Continuing our look into digital comic books, we examine what Marvel Comics has to offer.
Recently, your humble comic book examiner received as a gift a Marvel Digital Comics Card. The card was purchased at a local (Aurora, Colorado) Toys”R” Us and can be redeemed for a free month of digital comic books available at Marvel’s website (value: $9.99). The site boasts that it has thousands of comics for sale, and as any comic fan knows, $9.99 for several thousand comic books is quite a bargain in this day of $2.99-$3.99 cover prices.
Unfortunately, as in any great deal that is seemingly too good to be true, there is a catch. Marvel requires that in order to access the digital comic book library, the person must sign up for a subscription – even if only for a month – and you must have a Visa or MasterCard (or access to one). The reason for the credit card is simple, and makes good business sense, in that Marvel will continue to bill the subscriber every month unless the subscriber specifically contacts them and asks that their subscription be canceled. This service is similar to the Music and Book Club practices of sending “Selection of the Month” cards to subscribers, who inevitably will forget to return the card and then will receive CDs or books in the mail that they did not order.
Anyone who has ever been seduced by the “All for just a penny!” deal is familiar with the way this works. You receive merchandise you did not want, and then the cost and trouble of returning it convinces you to keep it instead, and perhaps learn a lesson from the experience. Marvel’s policy is to bill your credit card every month for a subscription to a service that you may or may not use. If you forget about it, don’t have time to read any digital comic books that month, etc., it doesn’t matter. You are billed anyway.
Again, you have the option of canceling, but it is your responsibility to contact them. And what if you don’t want to give them your credit card number? What if the one month card was a gift and you simply want to sample Marvel’s wares before you commit a credit card number to a corporate database? What if you are a kid who doesn’t own a credit card? Well, apparently you won’t be able to sign up for a one month subscription. Even with a gift card purchased from Toys “R” Us, the website will not allow you to proceed further without providing a Visa or MasterCard number.
Marvel does offer a sampling of titles for free that any visitor to the website can view. The selection is much, much smaller than what they advertise is in their digital library, but you can get a taste for what Marvel is currently offering for sale on the comic racks, and familiarize yourself with navigating their system. And speaking of navigating their system…
The design is slightly unwieldy. Whereas any novice can sign onto the DC Comics Vertigo site and quickly master the navigation of their digital comics, the Marvel site took some getting used to: pages occasionally flipped by too fast, panels would zoom in and out without prompting, and many times pages would have to be read more than once because of the awkward angles in which they were displayed. On the plus side, the artwork and colors were vibrant.
Perhaps further practice with the system will enable your humble examiner to master the navigation and give him a smoother reading experience. Until then, the comics move around on the screen like a 1970 Chrysler Newport with a loose steering column. Marvel should take a (digital) page from DC’s business practices: Make it less technical and more fun.
On a side note: A friend recently found himself in dire financial straits (and in these tough times, who hasn’t?). He needed to sell the bulk of his comic collection, and quickly. (Selling comic books is an art unto itself and will be the subject of an upcoming column). He contacted Mile High Comics, a Denver mainstay for many decades, and spoke with Pam Brandle, their chief buyer. He says he had a pleasant selling experience and would recommend that anyone who wants to sell their comics, but doesn’t want to put up with the nitpickiness of e-bay customers, would do well to contact Pam Brandle at: email@example.com. She’s tough, but fair.