by Alexander Añé
One of the hot topics in the comics industry is the movement into the digital medium, and of course the biggest question in that migration is, “what’s it going to cost?” Sunday afternoon at San Diego Comic-Con, the leading voices in this debate came together to discuss this topic: Mark Waid representing Thrillbent, Scott Kurtz the creator of PvP, IDW Publishing’s ePublishing director Jeff Webber, Chris Ross attending as Top Shelf’s director of digital publications, and moderating the panel is comiXology’s Chip Mosher.Mark Waid was a little late showing up, having just won three Eisner Awards the evening before, and after introducing the panel Chip asked the panelists, “what is the ideal price for digital comics and why?”
The line of responses started with Mark Waid, and he suggested, “99 cents… because 99 cents is the point at which even the most casual readers will drop 99 cents will try something they have not tried before. 99 cents is the price you’d pay on an app from the app store… We’re not competing with other comics and we’re not competing with print comics, we’re competing with other things that cost 99 cents.”
Jeff Webber suggested that, “there’s not one price,” following up by suggesting a staggered price system based on date of release, starting from full cover price and lowering after periods of time with the inclusion of discounts; citing that IDW’s best selling digital items at the, “highest price up… except when we do a 99 cent sale.”
Scott Kurtz focused on the question, “Is this digital market the first or secondary market for this content?” His belief is that depending on the use of the digital market, should influence the price, whereas first market should be 99 cents and secondary should be free; especially in regard to marketing, “it should be zero or very little.”
Chris Ross narrowed the question to specifically what sort of comics should be priced and in which way, “Top Shelf publishes big, huge books, it doesn’t make sense to price those 99 cents.” He explained that Top Shelf’s strategy is to price their digital books to help supplement physical books and in a way that encourages readers to invest in physical copies. Mark Waid followed up with the price point concept by suggesting the question, “My motto at Thrillbent is more, ‘I want to charge 99 cents for this, then how much can I give you?’”
Chip Mosher then posed the question, “Don’t you think the 99 price point discussion is really about having people discover more comics, making them accessible, cheaper?” Chris Ross replied “I think the one thing we keep coming to as far as the 99 cents, is Angry Birds. That’s the thing that said you can get hours and hours of entertainment for only a dollar. So when you purchase a comic or you purchase a graphic novel, if it’s anything that takes you an hour or two, you feel that if you pay $4 for it you just got screwed.”
Scott Kurtz replied by saying, “It’s scary to spend 5 bucks to ‘rent’ a comic,” and continued on how paying a full price becomes an obstacle to draw in new readers and how portals or apps of choice discourage accessibility. Mark Waid’s audience is to bring people who aren’t reading comics.
Mark Waid and Scott Kurtz believe in lower prices or free pricing to entice new readers and make books more accessible as opposed to Jeff Webber and Chriss Ross believe in full cover or suplemental pricing models to bolster and protect physical books. It was interesting to see the polarization between the panelists, publishers taking on conventional pricing models relative to print comics and independent creators favoring more experimental models and ideas to pricing.