The truth hurts.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for it to happen. I even started a site that keeps track of those fancy $2 digital, DRM-free comics that popped up several months back. The mere idea of being able to click a link in Safari on an iPad and have it open in your app of choice is immensely appealing. Can you imagine if Marvel or DC just starting selling PDFs right from their site - you could click on an issue, sign into PayPal, and the link would download right away. Heaven, I’d say.
When folks talk about what the digital comics landscape should be, they often compare it to the music industry and the advent of the iTunes Music Store. I’ve done it several times myself. Music labels were in peril as millions of people were sharing files on Napster. iTunes came to the rescue with its ease of use and simple one-click buying solutions. The files were DRM’d at first, but years later you were able to buy files and move them as you pleased. It’s hard to get into a discussion about digital comics and not hear someone bring up .mp3’s as the model Marvel and others should be following.
There’s just one problem with that argument - eBooks.
When you compare comics to any other medium, it should probably be books. Print books have slowly made the transition to the digital form thanks to the popularity of the Kindle. The Kindle started slow and never once released sales numbers. They still haven’t to this day, but it’s widely accepted that sales are fantastic. Digital sales of books have passed that of paperback. And guess what? Those books are locked down as shit.
When you buy a Kindle book from Amazon, you are completely locked into either their web viewer, or reading the file on a Kindle or a Kindle app. You can’t move those files around as you please. People that scream, “comics should be DRM-free and I need to be able to move them onto my HDD and store them myself othewise blah-blah”. Amazon’s massively success DRM’d Kindle eBooks almost completely negates that argument. You can say the same for any other major eBook seller. You are locked into their devices and they are all the better for it.
Right now, you are completely locked into the digital comics app that you buy from. I buy all of my books inside of ComiXology. I can read on their website, or as I usually do on my iPad. I personally have no desire to “back up” these comics on my own HDD. What’s the point? It’s just another piece of hardware that I need to worry about myself. I’d rather let someone else handle the dirty work. Why would you want a DRM-free copy of a comic anyway? So you can sleep better at night knowing that Deadpool Team-Up #312 is resting comfortably on your external HDD? It’s bad enough hearing people whine about loving the “feel” of a print comic and “turning the page”. Beat it, clown.
As much as we’d love to live in a dream world where we passed around legally purchased digital comics to friends and neighbors, it’s extremely unlikely to happen. I’m starting to not mind that much.