April 27th, 2007


Slimming through electronica

Every week, I go down to Outer Limits and pick up my latest shipment of comics. This week, though, had something new: a DVD-ROM collection of The Incredible Hulk. All of it, compressed onto one little disc. It's one of the early steps in The Great Comic Reduction Project.

Right now, my biggest (literally) problem is the comic book collection. It's not that I've ever really thought of myself as a "collector" -- for instance, I buy relatively few back issues. I just buy stuff when it comes out, and then hold onto it in case I want to reread it sometime. In the small scale, that's pretty minor. But when you read as many comics as I do, for thirty years (my first comics were the Flash and Legion of Super-Heroes, back in 1977), they tend to pile up. I counted it the other day: I have 97 longboxes of comics -- and that's not counting the full-size magazines and graphic novels. Even by my standards, that's rather nuts.

So a major project over the next two years (about which I will be talking occasionally) is Dealing With The Comics Problem. I'm not willing to just dump all of them: there really are *some* books that I am fairly likely to re-read at some point. But the majority of the collection really isn't such high priority. I'm formally trying to get rid of 75% of the comics on this pass, which should get things back to a manageable state. In the long run, the intent is to do additional passes every few years, to keep trimming things back to only the books I most care about.

That said, it's not easy to get rid of this stuff. As with the videotapes, much though I might repeat The New Official Waks Family Mantra ("I'm Not Their Archivist"), getting rid of Information is difficult. So having a little methadone for that info-addiction is sometimes useful. Which is where the new DVDs come in.

Marvel is, gradually, releasing a lot of their major titles on DVD. The Hulk isn't actually the first, and I intend to track the others down -- they came and went before it occurred to me how useful they were. Specifically, they provide a mental crutch to make it easier to dump most of the physical comics.

They're by no means perfect. In most cases, they're medium-resolution photographs of the actual comics, done into PDF: good enough to read on a screen, but I suspect you wouldn't want to print them. They're amusingly complete (ads for Sea Monkeys and all), but the sensation isn't the same as reading paper, and I suspect that, realistically, I won't do extensive reading in them. And of course, electronic formats are always subject to bit rot, so I'm under no illusion that this is a perfect solution, so I'll probably hold onto the issues that I *really* care about (mostly the best bits of the Peter David run).

But it's a useful crutch. It helps me convince myself that I really can get rid of nearly all of those issues, without regret, and that's a lot of volume saved: probably a couple hundred issues, replaced with a slim disc. Another dozen of those, for other major books, and that alone makes a good start on the reduction project. It's only a beginning (while Marvel and DC might conceivably do this for all of their really major books, that's still probably only a quarter of the total collection), but every little bit helps...

Online Pricing

Grr. Yet again, I get frustrated by bad pricing on the Internet.

Today's example is New Scientist magazine. This is, I have to admit, rather a lot of fun, and I subscribe to a couple of their RSS feeds. The problem is, many of the linked articles turn out to be subscriber-only.

Now, I do not want to subscribe to the paper magazine. I don't have time to read it properly, and the fact is that, if I had a paper copy it would just add to my magazine backlog. (If you think it's comical how far behind I am on reading LJ, that is nothing compared to how backlogged I am on The Economist.) Besides, (repeat the mantra) "I Am Not Their Archivist", and I neither need to be holding onto the paper nor contributing it to landfill.

So the obvious thing to do is to subscribe to the online edition, and in principle I'm willing to do that. But in practice it is damned expensive: over $50/year for the online edition, most of the price of the paper one. I'm quite reluctant to pay that much for a magazine that I'm going to read only sporadic articles out of, based on their RSS feed.

I think they've got the pricing just plain wrong here. I'm probably not alone in being willing to pay, say, $20/year for the online edition, so that I can read the feeds. Indeed, I would guess that there are a large number of people in the same boat. By equating the online edition's price with the paper one, I believe they're getting the scale of the thing wrong -- cutting out a vast number of potential subscribers with too high a price.

Admittedly, it's hard to be sure. I might yet relent and pay the extortionate price, and it's possible that enough others will do so as well to make their pricing model make sense. But from where I sit, that's a lot of money to casually skim some electrons...