I’m very excited with this: at last a publisher launched a tablet-friendly, fixed-price digital comics service. For a monthly fee of $10 (or an yearly $60), Marvel Unlimited gives you access to a library of 13,000 comic books, both on computers and on iOS devices (with Android coming soon), just like Netflix or Hulu!
Imagine reading Secret Wars (I and II), House of M, Muttant Massacre and another couple arcs, all on a single day if it fancies you, for no extra fee. I’ve jumped into the yearly subscription (before they change their mind on the 50% discount), and my first impression after browsing the library and reading a few books is quite positive.
The app has a decent browsing system – you can easily search your favorite author, character, or all comics in an specific arc. The comic reading part does its job, but has some “1.0-isms” like a toolbar that never goes away while you are reading the comic. Come on, Marvel – every pixel matters! It also has a hard time remembering what I was reading and the page when the app is closed, and the download-in-the-background system is nowhere as mature as, say, comiXology‘s. Overall, it covers the basics, and the other aspects can (and should) be improved over time.
As expected, it is DRM-heavy. You can’t do anything with the comics outside their app or webiste, and they will vanish if you cancel your subscription. My view is the same I apply for any DRM-based media providers (yes, that includes Kindle books): they are not for those who want to own content, but rather for people who need access to it. Collectors should look elsewhere. As for myself, I’ve owned my share of shelves crammed with comic books, demanding physical space and special care. I went digital with comiXology precisely to get rid of that, and Marvel’s offer is a good complement to that.
On comiXology, Marvel/DC charge an extra dollar for the last issue of any series. That avoids positioning the service as a a death blow for comic shops, and also preserves their cash cow: hardcore fans that can’t wait a second to read the latest issue. Here they go a step further by delaying around six months. May be a showstopper for those who need to witness the latest, this-time-irrevocable death of the month, but I can wait to read it at the time the character returns to life, no biggie. And the best thing for me anyway are the older series I used to have on paper (that would cost me an arm and a leg to buy), and those are where Unlimited shines.
Another thing people are complaining about is the cap of having only six comics donwloaded for offline reading (another “6″? Did they put Mephisto in charge?) Granted, six 24-page comics won’t do it on an intercontinental flight, or a cross-country trip (on large countries, at least), but most people don’t do that really often, and you can always purchase a couple of collected arcs on comiXology on those occasions. Six issues can, however, cover the longest commute or the most relaxed afternoon in the park or single-person meal (for those into the fine art of reading while eating). And you can always hunt for a Wi-Fi connection if you need an extra fix on the go!
Granted, 13,000 issues with the 6-month delay and 6-issue offline cap is far from being “unlimited”. But, for me, the ability to read any of these issues anytime, without worrying about physical space, collected dust or moving logistics is much worth the $5/month cost of the yearly subscription. I seriously recommend using it on a Retina-enabled iPad, as I don’t like manual or automated zooming. On the other hand, once the Android version is launched, devices with SD slots and comparable displays like the Nexus 10 might become the best choice for serious comic fans, as comiXology (which allows you to download as much as your device can handle) will remain the equivalent of iTunes for this media.
Overall, this will be a weekend to remember, since I intend to spend it read comics until my eyes pop out. Life is good.