DC is removing complimentary digital copies from most of their comic books, but will be experimenting with them on higher-profile projects.
The company, which was the first to embrace day-and-date digital comics releases, have been offering free digital codes, good for redemption at Amazon's ComiXology, in their monthly books since near the start of the Rebirth publishing initiative two years ago. At the time, many of DC's books were launched as twice-monthly at a $2.99 cover price, and shortly after, the company's monthly titles cost $3.99, with that extra dollar being justified by the digital copy (not included on $2.99 books).
ComicBook.com spoke to a representative at DC, who said that the free digital code program is not ending, but that it is being modified. Upcoming high-profile #1 issues, events, annuals, and other "special" comics will be more likely to carry a digital code than in the past, while standard monthly comics will be less so.
DC first offered day-and-date digital copies beginning in 2011, when they announced their New 52 reboot. Those titles did not include complimentary digital copies, but some comics could be purchased in special, bagged editions which included digital codes for an extra dollar.
The company began their Rebirth initiative in May 2016, and then in January of 2017 announced that they would implement the New 52 era "digital copy for an extra buck" plan across the board for monthly titles, while twice-monthly titles would remain at their regular price points and not include digital.
“Giving readers value was a key component of our Rebirth initiative, and we're continuing that commitment with this move,” John Cunningham, SVP, Sales & Trade Marketing, said at the time. "We’ve heard from many fans that they like to read and collect our books in both digital and print formats so this new offering gives DC readers the convenience and value pricing they asked for.”
Digital copy prices have recently risen from $2.99 to $3.99 to bring them into line with the print copies of the comic. DC told us that the increase will be reflected across the DC Universe line, except for kids' titles and New Age of Heroes books, which will remain at $2.99 as previously promised.
Just as DC was adding digital copies to their monthly comics last year, Marvel changed their digital code program, removing the "free" copy of the purchased comic and replacing it with a code for random back-issue comics that they said would enhance the reading experience. After fans objected, Marvel backpedaled in March of 2017.
Marvel has traditionally been more open to the digital market than DC has, with most of its titles including digital codes and even some collected editions including a free digital copy.
Changes to DC's policy for digital may speak to a broader shift at the company: since Rebirth, there have been questions as to how long the company could continue with twice-monthly shipping on most of their most popular titles, and speculation that those books would eventually revert to a monthly schedule.
With major status quo changes coming up in for Batman, a new writer on Detective Comics, new creative team on Wonder Woman, and all of the above for the Superman titles, it seems as though now is the time for DC to make sweeping changes. If they were to revert several of their best-selling titles to monthlies, they might not want to take the potential sales hit that would come with both dropping the publishing frequency and increasing the cover price.
It may also reflect something even deeper: rumors have long held that the DC Universe streaming service might be more than just video -- that there may be a digital comics component as well, in the vein of the Marvel Unlimited program. While today's details on DC Universe confirmed nothing of the sort, PR for the streaming service did refer to it as an "immersive experience," suggesting more than just TV was on the way.