So, I've been looking at digital comics as an alternative. Last year I wrote about Marvel's website: it's not perfect, but I get my money's worth, so I renewed my subscription this year. Meanwhile, I've also been looking at Comixology, which has online comics from several publishers (including Marvel).
Using Marvel's website is a bit like having Sky TV: you pay a flat rate, then you can read as much or as little as you choose. By contrast, Comixology is more like iTunes, where you pay for each comic individually. At both websites, you have to read the comics online: you don't store the files on your own computer. That makes Comixology sound like the worst of both worlds, since it's more expensive (if you buy a lot of issues) and if they shut down their website (e.g. by going out of business) then you'd lose everything that you'd paid for. There's also the issue of overseas transaction fees: whenever I use my debit card to buy something in dollars, I get charged an extra £1. With Marvel, that only happens once a year, but with Comixology it happens on every purchase. That means that I'm reluctant to make a small purchase, because the (fixed) fee is a proportionally larger part of the total. So, if I only want to buy 1 new comic in a particular week, I'll wait until later, and I wound up with a 5 month gap between my first 2 online orders.
Actually, though, I really like Comixology. The best thing about them is that they actually release comics in a sensible order. Marvel tend to leave weird gaps in the middle of a sequence, presumably because they don't want to cannibalise their own sales of paper comics. For instance, look at Punisher (2008-2010), which was renamed to Frankencastle at #17. The online issues are #1-10 and #13-18. They're missing #11-12, which are the first 2 parts of a 6 part storyline. I could understand it if these were old issues from the 1970s which have to be rescanned, but I assume that all recent issues will be fully digital before they're printed. Looking at the issues that are currently available, they weren't released sequentially or regularly. The schedule was:
|27-Apr-2011||3-5, 10, 13|
Issues #6-10 were a single storyline ("DEAD END"). There was a 10 month gap after part 1, then the next 3 parts came out at 2-week intervals. After that, it was almost a 6 month gap until the final part, while Marvel released other issues instead. This is all a bit frustrating if you're trying to follow a story. My approach now is that I won't bother reading the start of a storyline until all the issues are available, so I tend to ignore their website for a few months at a time and then "binge" over a weekend. It's mainly useful as an archive, to save storage space at home: I've eliminated one of my filing cabinets since I started using the Marvel website, and hopefully I can replace the other one with a few (smaller) boxes in due course.
By contrast, look at Gotham Central at Comixology: they have issues #1-33 available, and they have released at least 1 issue every week since they started selling this series (6th April) except for 11th May. That suits me nicely, since I can follow it from start to finish, and I don't have a long wait between issues.
Gotham Central was originally published in 2003-2006, i.e. it's finished now. However, Comixology also publish "live" series. For instance, The Walking Dead now gets published simultaneously online and in paper. I used to buy the individual issues and the TPBs at Gosh!, but I now buy the issues online and just get the TPBs from Gosh! I'm in a similar situation for Fables and The Unwritten; Comixology is trailing behind the paper issues, but they're catching up (since they release several new issues each month), so once they're up to date I'll do a similar switch there.
Comixology normally charge cover price for each issue, although they sometimes do sales, e.g. this weekend they're selling lots of Vertigo titles at half-price ($0.99 each). Looking at my latest bank statement, the exchange rate was £1 = $1.54871, so here's how the online prices compare to paper copies:
|Cover price ($)||Comixology (£)||Gosh! (£)|
The comic shop prices have to reflect shipping, so that's why the online prices are cheaper. The overseas transaction fee is annoying, and I'd prefer it if Comixology could set up a UK bank account and then do an aggregate transfer once a week (effectively £1 split between all their UK customers). In fairness, though, it's cheaper than bus/train fare to the comic shop.
At the Marvel website, none of the online comics have adverts or letters pages. At Comixology, The Walking Dead has both, but the adverts are all at the end of the issue (like the printed version) so they don't disrupt the story. The DC comics I've read on Comixology don't have adverts or letters at all.
I've used Marvel's website to replace a lot of my paper comics, but I'm not ready to do that with Comixology yet. For instance, they're selling Young Justice at $1.99 an issue (with the first issue free). So, if I wanted to repurchase #1-31, that would cost me £38.54. The series actually had 56 issues altogether (along with various tie-ins), so that would be quite expensive. For now, I'm just using this website to prevent clutter rather than to reduce it.
All in all, I'm happy with Comixology, so I certainly think it's worth a look if you're a comics fan.
Edit: There's also a good article at Websnark on this topic: Economics, Comixology, and the New 52, coming right at you.
Edit 2: It turns out that I don't have to pay an overseas transaction fee if I use my credit card (Mastercard) rather than my debit card (Visa).