Comics Features

Can Print and Digital Comics Coexist?

I often get asked, “Do you prefer digital or physical comics?” In response, I’ll say that I have a storage shed full of thousands of comics, as well as an iPad filled with even more. I enjoy both options for different reasons, and I actually think they can complement each other. Print comics don’t have to disappear simply because digital titles are so convenient.

Let’s take a look at digital and physical comics to see the perks of each option and how there’s room in this hobby for both of them. In fact, I think that the ease of purchasing digital comics can actually introduce new readers to the idea of collecting physical comics if they find titles they truly enjoy.

Digital comics: Ridiculously convenient

  • One of the biggest draws of digital comics is that you can purchase them immediately. Most publishers, including Marvel and DC, release digital versions the same day as their print counterparts. Want that new Amazing Spider-Man the day the moment it comes out? Grab your nearest device and you’ll have it in an instant.
  • Storage is a breeze. Many readers don’t have room to stack a bunch of white boxes, but finding space for a tablet is pretty simple.
  • You can carry your collection with you and catch up on Convergence or Secret Wars on the bus or during lunch.
  • Searching for back issues is no longer a hassle. You can purchase entire runs of titles you may have missed without worrying about hunting down #5, #8 and #36.
  • You can generally find some amazing sales on digital comics. ComiXology, for example, is always running 50% off or 99-cent sales on topical titles.
  • Marvel Unlimited lets you read thousands of comics – ranging from the 1960s to six months ago – for a monthly subscription. Hopefully other publishers (I’m looking at you, DC) will follow suit with similar options.
  • It’s easier for comic creators, especially those just starting out, to share their work digitally and reach a wider audience, such as through ComiXology Submit. Printing and distributing physical comics can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly (although not impossible, thanks to fundraising sites like Kickstarter).

Physical comics: Fun to collect

  • While digital comics are a great way to get into a storyline, for many readers (myself included) collecting physical comics is an integral part of the hobby. I like organizing my collection and searching through back issues at comic conventions.
  • When you purchase a physical copy, you actually own it. You don’t have to worry about websites shutting down, DRM restrictions or frying your hard drive.
  • I feel that comic art generally looks better in print. Those two-page spreads just don’t translate as well in digital for me (although it depends on the screen and the device).
  • Here’s a big one for me: The cost of most new issues are the same in both print and digital. If I’m going to spend $3.99 on a title either way, I may as well have something physical to show for it.
  • Marvel offers codes for digital comics in its physical titles, so you get the best of both worlds.
  • You can easily share physical copies of comics with friends to introduce them to a title. Sure, you can share digital comics too, but then you usually have to deal with loaning your device, DRM, passwords and so on. Personally, I think it’s much more fun to hand a physical comic or trade paperback to a friend.
  • And finally, perhaps the best reason to collect physical comics is to support your local comic store. The staff will point you toward titles you may like, or you can browse them on the rack. If you don’t have a comic store nearby, you could always get physical comics through the mail via various websites.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to purchase both digital and physical comics, and I think they can coexist in this marketplace. I buy digital when I just want to try out a title to see if I like it, or I missed a series and don’t feel like tracking down back issues (especially if the entire digital run is on sale). I buy physical issues of my favorite titles and enjoy collecting them.

Creators and publishers should embrace both physical and digital titles to reach as many collectors as possible. New creators may want to focus on digital to get their work to the masses, but Marvel’s use of digital codes in physical copies and its Unlimited service to get readers invested in these stories (which will hopefully entice them to buy new issues) are perfect examples of both options working together in tandem.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to collect comics. Do you prefer digital or physical comics, or do you purchase both? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Darryl Gangloff