I love my hard copies. I’ll take that shrink wrap and security seal rather than a digital version any day. Sure, it’s less convenient, but it will always be there as long as my hardware is operational. That’s why I always approach digital delivery platforms with some measure of trepidation.

Steam won me over only after it’s foothold in the ecosystem was about as secure as an anything dealing with ethereal “copies” can be. iTunes seems acceptable because the music lives on my hard drive. Good Old Games? Sure. Those are DRM free versions, and I can make backups. One area I’ve been very hesitant to branch into though, is comic books. I love seeing the ink on the page, but that’s not the reason. I just don’t trust any of the platforms, even Comixology, which is practically a first-party provider.

I have friends that jumped at the chance to purchase their graphic novels through Sony’s PSP Comic service. I can’t imagine what’s going through their heads right now after the company dropped a bomb this weekend. Here’s the email that was delivered on the evening of Friday September 28, 2012:

While I’m sure this is all on the up-and-up according the terms of service and all the disclaimers contained therein, it’s still not a lot of time to put your affairs in order. The mid-January 2013 date for re-downloading is a red herring. It isn’t clear which licenses will be carried through to that point. Users should assume that every single piece of content they’ve purchased will be unattainable as of October 31, 2012.

If you have any PSP Comics, back them up now. Don’t hesitate. When the doorbell rings and your first costumed candy beggar shows up on Halloween, you want to be able to go back to reading your favorite horror-themed comic and not face-palming because you forgot to re-download it.

Sony has provided the answers to two questions in their knowledge center:

  • Question: Why are you closing the Comic store for PSP?
    Answer: We stopped providing new content to the Comic Store last summer to focus on bringing the comic service to other Sony devices. Our focus now is to bring more  digital entertainment services to our products.
  • Q: What happens in January when the re-download service for Comic Store is no longer available, will I be able to access my previously downloaded comic content?
    A: From mid-January you will not be able to access previously downloaded content from the Comic Store however, to avoid losing your downloaded content you can back it up on your PC using the Media Go application.
The answer to the first question is curious. Essentially, Sony is positing that letting PSP Comics languish with no new content was an intentional move to bring it to other systems (read: Vita). This makes little sense, as a continuity of service (and not an interruption) would create the momentum required to retain and expand the audience.

The ramifications of this go far beyond using the PSP (and the Vita) for staying up to date with DC’s New 52 or the ongoing war between the Avengers and the X-Men. This is a blow to Sony’s credibility. Right now, I would never purchase any digital content outside of games on their platforms. Heading into next generation, this is likely to haunt Sony’s push for the PlayStation 4 as a complete entertainment solution. It’s hard to convince consumers to allow you to be their one-stop shop for music and film (along with games) when you’ve just pulled the plug on a similar service.

The worst part is that the comic service was a damn good idea that only showed more promise with the Vita’s gorgeous screen and touch screen capabilities. Like so many other things in Sony’s portfolio, it was sent off to die due to little marketing and consumer awareness. Tie-ins with PlayStation Plus, credits earned for purchasing comics (which could then be spent on more content) and other incentives could have not only saved the platform, but engendered a sense of loyalty that would have allowed it to thrive.

Sony’s biggest competition next generation isn’t mobile, Microsoft or Nintendo. No, the biggest threat to success is a string of poor marketing decisions. PSPGo was a failure. The Vita was under-promoted and continues to be in desperate need of a price drop. Now, the death of PSP Comics will breed a sense of caution and hesitation in the digital frontier instead of optimism and excitement. Here’s hoping that we start seeing more smart choices (like the increased value in PlayStation Plus) and fewer of these missteps.