Both Marvel and DC are getting it wrong with their electronic comics distribution models. Yea, I know, big talk from a guy who isn’t running a publishing house, but let me explain why I think so.

DC charges between $1.99 and $3.99 an issue with the occasional sale that dips that to .99 cents for back issues. If you wanted to pick up, say the top ten books in the new 52, that’s $39.99 a month.

Marvel charges $2.99 to $3.99 but also offers an outstanding deal on back issues that will cost you $5.99 a month if you subscribe on a yearly basis or $9.99 if you subscribe month to month. And again, if you are going to catch the top ten titles, that’s about $40 bucks. As awesome as the
back catalog service is, it doesn’t seem to cover all titles and looks to be about ten months to a year behind the current runs. Frankly, Marvel’s weird decision to hide the prices and availability until after you’ve subscribed turns me off a bit.

What do you get for that money? Well …. in terms of time per entertainment dollar, not a lot. Generously assuming it takes 15 minutes to get through each comic, we’re talking about $12  dollars an hour for your entertainment. Which makes it more expensive, minute per minute, than going to the movies. And keep in mind, this is also without a physical copy and with the proviso that you can only read on their terms. You have to be online and connected to the net to access your content.

Now, consider your other entertainment options.

Basic cable is going to run you about $50-$60 dollars, but the average American, according to Neilsen (yes, the ratings guys), consumes about 150 hours of television a month. For a cost per hour of around .33 cents an hour. (And by the way, man, do I feel less guilty about my own viewing habits now.)

Netflix (streaming only) is $8 a month for however much you want. Yes, you have to have an Internet connection for it, but I didn’t count that against the digital comics, so I won’t apply it here either.

Paperback novels are going to run about $8 each these days, for anywhere between three and ten hours of reading. Call it an average of five hours, unless you are into fantasy potboilers, and that gives you a cost of about $1.60 an hour.

A stand alone video game runs about $1 or less per hour played (higher for straight up shooters, less per hour for something like Mass Effect 3) and MMOs are a fantastic deal, even with microtransactions and subscriptions. The average player of various MMOs spent over twenty hours a week playing last year and a subscription to a premium game (like, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic) costs about $15. So we are looking at under .20 cents per hour of entertainment there. (Or slightly higher when you factor in the cost of the original game and one expansion a year.)

And that doesn’t even touch tabletop gaming, which has a similar cost per hour as MMOs. (And that includes table snacks!)

Given those prices, it’s pretty easy to see why digital comics aren’t making more headway. Rather than seeing each issue as a distinct economic product, they way they would with issues of physical comics, I believe the big two (and other companies) would be better served with the same model as Netflix or Hulu. And I’d pay a premium for it. I don’t think $10-15 a month each would be unreasonable, given the amount of back issues they can both bring to the table.

But 40 bucks a month, each? No. Not so much.