Update: Marvel just announced -- by way of Gizmodo -- that they'll be releasing all their important comic books digitally the same day as print by the end of March.
DC’s The New 52, by all immediate measures of success, is doing incredibly well so far. For example, in September, DC books accounted for 17 of the top 20 comic books according to Diamond’s direct market – an unusual feat for a company accustomed to placing second.
The question remains, though – how is the relaunch doing digitally? Are digital sales better, worse, or about what was expected? Unfortunately, we might never know the answer unless DC decides to disclose those details. Which they probably won’t.
We were fortunate enough to discuss a whole host of issues regarding digital comics with David Steinberger, the CEO of comiXology – including The New 52, Marvel’s reluctance to fully commit to digital, the recently announced Kindle Fire, and pricing. comiXology, for those not familiar, is both the number one digital comic book reading app (not that there are a multitude to choose from) and the top grossing iPad app going on six weeks.
Check out our interview below:
Screen Rant: As the CEO of comiXology, can you explain why I should be reading comic books digitally? What makes digital comics so special, besides not having to get up off the couch and walk to the comic book store to buy them?
David Steinberger: Do you mind if I flip this question around a little to “why should you be reading comics?” It’s our belief at comiXology that there are many, many more comic book readers out there than are currently going to comic book stores. That’s one of the greatest reasons to try comiXology. It’s a simple way to try out reading comics, and we have a great range of material in our nearly 15,000 books. Comics are a great American art form, they can be as heavy as Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, as intense as Alan Moore’s From Hell, or as riveting as Iron Man. There’s a reason all these comics I’ve just mentioned have inspired movies. The storytelling is just that good and the characters are universal. But if you haven’t ever read the original source material for these movies, or ever read a comic… you’re just missing out. Because with comics, the magic is what happens between the panels and also with the way the writers and artist mix the words and images. So if you would like to read a print comic, then go get them at your local comic shop. If you’d like to read it digitally, you can get it from us. Each delivery system, whether paper or digital has its own rewards.
SR: The first month of The New 52 has been, by all accounts, a huge success. Print sales are up and comiXology was catapulted to the #1 top grossing iPad app on iTunes in September. From where you're sitting, would you qualify the relaunch as a digital success?
DS: The relaunch has been an absolute success. There is no question that DC’s The New 52, along with the great 3.0 re-design of the Comics by comiXology app, impacted our performance, helping us top the charts as the #1 grossing iPad app every Wednesday for the last six weeks running.
SR: Have you read The New 52? And if so, which book or books are your favorite so far?
DS: I can’t pick just one! (Laughs.) I’m a Grant Morrison fan, so I enjoyed his Action Comics. Of course being a big fan of Grant’s means I wasn’t sure Jeff Lemiere would be able to deliver an Animal Man comic that I would like as much, but man did he kill that, huh? I actually challenged myself to read all 52 and I’ve really enjoyed every single one of them.
SR: Word on the street is that comiXology will be partnering with the Kindle Fire to distribute comics digitally. Can you tell us anything about that?
DS: The only thing I can tell you is that our app icon does appear on the Kindle Fire promotion images on Amazon’s website.
SR: What’s the likelihood of day-and-date comics being released digitally at midnight at some point in the future?
DS: We see digital as a separate product and market than print, but obviously there is a fear out there that delivering comics before brick & mortar retailers gives us an unfair advantage. As people feel more comfortable that there won’t be disruption in the print marketplace, I’m sure we’ll see the time frame evolve. But I don’t think you will ever see us releasing 12 hours before West Coast stores open.
SR: Image Comics recently announced that they, like DC and The New 52, will begin to simultaneously distribute all their comic books both in print and digitally (with the help of comiXology and Graphicly). Where is Marvel on this front? What’s taking them so long to fully commit to day-and-date?
DS: Marvel has a ton of books that are same-day-as-print. They just haven’t made as big a deal out of announcing it all at once. Publishers have their own time from for going same-day-as-print. It is not up to us to dictate what publishers do or when they do it.
SR: I’m of the opinion that digital comics are the only way to significantly gain new readers and turn the comic book industry around. It’s sad, of course, but print is declining, and so, too, are local comic book stores. Where do you see the comic book industry in five-to-ten years? Will comic book stores still be around? Or will digital be the only game in town, with few exceptions?
DS: You know, out of the last ten years, only three of those years have not been growth years for comic sales. Of course, those down years happen to be the last three consecutive years which, of course, coincides with the general recession. We believe the comic book medium is incredibly resilient and that when the economy bounces back, so will general print sales. We are not in the camp that print comic books are dying and that retail stores are going away. On the contrary, we believe the opposite and have invested heavy in tools that help retailers. All of us at comiXology see a vibrant future for both print and digital comics.
SR: One of the biggest complaints with regard to digital comics is they’re just too barebones to justify how expensive they are. For example, upon release, Justice League #1 and Ultimate Spider-Man #1 cost $3.99 a piece (same as print) and could both be read in under ten minutes. Conversely, I can download a videogame for the same price – sometimes less – and play it for months on end. What’s your take on the pricing?
DS: I’d be more worried about price resistance if we had not been the top grossing iPad application for the last six Wednesdays in a row — beating out a lot of the game type apps you mentioned. And let’s face it, people don’t buy comics in print because of some hope of resale value – they love to read the stories, which have value in and of themselves. Not to mention that, if you’re like me, you re-read comics you buy.
SR: On that same topic, I’ve talked to people who aren’t opposed to paying, say, $2.99 or $3.99 for a digital comic if features unique to the digital format are included, thus making them worth the hefty price-tag. For example, the Double Feature comic book app gives the reader the option to remove the colors of a comic down to the inks and then to the pencils on every single page. It also has creator commentary. Another idea is touchscreen, pop-up editor's notes that could link to the previous issue that's being referenced. Would you be interested in implementing similar features on comiXology (in conjunction with comic book companies), and are there any plans in place to do this?
DS: Features like that are great for comic fans, but – like DVD extras – don’t always appeal to the general user. That’s not to say that we won’t add extra value to comics, but I think that comic books as a medium stand on its own. Since the advent of the computer people have been trying to “improve” the comic book reading experience — adding animation, adding sound, adding creator commentary — and it just has never caught on. I think the real value add that digital has for comic books is in delivery. Scott McCloud, who wrote Understanding Comics, has some interesting ideas with playing around with what he called the “infinite canvas,” but I have yet to see something done with that idea that really blows my mind. Again, that is not to say we are never going to experiment ‑ we give a lot of thought to the future of comics over here and keep an open mind.
Big thanks to David for taking time out of his schedule to talk comic books with us.
What's your take on digital comic books, Screen Ranters? Have you made the jump to digital yet? And if not, why not? Drop us a line in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.
Check out comiXology's website for more details about the app and all it has to offer.