He didn’t release them in print every month either! (Zing!)

    @Mike Cotton:
    “Can anyone imagine Lady Gaga, Jay-Z or the Black Keys only releasing a new album to record stores?”

    If you mean “only physically and not digitally,” then yes, there are still a number of high profile holdouts to selling their music digitally. Kid Rock being one of the more prominent ones. I guess that makes Mark Millar the Kid Rock of comics?

    …actually, I don’t know that that’s that far off!

  15. @Niels — or they’ll resort to piracy to read their books scanned from the print editions… gee, kind of like right now.

  16. Nawid A says:

    It should be worth mentioning that if any creator knows how small the digital pie is as of now, it’s Mark Millar.

    Oh wait, it’s mentioned in the article. Slag on!

  17. joe c says:

    Remember, this is the guy who defended Frank Miller; and my opinion of his opinions is even lower now.

  18. Synsidar says:

    Is there any reason why digital comics should be releaed in once-a-month chunks of 20 or so pages?

    Unless the comics are in the form of comic strips, which make the number of strips in a collection arbitrary, yes.

    In the case of superhero comics, at least, 20 pages is often a barely satisfying chunk. Unless the material was compressed, fewer pages in a release wouldn’t provide enough plot material, etc., to advance a storyline significantly.

    And, if the material isn’t a standalone story, how would it be priced? The best method, for the creators and readers alike, would be subscriptions, in which case all parties benefit from complete issues/stories being released.

    If someone were to watch an hour-long TV show split into, say, four 15-minute segments with one segment airing per week, how would that compare to watching the entire show in one sitting?

    SRS

  19. What other successful industry has not changed or modified its business model in 30+ years? Comics are the only form of pop culture to have not fully embraced technology and refuse to acknowledge that the current generation consumes media differently than how they did when they grew up 20 and 30 yrs ago.

    The problem with the decisions makers and top creators in comics…they’ve made successful careers for themselves in an out dated, archaic business model. They are lost and blind in the woods.

    The world changes quickly nowadays. Since the iPad was first released, the very business of the internet has changed in leaps and bounds. Comics are so behind the culture.

  20. AfterHours Al™ says:

    I can see things going digital on day and date, then the trade is released in digital AND print.

  21. You guys realize that as with every word to ever come out of Millar’s mouth, these too have nothing whatsoever to do with a cause or the supposed issue at hand (be it digital comics, Frank Miller, the Superman movie, a charity, or whatever).

    All this is is just another example of what Mark Millar is all about: talking about Mark Millar and Mark Millar comics and the Mark Millar brand and how Mark Millar is the awesomest Mark Millar in a world devoid of other money machines as Mark Millary as Mark Millar.

    Ugh.

    I pray for the day Hollywood takes him away from us to work full time for them on “groundbreaking” and “innovative” franchises, and let us enjoy our comics in peace, free of his incessant self-promotion, rape fixation, and publicity whoring.

  22. While Mark Miller might have had top selling digital books last year, that was last year when there was a fraction of tablets that there are available now.

    Also as others point out if Miller wants to hold back the legal way of buying comics online, many will simply just turn to the illegal method. I personally think if the comic book companies had jumped onto the digital bandwagon many years ago, that all these illegal scanning of comics would have not taken quite a hold as they did. Like if iTunes could had pre-dated Napster.

    Still, looking at what DC Comics has done with their relaunch of the New 52, it looks like both digital and print can be hugely successful together.

  23. Greg Smallwood says:

    1) Piracy is unavoidable, regardless of how accessible or cheap your product is. iTunes has not eliminated piracy and neither has Netflix. There will always be people who want a movie/music/comic as soon as they can get it and as free as they can get it.

    2) If Millar wants only his print comics to be day and date, that’s his prerogative. How well this might serve him in the future remains to be seen but it’s hard to argue that it’s hurting him now. Maybe his sales are incredibly high precisely because he’s created an incentive to buy print or maybe they’re high because of his close relationship with retailers.

    3) A majority of the money that goes into print comics (for the big two) isn’t the printing part – it’s the in-house production costs. Editors, writers, and an art team drive up the cost of a book and the price of a digital comic (if released day and date) needs to include that in order to make a profit. That may not mean 3.99 but I sincerely doubt that it means 99 cents. Unless digital comics pricing can be pushed down through advertising, it will remain relatively close to print.

    4) Millar’s DVD analogy isn’t that far off. If a publisher has already made a profit from a print run, then digital becomes ancillary and lower prices (like the 99 cents consumers are demanding) are possible.

  24. Apollo9000 says:

    One comics biggest problems is availibility. Books that are late or delayed are a far bigger pain to comic shops than same day digital release of comics. I understand using movies as an analogy but comics are too marginalized an industry for the comparsion to hold much weight. I’m sure that a good number of the digital Kick Ass buyers never bought a physical floppy comic. They learned about the comic after seeing the movie. Millars’ mini series model for most of his books ( even his Big Two work) is more appealling to the “mainstream” fan. The Walking Dead probably gained a lot of readers not from the success of the TV show but by regular or lapsed comic buyers who heard good word of mouth about the comic and decided to try it out. And for those who did come onto the comic from the TV show, the serielized mode of the story was farmiliar. They didn’t mind committing to following the comic. Not every potential buyer will be like that. The whole having to make a pull list is flawed. Supermarkets don’t ask shoppers to bring them their grocery list 2 months ahead of when they’ll actually buy the items. It feels like impulse buys are few and far between in comic shops. Thus, creator owned books with smaller resources have to play against the Big Two hype machine game to little success.

  25. MBunge says:

    “In the case of superhero comics, at least, 20 pages is often a barely satisfying chunk.”

    Except for the fact that complete stories less than 20 pages long have common and successful for super-hero books. In the 60s, Marvel had split books with two features and DC has long had a tradition of shorter lead stories along with back ups. How many pages did it take Stan and Steve to debut Spider-Man?

    If you find 20 pages of super-hero comics a barely satisfying chunk, it’s not because of the page count. It’s because of weak storytelling.

    Mike

  26. The Beat says:

    “In the case of superhero comics, at least, 20 pages is often a barely satisfying chunk.”

    Everyone need to read this 6 page Carl Barks story I posted — Which I am taking down this weekend!

    http://www.comicsbeat.com/2011/11/20/preview-gyro-gearloose-in-picnic/

    It is very satisfying.

    It’s not the length, it’s the girth.

  27. Synsidar says:

    I should stress that “20 pages” referred to current decompressed issues published by Marvel and DC, and not to anything else. I haven’t forgotten that the ’70s Marvel issues had 17 pages each. If the stories aren’t about superheroes, or are compressed, then the page count is much less significant, although there’s still a price-page count relationship.

    SRS

  28. Just because something worked 30 and 40 yrs ago doesn’t mean it will work today. The world has changed too much. People have changed too much.

    This is a HUGE problem in comics. Thinking that 30 and 40 yr old strategies and ideas will work in the 21st century. Innovation is discouraged. Status quo is celebrated. Its not a good thing you guys.

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