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Is Marvel Trying Out ‘Digital Second Printings’ On the iPad? [Update]

If you missed out on picking up “Enter the Heroic Age” #1 when it was released back in May and your store sold out of their initial order, odds are that you won’t be able to buy a copy, as multiple retailers I spoke to confirmed that it’s no longer available for reorder. Unless, of course, you go on the Marvel iPad app, where it was added last week:

It might not seem like much of a big deal, but it does lend credence to the idea that Marvel might be planning to offer “digital second printings” of comics when the print versions sell out. And with the market for readers on the iPad growing, it seems like a pretty good idea: A digital release would catch those readers up just as well as a second print run, but without the additional cost and risk at the retailer level. But is that what’s really going on here?

I have my doubts. On the one hand, the fact that it’s longer available for reorder — which I confirmed with two different retailers in different parts of the country, including Brian Eison of Heroes & Dragons in Columbia, SC — isn’t exactly news. For the past several years, Marvel’s print runs have been very close to their initial order numbers, which can make reordering things impossible even if you put the order in the day an issue comes out.

But the retailers also confirmed that no second printing of the issue had been offered, which may be more telling.

The very nature of the title comes into play, too. The digital marketplace is still new enough that a lot of what’s going on there is meant to drive customers to the stores for physical comics, supplementing the traditional market rather than replacing it — just look at what DC did by offering Straczynski’s story from “Superman” #700, essentially using it to promote the upcoming arc. In that respect, “Enter the Heroic Age” is exactly the kind of comic you want casual readers to have access to: A sampler that works as an entry point not just to a current storyline, but to multiple series within that framework.

But that same reasoning makes it a likely candidate for a physical reprint, which doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. And that in turn begs the question of why Marvel didn’t make an announcement if this was meant to be a big push to hook new readers, like they have with the heavily promoted “Invincible Iron Man” Annual. At this point I’m not sure, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the digital market for comics continues to change.

UPDATE: Right after I finished writing this post, the Marvel app was updated with this week’s selections, which — along with “Invincible Iron Man Annual” #1, their first same-day digital release — contained “Young Allies” #1, which was only just released in print on June 9.

Like “Enter the Heroic Age,” it’s a great gateway comic, focusing on younger super-heroes, and the update also included all four issues of the out-of-print “Gravity” (including offering the first one for free), “Nomad: Girl Without a World,” and the recent “Firestar” one-shot, all of which lead into the series. It makes a pretty big package of digital comics designed to get people interested in the new series, which is both a little surprising and — as someone who really enjoys Sean McKeever’s work on “Gravity,” “Nomad” and “Young Allies” — pretty gratifying.

More than anything else this is what makes me think that the “digital second print” is something they’re going for, or at least testing out to see if a release schedule closer to what the printed comics get is viable.

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