With everyone trying to protect themselves from the same thing that happened with music after the rise of mp3′s and the iPod, the existing system seems wrapped around the idea of convincing people that paying nearly the same price for much, much less is the best thing for everybody. Digital comics apps like Comixology essentially sell a license to read a comic. It’s not a matter of DRM – you never own the comic. You just pay for the privilege to read it on your device. You can pay $2.99 for a 22 page color print comic, read it multiple times, loan it to your friends, cut pages out and make a Psylocke collage if you like. Or perhaps it becomes collectible, like comics famously do, and you sell it in a few years for a profit or something like one.
Or you can pay $1.99 for a Comixology comic and get … permission to read it on your phone. Unless Comixology goes away, or its licensing arrangement with the content publisher changes, or there’s a problem at a data center, or you stop using Comixology … well those comics are gone. Comixology is not the only digital distribution application, but it’s the largest, and most of the others are close to it in terms of what the user is actually getting, which is to say: not much.
In the UK, print comics are a mess. If I manage to find the comic I'm after (usually a baffling ordeal), I'm then expected to pay £2.50 for twenty pages of adverts for American products I couldn't buy even if I wanted to, interspersed with an unsatisfactory, incomplete story fragment. The digital alternative is massively flawed in terms of price, ownership and hapticity (which may or may not be a real word). Result: I just don't buy comics any more. I buy big-ass hardback collections of old comics instead.
The industry no longer understands itself, too preoccupied with stubbornly sticking to the comics-as-serial model (that, as Braak recently pointed out, is completely redundant in the digital arena) and selling film rights – no doubt a significantly bigger earner than the comics themselves.
Which raises the question: does the comics industry actually need comics any more?