Marvel Comics's Digital Strategy Begins To Take Shape

Marvel Comics promised last year that by March 2012, all of their main-line superhero books will [...]

Marvel Comics promised last year that by March 2012, all of their main-line superhero books will be available digitally on the same day as the print release through their branded app and the ComiXology website. At the time, they claimed that their crosstown rivals at DC had jumped the gun on digital, but as DC met all of their deadlines and reportedly exceeded digital sales expectations, it became clear that Marvel had some ground to make up before they could be seen as leading the industry on the digital front--something they'd been doing for the better part of the last decade. Well, their strategy is beginning to take shape in a big way. Starting this month, all of Marvel's popular Ultimate Comics titles will feature a free digital download with purchase of the hard copy.  The digital copies can also be bought separately from the Marvel or ComiXology apps on the day of release without a trip to the comic shop, as well, although Marvel (and to a smaller extent, DC as well) seem to be approaching the digital market with the philosophy that it's better to have both formats than just digital. For example: this weekend, Marvel is launching a two-day sale on its website that will allow users who buy a digital comic using the Marvel app while logged into their account to print out a $5 coupon for any participating comic book retailer. It's assumed that most retailers in Diamond's network (the ones you can find using the much-advertised Comic Shop Locator) will participate, as Marvel will reimburse them the full face value of the coupon. In a perfect world, then, some of the fabled digital-only customers that DC feel they have created by rolling out day-and-date digital as part of their September 2011 relaunch may be trying Marvel--and their local comic shop--for the first time this week as they smell a deal that's hard to resist.

Earlier today, Bleeding Cool reported that Marvel will be replacing the polybags that both they and DC have been using to obscure the digital download code on $3.99 "combo pack" books with stickers that readers can remove to reveal the code. The move is apparently in response, at least in part, to criticism by retailers who say that the polybags discourage browsing and could cut into sales. This, if true, is particularly hurtful to Marvel, who had were making those digital editions free on books with a higher price point, and therefore polybagging all of the comics in question. DC, on the other hand, was charging an extra dollar for digital and only polybagging a small portion of eligible comics. According to Bleeding Cool, the program will roll out on Avengers Assemble #1, Avenging Spider-Man #4 and a handful of Ultimate Comics titles this month. At right, Marvel provided news organizations with a mock-up of what the pages will look like in an actual comic, where it would appear on the final interior page before the back cover. This presumably also allows them to make a little extra advertising revenue as compared to DC, whose digital download codes for Justice League have thus far been printed on the inside back cover, traditionally a fairly lucrative advertising spot for comics publishers.