Marvel Comics, who generally take the top marketshare in the comics industry and control many of the most popular properties in popular culture, have announced that by the end of March 2012, all of their comics will be released digitally on the same day as print. The announcement does not include the publisher's popular MAX line, which is intended for mature readers, or their licensed properties which likely require entirely new contracts to be negotiated before such a move can be made.
Marvel's announcement comes on the heels of popular e-comics site Comixology announcing yesterday that, for the seventh week in a row, it was the top-grossing app on iOS on Wednesday, when the new comic books are released.
Marvel, whose Digital Comics Unlimited program is still the only one of its kind by a major American comics publisher, was long the undisputed industry leader in digital comics but has recently begun to fall behind.
Marvel's biggest competitor, DC Comics, made the move to same-day digital across their line of superhero comics on August 31, and subsequently relaunched the entire line with 52 new #1 issues, a new continuity and numerous new titles. The "New 52" initiative has been a massive critical and sales success for DC, who were the top-selling publisher in the US in September. All 52 of their relaunch issues appeared in the top 100 best-selling comics of the month. Other publishers, such as Archie Comics, Image Comics and Devil's Due Publishing, have had major announcements regarding digital comics since the beginning of September.
Marvel had been making moves in the direction of line-wide, same-day digital distribution but had not, until today, made any indication as to when the full line would be available in this fashion. Amazing Spider-Man has been same-day digital for a while now, as well as several of the publisher's "Ultimate" titles and the recently-concluded Fear Itself summer tentpole miniseries. The publisher recently announced that starting with Avenging Spider-Man #1, they were moving toward all of their $3.99, 20-page comic books coming polybagged with a free digital download code. This was met with mixed reactions from comics retailers, and rumors that some may open the bags and attempt to remove the code and destroy it, seeing the inclusion of digital in printed comics as potentially hazardous to their customer base. DC Comics, who sells most of their titles at a lower price point, recently started selling some of their comics polybagged with digital download codes, but the price for the "digital deluxe" editions will be a dollar higher and those comics will be made available without the download keys for the lower price.
Marvel had voiced concern when DC announced their plan that it would not yet be technologically sustainable. No problems have yet occurred for DC, who distribute exclusively through Comixology and through a DC-branded app developed by Comixology. Marvel similarly distributes their titles both through the Comixology app and through their own Marvel app by Comixology.
Sales numbers for digital comics are extremely hard to come by, but like all of publishing there is a sense that digital is "the future" for the comics industry and that the larger publishers have resisted it until recently simply becuase they were unable to figure out how to best make it work to their advantage.