When the iPad first came out in 2010, Cory Doctorow said he would not buy one and advised others not to do so either. He had lots of reasons but for this post I want to address Reason No.1:
Incumbents made bad revolutionaries
Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They’re apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.
I mean, look at that Marvel app (just look at it). I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them. If there was ever a medium that relied on kids swapping their purchases around to build an audience, it was comics. And the used market for comics! It was — and is — huge, and vital. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap. (It’s part of a multigenerational tradition in my family — my mom’s father used to take her and her sibs down to Dragon Lady Comics on Queen Street in Toronto every weekend to swap their old comics for credit and get new ones).
So what does Marvel do to “enhance” its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites. Nice one, Misney.
Doctorow’s point was that comics have a social component. Actually, as I have argued in Information Wants to be Shared, this feature is not confined to comics but is there for most information goods. The Marvel app — like many other media readers — does not allow for easy sharing of information goods. And despite some recent moves, there is no real second hand market on the horizon soon (not that I think that is necessarily critical here).
But this week, the Marvel app changed. You can now subscribe to its entire library for $10 a month or $60 per year. Now it is not quite their entire library as recent issues are not included. But if your goal is to read and recommend ‘old’ comics with your friends, then Marvel have effectively allowed you to do that. To be sure, you have to pay to get into the club but when it came to swapping comics you had to ‘pay’ with a stock of comics to do the same thing. In other words, at least for Marvel, kids with iPads can replicate Doctorow’s childhood experience.
That said, I don’t think Doctorow is going to go and buy an iPad. But one plank in his argument has been removed.