Marvel is changing its program for free digital codes with its comics from giving a free code for a digital copy of the physical issue the consumer is purchasing to giving free codes for two different books, described as “free entry points for current on sale collected editions.”  Marvel SVP of Sales David Gabriel says the free digital books will “invite additional and repeat traffic into our trusted retailers.” 

In the first week of February, free digital codes will be offered for the first issues in the Civil War II, Captain Marvel Vol. 2:  Civil War II, and Wolverine:  Old Man Logan collections coming out in February.  “Each week, new Bonus Digital Comics codes, available only in your local comic shop, will offer fans additional pathways into the Marvel Universe,” Marvel Sales Director Jim Nausedas said.  This means that some issues purchased in a given week will carry codes for the same free issues as other titles. 

The program replaces the broad digital code program begun nearly four years ago to add value to Marvels priced at $3.99 (see “Marvel to Include Digital Codes With All $3.99 Comics”). 

Initial reaction on social media as rounded up by Comics Beat and Bleeding Cool has been varied, but mostly negative, with some indications from consumers that the elimination of the free digital codes with physical copies would lead them to stop buying physical copies altogether.

Back in 2012, DC EVP John Rood told ICv2 that redemption of its own free-with digital codes had been low, which he attributed to the purchasers of those books being primarily interested in collecting a different edition of the material they like.  So in that case, it wasn’t that consumers were necessarily reading the digital copies they got free, they just liked having them. 

Of course, social media response is not the same as the sales response, which will incorporate both potential changes in individual issues purchased, and possible increases in sales of collections sampled by the program.  The question raised by the social media reaction is whether Marvel has mis-read the value that consumers place on the free digital copies they received with their physical copy, and how that could play into the net sales results of the change.  Watch this space.