Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Download This!

Rich Johnston has a great "Lying in the Gutter"column in this week's Comic Book Resources about Marvel making plans for their online comics. Many of the ideas that Marvel is floating forth for "downloadable comics" is based on the Apple model.

And they're both wrong.

What's really interesting about all this is that Apple, the Networks and Marvel are so blind to what downloading is - simply another method to get the content to the consumer.

Yet, they want to charge for it - even though advertising has already paid for it!


For example (TV) - wouldn't you like to be able to download an episode of Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives for free instead of for $.99 each episode? Keep the advertising on it, or get new advertisers for the downloads. "Desperate Housewives is brought to you by the new Ford Truck!"

For example (comics) - wouldn't you like to get the latest Marvel comics onto your laptop while you're on vacation or a business trip? Keep the advertising! If the stories and the art are cool enough, the online editions serve as a great advertisement for the trade paperback.

But you're out there saying, "It'll never work, Bill!"

It already does.

Example (newspapers) - The Los Angeles Times has one of the best print and online editions of their paper in the country. They are world-renowned. The online edition is free.

Example (magazines) - Variety has a print and online version. You can read any article in the online edition that you can in the print if you watch the ads before the article. If you want to use Variety's market data then, you have to be a subscriber.

It's even gone to the point where Video Business magazine is free (both in print and online) because...

Advertising pays for it!

If you want to revolutionize comics and television, and make them accesible by anyone anywhere...

Then start selling ads. Quit making people pay subscriptions or fees to online comics or tv shows.

The rule in business is to always ask yourself, "Where is the money in this venture?" The money in online downloading isn't in fees and subscriptions (except for data) but it's in advertising. The web provides accessibilty. It allows advertisers to get their message outon your "programming" and for you to advertise your brand and merchandise based on said brand (the trade paperback mentioned above).

There is coming a time when comics will be on the web first, then printed in a trade paperback form for collectors. They will be free on the web and appropriately priced at the bookstore.

Oh, wait. It's already happened! (Dark Horse's Megatokyo)

Now all it takes is an entrepeneurial producer and/or network to do the same for television.


Jeff Tidball said...

This vision of the future sounds dystopian to me. I already prefer to pay for television (by purchasing shows on DVD, a season at a time) than watch it via broadcast/cable/satellite, because the advertising is so annoying. Even with Tivo it's annoying compared to the DVD experience.

I read a commentary once — and I wish I could remember where — that suggested that the best value to consumers (whether consumers of entertainment or anything else) comes when they directly pay the people who produce the things they want. Because in a situation like that, the producers are not beholden to anyone other than the consumer. In the current broadcast television market, for example, a show's producers and distributors are much more interested in satisfying advertisers than viewers, because that's ultimately the hand that feeds them. Any tradeoff that satisfies advertisers at the expense of viewers will be made in such an atmosphere. (At least, as long as it does not sufficiently antagonize viewers that they all stop watching.)

So, I guess that's a long way of saying that I'd rather pay for the comics and shows I want to read and watch, and not see them interrupted with ads. Yes, download is just another method of distribution, but it's one that I prefer in most of its current incarnations, because it lets me pay to avoid the advertising.

RogerRmjet said...

Bill, interesting proposition, but wanted to point out a couple of small details.
- Apple's TV shows are actually $1.99 per episode. Yes, I'm nitpicky. :-)
- Having the ads pay for the video really only works with streaming. Better to offer a choice: stream for free with ads, or download for a price. I'd rather pay the two bucks than watch the ads. And if you were to get the ads with the download, they'll eventually get outdated.
- Most people like to skip the ads anyway, which is why people love TiVo (I know I do).
- Yes, you can read TODAY's LA Times and Variety for free, but if you want to read LAST WEEK's, you have to pay for it. The LA Times has the most incredible online archive. They've got stuff that goes back to 1881! I wish more newspapers would follow suit.

Grubber said...

I think one reason for them wanting the subscription model over the advertising model, might also have to do with expenses.

With the subscription, people sign up and pay, this can be automated, hence cheap. With the ads they have to pay a salesforce to go get the advertising(just like in any other medium). They are most likely trying to cut this cost out. I think though they might eventually discover that the free model, as you suggest, is more popular and then they will be forced to employ that salesforce, and move ahead with that model. Just a thought.

Bill Cunningham said...

"Any tradeoff that satisfies advertisers at the expense of viewers..."

I'm not quite sure exactly what you mean here as if you lose viewers, advertisers will not work with you. Advertisers are lining up to cross platform all sorts of shows.

I agree if you want to pay for something so that it arrives in a more desirable format - go for it. You pay.

Grubber - these companies already have sales departments for the magazines, and believe me if it means they can up their sales percentages with no extra work - they'll do it in a heartbeat.

RogerRmjet said...

Bill, looks like Bob Iger agrees with you. Just read this on IMDb (4/11/06):

TVs and PCs Reach Merging Point

In its latest experiment in merging television with the Internet, ABC is planning to make most of its programming available for free on a revamped website beginning April 30, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday), citing no sources. A limited number of shows, including Alias, Commander in Chief, and Lost, will make their debut at launch, with the network expanding the available programming in the future. Shows from cable networks owned by the Walt Disney Co., including the Disney Channel and ABC Family Channel are due to become available in June, while Soapnet plans to offer some programs beginning April 17. Each will be "streamed" and contain commercials that viewers won't be able to skip, the Journal reported, although the video can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded. It cannot be downloaded to portable devices like the iPod or PSP, although some of the same programming will continue to be provided for downloading commercial-free for $1.99 on Apple's iTunes Music Store. Ten advertisers have reportedly signed up for the service, which will limit the number of ad breaks to three, instead of the usual five, with a commercial for only one advertiser appearing during each break. The Journal observed that the move could spark numerous rifts with Disney partners -- cable companies are likely to complain that the plan is aimed at bypassing them; affiliates would probably complain that they would be unable to benefit from the online operation; unions might complain that the company is opening a new revenue source for itself without cutting in the creators of the material being offered.