I have been thinking more and more lately about the digital comics push.
With Dark Horse Comics having launched their digital comics site, I have been to visit the main publishers sites to see what is out there. First off, I will be a hard convert to digital as I spend all day in front of a computer and feel no further need to “be connected”. Also, I must confess to not liking the idea of “buying” something I don’t actually own. Your library of comics exists at the site and cannot be downloaded to your system. Even accessing on a mobile device is done online, they are not in your device permanently. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I call that renting, not buying. It is done in the data cloud but since the cloud is not in any way mine, the stuff in it exists only at the whim of the provider. I will go into that a bit more later.
The various sites are very similar, some more user-friendly than others. Dark Horse is easy to navigate and has what they say is not a great selection. They are downplaying it a bit because they do not have much of the deep catalog online yet, but what is there is more than enough to get a very good slice of what they have to offer. The application itself is not perfect, but what I don’t like is nothing to do with the site as much as an inherent incompatibility between the comic medium and the delivery system. I am not comfortable with the viewing modes. Full screen is too small to read easily and the panel zoom mode is a bit imprecise. It moves through large panels arbitrarily at times and you lose the impact and even some of the content of the art. I imagine on a larger screened device like an iPad, this would not be an issue, but even on my laptop the full screen was just a little too small. The zoom mode does not do the art any favors either. Some art looks fine this way, some not so much. There is a reason that the originals for the printed page are so much larger than the final product. It looks better, tighter and cleaner once it is sized down to fit the printed page. Like many digital viewing formats, the quality of the image can suffer slightly when enlarged. The rest of the experience is fine. Those out there that enjoy the digital format should be perfectly at ease with this site.
Marvel’s site is a different matter. First off, I have never really liked Marvel’s online presence. The site has always had an unfinished look to me. For such a major player in the industry, I think they should have a more impressive site. The site itself is user-friendly enough and the comic reader they employ is similar to Dark Horse’s. I found it easier to read and in general, easier on the eyes and cleaner. They have a few added feature that I liked as well. The book info section is great for someone not specifically familiar with a book, and the size of the image being viewed is much more adaptable thanks to a zoom +/_ control at the bottom left. There are a few drop down menus that allow for a greater level of customization also. And the art just looks better. The image is crisp, and very vivid. I would make the comparison that the Dark Horse site is DVD and the Marvel one is Blu-ray. They both look very nice, but in a detailed comparison (obviously you cannot compare the same book) Marvel wins the prize. My problem is the cost. $5 per month for an annual subscription and $9 if you just go a month to month. You CAN buy issues individually, but they don’t make it easy for you as there are a few too many hoops to jump though. The subscription price appears to include the entire library, which is extensive and has a great selection of the classic, not just the current stuff. There have been complaints of the clumsiness of the apps, but I have no issues with any of that. I just find the subscription a bit galling, as though they are so sure of the content that you will never have a month that you feel cheated. A fan who was a bit more hardcore into the Marvel stuff might disagree and find that this is a great value, so I will not make any judgements there, this just isn’t for me, long-term. There are also browser issues as the Marvel site prefers Google Chrome, a system I do not prefer.
And then there is DC. I like many books they put out, and was eager to try this one, unfortunately the site is not compatible with Firefox. Synergy is all well and good, but the powers that be seem unwilling to allow any level of choice. Yes, Mac or PC is supported, but there are many other things of this nature that are a little more flexible. It is not a true compatibility issue so much as it is a money issue. Money is being made by creating essentially a type of service bundle. You cannot use A until you get B. That gets you on cookie and other tracker lists and forces you to use particular browsers or other apps that make someone else money. All because you wanted to read a comic or download a song. So did I ever just cave and use a different browser? Nope. I didn’t, and I wont. Not anytime soon at least. DC has lost me as far as the digital content is concerned. Marvel too, but for a different reason. I know these guys are in business to make money. But in this era of uber-connectivity and apps being as commonplace as shoelaces and for most things, so much a part of our lives that a toddler can use them, shouldn’t a medium that is desperately trying to stay current and hold its fanbase together be doing everything they can to be fan friendly? Dark Horse wins on this hands down. Not because they are doing it better. The site will improve, this is just a first try, and they are off to a great start. With a very small amount of tweaking and a little time, they will be an excellent resource for digital content. No, Dark Horse wins me over because they at least appear to want to. With a great variety of content to choose from and a variety of ways you can give them your money and get what you want, they have done what the other 2 big companies have completely failed to do. Make the fan feel welcome and needed. This is a site, that despite its flaws, wants you to like them and is willing to make this the easiest thing in the world. It took me less than a minute to start reading a full issue. I had only to register and go. If I want to pay for a book, that process was much faster than at the Marvel site and if I didn’t want to pay, there was a huge percentage of the overall content that was free compared to Marvel where a few preview pages of most of the content was free, then you had to pay. In my mind that is worse. Free is fine. If I want more, it is clear from the start that some things will be free and other will cost me. Marvel seems to act like a drug dealer with the mantra “the first one is free” and not even a whole first one.
Maybe I am old-fashioned in this, but I would like to have at least the illusion that the company values my business and my loyalty, not just my wallet.