In a somewhat surprising move, Marvel Comics has released a digital comics subscription service. For only $59.88 a year ($4.99 a month) or $9.99 monthly, you have immediate access to 2,700 comics. Marvel has 250 issues available for free. Rather than focus on current and popular books, the free selections offer a wide range of Marvel history. You’ll see plenty of early issues of the Avengers, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man, as well as samples of their younger books like Runaways and the Marvel Adventures series.
The paid selection of 2,700 titles looks even better. Again, the Avengers are featured heavily, but they also have hard to find titles like the Christopher Priest run on Black Panther, the 1950 Marvel Boy, and Tales of Suspense. The initial selection is quite smart, with lots of complete mini-series runs, Manga versions of the Marvel heroes and books targeted toward younger readers (the Franklin Richard series, Power Pack) and teens (NYX, New Mutants, X-23, Jubilee). There’s even a nice selection of vintage titles (Marvel Team-Up, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider) for the older fans as well.
The online, Flash based reader was pleasantly surprising and fun to use. Not only can you choose from single and two-page options, the reader offers a Smart Panel feature that works quite well. Clicking the page/panel of the issue zooms in on half or third of the page and allows a good, close reading view. The issues, panels and pages all load quickly and seamlessly, which is a good thing. The reading experience is what hold many back from reading online or on the computer, but Marvel’s Flash reader makes the experience an easy and pleasant one.
Using the Firefox User Agent Switcher, I impersonated an iPhone and the site continued to work well. If you’ve got an iPhone, browse the site and try to read one of the free comics and post a comment. Phone browsing and reading is the one unique feature that could cause the service to explode in popularity.
For this to be a success, Marvel needs to constantly add books. That 2,700 needs to double by the end of the year and continue at that pace. They’ve stated that only books older than 6 months will appear on the site. That’s not a bad decision, as it allows them to maintain regular sales and hopefully entice new readers with the digital version. I would release the new digital books every Wednesday, just like regular comics. Get the new readers used to reading new books on that day and you’ve got a better chance of getting them in the local shops to pick up the printed books.
Performance at the moment is spotty (at least on my end). Response times were slow and I experienced a few MySQL connection issues when browsing the free selection. It’s most likely due to the new launch and things should speed up and clear up in a week or so.
Marvel’s new digital comics subscription service is one I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.