(Originally written for tumblr, posted here after it got a bit lengthy for that, with a trimmed down version over on tumblr itself)
So, the first comic I’ve had any real interest in rushing out to buy new in the last couple of years is coming out on the 20th October [insert obligatory Deadpool & Cable: Split Second plug here] as a ‘digital first series in Marvel’s Infinite Comics format’. Given that all my past experience with ‘digital comics’ has generally begun with either an ebay listing or a bittorrent link, that’s a lot of terms I haven’t really seen outside the odd X-Axis review. Now, however, I’ve got a title I want to see do well, and that means both buying it the minute it hits the stands and convincing as many others as possible to do the same. Obviously, this was my cue it was time to take one for the team here and investigate exactly what ‘digital first Marvel Infinite’ means, in terms of what they’re selling us and how.
Digital distribution channels have come a long way in the last few years, but can still be a little impenetrable to the newcomer – the release calendar on the Marvel website doesn’t even seem to cover digital-first releases, and that’s before you even get into comiXology versus the Marvel store or Marvel Infinite vs Marvel Unlimited versus a half-dozen other marginally different ways of selling you basically the same thing with a few different restrictions. What existing Internet guides I could find to this morass appear to consist largely of puff pieces or reviews of one particular service, frequently long out of date. Time to do some independent research.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve signed up for no less than three different distribution services, picked up as many free titles as were available, and spent roughly $12 USD. Time and effort were by far the greater expenditure, and that much I can share for free. What follows is a quick overview of your options for (legally) getting hold of a digital copy of a Marvel comic. Some of this will also apply to buying digital comics from DC or any other distributor, but I haven’t looked that far into finding out how non-Marvel-related alternatives compare. They’re out there, but not covered here.
Let’s start out with a quick glossary of a few key nouns.
Marvel Unlimited: A library-like subscription-based service granting you unlimited access to a large back-catalogue of older comics for a flat $9.99 per month fee. Great for archive binges, not so great for access to new stuff. (more detail)
“Free” Digital Copies: Many Marvel print comics now come bundled with codes that will give you access to a complimentary digital copy for no extra charge. You’ll have to wait a couple of months to get hold of a digital-first issue this way, however.
Marvel Infinite: An imprint covering a subset of Marvel’s digital releases, specifically for comics written to take advantage of features that are only available in digital format. Unrelated to Marvel Unlimited, despite the names.
Guided View: Guided view is a reading option for digital comics which will take you panel-to-panel in a preset sequence, rather than just dumping the whole page on your screen at once. Nice when it works, just annoying when it doesn’t – fortunately, it’s usually possible to turn it off. Much of Marvel Infinite exists to make best use of these sorts of features.
( More detail on all of those under the cut )