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Will DC Ever Release A
Digital Subscription Service?

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With Leader Marvel And Other Publishers Already Leading The Trend, With Is The Publisher Of Superman And Batman Still Lagging Behind?

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 31, 2018 — Not that comic books are necessarily more popular, but things based on comic books are certainly more popular than they’ve ever been. The biggest TV shows (The Walking Dead) and the biggest movies (Wonder Woman, anything with Iron Man in it) are all based on comic books. It’s a massive cornerstone of pop culture and most of it boils down to the so-called big two; Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

Let’s just get right to the point here. It’s 2018, so where the hell is DC Comics’ digital comic book subscription service? Marvel Unlimited has been around for years and offers readers access to thousands upon thousands of comic books that can be accessed digitally through the Marvel Unlimited app. It essentially works like Netflix for comic books. Pay a monthly fee of $9.99 (or you can do it annually for $69, which works out to less than $6 a month) and you can access any of the comic books Marvel has to offer through their Marvel Unlimited service. Simple as that.

So, back to the question at hand. Why doesn’t DC Comics, the other major player in the comic book industry, have a similar service yet? Admittedly, Marvel was almost ahead of the curve in this respect and the early days of Marvel Unlimited didn’t quite justify the cost. However, we’re way past that now and it’s high-time DC got with the times.

Last summer, DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee was asked the question of why the company doesn’t have a similar service to Marvel Unlimited. While it’s been discussed, he simply said, “We’re not ready to pull the trigger.”

Why, Jim?

The simple answer seems to be money. DC Comics hasn’t survived as long as they have without being good at what they do. While much of that revolves around making Batman and Superman resonate even after all of these years. It also has to do with running a successful business. So one has to imagine that they understand the potential benefits of launching a subscription-based service that allows people to read comics digitally. Though, since they haven’t pulled the trigger, it stands to reason that they make more money by not having such a service.

Generally speaking, individual issues of comic books are prices anywhere between $2.99 and $4.99, with $3.99 being the more common pricepoint these days. So if DC sells just a few issues to a customer a month, that already covers more than the cost of a subscription to whatever digital service they could theoretically offer in the future.

Perhaps it’s worth digging into what drives Marvel Unlimited and how it works. Marvel is constantly updating the back catalog, making it much easier to read old issues, especially ones that would otherwise be very expensive and difficult to find in physical form. However, when it comes to current runs and new books, those aren’t added to the service until six months after they first hit shelves.

So if there’s a series you want to keep up with, Marvel Unlimited isn’t the best way to keep up with that. Unless you’re willing to be six months behind. In any case, that’s a key element to the business model. They can get hardcore fans to subscribe to their service, while making it enticing for those same customers to still purchase major event books as they’re released.

Even if subscribers don’t feel the need to purchase outside of a Marvel Unlimited subscription, it’s likely those types of readers wouldn’t spend much more than $69 a year on comics anyway. Or they’d buy second-hand copies on Amazon or something like that. Or, worse yet for a company trying to turn a profit, they could just turn to one of many pirating sites to read them for free illegally.

There’s not necessarily any evidence that services like Marvel Unlimited cut down on piracy of comic books, but convenience and a reasonable price point tends to help with issues like piracy. In any case, while it seems terribly inconvenient for DC Comics fans that such a service doesn’t exist, it appears to be for purely financial reasons that such a thing doesn’t exist. People like Batman enough to shell out for those books week-to-week. Or, and this is where the big money is for comic book publishers these days, they sell a lot more trade paperbacks (or digital copies of what would be a trade paperback) and turn a much larger profit that way.

It’s completely logical that a DC Comics subscription service could cut down on such sales. Especially with legacy collections like Watchmen or things of that nature that still sell well for DC. The question becomes when, if at all, will we see DC get into the comic book digital subscription business? It could be this year, if we allow for a bit of speculation.

It was announced last year that DC is going to launch its own still-unnamed streaming service for content, which will include a new season of the animated series Young Justice and a live-action Teen Titans TV series. Not much else has been revealed in terms of pricing or what will be included with the service, which is expected to launch at some point in 2018, but it would make total sense for DC to include some sort of access to a digital comic book library, or to add that kind of feature at an additional cost, when they launch this direct-to-consumer service.

The fact of the matter is, even publishers like Image Comics and Dynamite, via services like Comixology Unlimited, or on their own, offer some sort of subscription service to their readers. It feels increasingly like DC is way behind the ball on this one and it’s not really a question of if it will happen, but when. For DC fans who don’t like paying issue by issue or buying their comics one trade at a time, sooner rather than later would be good.
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