Saturday, November 24, 2007

Marvel DCU: What it's missing

Yesterday I dropped a load of complaints about Marvel's new digital comics service but I don't think it's a lost cause. Here are the things that would make me willing to spend the ten dollars a month (or sixty dollars a year) for access.

There needs to be a much larger database of comics. Right now there's roughly one-fiftieth the number of comics that would make their library worth paying for. Twenty non-consecutive issues of a series that has over five hundred issues is a terrible situation. This will improve over time but it's unclear how long it will take and the real question is how long will it take to get to scanning things like the black and white horror magazines or science fiction comics from the sixties?

They need to have the digital copies of current books up in a timely fashion, not necessarily day and date with the books reaching stores but not more than a month later. Not digitizing something until it's in a trade paperback is unacceptable for a subscription service.

The format they've chosen limits the quality of the scans but it can be used to their advantage by adding hypertext. There's no reason why a reader should have to exit the viewer to read consecutive comics, follow a storyline across multiple series, or follow references back to the original source. If I want to flip through every appearance of Stilt-Man then the system they have in place could easily let me follow the issues or even the individual pages where he's appeared. They need to drop the one issue at a time thinking.

The old letter columns and bullpen pages often contained things of interest even to modern readers and could easily be included while scanning in the individual issues. They add context to the older books and while I wouldn't necessarily want them when viewing a storyline putting them in the issues would be nice.

The search function works at only the most privative level. It only checks for the presence of any keywords; a boolean search is the bare minimum and there is no reason not to include a more robust search tool.

In short, they need to actually provide some service to go with the service they're selling. As it stands right now they're essentially renting me their product but they're acting like slum lords. Once they start making it worth paying a premium for (ten dollars isn't much but those ten dollars add up fast) then I might consider using it.