Digital Download Codes Inside Books Are a Great Idea

Walking Dead on iPhoneWith the release of Avenging Spider-Man #1 in November, Marvel Comics instituted an interesting program: with every print copy of the book, readers also get a digital code allowing them to download a free electronic copy to their Comixology account. So you can get the book on your phone, tablet device, or computer if you so choose.

Having two copies of the book (one printed and one digital) enhances the overall reading experience for many people. You can leave the print copy at home to read at night before bed and keep pristine if you want in a bag and board stored in a longbox, and then take the digital copy with you on your phone, which you can easily carry everywhere.

There’s also the sharing factor, which is important. If you happen to have the book with you everywhere you go, rather than saying, “Oh man, you have to check out Chew, it’s awesome…” You can whip out your cell phone, and hand it to your friend, and show it to him right there. It’s the comics equivalent of handing your friend your iPod so they can listen to a song from the album you just bought. Giving them a sample, so they’ll go out and buy it for themselves. That’s good for everyone, from the retailer, to the publisher, to the fans.

However, I can’t afford to buy two copies of the same book and why should I have to? Once I buy a book, I own it, right? So why can't I own it digitally, too?

Yes, I realize extra work goes into converting a book from print format to various digital formats, but if I’ve already paid the full retail price, it’s a nice bonus to know I can also access it digitally if I want to. For fans who like traditional printed comics, but also enjoy the convenience of digital books, being able to purchase both for the same price is a godsend.

Plus, it has the added bonus of not really pissing anyone off. The retailers sell their physical copies, Comixology (or similar platform) gets their cut of the pie, and the creators get paid a little something too. Everybody wins.

I’m going to take this one step further. If publishers are going to keep charging the full print price for "day-and-date" digital downloads, they could even allow an option for digital buyers to request a FREE print copy be mailed to them. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s not unprecedented, and it’s not as out of the realm of possibility as you think.

Let’s talk about coupons. The reason coupons work is because not everyone ends up redeeming them. If every person who bought Charmin toilet paper actually mailed in their, “Get one roll of toilet paper free!” coupon, Charmin would take a big financial hit and lose money. But statistically that doesn’t happen. The coupons expire after a period of time, people forget to send them in, or they just don’t think it’s worth the extra effort. Some cheapskates do redeem the coupon and want their freebie, but not enough people that it’s to the detriment of the company.

It would be the same with print copies of a comic book offered with digital purchases. The publisher would have to add a few hoops for consumers to jump through, such as fill out a form each time, but sending out print copies of digital comics they've bought wouldn’t hurt enough to make a big difference, and in fact, could probably be used to inflate sales figures (never a bad marketing strategy).

A publisher could do something like what GetGlue does where they allow users to get a bundle of physical stickers (like Foursquare’s badges) after they’ve gotten 20 in a row. Yes, stickers are less expensive than a 32-page comic book, but the idea is potentially the same: once you buy, say, five comics from a publisher, they’ll send you a pack of your purchased titles as a bonus -- if you request it.

Giving people a bonus – either from print to digital, or digital to print – will go a long way to making it feel like its “worth it” to buy the book. Over time, I think you’ll see an increase of legal sharing (which is called “promotion” in some circles) as well as a more pleasurable reading experience all around.

In my opinion, we need to have these digital coupon codes in every single printed comic book and graphic novel on store shelves. As an industry, let’s make it happen! Don't be shortsighted. Don't be a stubborn dinosaur that's afraid to make changes to traditional business models. Try to see the bigger picture. Give your customers more bang for the buck!

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