July 24, 2014

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Digging into Digital: Comixology Partners with 5 Publishers to Go DRM-Free

So your mileage may vary, but for me, this is the announcement of the show from San Diego Comic-Con, pretty much no matter what else gets announced.

Comixology has partnered with five publishers to go DRM-Free, allowing users to download PDF or CBZ copies of the comics they purchased.

Tip of the cap over to Heidi MacDonald and the folks at The Beat for breaking this one. You can read Heidi's article about it here.

So as of right this very second, you can download copies of any Dynamite, Image, Monkeybrain, Thrillbent, or Top Shelf books that you've already purchased. That's pretty amazing. It's one thing to announce this--it's another to not only announce it, but have it ready to go and working as soon as it's announced.

Before writing this up, I took some time to experiment. I downloaded an Image book, a Top Shelf book, and a Monkeybrain book to PDF format, and my God, they look amazing. While they lack the guided view technology, of course, I had no problem reading them on my PC as PDFs, the same way I might for a digital comp copy.

The way to do this is incredibly simple: You go to "my books," then "my backups," then download the books you want in the format of your choice. Notable is that it does state "last downloaded" and  tracks downloaded vs non-downloaded books. Right now, that's hella convenient, but it also means it's coded so that eventually, they can restrict number of downloads if a publisher wants to go down that road.

This is nothing but good news. First of all, it means the people who keep complaining that Comixology is evil because they force people to use DRM and "What if this one dollar comic I bought and read and will never read again is removed?" straw man arguments against the company can be put to rest once and for all. Are all comics on the system DRM free yet? No, and I'm sure that's going to be the next refuge of the "I hate Digital Comics and Comixology" crowd. But now it's clear the company--possibly because of the "evil Amazon" connection--is cool with DRM-free.

The second piece of good news is that while this is only five companies right now, the rest of the mid-majors won't be far behind. I can't see IDW or Boom! sitting back and letting these other companies get the windfall from those who were waiting for DRM-free. They'll be there, soon. Similarly, smaller folks, who generally take their lead from the mid-majors, are likely to join in as well, for the same reason.

If any of those publishers are reading this and might be leery of doing DRM-free because of piracy, please remember this piece of advice from a friend of mine, who works within the comics industry: "The person illegally downloading your book? They were never going to pay for the damned thing anyway."

What you will gain are people who want to make the transition to digital but also want to "own" their copy, because it's important to them. Now you can get the best of both worlds--be on the best digital comics platform AND give folks a way to download your books DRM-free, if they want to.

Obviously, as both a comics fan and a digital advocate, I hope that as many companies as possible start using this new option at Comixology. But personal bias aside, I think it's a smart move to get in on this while you're still able to be one of the few pubs doing it and not part of the crowd. It's a great point of separation.

Three final thoughts on the ramifications of this, not in any particular order:

1) When will Marvel and DC bow to the pressure and go DRM-free? They have to eventually, it's only a matter of time, and the one who goes first gets bragging rights. In fact, if I were in charge at either company, I'd be begging to announce it this weekend, to totally scoop the other guy. Don't believe me that they will? Look at how the pair have embraced digital at all, after initially being shackled to the comic book stores. It will happen. If not this year, then sometime in 2015.

2) Is this another move towards pulling away from Apple? Look, Amazon wants people buying their Fire tablets. They now have the single best digital-comics reading company out there in their stable. If people can download their books from the website and then port them to their iPad or iPhone, how long is it going to be before Amazon gets the bright idea to make the software Fire-only? Not saying they will or should do that. But now you can do it without hurting your existing customers, because their books would still be available, just not as conveniently. Something to ponder, I think.

3) Your move, Dark Horse. Dark Horse had the chance to be a big player outside Comixology's orbit by offering new digital comics day and date for $1.99 instead of cover price. Retailers whined, and the company blinked--something I still think was a big mistake. If they don't make themselves DRM-free ASAP, the veritable indie is about to do themselves further harm in the expanding digital market. They should have done this as soon as Image did, but waited. Now, if they wait too much longer--or don't go DRM-free at all, they really risk hurting themselves in terms of market share.

No matter what happens, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. This is the next step in the digital comics revolution, one that offers nothing but positives for readers, publishers, and Comixology itself.