A Cardibles Market?

By | Friday, July 28, 2023 Leave a Comment
Yesterday, Vantage: Inhouse Productions put out a press release announcing a new comics initative they're calling Cardibles. They're basically trading cards with a QR code that links to a digital download of the full comic. I am all for experimenting with different forms and formats, and I genuinely hope they see success (however they define it) with these cardibles, but I do have some questions.
  1. The card sets are being priced at one dollar apiece; do the comics cost more on top of that or are they free?
  2. Do you need the card (or, more to the point, the QR code on the back) to get to the comic, or is it just a URL?
  3. How does one obtain the cards beyond the initial crowd-funding that the press release mentions? Comic shops? Mass market retail?
Now it definitely sounds like they're working out some of the details and that's why they're not mentioned in the press release, and that's fine. But I'm having trouble trying to figure out possible answers that wouldn't be problematic. Admittedly, I'm not some genius businessman who has all the answers, and I certainly don't know any more about their intentions beyond what's in that press release, but here are some of the hurdles I'm seeing...

Unless they've also developed a stand-alone app for their comics (which seems unlikely, given that's typically the type of thing you would hype up in a press release like this) the QR code is likely just a link to a PDF or CBZ. Maybe an online viewer like Issuu or something. Which means that the card's only value is in that collectibility angle, since once someone has the link, they can share it with anyone else online. Except audiences, on the whole, don't collect these types of cards. Cards they collect tend to either be on areas that are already massively popular (e.g. baseball cards) or have a variable level of scarcity to them (e.g. any collectible card game where some cards are vastly more rare than others and have a value internal to the gameplay itself). Remember how many publishers tried producing trading cards based on their properties in the '90s, and how they're pretty much all now worth less than the fiberboard they're printed on? The collectibility of V:IP's cards here isn't likely to happen.

Now, if the QR code links to a comic and you have to pay something more for that comic, the card has even less value. Because, as a reader, your cost of the comic would go up if you bought the card, so why not do a bit of searching online to look for someone else who's just posted the link somewhere? Then your digital comic would cost a dollar less. Further, how will things be set up so that a reader who buys the comic on their phone can read it from their laptop? Or when they get a new phone? You'd need some kind of account login system to keep track of what users have gotten which issues, so they don't have to repurchase it on each device they own. Doable, to be sure, but it does layer on some additional complexity in development, and it puts additional friction between the reader and the product thus decreasing the likelihood of repeat (or, for that matter, even initial) business.

Distribution strikes me as pretty critical here. Any sort of mailing option is almost a no-go because, at a dollar a set, your shipping costs would almost certainly be more than you were paying for the set of cards to begin with. Mass market retail also seems unlikely; unless V:IP literally gives the cards to retailers for free, I don't see how a retailer would be able to make a decent enough profit from them to make them worthwhile. Comic shops might be an option, but then you're (indirectly) dealing with thousands of independant shops who might or might not stock the cards on whatever the whims of the shop owner are that month. Also, if their target audience is kids -- as the press release claims -- comic shops are not where that target audience goes! A dollar is an excellent price point for kids, but the distribution method here to get these cards in front of kids strikes me as critical.

I can see this being a clever way for creators to sell digital comics at conventions. There would be considerably less printing (and hauling around of printed material!) than if they made print copies of their work; it would still give con-goers something tangible to walk away with -- maybe even getting the card signed by the creator; the lower price point might be easier for con-goers to act on, potentially leading to more sales... I can't say it would 100% work in this way, but I can see the possibilities with it. But I'm not seeing as many possibilities with what V:IP has relayed thus far.

Again, I clearly don't know all the details on how V:IP will be rolling these out. That's where most of my questions came from after all! I absolutely wish them to succeed with this endeavor, as I hope everyone trying to make a living in comics can succeed. (Well, unless you're a bigoted asshole using comics to promote hate; those people should fail in every way possible.) I will be the first to admit that I've seen people propose comic related businesses that I could not see lasting more than a year or two but who are going strong a decade-plus later, so I am by far not some master seer of comic business acumen. But I'm looking at this project and have a number of what-I-think-are-significant questions that don't strike me as having any good answers. For now, though, I guess we wait and see what happens with these.
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