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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ComiXology is not an option

I'm sure ComiXology is run by nice people.  I'm sure they set out to run a good service, but in order to have any comics to offer they had to implement a terrible, patronizing DRM system.  Maybe someday they'll be able offer DRM free downloads, and when they do I'll probably be one of their biggest customers.  As they currently exist, I can't even use them.

Here's the deal:

Right now I have no home internet to speak of.  That's just my situation for the next month or two.  Nothing but an incredibly slow and spotty cellular connection.  If I want to consume some media obtained over the internet, I have to download it at work, copy it to a thumb drive, copy it over to my home computer and then play it there.  I can do that with purchased music downloads.  I can do that with purchased ebooks.  I can do that with some (generally indie) movies and video series.  However, I can't do that with comics on Comixology (and to be fair, many digital comic stores are the same way).


I want to pay for comics.  I really do.  But I hate physical copies.  I hate having to lug them around, worrying about their condition, will they yellow, will they fall apart one day?  Also I'm a klutz who couldn't handle a brick without breaking it, so paper comics are a liability for me.  I hate the fact that I'm going to have to move all my physical goods (comics, books, CDs, DVDs, etc) to a new apartment soon.

I also am in possession of a ton of digital comics.  I own actual paper copies a lot of them, but most of them?  Nope.  Not because I don't have the money or because I don't want to own them, but because they're not for sale in any format other than paper.

I'm sorry, comic store owners, but I don't want to pay more for an inferior (to me) physical product.  I used to manage a bookstore that went out of business (that kind of makes it sound like it was my fault, doesn't it?  It wasn't, I promise) and I know it sucks staring down the barrel of the internet and it's ultra convenient digital sales.  But I was never bitter over it, because as a consumer I can't wait for digital to be the first format, with paper as the afterthought release.  It sucks for local stores, it really does, but progress sucked for people who ran telegram offices and horse stables too.  I know how shitty that sounds, but that's reality.

Understand, I've been over paper books for close to a decade.  I still buy books in extremely rare cases, but more often than not I'll give a book a pass if I can't find it digitally at a decent price.  After all, I've got too many books to read as it is.

I remember as a kid going on vacation with my family and packing like four books but not getting a chance to read any of them.  The next vacation, I only packed one book, and I finished it within the first two days of the week long trip.    This would have been in the late nineties.  I was bored out of my skull for the rest of the trip.  Never again, I said to myself.  Never again.

When PDAs became a thing I saw their potential for being a library I could keep in my pocket.  I've read digital books regularly since I've owned a Tapwave Zodiac (let's say that was in 2004), mostly things pulled off of Project Gutenberg.  I read books on my N800, my Touch Pro, my N900, and on my current favorite e-reader, my Samsung Note.  For some people it's a cell phone.  For me it's a portable media player that happens to have messaging capabilities.

I've been reading comics on my laptop since at least 2005, probably earlier.  Now I have a 10" tablet, and my comic book reading has exploded.  I can download any comic I want (illegally) without paying for it and keep the file forever.  I can open and read it in any of dozens of applications.  I can make copies, keep backups, put one on each of my devices.  I can unzip the files and set my favorite panels as the background of my desktop.  For free remember, having paid nothing.  I don't like getting these files for free.  I'm at the point where I no longer have to choose between eating or entertainment, and I prefer to pay for the art that I consume.

If I want to be a solid citizen and pay for my digital comics (and I do), I can pay ComiXology about $2 an issue, and all I get is the right to look at the pages of a comic through an app or a browser, so long as I have a connection to the internet and their web servers are up.  I don't get a choice in readers.  I don't get a backup.  I don't get a file.  What I do get is a license, which is almost worth the paper it wasn't printed on.

If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times:  Giving paying a customers a worse product than what they could get for free is the shittiest business model in the world.  If someone can use ComiXology they can figure out how to download pirated comics, and they're choosing not to.

Get it?  The people who are paying for comics want to pay for comics.  They are going through a more difficult and restrictive process than simply getting the newest issues off The Pirate Bay.  Why?  They want to support creators, and yes, even the companies that employ said creators.

DRM only hurts paying customers.  ONLY.  Pirates already have it, DRM free, and it's already available for all the world to torrent if they choose.  This is true for movies, video games, music, comics, tv shows, etc.  DRM only hurts paying customers.  No, that's not quite right.

DRM punishes paying customers.  And what are we being punished for?  Why, for trying to do the right thing, of course.  For trying to do business with companies that don't respect us.  Companies that see us as criminals, even though it's completely obvious that the criminals are on other web sites, choosing to not pay a cent.

It's insulting.  Especially in a marketplace where there are so many other publishers and titles available.  Pick any comic book publisher.  I could never read another one of their comics again and barely miss them.  Sure, I'd be left out of certain conversations, I might wish I could read this cool new series I keep hearing about, but I wouldn't be wanting for good comics.  If nobody ever made another comic again, there's probably still more good series out there than I could ever read in my lifetime.  Think about all the other countries, all the other markets I know nothing about.  And that's not considering all the other art forms out there, tv, movies, that also compete for my attention.  So screw anybody who thinks I can't be trusted with the actual product I mean to be buying.  I'll just take my business elsewhere.

I'm starting to put my money where my mouth is.  Where I can buy DRM free comics, I am.  I'm buying more comics than I ever did when I used to regularly visit comic shops.  Image, Kickstarter and a few indies are seeing all of that money.  DC?  Marvel?  Dark Horse?  Avatar?  Not only am I not buying their comics, I'm not even reading their comics anymore.  It's not a boycott.  I can't boycott something that doesn't exist.  When they're ready to take off their tin foil hats and sell me something I can use in my house, without permission from their remote servers, they'll get so much of my money that their heads will spin.

Until then?  They can all piss right off.

David

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