Newsarama just posted an article about a poll they conducted on their website about whether "digital comics" should be free. I'm actually somewhat surprised that the numbers are so high for paying for digital comics. And I think in many ways, I agree with a lot of what is said. First up, I think giving it away free does devalue the comics themselves. And I just don't think relying on advertising revenue is a viable model, you're relying on other companies to be successful enough to pay you and if they hit a dry spell so do you. Also, I've talked before about the feeling of "investing" through paying for comics in my previous rambling on webcomics.
On the other hand, I still haven't seen a model I'm entirely happy with. For one thing, I really want the download option or something similar. And this actually goes beyond just "download", I want the book to remain readable 5 years from now so this means it probably can't rely on one company's reader software. This wouldn't be for all books, some I'd be happy to just be able to read online and that's it. But other books, I may want to be able to open up 5 years from now and read it. So if the book is no longer available (because I haven't kept up with the subscription, the company stopped offering it, the technology used to read it is no longer supported, or whatever) then I can't. You could also go with the option of providing digital and print versions but then the creators have to take into consideration that their work has to fit both mediums and that could limit their storytelling techniques.
I also wonder where webcomics like the ones on Zuda, DrunkDuck or whatever could fit in this. I could see someone paying a buck for an issue of Spider-Man or the latest Brian Michael Bendis book but would they pay for an unproven talent with a new idea? Probably not at first. But if you give them away for free I wonder how many people will pay for them down the road. Perhaps if they are good enough some people will want that guarantee of being able to read them in the future and want a downloaded or print version. Or if you do try to fit them in then perhaps they can be freebies to start, pay to read some comic and you get a few pages from a Zuda/webcomic for free. But these are just ideas off the top of my head and the idea of giving these webcomics away for free does go against my earlier statement that comics shouldn't be made available for free.
Another issue I see is if companies go their separate ways on this then that could be a stumbling block. If someone wants to read two Marvel books, two DC books, two Dark Horse books, two Devil's Due books, two Image comics,... then are they going to be happy going to any number of sites, downloading software for each site, paying for each site, etc, etc. I'd probably get tired of it myself. I think it might even be better in some ways if one external company ran it. That would be an interesting model, especially if you tied in webcomics. So someone could pay to read an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, be given the option to add a few pages from a webcomic of their choice for free, and the money is split between Marvel, the webcomic owner, and the providing company (with Marvel getting the bulk of it). I can't really see this happening of course but I think it would be interesting. There is the huge risk that the comic companies would now have to rely on this external company to keep things running.
It seems the more I think and ramble about the idea of digital or web comics the more questions it raises for me. I also have friends who own or work in comic stores, and it scares me to think what this would mean for them.