For a few years comic readers who bought a physical copy of a Marvel $3.99 comic would receive a code for a free digital copy of that book. This policy changed in 2017 where now Marvel is just giving a related issue of a much older run to entice people into reading something else. Immediately cries of “bait and switch” and “Marvel is screwing over readers” erupted from people online, and while it really sucks that they did this change it could be another case of Marvel’s pandering.
Instead of pandering to one audience in their comics to create a publicity stunt, in this case it could be Marvel caving into a minority of comic shop owners who really fear that digital comics will run them out of business. This line of thinking has been brewing for many years, and it even preceded Marvel giving free digital codes with their books.
In the US, comic distribution is pretty much monopolized by Diamond. That’s who every comic shop gets their books from, and digital comics are usually through ComiXology although some publishers (like Dark Horse) have experienced with their own storefronts. Generally Marvel and DC go through ComiXology. Marvel has their own store for digital comics, but it can be connected to a ComiXology account, so it’s all a wash in that regard.
When Marvel started to offer digital comics codes with their books some local shops felt threatened. If their customers were exposed to the digital ecosystem even a little bit, it could threaten their livelihood if they realized they didn’t have to wait for a shop to open on Wednesdays to get new issues due to the convenience of digital.
For a while some comic shops began to try to spread FUD that the digital side of things was doomed as mighty Diamond was going to take over things and you’d buy your digital codes from a local shop. Of course, that never happened and Amazon has since bought ComiXology ensuring it’ll be around for quite a long time.
Local shops also rebelled against digital copies by not ordering certain issues of DC Comics during the New 52 era. Back then the DC books didn’t include a digital code like Marvel did, but for some big issues DC did offer a $4.99 poly bagged version with a digital code. The anti-digital shop owners didn’t even stock those issues out of the fear of losing customers to digital.
So to appease those shops who are scared of going out of business and whine at the annual Diamond meetings about digital, Marvel has taken a very consumer-unfriendly move by removing digital codes from their monthly titles. At the same time DC is embracing the old Marvel model by giving out free codes with new $3.99 versions of some DC Rebirth titles. That’s a $1 increase over DC’s popular $2.99 pricing…but you get a free digital copy with it.
It’s understandable to be upset with this change from Marvel, but it also requires a little perspective before you Hulk out in rage. Even though they’re owned by Disney, Marvel is still a business and they want to make sure local shops will continue to stock their yearly new #1s so the investment collectors will still buy enough for them to chart every month.
With the success DC has been seeing with Rebirth and the declining state of Marvel’s sales on the physical level, it’ll be interesting to see how this decision plays out.