The Marvel/Starbucks Deal Won’t Save Digital Comics

By christinewatson / / As a person who follows the comic book industry closely, it still astonishes me to think that after over a decade of highly successful superhero films, the major comic book companies have continually failed to draw the general public towards their central product. They’ve certainly made inroads, and as geekier habits have become more accepted across the board, comics aren’t necessarily hidden away like they used to be. And yet, with bookstores closing day by day, and the time when you could grab a comic at a newsstand or grocery store long since past, comic books aren’t the most accessible hobby for even an interested newcomer. Digital Comics should be changing all that. Allowing people who don’t know or care where their local comic shop is to start following the adventures of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and the X-Men on a weekly basis is a phenomenal goal for comic publishers, and one they toy with more and more every year. And yet, the average person has no idea that they’re available. To that end, sure, today’s news might seem to be a ray of light. Starbucks has announced that they will be offering the full Marvel Digital Library for free through the Starbucks Digital Network starting on April 23rd. The only real benefit of this campaign is that it will be the first time most people hear that they can access comics digitally, but I can’t imagine that this is going to catch on. For one, accessing a library of comics through the Starbucks server isn’t close to their ultimate goal of individuals purchasing individual comics through their various applications. And from all indications, you don’t get anything to take away from Starbucks with you. At best it’s going to lead to moments of “Hey, I guess I’ll read a couple of comics on my computer while I finish my coffee,” rather than any realization that they can keep up with these stories every week on their own mobile devices. The biggest problem with the Digital Comics scene so far is that there’s no standardization across the board. If you download a song on iTunes, you can put it on any mp3 player or smartphone on the market, you can burn it to a CD, you can even play it with another music program on your computer if you’re determined enough. With a digital comic, you can buy it directly from Marvel or DC through separate applications, or you can buy it from several competing comic shops online, most notably ComiXology. Wherever you buy it, that’s where you have to use it since there’s still no means of crossover between digital comic platforms. If you want the same comic in two places you have to buy it twice. Couple that with the fact that both Marvel and DC Comics only have a handful of titles available for same day release digitally, and it’s clear that the big guns of the comic world are still wary of diving into the digital comics scene. And while they hold themselves back, they keep the public unaware that there’s a digital option in the first place. Digital comics should be the highest priority for the comic book industry. And with small moves like today’s deal with Starbucks, they can pretend it is. None of this is going to make an impact unless the industry works together to get their product out to the world. It’s just bad marketing for an engaging digital product. – James T. Tynion IV