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Marvel unveils iOS comic book subscription service 'Marvel Unlimited'

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A few years ago I wrote an article titled Publishers' choice: Will the iPad be the hero or villain of the comic book industry? It was an open letter to comic book publishers urging them to embrace the digital distribution method to ensure comics didn't fall to the same fate as illegal music downloads. I spelled out four guidelines for a successful business model -- one that would appeal to comic book readers in the mobile computing area. Since then, the comic book industry has taken up some of the suggestions and it's now taken another step forward. That's because Marvel has unveiled its Marvel Unlimited service for iOS.

Marvel Unlimited is essentially Netflix for Marvel comic books. Users can subscribe for US$10 a month to access a catalog of over 13,000 Marvel comics back issues. For a limited time, users can also pay for a year's subscription for only $60. The service serves up the comics in HTML5 and allows users to download six issues at a time.

While 13,000 back issues seems like a lot, there's not much rhyme or reason to the selection or continuity of what's available. And that doesn't make a lot of sense because when collectors are reading a series, they generally read them in order. Also, the most recent issues of comics on offer will be at least 6 months old. That's because Marvel doesn't want to hurt its newsstand sales.

Though Marvel Unlimited is a step in the right direction, I don't think it's the ideal solution for hardcore comic book fans. When Marvel makes complete series available on demand, the digital comic book subscription model will really fly.

Marvel Unlimited is a free download.

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