Comics Publishers Should Free Their Archives

from the monetize-those-eyeballs dept

Marvel is apparently dipping its toe into online distribution by offering some of its older comics for online viewing. Apparently, for $60 people can get a year's access to "the first 100 issues of Stan Lee's 1963 creation 'Amazing Spider-Man' at their leisure, along with more recent titles like 'House of M' and 'Young Avengers.'" It's a good idea, and I hope they'll be more aggressive about it. Putting household names like Spider-Man online is obviously the first priority, but Marvel and its competitors have enormous catalogs of less well-known comics spanning much of the 20th century. But they should also follow Time' lead and make their entire catalog of lesser-known, out-of-print comics available for free online.

The most obvious benefit to this would be to generate some advertising revenue from out-of-print content. It might slightly hurt used comic book dealers, but that's not Marvel's problem, and it could actually have the opposite effect by sparking renewed interest from collectors for hard-to-find originals. But the more subtle—and in the long run, more important—benefit is that it would get a lot more comic book nerds reading and discussing out-of-print comics, and doing it on Marvel's website. For example, Techdirt Insight Community member Julian Sanchez recently penned a great article for the American Prospect discussing the evolution of political themes in comic books over the decades. It would have been great—both for his article and for Marvel—if Julian had been able to provide his readers with links to archives of the relevant comics. Such increased traffic would provide Marvel with all sorts of indirect benefits, including opportunities to advertise new products, increase consumers' brand loyalty, and create spin-offs of old comics that enjoy renewed popularity online. Right now, those comics are just collecting dust, so it's hard to see what they have to lose.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Gary, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 8:33am

    Pointless DRM

    According to the Washington Post: (

    "Subscribe rs will be able to view the vintage comics on their computer monitors, in the window of a software browser designed for the service. The software is designed to keep users from saving the pages to their hard drive or from making printouts."

    I don't understand this. Who wants to pay $59.88 a year, or $9.99 a month for DRM?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    ChurchHatesTucker, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 8:39am


    You'd think that comics, with their high collectability, would be a natural for this kind of model. Heck, the really expensive ones are sealed up in plastic by the CGA, so you can't read them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    The Man, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:05am


    Congrats Mike, this use of free actually makes sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:25am

    Re: WOW

    Mike didn't write this one

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Russ, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:35am


    I think this logic is true for any publishing house(book, music, movie). They have huge inventories of out of print material that will never be in print again. Why not get some money from it?

    The movie industry has been pretty successful in raiding their vaults for DVD releases.

    But I am aware of the problem of orphaned works that makes the effort in finding all the parties pretty high. An unintended consequence of extending copywrite beyond reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Gunnar, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:39am

    my thoughts

    Who do you think the head of Marvel talks to when he makes these kinds of decisions? Who makes their movies again? Oh right... the same people who press charges against kids for taking video with their cell phones.

    Then again, unlike the baseball league, they're not selling you comics. They're selling you what amounts to a library card or a radio station. $5 for unlimited access to their entire archives would be very nice for someone like me, who was never a collector and got out of comics when I got to college. With a little modification (waiting 6 months to post new comics online is just silly), this would be a perfect way to keep college kids who can't justify $20 a month to stay current on comics.

    Though I can understand only starting with 2,500, why are they only adding 20 per month?

    This isn't a terrible service. It's certainly a better offering than the MPA/RIAA groups have offered yet, and it's their first try. Plus, the people at the top of Marvel are a lot closer than the heads of EMI, AbC or Sony are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Danny, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:49am

    "Subscribe rs will be able to view the vintage comics on their computer monitors, in the window of a software browser designed for the service. The software is designed to keep users from saving the pages to their hard drive or from making printouts."

    Okay hold on. There is no need to lock down out of print and extremely rare books for 2 reasons.

    1. The books are out of print therefore the company is no longer making money on them. Marvel can't cry "lost sale" if I print out a copy of Spiderman #1 from the internet because it is no longer in active production. And even if I don't "pirate" a copy and find an actual Spidermen #1 and pay $$,$$$.$$ for it Marvel does not get a dime of it. Now for books that are still in production this lockdown makes some sense.

    2. No collector worth their hobby would even consider the notion of printing out Superman #1 from the net and adding it to his/her collection like its authentic. Even people collecting current books would not do this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Diabolik, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 9:57am


    $20 buys you 6 books plus some change now in the industry. That isn't staying current, that is picking the books you want to read and leaving the others by the side of the road.

    Comic Collecting is an expensive hobby. I can see why people would be interested in this sevice, but one of the best parts about a comic, or a book in general, is that you can bring it places with you. You can take it to the park, or to the beach, or to the comic store. You aren't restricted to the a screen. Now if they were to offer a service that allows you to download the books or view them on something portable, like a PSP or Iphone or something that may not be connected to the internet, I think it would be highly successful. Loading a memory stick with comics for a long car trip rather than carrying a small box would be helpful.

    As for why they aren't putting things up until 6 months later...well geeks (and I am one of them) will be geeks and we will want to read the story and know what happens before everyone else so that we can talk about it as soon as possible. This would give Marvel the opportunity to make the money off the collectors without having the collectors complain too much about it showing up online right away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Glurbie, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Re: Pointless DRM


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Glurbie, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 10:05am

    Re: Re: Pointless DRM

    Oops. That's supposed to say "Alt-Print Scrn"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    RJD, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 10:30am

    Product placement

    Love this idea. I get to read things I won't pay full price for (or steal) and if I like them, I'll pick them up in the traditional form. Or if the come out in a Trade Paper Back, in that form. This is a great way of using your product at virtually no cost to the producer (the comics are already paid for, just scan and upload) to get customers to pay for the final product. Was hoping they'd keep the wait time down to 3 months instead of six ... would let viewers find new storylines and maybe, just maybe, get viewers to go out and buy reader copies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    ExComicBookGuy, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:47pm


    Seriously, making the back issues free (maybe just a year or two lag from the current books) would draw me back into starting reading a couple series again. If I could freely browse whats been going on in recent history, it would probably spur me to start buying. But I'll pass on the pay subscription model thing-I'm not THAT interested in getting started again :p

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Chris, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:52pm


    You mean Amazing Fantasy #15 and Action Comics #1. Also, those comics are often reprinted. Just because they aren't new does not mean they aren't for sale in paper form.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Chris, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:01pm

    Re: $20

    comic scans are already all over the P2P networks, some even before they are out in stores. there are 2 major file types, cbz and cbr, but both are very easy to use and more convenient to read than any of the crap marvel has tried to sell to read comics on computers with. of course, once you download them, you can put them on portable media devices. Of course, has been giving away comics that are iPod ready for a least a year now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Amster, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:52am


    The book first lady president follows the accusations, counter-accusations, and election campaign speeches of both candidates at various venues and on various issues, including the burning issues of the war on terror, a war in a middle eastern country, weapons of mass destruction, the use of military force, involvement of the UN , and domestic issues like education, social security, and health care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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