Marvel to Give Away Back Issues with New Digital Comics Program

Civil War II - S 2016
Courtesy of Oliver Coipel/Marvel Entertainment
Every print superhero comic sold will include download codes for back issues, beginning in February.

This year, Marvel is trying something different when it comes to promoting its comic book back catalog: free digital samplers. Well, "free" with every purchase, at least.

Starting next month, all of Marvel's mainline superhero releases will include download codes for two or more back issues. Marvel told Heat Vision that the codes will be released on a weekly basis — i.e., each of a particular week's new releases will share the same codes — with this program replacing the publisher's existing program of featuring a download code for the digital edition of each print issue purchased, launched in 2012.

"Marvel is continuing our commitment by offering our fans the best value in comics along with honoring our cornerstone of the comic book industry — the retailers,” said David Gabriel, Marvel Publishing's senior vp sales, in a statement about the program. "Our intent in evolving our digital code program is to offer our fans more value per dollar spent. Replacing the free digital copy, our bonus digital comics will offer fans free entry points for current on sale collected editions and, in turn, invite additional and repeat traffic into our trusted retailers."

It's unclear what effect this new program will have on sales of Marvel's physical issues; the physical/digital combo offered by the previous digital program was seen by many as justification for Marvel's preferred $3.99 price point — by contrast, DC's superhero comics have a $2.99 baseline — with a secondary market of digital re-sales (Essentially, fans keeping the print edition and selling and/or giving away the digital code) rising to underwrite single-issue purchases. Whether or not that will remain to be the case with back issues — many of which are likely to be already available via Marvel's digital subscription service, Marvel Unlimited.

Also unclear is what impact, if any, this back-issue program will have on Marvel's digital program in general. Until now, the publisher has offered a regular stream of sales on digital material to act as an entry point for newcomers; will this new program change that in the long term? Such digital giveaways are hardly a new thing for the publisher, however. In 2013, Marvel marked its appearance at the SXSW festival by giving away 700 digital issues at no cost. 

One of the first codes to be released will be for the "zero issue" of Civil War II, with the intent being that readers will then purchase the collected edition of that storyline released later that month, according to Marvel.

According to Marvel Publishing sales director Jim Nausedas, the new program is intended to "offer fans additional pathways into the Marvel Universe, promote Marvel’s monthly trades and create repeat retailer customers and Marvel readers for life."

The new program will launch with all single-issue Marvel Universe releases available in February.