4 Reasons to Stop Buying Digital Comics

Philip Bates 06-06-2016

It’s a good time to be a comic geek: thanks largely to Marvel Studios, which not only produces brilliant movies for geeks 20 Movies All Geeks Need to See in 2018 2018 is shaping up to be a good year for movies aimed at geeks. Comic book movies continue to dominate, but there's also plenty for everyone else to enjoy. Read More , but also brilliant Netflix originals 10 Awesome Netflix Originals You've Probably Never Heard Of Alongside the headline-making shows such as House of Cards and Stranger Things, there are countless Netflix originals that may have passed you by. Read More . Then there is Image Comics’ The Walking Dead TV series, which continues to go from strength to strength.


This all means comic books are more influential than ever before. It’s now cool to own the original Civil War issues, have The Dark Knight Rises to lend out, and know more about Batroc the Leaper than is healthy.

As Nick Abadzis, writer of Titan Comics’ Tenth Doctor series, says:

“I think it’s brilliant and healthy that a language like comics (as opposed to the medium and industry itself) is embracing new ways of getting itself seen. I’ve always held that it’s the most flexible language humankind ever invented, that it’s in fact very, very old and here it is evolving and adapting itself (via its creators) to new areas.”

Comic book publishers are embracing this brave new world, and changing their businesses to make the most of what will come to be known as the Geek Age. However, while publishers are right to move with the times, the move into digital comics isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Digital comics won’t be fully embraced en masse by fans until their shortcomings are addressed. Until that happens, we, true comic book fans, should avoid buying digital comics. Here are just a few reasons why…

1. Digital Comics Are a Rip-Off

Digital comics should be cheaper.


Most comics are now $3.99, with some edging closer to $4.99. If it means comic creators get decent rates, that’s fair enough, but that’s not always the case.

Comixology New Releases

So what are you paying for? Printing and distribution, mainly. Both of which are very costly. While digital comics still need distribution, it’s nowhere near as widely or time-consuming as print. On digital, you’re paying for timeliness. Comics from Marvel and DC are generally available for the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of the physical comics; prices only decrease after some time.

You’ll pay $1.99 for most Silver and Bronze Age issues, boasting stunning recolorizations — but you’ll find the same quality in, for instance, Marvel’s Epic Collection books, and at a cheaper price too. These graphic novels are also available digitally, but typically at their RRPs, whereas you can easily find cheaper physical copies elsewhere. The RRP reflects superior page and print quality, which you can’t take advantage of on digital.


ComiXology Unlimited gives “endless access” to anyone taking out a $5.99-a-month subscription. But these are entry point issues, intended as tasters to draw you into buying further storylines, and it doesn’t include titles from Marvel or DC.

Nick adds:

“[Digital comics are] good for the quick hit rather than the prolonged, sensory experience. Where a quick hit might allow you to catch up on the antics of your favorite superhero, I wonder if it’s an experience that stays with you…? I love physical books and collections, so where I might read episodic comics digitally, if I love a story, I’ll almost certainly want a printed book. In certain instances, if it’s a creator or story I love, I’ll go straight for print anyway. It’s a fan choice too – are you content just to be fed at the drip, or are you hungry enough, adventurous enough, to go looking for a deeper, and ultimately, more fulfilling experience? I’ll always go for the latter.”

Fortunately, there are ways to read comics online free The 10 Best Ways to Read Comics Online for Free Comic books aren't cheap to buy. However, you can save some money by using these sites to read comics online for free. Read More , and if you’re into manga, you can also read manga online for free 5 Sites to Read Manga Online for Free and Entirely Legal Looking to read manga online for free? These are the best sites for online manga, all of which are entirely legal. Read More . You just have to know where to look!


2. Digital Comics Dilute the Medium

You might think this is just the ebooks versus print debate Why Are Ebooks More Expensive Than Paperbacks? How can ebooks cost more than paperbacks? The pricing makes no sense! Here's the answer to this burning question. Read More again with a slightly different format, but it’s not. Novels have morphed into serializations and short stories, but comics are defined by their unique format.

Nick Abadzis comics

Comics have stayed relatively consistent in their delivery, a natural extension of artistic plates, adapting into newspaper strips and, in the early 1900s, comic books as we now recognize them. They have stayed in this form for such a long time because comics have reached their optimal medium for consumption.

In other words, this is the best way to fully appreciate and enjoy them.


It comes down to narrative flow. Just as with books, one sentence should flow into another, which should in turn flow into another paragraph, your eye should be naturally drawn to the next panel, to the next speech bubble, and to the next page.

This is why artists aren’t asked to provide pin-ups of characters, but instead a full sample page. It’s not enough to be able to draw; you need to direct too. Russ Leach, artist for the UK’s Draw the Marvel Way partwork and the Doctor Who Adventures, says:

“As a sequential artist, my first duty is to the flow of the story and then to the art. The real test is to construct the page so that a reader can follow the action without word bubbles. As the reader moves from one panel to another, those panels should be constructed to facilitate the flow of the story. This is not just a script progression; it’s also about mood and drama as well as making sure that a panel is constructed to allow the script bubbles to work progressively.”

Most digital comics aren’t designed to be read on a device, so they function primarily as physical books. This is how their flow can be fully appreciated because it should come naturally; digital comics, however, force you into either zooming and dragging the page around, or guided view. It’s a counter-intuitive way of reading.

3. Digital Comics Kill the Community

The first victim of digitization is bricks-and-mortar retailers. If you don’t support your local comic store, they will die. Digital comics mean that even those who live in remote areas without a nearby comic shop can digest them, but if the industry goes that way, there’ll be no incentive to open more anyway.

Art by Russ Leach
Art by Russ Leach

Away from vile commenters online, readers are generally amicable and always enthusiastic when face-to-face. Even the people you buy comics from will likely take a few minutes to chat about your grab pile, creators, and recommendations.

This fan experience is essential to properly belonging to that community. It doesn’t mean you have to be gregarious; it means you have peers to talk to. It’s that enthusiasm for immersive storytelling that keeps comics alive, and without passionate fans interacting, comics would die.

Nick says:

“There’s something artisanal about a printed item, especially if it’s been lovingly handcrafted, as many items are these days… Even in a social-media-governed age such as this, primates love a gathering.”

Conventions are a core part of this “gathering.” If digital kills print, these would be very different beasts.

Russ says:

“At the end of the day, I’m in the business to entertain by telling stories. Mixing with fellow creators is stimulating for the process and meeting the fandom is humbling. So many great people just enjoying the medium is wonderful… There’s absolutely nothing better than having someone say they love your work or a kid’s mum on twitter posting a beaming child with a poster you signed!”

Artists may still sketch for you, but writers would have nothing to sign; collections that populate events would vanish. Some stalls might still offer rare issues — origins, and variant covers (now also a moot point) — but with print dead, the prices on these would sky-rocket further. Collecting would become an elite hobby.

4. Digital Comics Can’t Be Lent or Sold

Going digital might be seen as a way of making comics relevant to the next generation, but in reality the opposite is true.

Comics started out as something for a younger audience, and many of us were introduced to them when someone lent us a single issue. Just think of how many kids are converted into life-long fans because they borrowed Amazing Spider-Man from a friend, or even how many will now be fans because they like Captain America: Civil War and their older brother has the original comics!

Russ Leach Doctor Who
Art by Russ Leach

Many of us would happily lend a comic to a friend; fewer would lend an iPad The Best Apps to Read Comics on Your iPad Here are the best iPad comic readers that let you read your comics and grow your comic collection using your iPad. Read More  or Android device 4 Android Apps For Reading Your PDF Comic Book Collection Do you have comics saved in PDF format, or are you just looking for a good comic book reader? Check out these amazing Android apps. Read More though.

Russ says comics are a great way of encouraging young readers:

“Personally I couldn’t imagine how I would have read the novels I have if I hadn’t had time with comics as a youngster where I experienced amazing pacing, characterisation and not least an expanded vocabulary. As a youngster hungry for pulp fantasy I eagerly read comics of many types! Comics are often picked up for their art but are kept and continued reading for their stories. That’s how I think it works for kids as well. The medium is easier to dip into and is visually engaging, thus delivering an immediate stimulating story experience. Once you’ve been there, and the story becomes the most important aspect of the comic, then you start looking to expand your intake and adding purely the written word, description and your own imagination to the process of reading a story. The end result is a healthy dose of both mediums!”

The limited shelf life of devices Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More would also kill your children’s inheritance. Your kids can pore through boxes filled with thousands of physical issues, the passion you have for them proving infectious. Whereas with digital, you’re giving them some account details. (That’s leaving aside the debate over whether youngsters should even own tablets The Negative Impact Of Social Networking Sites On Society [Opinion] I have accounts on several social networking sites, and spend far too long on them writing my own updates and reading the updates of others. I enjoy doing so, being able to interact with friends,... Read More )

Nick adds:

“My own daughter loves and enjoys comics culture, and she’s very aware that it is an ever-expanding thing. I suppose she soaks up a lot via osmosis simply by virtue of living under the same roof as me.”

If your kids don’t enjoy comics, or if you’re strapped for cash, paper comics do have a resale value. It’s painful to sell your collection, and the industry is a rare one where prices decrease for common issues — unless you have Amazing Fantasy #15 tucked away — but they’re far from worthless. In fact, your comics could generate some serious dollar 12 Tips to Successfully Selling Your Comic Book Collection Where should you sell your comics? Ensure you get the best price? And find a good home for them? Here are some tips for successfully selling your comic collection. Read More . Digital comics, meanwhile, can’t be sold on.

To Be Continued…

Random comics

If you’re desperate to read digital comics, many publishers include codes to download a supplementary digital version when you buy a proper comic book. However, the argument won’t end here 10 Comic Blogs That Every Comic Book Fan Should Read Comic books are probably the first things that help us to dream. Through the growing up years, comic books and the capers in them shield us from the harsher realities of the world outside, where... Read More , and neither should it. Comics need to adapt, but in my view, that means in terms of storytelling, not in delivery or medium.

Nick concludes:

“I don’t think digital will ever entirely kill off print. A lot of people define themselves with the physical artefacts they keep – it’s the old collector’s instinct. That will continue to change in response to technological advances, but I don’t think it’ll go away entirely. At some point, it might mean the interiors of our houses will look a bit more Spartan, with only certain well-loved and cherished items as physical artefacts and all your entertainment and media contained within some VR cube, but I bet you’ll still have a corner containing some well-thumbed books from childhood.”

The important thing, of course, is to keep buying comics 8 Places To Buy Comics Online, Whether You Like It On Paper Or Digital I am presuming here that you the reader are now an adult or at least in your late teens who is probably reading at least a Dan Brown or the latest bestseller on political philosophy.... Read More through thick and thin. And while we’re advocating for good ol’ paper comics over digital comics, either one is better than not buying comics at all.

So, on what side of the fence do you sit? Do you still buy real comics made of paper? Or have you moved onto digital comics, having sold the collection weighing down your spare room? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Explore more about: Comics, Ebooks, Opinion & Polls.

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  1. Amelia
    May 29, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    "Most comics are now $3.99, with some edging closer to $4.99. If it means comic creators get decent rates, that’s fair enough, but that’s not always the case."
    Well, to the best of my knowledge, Comixology keeps 50% of the sales PLUS android/Apple store fees which is about 30%. Needless to say, there are 27% Sale taxes (not to mention the taxes when you receive the payment in your country). If a digital comic costs $4.99, you can bet the creator is taking only 20 cents per sale.

  2. Kevin
    May 25, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    I prefer digital to physical for a couple of reasons.

    My "local" comic shop is about an hour and a half drive away. In practical terms, I'd have to buy them online if I wanted physical comics; the shipping cost would quickly outstrip the difference in price between physical and digital.

    Additionally, I would have to devote time, effort, and space to storing physical comics properly so they didn't get damaged. This is not an issue with digital comics. Additionally, I can effortlessly read my comics from anywhere at a moment's notice.

    I don't want physical comics to go away - that'd be ridiculous. Clearly a lot of people care quite a bit about them. But it'd be appreciated if you could stop trying to shame people who buy digital.

  3. Blair Witch
    April 13, 2018 at 8:24 am

    I'm pretty much in agreement, here. I recently retired overseas and brought along a good deal of my old silver and bronze comics, my faithful spinrack, but the price of digital comic books not ot mention the regular price of print editions, has sorely pressed my interest and capacity to keep up. And here in the Philippines, the nearest comic book store...with additional import prices often tagged on, makes even casual reading unappealing. I still love comics, so I have found alternatives which are used print books, digital ebooks which I deem affordable, and maybe the other method of reading comics which any publisher or person who makes their living from publishing frowns upon. But mostly...piracy here in the Philippines is rampant and current movies and tv shows are blatantly available on pirated DVDs on every corner. Whatcha gonna do?

  4. James
    April 7, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    I love the smell of comics and books. Otherwise, getting Masterworks for $10 is fantastic.

  5. Lucy Decker
    January 27, 2017 at 5:52 am

    Most comics in Australia end up being double the US price due to shipping costs. I leapt to digital for what amounted to half price comics. Now that I have, I'm left wondering why I should spend five dollars for a single issue from over a year ago. I essentially leave whole series alone until sales.

    • Philip Bates
      January 31, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Yeah, I can 100% appreciate that. I'm shocked to hear they cost so much in Australia; then again, prices are increasing everywhere, including in the UK, where Brexit is getting the blame!

  6. Geoffrey
    June 16, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    I need to correct myself. I meant 1TB HDD, not 1GB HDD, in my previous post (June 7, 2016), although a GB is good enough capacity to hold several hundred comics from high quality scans (which was fun experimenting with on my personal collection).

    But what I really want to point out as well, and why I mentioned this HDD (of 1 TB) – it’s more than enough for everything. Even if you can obtain every commercially sold comic book of the last century digitally (via high quality JPG scan from print/film, Flash-based, etc) you still wouldn’t nearly fill up the drive, even with the ads intact.

    Ok, you'd need two drives. A remote backup is important, but it’s still a tiny bit of space, and easy, cheap and quick to do – and something much more “straight-forward” than print ever was or will be.

    At any rate, this truly is amazing to me. Just my own personal aggregate collection over the years in print could have physically taken one, or maybe three, rooms of a house. Forget it. I've long moved on from this. And I also got tired of shuffling around big long heavy boxes to organize, or even find, something, or keeping "inventory" on cards - it sometimes felt like I was managing a warehouse. I now don't waste my time doing that, and have better ideas for this valuable piece of real estate I’ve won back.

    Today, I can carry every issue I would ever want now, with room to spare, on just a laptop or tablet, and easily buy anything else with a simple download. Hey, I can put my music, videos, pictures, books, documents, etc along with them too. How neat is that?

    Heck, even my phone, comfortably in the palm of my hand, can carry a good several "boxes" in digital.

    Sure, there’s “advantages” to print, like physical lending, resale value, etc. And yeah, a collector’s edition version isn’t the same in digital (although many of these fabricated offerings were mostly rip-offs, and cash grabs, anyway). And, it was kind of neat running to the comic book store every Friday back then, and the smell and feel of print will be missed.

    Nonetheless, in my view, the "advantages" of print end there, and just simply don't compare to the advantages of digital when we're talking major savings in space, weight, cost along with the benefits of better preservation, clarity, migration, backups, new reading features and "damage-free reading", and even environmental benefits, etc.

    As well, I don't believe the experience reading in digital has been diluted in any way, and has not compromised the experience of being a comic book fan over all - in fact, it brings new and better experiences.

    Also, keep this in mind with print - what if there was a disaster, like a thief, vandal, fire, alien invasion, etc? This alone is a horror story. With digital, all I have to do is pull out the backup I've kept remote (or remember some password).

    Also, isn’t the real comic book’s source digital (or the print-film) anyway? The “print” or “paper” comic book was never really the real comic book, just a deliverable medium.

    Love and respect, but I totally disagree with this article.

  7. Dann Albright
    June 9, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    You bring up some good points here, Philip. I definitely agree that digital comics should be cheaper (though would that contribute to killing off the community faster?), but I'm not sure I agree with the idea that paper is just better, or that it's integral to comics as a medium. Reading on a phone might disrupt the reading experience, but I think reading on a tablet is a great reading experience, though two-page spreads do get disrupted. Not being able to lend does suck, but there are some ways around that. I bought a bunch of comics from Humble Bundle, for example, that I just downloaded in PDF format, and those would be easy to lend. All in all, I think you've touched on some really good issues here, and the comics industry will certainly have to adapt to digital. It'll be interesting to see what happens for sure!

  8. Anonymous
    June 7, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Digital comics will never become the collector's items that paper comics are.

  9. Anonymous
    June 7, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Sounds like yet another industry that has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We all know what happened to buggy whip manufacturers.

  10. Geoffrey
    June 7, 2016 at 12:55 am

    I'm 50, and I'm supposed to be a traditionalist. But, if someone were to have told me, say, back in 1978 or so, when I was a kid, "Imagine if you could store 5,000,000 comics on a small box the size of a paperback book, or on a few space age 'silver discs' the size of coasters, wouldn't that be the coolest thing?" I'd not only say that they're insane, but I'd agree with them that that would be the coolest thing in the Universe, especially being in the comics-sci-fi-mindset. Well, it happened, and now we're trying to snub this? Paper is expensive, and stinks and rots, and clutters things. Screw it. I've sold everything on eBay, made a small fortune, and still enjoy my collection on much less than a 1GB HDD with comic book software, and still enjoy the experience just as much if not more, and have an extra small room available in my house without those comic book boxes. I'm not going back to paper. Sorry.

    • Bill de Haan
      June 8, 2016 at 4:56 am

      I'm 55, and with the exception of the comments on price, I disagree with virtually every point in this article.

      Tablets are awesome for comic books. Speaking as someone who had a basement with literally hundreds of longboxes (in addition to collecting, I inherited shedloads from books from other collector friends), the ability to have every comic accessible, and sorted, on a 10.5" tablet is far superior to the paper experience.

      Tablets have superior colour reproduction. Tablets have zoom capability. Tablets allow you to be reading a run of book A, and when you discover issue #232 is the first part of a two parter continued in book B, you don't have to quit reading to spend 20 minutes digging out that issue of book B from the basement.

      Tablets with network access allow you to quickly search the history of the book, so that if you're wondering when Walt Simonson started Thor, you don't have to dig through your longbox, flipping issue by issue until you recognize the cover of #337.

      Tablets don't need backing boards or bags, and they don't go yellow with age.

      And if you're reading a run of a book, and realize that you have issues #1-54 and #57-80, you can, in the middle of the night, buy issues #55 and #56 online and continue reading. Even if there was a 24 hour comic store in the area, and even if they had the issues you are looking for (two big ifs), and even if you'd be willing to both to make the effort to get those two issues, it would be a huge amount of effort. Tablet based comics may be more expensive, but they're also a hell of a lot more convenient.

      Tablets also take the place of a lot of the old hardcover collections. I'm not going to take my Fantastic Four #8 out from behind its' bag and board to read it; I'll read a reprint. Since it's digital, EVERY electronic comic is a reprint. That means that unattainably expensive books are accessible to people, cheaply. And they're never out of stock, either.

      I'm friends with two ex-owners of comic book stores, and tablets aren't the comic book killer that you imagine. What killed the comic stores in my neighbourhood was the trade paperbacks. People simply stopped buying single issues, and waited for the trades to appear. And of course, the trades are sold in bookstores in malls now, so there's no need to go to a specialty comic store for them. I'm not saying the tablets didn't have an impact, but the death spiral started long before the iPad came out.

      Sure, I miss the Wednesday night run to the comic store, and chatting with the clerks. But sitting on the couch, reading from a tablet with a 64GB microSD stuffed with hundreds of issues is a far better experience than thumbing through a stack of paper issues.

    • Blair Witch
      April 13, 2018 at 8:27 am

      I've found that my view on collecting has disappeared. I no longer collect...I just read what I like. If I (for example) were to download a dozen comics in a week...or more, regardless of their price, only perhaps one or two would actually, truly entertain me. I read what I like, I used to keep it on an extra hard drive, but...no longer. I just read it and toss it, as there is SO MUCH new stuff available, so constantly, that I would never get around to rereading one tenth of one percent of what I might have downloaded.

  11. Patrick
    June 6, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    This is the beginning, middle, and end of this same tired debate. The very same Luddite reactions to technology being introduced to any industry that has survived by using a ton of resources.

    Yes, some comic stores close. A ton closed during the recession because it wasn't viable anymore. Having said that, tons are still open. I still go in and buy other things, or browse around and talk to the other nerds, even though I consume the majority of my comics digitally.

    Subscriptions are not always a waste. The Comixology Unlimited IS stupid and pointless, but Marvel Unlimited is fantastic. I'm 42, and there were a good 20 years of good comics printed before my comic awakening. I now get to go back and read those without having to hunt through obscure resale and comic shops, and without paying over the odds to read a 50-year-old story.

    This same article is published every few months, just instead of the word "comics", it's "music" or "books" or "mom-and-pop stores". Find an original topic.

    As an ironic aside, I doubt that I will see this same article on this site decrying the death of print newspapers and magazines because of blogs and websites like this very one.

  12. Anonymous
    June 6, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    There is a room in my home with 28 full long boxes, the result of my collecting comics for 30something years.

    I don't want paper comics any more.

    I agree that subscription services as they currently exist are a waste, but I'd far rather buy the occasional trade paperback or an omnibus hardcover for something I truly want to have in print form to supplement pick-and-choose reading on a tablet.

  13. DeusFever
    June 6, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    I know you'll have the counter arguments in another post, but nevertheless, I take issue with the reasoning of the arguments in this post.

    Digital comics are too expensive: Agree 100% It's a travesty.

    Digital comics dilute the medium: ??? Have you seen the rise of webcomics? Digital comics expand the medium and what the medium can do. Non standard page sizes, animations, etc. are possible on digital. It's the print comics that are holding back the medium.

    Digital comics kill the community: Not hardly. Communities thrive on-line, and have been thriving on-line since pre-internet BBSs.

    Digital comics can't be lent or sold: That depends on DRM. Even so, collectors don't lend comics. They also don't sell them. I also rarely see physical comics for kids anymore because as you mention, the price is an absurd $3 to $4 an issue, and few kids can afford physical comics. Adults don't borrow comics, they buy them. The real issue with digital comics is the price and how the high price limits access.

  14. me
    June 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Any kind of paper, just gets damaged,lost, or forgotten about. I would have to sort, organize, and manage all that paper. Instead of having them dropped neatly into file folders on my computer, and just drag and drop them around.