Digital comics are in a transitional period as they enter the traditional world of e-books. In recent weeks, DC Comics has moved on from their Amazon exclusive on digital graphic novels. They also started offering digital copies of their monthly comics for the Kindle, Nook and iBookstore. Marvel expanded the scope of their digital graphic novel program to include the Kindle and the iBook store. But as availability grows, there’s still inconsistency in what titles are available on which platform. And discounts are all over the map.
When digital editions of print-based comics became popular, it was largely through comics-specific apps like Comixology and iVerse’s ComicsPlus. Initially, they offered back issues. Eventually the publishers agreed to release current issues and started experimenting with digital copies of graphic novels and trade paperback reprint collections. The distribution of these digital graphic novels is uneven. DC only has them available on the Nook, Kindle and iBookstore, completely shutting out Comixology (the sole source of their monthly comics until the recent Nook/Kindle/iBookstore deal) from original graphic novels and only letting them replicate the collections by selling the equivalent content as single issues. Marvel spreads their catalog unevenly across several platforms, though it appears to be moving closer to a universal roll-out. Dark Horse Comics relies primarily on their own website, but makes graphic novels available on the Kindle, Kobo and Nook platforms.
Here’s a chart of 10 randomly selected graphic novels from Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, Image and Top Shelf showing where they’re available and at what price points.
|Print List||Digital List||Kindle||Nook||iBooks||Google Play||Comixology||iVerse/ Comics+||Dark Horse|
|Avengers By Brian Michael Bendis Vol. 1||$19.99||$10.99||$8.79||$9.34||$10.99||$8.79||$10.99|
|Iron Man: Armor Wars||$24.99||$14.99||$9.99||$10.19||$14.99||$14.99|
|Ant-Man & Wasp: Small World||14.99||$4.99||$4.24||$4.24||$3.82|
|Batman: The Dark Knight Returns||$19.99||$12.99||$9.99||$9.99||$12.99||$11.96 (single issues)|
|Superman: Earth One Vol. 2||22.99||$22.99||$12.64||$12.64||$12.99|
|Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm||$12.99||$9.99||$7.99||$7.99||$12.99||$9.95 (single issues)|
|Walking Dead Vol. 1||$9.99||$8.99||$7.55||$7.55||$8.99||$8.99||$9.99|
|Hellboy V.1 Seed of Destruction||$17.99||$15.99||$10.39||$10.39||$4.99 bundle|
|Chew Vol. 1||$9.99||$5.99||$5.09||$5.09||$5.99||$5.99||$5.99|
|The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III: Century #1 1910||$7.95||$4.99||$3.74||$4.24||$4.99||$3.74||$4.99||$4.99|
“Our digital list price usually matches our print suggested retail price,” Hank Kanalz, DC’s SVP of digital told PW. When he says “usually,” he likely means “for new releases.” Superman: Earth One, Volume 2 is a recent release for them and both the print and digital list prices do match up. Older titles tend to get more of discount on the digital list price. This is a trend that goes back to the early days of digital comics and a protectionist stance towards pricing on behalf of the comic book specialty stores. The digital copy of a current issue is very seldom discounted. When the next issue comes out, many publishers (including DC) will drop the price of the old issue by a dollar. The discount from print list price to digital list price ranges from zero to 67%. 20-45% would seem to be the normal range before the store applies any discount.
There is no discounting in the old comics app world. There will be sales, but no blanket discounts. The comics apps and iBookstore seem to sell digital graphic novels for list price, with the occasional exception. Google Play, Kindle and Nook will add a discount to the digital list price, with Kindle and Google Play usually having the largest discount. How much of a discount? For the most part 20-30%. The best discount on Superman: Earth One, Volume 2 is 45%, but that’s also getting a hardcover price down to something palatable to the eBook shopper.
What does this mean for the overall discount between print and a digital copy? You’re frequently looking at a digital copy being 50% less than print, possibly significantly lower than that.
An interesting example of this is Dark Horse. Dark Horse, offers digital graphic novels on the bookstore sites, but also offers “bundles” of the digital single issues that make up the graphic novels on their own website. “The books on Kindle/Nook/Kobo are digital versions of the same tpb that would be found on a store shelf,” explains Mark Bernardi, director of digital publishing for Dark Horse. “There are sometimes small differences in non-story content between the tpbs and individual comic issues.” The net effect is the transition from a $17.99 print book to a $15.99 digital list price to a $10.39 discounted digital price for Kindle and Nook compared with $4.99 to get the original issues from Dark Horse, who clearly prefer their digital to be a direct transaction with the consumer. That’s a whopping 72% discount from buying the printed graphic novel.
As things currently stand, the odd distribution of graphic novels and the policy of sticking with list price looks like it could mark a very clear distinction between the comics apps and the mainstream ebookstores. Particularly when the apps are unable to sell original graphic novels like the Superman: Earth One series. This uneven distribution could be temporary. Marvel is still in the early stages of rolling out their wider presence and DC’s Kanalz hints “We are always looking to expand distribution so expect news on that front in 2013.”
The Kindle, Nook and iBookstore prices for the monthly DC titles are currently the same as print cover price and not discounted, keeping with the digital tradition. Given the rest of the digital graphic novel market, it would seem like it’s only a matter of time before other publishers will have the monthly issues on those platforms and both Amazon and Barnes & Noble will be putting pressure on to let them start discounting. Discounts on the monthly titles has been the sole province of physical retailers to this point, but comics retailers are now subject to the same digital discounts other book retailers compete with and the day may be coming when the monthly comics are added to the digital discount category.