Download Comics Legally

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some advertising somewhere for Wowio recently, but had no idea what it was until I saw it mentioned in this Newsarama article about Devil’s Due publisher Josh Blaylock’s latest project, Pullbox Online:

NRAMA: What effect do you think this will have, a) on your print titles, and b) on your properties overall? Could you see a revival of, say, your superhero line?

JB: I think this is great for print titles and the sale of trade paperbacks. Think of the most common scenario for hundreds of independent series out there that fail. As a customer, you see something at the store you like, and pick it up. After two issues, you’re hooked. Suddenly, you can’t find issue #3, and then when issue #4 comes out, you’re not sure what’s going on. Then you never even know if issue #5 comes out. Now, if you can’t find issue #3, you can easily go read it online for 99¢, and continue to collect the print series. I think the downloads are going to help a lot of new series succeed. Likewise, this is where you will see a surprising number of traditional “paper” collectors downloading who never thought they’d partake in it. Grant it, they’ll be the smaller portion of the customer base, but they’ll be out there.

This is even more powerful marketing for trade paperback sales. Even readers who have never collected comics before, who don’t care about the whole bag and board tradition, still like to own the physical product. Readers who collect a series solely online will look forward to purchasing the trade paperbacks, and will help that category of the printing business continue to grow. The online comic strip trend has already proved this with books such as MegaTokyo and Penny Arcade.

I’ve never downloaded a comic book myself, and didn’t start downloading music until the whole system went legit, so I can see the potential for this concept, particularly in helping independent and self-published creators get their work exposed to a wider audience.

How wide an audience, though, is what will ultimately dictate how successful either of these very differently structured ventures are.

For the internet savvy, comic book-reading audience who, for a variety of reasons, may never have a chance to sample certain titles, a legit download outlet seems like a perfect resource. Even at my buying peak there were many titles I never got to read simply because I couldn’t afford to read everything I was interested in. While I will always prefer a tangible printed product over a digital one, I wouldn’t mind being able to sample certain comics online for a nominal fee instead of making a judgement call sight unseen.

Pullbox Online seems to be targeting this audience directly, though perhaps a bit prematurely as their current selection is limited to product from Devil’s Due, IDW and a couple of random indies.

Wowio, on the other hand, seems to be targeting the internet savvy general reader, with a rather eclectic variety of material, of which comics are a small subset. Like Pullbox, the limited selection — currently highlighted by offerings from Moonstone, Markosia and Alias — will be a major hurdle to overcome, but the broader overall selection means those comics are potentially reaching a broader overall audience. Of course, that also means they’re competing against the likes of Mobipocket.com, Amazon’s eBook subsidiary, and if they haven’t been able to crack the commercial eBook nut, I’m not terribly confident in Wowio’s prospects.

Further, neither of these sites will do much business at all if no one knows about them, and there — assuming similarly minimal financial backing for both sites — I think Wowio has the slightest advantage when it comes to marketing potential. “Slightest” primarily because of its terrible name, which gives no clue as to what it is; otherwise, the fact that its downloads are free and it has a broader overall selection of Books to choose from gives it a notable leg up on the more narrowly focused Pullbox Online.

A quick Google News search for both sites turned up only one mention of Wowio and none of Pullbox Online, while neither site appears within the first three pages of a regular Google search for “download comics”, so both marketing teams have their work cut out for them.

Marvel and/or DC would sooner set up their own proprietary services before signing up with either of these fledgling efforts, but whichever one pulls in Image would immediately have an advantage in capturing significant market share, possibly positioning themselves as a sort of digital version of Diamond and snagging some venture capital to allow them to take the next step. Unless, of course, Diamond takes notice and decides to offer this kind of service themselves, something I could see Marvel and DC signing on to support, at which point Pullbox Online is dead in the water and Wowio has to find another niche to exploit.


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