Image Expo 2013: Image Drops the Mic & Gives the Middle Finger Part 3 Other Digital Services

In the first part of this three-part story, we examined terms of service and the claim that Image was “first” when it comes to offering DRM free comics. The second part delved a bit deeper into the concept of ownership. This third part looks into the possible fallout from this decision by Image Comics.

IMAGE VS. COMIXOLOGY

Image has been releasing comics through comiXology, the leading service in digital comics, having joined the comiXology digital service in August 2010. They also release digital comics through iVerse, iBooks and some of their imprints such as Top Cow and Shadowline have DRM Free deals with other services like DriveThru Comics and My Digital Comics.

And while Image comic books will still be offered for sale on ComiXology, iBooks, and every other platform where it was previously available, Image’s Director of Business Development Ron Richards says that offering the direct-to-consumer downloads is important. “There’s something to be said for the ownership factor. If readers purchase a book on ComiXology, that may be their library [on the service] but from what I understand that could be revoked. And God forbid, if ComiXology goes under or their data center has an earthquake all their hard drives go away — then you’ve got nothing.”

Ron Richards has a history in the digital realm. He was the founder of iFanboy which was later acquired by Graphic.ly which is the highest profile digital comic service to fail. His comment about comiXology “going under” is from his own experience in that previous venture. ComiXology CEO David Steinberger has addressed this previously during conventions stating the company is doing great and if it were in trouble it’s a high target for acquisition, something I’d believe. But with their current growth any issues are far down the line.

But Richards’ logic completely fails the smell test. His quote is filled with hyperbole and logical conclusions that apply for Image’s own business as it does comiXology.

And God forbid, if ComiXology goes under or their data center has an earthquake all their hard drives go away — then you’ve got nothing.

The act of God scenario. ComiXology has had issues in the past, most famously when the service crashed due to high traffic load during their promotion to give away the first issues of over 700 Marvel comics. Weposted on why it happened, a massive influx of interest which resulted in a denial of service. However that interest is a good thing as it caused many people who have never known about the service to traffic the site and as you can see by our graphics below, the service has retained a lot of that traffic. There wasn’t a “database” issue and a tech company like comiXology will have multiple copies of databases. Data centers are built for those types of scenarios and redundant features are built in by major technology providers. But these issues arise on occasion as services move to the cloud, Netflix, Amazon and many others have suffered the same fate.

But, this also applies to Image. When you purchase a comic, the comic is saved in my profile. Does Image have multiple data centers and back-ups of these purchase in case of failures on their end. I do have the downloaded file, but a similar issue arises for them, that of data storage. So, best the publisher has everything set on their end. The first time their site goes down, he’ll have to eat his own words.

The publisher has also taken numerous opportunities to criticize the digital publisher in the past. But, using Ron’s logic, is Image opening up it’s own physical distribution as well? Currently the comic industry is serviced by Diamond Distribution, a company that has an almost near monopoly on the business and that has had serious financial issues in the past. Going by this same logic, there needs to be another “just in case” (a belief I actually have, but that’s a discussion for another time). There has been some communication issues in the past, many of the issues attributed to comiXology are also due to Apple’s terms of service. Richards’ comments sound like sour grapes the more you factor in his previous work history.

Going through the purchasing process of Image’s digital comics, there seems to be no age restriction, an issue that’s just begging for trouble down the road. Comics such as Black Kiss II which are very mature are available for anyone to purchase without ratings present. That’s a poor choice in this digital age.

No matter, I can’t see the relationship between Image and comiXology being the same going forward, this is a clear kick in the nuts to the digital platform.

IS IMAGE GOING THIS ROUTE THE SMARTEST THING?

One can only sum up Image’s move as burning bridge between themselves and comiXology. Ron Richards himself admits they are now competing with other digital services. The growth of digital sales Image cites can really be attributed to these platforms, especially comiXology which has been a leader. They have shown it’s a viable business and people want to consumer their comics this way. But, to have sales you need eyes on the product.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come to paraphrase Field of Dreams. That’s partially what comiXology brings with millions of users and millions of page views a month on their website alone, plus recommendations. People might come to comiXology to purchase one item, but then discover others, something you don’t get with an “Image only” store.

I took a look at traffic between the two companies and you can see comiXology dwarfs Image in the United States (and we’d imagine globally as well).

comixology_vs_image_traffic

To make up the ill-will, Image needs to make sure that they will have enough traffic to their site to make up for possibly less views on comiXology. The gap though is enormous. One just needs to look at anemic traffic for Image and you better believe we’ll keep an eye on this.

2013-07-02_2130(This graphic compares the terms “Image Comics” to “comiXology”)

Further while Image might seem to have all of the buzz with their numerous comic sell-outs, the buzz online isn’t there. Looking at Google Trends, we see that Image has had a downward slide since the early 2000’s while comiXology has only seen massive growth in interest regularly dwarfing online buzz since mid-2011. Image needs a shot in the arm, maybe this is it.

IMAGE’S IMPRINTS

The other question is how this decision affects Image imprints like Top Cow, Joe’s Comics, Skybound and Shadowline. Can they opt-out of this? Top Cow and Shadowline currently offer DRM free comics through other services.

IMAGE SAVES ON FEES

By selling through their website, Image cuts out fees they’d have to pay to Apple, comiXology which are a decent chunk. Image saves on those fees, minus whatever new costs are associated with this venture. Will they be paying better rates to creators then?

From CBR:

Aside from a promotional edge for Image with readers wary of digital comics apps, the publisher is also anticipating more benefits for its creators. “I can’t get into specific contracts, but basically there is no middle man,” Richards said. “There’s no cut for comiXology or Apple or any other piece getting taken out. Ideally for a creator, sales through the Image website gets them the most money per sale.”

It sounds like that hasn’t been determined. That’s a pretty big deal since contracts tend to need to be settled before large ventures like this. This backs up my thought that this concept was rushed and not totally thought and planned out. A lack of Terms of Service is another thing, something no lawyer would allow them to launch without. If I were a creator, I’d be digging through any contracts I had right now, especially if one of my comics was a launch title.

IMAGE VS. BRICK-AND-MORTAR

https://twitter.com/LarrysComics/status/348162027337953280

The final question is the impact on brick-and-mortar stores. They made Image Comics and by offering this service Image will absolutely hurt them, though by how much is to be seen. We’ve seen the digital and print market can grow together, there’s no opportunity so far for stores to profit from these digital sales like they can with comiXology. I haven’t seen the normal outcry concerning digital comics and their dooming print sales, but this is a slap in a face to them.

CONCLUSION

Digital Rights has been a topic of much buzz, especially since Microsoft’s launch of the Xbox One and their failed decision involving DRM. While Image has been deservingly winning praise for releasing some great new series and revitalizing their brand over the last few years, the praise lavished upon this announcement is a bit premature. Hard hitting questions, like the many we’ve covered, haven’t been asked (or answered) and whether this is truly a good deal for creators hasn’t been established. Until we get some of these answers, lets cool it with the adoration. While this sounds like a step in the right direction, the devil is in the details.

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