Marvel pops comics online, hopes fans pay

Tue Nov 13, 2007 3:43pm EST

Robert MacMillan

NEW YORK Nov 13 (Reuters Life!) - Spider-Man may spin a good yarn in comic books, but Marvel Entertainment Inc hopes that he finds the World Wide Web equally comfortable.

The publisher said on Tuesday that it will start a Web site that will feature access to thousands of its comic books and the famous heroes who populate them, from Spider-Man and the X-Men to the Fantastic Four and The Avengers.

Marvel will charge subscriptions -- $4.99 a month if people sign up for a year, or $9.99 a month if they don't.

"This is a major new piece of my overall publishing plan," Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Publishing, said in an interview.

"It's a different entertainment experience, online versus reading a book."

Marvel plans to offer access to 2,500 comics, Buckley said. It will make 250 available for free to entice people to pay up, but for a limited time, a company statement explained.

The Digital Comics Unlimited site then will add 20 additional books a week, including a mix of new and vintage comics.

Among the older titles will be the first 100 issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Fantastic Four," as well as the initial 66-issue run of "Uncanny X-Men" and the first 50 issues of "The Avengers." It will feature other super heroes like the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine and the Silver Surfer.

It will also include the first appearances of villains Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Lizard and Dr. Doom, not to mention the first appearance of Spider-Man's black costume.

New titles will include Joss Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men," "The House of M," "Young Avengers" and "Runaways."

To present the titles in a quality format, Marvel has recolored and redigitized some of its offerings.

The move to the Internet is unlikely to account for a major portion of Marvel Publishing's sales, Buckley said, but it will be an important addition.

It sells its magazines at newsstands, though he said the business has been contracting in the past 10 years. What has been performing well is the hobby business, he said, with some 2,500 shops across the companies that attract collectors and other fans.

Titles must be in print for at least six months before they will go online, Buckley said.

Marvel's move runs contrary to newspaper and magazine publishers, which have been moving toward not charging people and supporting themselves through advertising.

Buckley said the nature of the content is what makes Marvel's plan different.

"Our comic book distribution and our comic book properties aren't part of the mass medium where you can it for free easily," he said.

Dennis Webb, owner of the Comics and Cards Collectorama in Alexandria, Virginia, doubted that it would attract a mass audience used to reading and collecting their comics in print.

"I think most of them like to buy their own comics and read them where they want to go," he said.

"I don't think they want to have it just online because if they're really a collector, they're going to want the actual collection."