Watchmen Tango Foxtrot - the problem with Digital Collections (DC Edition)

DC’s Digital Collection Craziness

Last week, I wrote about how publishers are doing digital comics collections the wrong way. A digital collections ought to be a unique thing that reflects the strengths of the digital format, and not merely mirror a print edition. It makes no sense.

This is doubly true when multiple digital collections exist only to reflect the multiple physical formats the same comic is available in. With digital comics, there is no paper stock choice. There’s no cover material choice. There’s no print size option. There’s not even an HD versus standard def quality difference anymore.

There’s only one digital format, so why is the digital book offered under two different names at two different price points despite having the same material in the same format?

The Case Study

This past weekend, DC had a huge Labor Day sale on comiXology and put up more than 80 pages’ worth of collected editions. Silly me, I looked through all of it. (I skimmed through the Batman and Superman titles, though, due to sheer volume.)

Given the amazing numbers of books on that list, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s digital collections line-up has its share of quirks.

They all tie into what I wrote last week, though: Making digital comics collections run as a mirror to the print editions makes no sense and, in fact, is hostile to users. Whether it’s because things got overlooked or nobody is going back to clean this stuff up, or because it’s company policy to keep these digital collections around past their usefulness, I saw a number of examples I wanted to share here.

The Department of Redundancy Department

Tom King’s “The Omega Men” ran 12 issues because of course it did. It’s available in both a regular and deluxe editions:

Two different editions of Tom King's The Omega Men at two different price points on comixology

The reason for the price difference is the print formatting. The “Deluxe” edition is hardcover with slightly larger paper. The standard version is a trade paperback at the standard comic size.

Try to process this: The digital edition of a print trade paperback and the digital edition of a print hardcover book have different prices, even when the content and digital formatting are identical.

The 290-ish page story is the same in both books. The Deluxe edition has a few extra pages that I’m guessing is some Behind The Scenes type stuff. It’s basically free to include that in the digital edition. You’re not cutting down any more trees. And it’s not nearly enough material to justify charging twice the price.

Selling two different books with the same material for wildly different prices is confusing to readers. It slows them up from purchasing a book because they, like I did this weekend, will be flipping back and forth between their detail pages to figure out what is what.

If Amazon has taught us nothing, we know that anything that slows the shopping experience also kills the shopping experience. People don’t spend money if they have even the slightest hiccup, quite often.

Another example along similar lines, but with one big difference:

Jeff Smith's Shazam collection and its own reissue are both available with different covers on Comixology

Jeff Smith once did a Shazam! book. It’s been collected twice now. The second one is called a “New Edition” and has 30 pages more.

Unlike “The Omega Man,” these two editions have the exact same price to begin with. You need to click through on both books to discover that one has 30 pages more than the other. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you right now which one is which. Someone who remembers the evolution of DC’s logo will be able to figure it out. (I think the one on the right would be newer, by that standard.)

Imagine buying the book and discovering later that you bought the version of the digital collection that has 30 less pages of content in it, even though it’s the same price? DC’s listings are so confusing that you were guided to buy a lesser product of theirs. Even if it’s only back matter stuff, that’s not going to feel good. DC isn’t deliberately duping its readers here, but it is creating a shopping experience that’s antagonistic to its readers. They likely also create a support issue for Comixology, who ends up being the received or irate emails from customers about this kind of thing.

The solution is simple: Just upgrade all the buyers of the first edition over to the new edition and take the first edition off the virtual shelf. This is something that is possible to do with Comixology; I think they just haven’t done it yet.

This is not feasible in the print world. You can’t find all the people who bought a physical book over the course of the last couple of years and go to their houses to replace their old book with a new printing.

But that IS feasible it the digital work. All it takes is the push of a couple buttons. Use digital to your advantage, publishers! Don’t treat it as an afterthought.

The Math of Navigating Print Formats in the Digital Comics World

Here’s where things start to get complicated and math is involved.

Covers of Transmetropolitan collections on Comixology
(The rest of the books were on the next page. I didn’t screenshot that.)

Transmetropolitan is available in its entirety across 10 collections for $121 ($30 on sale).

After that, it gets a little complicated.

The first three omnibus editions are listed at $12.99, $19.99, $16.99, and $19.99. Those will get you to issue #48 for $69.96. The Labor Day Weekend sale prices were $2.99, $4.99, $3.99, and — $15.99. Book Five just came out in June, so I guess DC won’t deep discount it so early in its lifecycle.

Instead, it’s cheaper to buy the 6-issue volumes 7 and 8 on sale for $6 total. When not on sale, however, the Omnibus is cheaper at $19.99 for it instead of $24 for two “trades”.

While on sale, though, the cheapest way to go is to buy the first 36 issues (out of 60) across three books for $50 ( $12 on sale). Then, add on the last 4 smaller collections at $48 ( $12 on sale ) for a total of $98 ($24 on sale).

I understand the idea of having cheaper collections even digitally for people on a budget, but ironically they will end up spending more buying the books in their “cheaper” formats, while they clutter up their virtual library shelves with twice as many books as is necessary.

These are digital collections. They don’t need to be six issues or even 12 issues. They can be anything the publisher wants, even 18 issues at a go. Surely, there’s a way to present a 60 issue series like this in an affordable singular format that everyone would enjoy and benefit from.

Also, why isn’t there a volume 5 and 6 of the larger collections to cover the entire series? Did they never make it to print? So what? This is digital. It doesn’t take nearly as much work or expense to package a couple of trades into one virtual book. Combine some files, add a new cover and title page, and you’re done.

Why should digital reading folks need to mix two different sets of collections to get a full reading experience? Consistency is so much better. Make volumes 5 and 6 a digital exclusive. Problem solved!

Update: As it turns out, there’s a different issue here. There is a Book Five of the Transmetropolitan Omnibus series. But it shows up under the “Collected Editions” section with the trade paperback versions:

The Transmetropolitan lineup of trades in Comixology includes an Omnibus

That first book above is the fifth and final book of the Omnibus series.

It’s in the wrong category. That should be an easy fix, but you’ve seen all the other “easy fixes” in this article that haven’t happened yet…

The Omnibus is cheaper than the two trades, which makes sense, if you go along with this “Digital Must Mirror the Print” theory of digital comics collections. (I don’t.)

OK, on to the next example:

The totality of Y The Last Man on sale at Comixology in two different formats

“Y The Last Man” has a similar issue, though at least both book formats have complete runs. The six issue collections are $12 each or $3 on sale. That’s $120 or $30 to get the whole series.

The 12-issue books are $12.99 each but also $3 on sale. So it’s $65 full price or $15 on sale.

Digitally, it costs half as much to buy the larger individual collections whether it’s on sale or not.

Just to make it more confusing, the 12-issue book collections are hardcovers and cost more in print than the trades. Yet somehow, it’s cheaper to buy fewer hardcovers than more trade paperbacks.

For another example, the complete “100 Bullets” series can be had as 13 6-issue collections for $78 ($39) or five 20-issue collections for $85 ($20). The full price makes it cheaper to buy the smaller collections while the sale price makes it significantly cheaper to buy the larger ones.

Are you dizzy yet?

Watchmen Tango Foxtrot

Watchmen's various digital comics

The book on the far left is a collection of the 12 issues of Watchmen. It runs 449 pages.

On the far right is the digital version of the hardcover edition of Watchmen. It runs 449 pages. Digitally, it is the same book. But it’s listed at $30 ($8 sale) instead of $17 ($4 sale).

Just like with “Y The Last Man,” DC is literally charging you twice as much because it’s the digital edition of a hardcover. Digitally, though, it’s only a different cover. I know alternate covers are a collectible thing with monthly comics, but we’re not there with digital comics, thank goodness. Why are there two different books at two wildly different prices?

Where This Makes Sense, Coincidentally Enough

Think about it for a second: Amazon sees the physical books as the one true version of a book and then offers an alternate version of it digitally. That digital book needs to be the same as the print book. There needs to be a digital version of Watchmen, the trade paperback and one for Watchmen, the hardcover book.

Theoretically, they should both link to the same digital edition since it’s the same material but in bits and bytes instead of glossy pages. But the covers in the Direct Market are different, so it makes sense to be consistent and have a different edition of each. Or maybe it’s easier to do it that way. Or maybe DC is just trying to make a few cheap bucks through people who don’t think to comparison shop formats like this.

Or maybe nobody at AT&T/DC is looking at this line item on their P&L statements. Why fix something that either isn’t broken or isn’t valued enough to spend any money on?

I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader and the reader’s level of cynicism. We’ll also see how things work out after The Great Comixology/Amazon Merger of Fall 2021.

Before I wrap this up, there’s one more point of craziness that blows my mind:

Suicide Squad Is a Movie Again, So This Stupidity Exists

There’s a lot of Suicide Squad collections now. 28 of them were included in the Labor Day sale.

You only need the original John Ostrander series, though:

The only Suicide Squad collections you need to own come from John Ostrander's typewriter

There are eight books collecting the entire series. However, the first book wasn’t included on the Labor Day sale because it was recently reissued in print to include a new movie cast photo. You could only buy it at the full $12.99 price during the sale.

This is a rare example of a publisher trying to hook in new readers by having a higher priced first volume in a series. If there’s one Standard Business Practice in comics, it’s that the first volume that should cost the least. (See all the $10 first volume trades, for example.)

Aren’t sales great ways to entice new or hesitant shoppers to try a series? Nothing helps that along more than keeping Volume 1 at the highest cost– wait, no, that makes no sense.

Common sense has flown out the window to protect the Direct Market at any and all costs.

I’m torn now. Is it dumber to charge more for a book just for a new cover (“Suicide Squad” v1), or to charge extra for a digital edition of a book because it is the digital mirror of the hardcover print edition (“Watchmen”)?

But, wait! There’s more! The second volume in the series is available in the Comixology Unlimited program, but not the first. That also makes no sense.

Does anyone at DC look at their digital distribution program, ever?!? Or did AT&T lay them all off?

A personal, petty gripe on top of all that: I have a soft spot for the 2001 Suicide Squad series by Keith Giffen and Paco Medina that only lasted 12 issues. The entire run is collected in trade paperback and digitally as “Suicide Squad: Casualties of War.”

It is, however, not included in the sale. I bet if Harley Quinn was in it, they’d have put it on sale…

Thanks, DC! I wave a fiver in your face, and you ignore me.

Digital Collections Should Make Better Sense

It’s not entirely fair to expect sales prices to track equally across all books. Sometimes, it makes sense to more heavily discount one volume of a series over the rest. (It doesn’t make sense to have a higher-priced volume 1, though.). Sometimes, it makes sense not to discount a series at all.

Those are all valid marketing tactics, even if I think most of the weird happenings listed above aren’t for those reasons…

But continuing to create digital collections just as a way of repeating the print collected edition price points is a mistake. It’s needlessly confusing and messy. It doesn’t help the intended purchasers. It only gives them multiple avenues to be disappointed by their purchases in the end, either because they spent too much or they got the wrong versions of the book.

Dear publishers: Simplify, be generous, and make the best reading experience for your customers. Consistency doesn’t hurt, either. That’s how to make readers happy and that’s how to bring them back to read even more.

Again, it’s time to rethink digital comic book collections. The examples outlined above are the most obvious and simple things to fix. It might be worth considering more aggressive paths, too.

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

One Comment

  1. I agree with most of what you write here, but there is something you’re overlooking : the colors. Coloring for a digital edition should be vastly different because screen display is much brighter than even the whitest paper. I love the original Valiant production, bought them all on paper, but on digital the garish spectrapower makes my eyes bleed…

    Digital editions should indeed follow some common sense basic principles, there is zero need for multiple digital version of the same contents, any new print collection that goes to digital should trigger the automatic removal of previous ones, all of them. But yes it will remain that way as long as digital remains an afterthought of print.
    Price : I never understood the principle that the price of a digital edition should be half of the related print version, or any other percentage for that matter. The price of the print version has no bearing here. And indeed, the first volume should at least be an entry point. D’oh.
    Finally, further volumes of a series should be chronologically presented so that you can read them in order. Yeah, I know. Marvel, and mostly DC have rebooted so many times that it’s hard to do. Who’s alive ? Who’s dead ? Who’s alive again? Can I just skip the parts where my beloved heroes became homicidal maniacs for a while? Sigh.