Crisis On Infinite Midlives hasn’t been around all that long in the greater scheme of things, but almost since our first day, we’ve been skeptical about digital comics, at least in the formats and forms of distribution in which they currently exist. Custom apps requiring mothership server authentication when you want to read your comics and with limited download and archiving options seemed less like buying comics than it did paying someone for the right to read their comics. This is very much unlike the experience of buying actual physical books from my local comic store, where they know me by name and ask me to stop offering ten bucks for half an hour alone with the Omaha: The Cat Dancer books.

Until now, these concerns have been a moot point. After all, digital comics is still a young field, and no matter which platform you chose to buy your digital comics, they would still be around for a while, allowing you to build your collection while the hardware with which to read that collection get better, faster, and more easily able to maintain your books locally. Right? Sure.

Wait, what?

When we launched Graphicly, we had one goal: Help all publishers and creators get their stories seen. As we built out a series of marketplaces inside other marketplaces, we started to realize that we were no longer being supportive of that goal. Instead, we became a giant store, and while on the surface there is a lot of personal ego knowing that you are driving hundreds of thousands of people daily to your store, somewhere in there, our mission got lost…

Here we were, managing a rapidly growing business, but a business that seemed to miss its core value. Helping publishers…

What was the best course of action for us?

Focus on the mission and provide publishers with the preeminent tool set so that great story could be seen.

And that’s what we did.

Oh, I can hear what you Graphic.ly customers are asking: “Wow Rob, that’s some pretty impressive copying and pasting of some corporate-level bullshit right there. But what does that mean?” Well, at a high level, it means that your digital local comic store is closing it’s doors. To wit:

As of this week, we will be retiring the previously-released Graphicly Comics marketplace applications… For those of you who have downloaded and used the apps, the apps will still work, but you will no longer be able to purchase titles within them.

Ah well, that’s not so bad. So they won’t be selling books through the app anymore. You can still download the existing app to read your books – you know, the books that you paid for – on your various tablets and phone, right?

Our iPhone, iPad and Android applications, as well as a our Adobe AIR Desktop application will no longer be available for download.

Yeah, I guess not. So if you were psyched about picking up an iPad 3 to check out your books on that sweet Retina display, but were holding off a couple weeks to let the crowds at the Apple Store die down? Yeah, you’re boned. No comics on any new mobile devices for you. You know, the comics that you already bought and paid for.

But wait – you still will have access to those books. Right?

Purchased titles can be read on Grapicly.com [sic] and through the Graphicly Facebook app.

Sure they can… for as long as they maintain the servers. We downloaded a couple of digital comics this week – mostly to check out Marvel’s Infinite Comics Nova story by Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen – and those bad boys are, like a hundred megabytes a piece. Bandwidth’s not free, and I suspect that the minute the revenue from sold books drops below the cost of uploading them to you on demand? The servers containing those comics – you know, the ones you “bought”? – will be sold at cost and wind up serving up MILF porn for a Mom-and-Pop stroke operation out of a basement in the San Fernando Valley.

The bottom line is, if you bought a bunch of books from Graphic.ly, at best your ability to access them has been throttled to hardware you already own or sitting in front of a computer monitor somewhere. At worst, your “collection” now has a definitive shelf life – imagine hauling all your longboxes down to a leaky basement. You still own them… but God alone knows for how long.

Oh, you think that Graphic.ly will magnanimously make the books – your books – available to you forever? They just told you that you, the person who did retail business with them, is not part of their core values. You, the end retail comic customer, are not “the mission” upon which they are focused. And, as a corporation, they will take whatever moves as will maximize profits. If shutting down the comic servers means a better return on investments for stockholders? What do you think is gonna happen? Nothing lasts forever in the world of corporations; ask fans of the McDLT.

Look, digital comics are part of our future. And someone – maybe Mark Waid and John Rogers, although it’s too early to tell - will come up with a model that makes sense and doesn’t rip you off. But in today’s model, make no mistake: unless you have a physical comic book, or at least a non-DRM’ed digital file, you are not buying comics. You are not buying anything. You are, at best, renting your comics, and your access will be – is - limited.

Caveat Emptor.

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