With comic book stores closed along with other business during this unprecedented times we saw DC Comics begin a new Digital-First initiative at the beginning of April. That began with Batman: The Adventures Continue and moved into releasing previously exclusive Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and other stories that were originally part of the Walmart Giant issues. Now Marvel has announced their own new digital initiative they will be starting on May 13th. The questions is with these digital initiatives are Marvel and DC Comics setting themselves up for success once the industry can begin again?
Before getting into that question, I first need to go over Marvel’s new Digital-Only initiative that they announced yesterday on their website. Based on the details released we can now expect several comic book titles that were previously scheduled to now be first released digitally. On May 13th we will get Ant-Man #4, Avengers of the Wastelands #4, Ghost-Spider #9, and Ravencroft #4. After that on, May 20th Hawkeye: Freefall #4, 2020 Ironheart #1, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: The Black Cat Strikes #4.
Of these titles that have been moved to Marvel’s Digital-Only 2020 Ironheart #1 the sole comic book that is going to be starting from the beginning with this initiative. All the other titles that are releasing as part of Marvel’s Digital-Only initiative are several issues into their run. Marvel did state in this announcement that all the Digital-Only comics would be eventually collected in trade paperback form.
Based on the reaction I can fully understand both the creators and fans of these titles being upset that their comics will end their monthly issue run digitally. Matthew Rosenberg, writer of Hawkeye: Freefall, put it best with how he talked about his disappointment in this turn of events on his Twitter account. I was actually collecting the Ghost-Spider series physical single issues as part of my Spider-Gwen collection. And I know a lot of people were enjoying titles like Hawkeye: Freefall that won’t be able to complete their single issue collection because of this announcement.
Now on the other hand, as Rosenberg also pointed out in his Twitter thread talking about this news, there is good that can come out of this. Most of these titles were selling around or below 15,000 physical issues in March 2020, as reported by Comichron. The only title above 20,000 for March 2020 was Ghost-Spider. So this could mean they can survive and finish up there stories that would otherwise be on hiatus as it has been said that Marvel would be scaling back on announced new comics due to what is going on in the world.
Going with these titles for the Digital-Only initiative also is Marvel’s opportunity to really test the digital market space. They can take a full look at what the sales numbers are for these titles digitally, which could translate to physical releases in the future. It’s something similar to what DC Comics has done with Injustice and currently doing with Batman: The Adventures Continue, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and a few other titles.
The success of this new Digital-Only initiative could also open the doors for titles that Marvel was planning on putting on hiatus due to what is going on. It was rumored several already announced projects were put on hold or not going forward at all. But if Marvel can see success in this Digital-Only initiative there is a valid argument to give these new comics a chance to succeed in the digital space first. It would cut costs on production for print and other things that go along with that. And for the titles that do well Marvel, like DC Comics, can tout the success of titles that sell very well in this Digital-Only initiative since digital sales aren’t currently reported on.
But for all of this to go well Marvel, like DC Comics, needs to embrace what it means to go digital. We’ve seen the comic book industry sort of just use the digital market like ComixOlogy as just another storefront like a comic shop. But that is not how Marvel and DC Comics should be treating these titles. Selling digitally is a totally different animal than how comics are sold online.
The biggest hurdle that Marvel and DC Comics that they set for himself that they both have to overcome is marketing. Marvel and DC Comics can’t simply let the only marketing for these digital initiatives be the initial press release and then just send out the comics to sell on ComixOlogy without talking more about it. They need to tap into how the digital space uses things like social media platforms and YouTube.
One cool thing that DC Comics did to promote Batman: The Adventures Continue #1 was to have Kevin Conroy do a live reading of the issue on Instagram. That is exactly the type of thing that builds hype around the first issue for a comic book targeted towards fans who grew up with Kevin Conroy as their Batman from BTAS. As great as that was that is really where the promotion for that series stopped. It wasn’t until today that DC Comics did more to promote the series with a new YouTube video talking about the first two issues a day after Batman: The Adventures Continue #3 released digitally.
Now creating content right now is very tough with everyone locked up and living in different states who will all be in different phases in terms of when they are opening up. But while that is the case right now Marvel and DC Comics need to be planning on how to make these digital-first/only initiatives succeed. They need to leverage all their digital platforms where they have millions of followers to get eyes on these comics. Because they will not have the benefit of comic store employees pushing comics. Marvel and DC Comics are the ones that will be solely responsible for creating awareness.
I fully believe that going with digital initiatives is a major opportunity for the comic book industry. For it to succeed Marvel and DC Comics must be their own best hype people to make sure there is awareness for the comics that are part of these Digital-First/Only initiatives. Because if they don’t then all that is happening to these titles is they are being left to never really get a chance to truly succeed in a world that is only growing more digitally.
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