Tag Archives: digital media

The state of comiXology part 2: Digital publishing makes new opportunities for readers and creators

This post is the second in a two-part series on comiXology’s impact on the comics industry in light of its 200 millionth digital comic download.

As I discussed yesterday, digital comics seller comiXology has established itself as a major player in comics distribution.

It offers new and old readers opportunities to discover new comics without needing to have access to a comic book store.

Just as importantly, comiXology makes digital reading its own unique experience.

In anticipation of last week’s New York Comic Con, comiXology announced it was releasing a number of new Guided View Native comics that utilized the app’s design for panel-to-panel viewing.

"Batman '66" uses comiXology's Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.
“Batman ’66” uses comiXology’s Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.

Guided View technology makes comics easier to view on a mobile device. Rather than displaying an entire page of a comic at a time (as comiXology’s standard view does), Guided View mode displays one or a few panels at a time, as though it were following a reader’s eye movement.

Although I prefer the standard page view for reading on a tablet because I want to see the full layout of every page, but in my limited experience with Guided View, I have found it very well designed.

I never thought reading a comic on a phone would be anything less than a chore, but the Guided View mode makes it possible and even enjoyable.

Guided View Native comics use Guided View technology to give comics an animated quality.

For example, DC’s Batman ’66, inspired by the 1960s Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, uses Guided View to make the comic feel more like the show by adding movement to its transitions from panel to panel.

The most similar experience I can think of to reading a Guided View Native comic is seeing an animated storyboard for a movie or TV show.

For an explanation of how a Guided View Native comic works, watch this video review of Batman ’66 #1 from Comicbook Time.

Digital issues of Batman ’66 are released every Wednesday. Every four digital issues are released in one print issue.

With Guided View Native issues, comiXology has made digital comics a distinctly different reading experience than print. Rather than being a substitute for print comics, these digital comics are a largely different product.

In addition to creating a new experience for readers, the digital-first comics market has made self-publishing much more accessible for comic creators.

ComiXology CEO David Steinberger and CTO John D. Roberts, along with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari, creators of the digital comic series The Bunker, held a panel discussion at New York Comic Con about the company’s comiXology Submit program. Submit, launched in March, allows creators to pitch comics directly to the company to be reviewed for publication and sale on the site.

The Bunker is among the comics published through Submit. The program is non-exclusive, so it allows creators to sell their work through other platforms in addition to comiXology.

"The Bunker" is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit's non-exclusivity policy, issues of "The Bunker" is also sold on the book's official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.
“The Bunker” is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit’s non-exclusivity policy, issues of “The Bunker” is also sold on the book’s official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.

Submit allows creators to bypass traditional publishing channels and the financial risks that come with self-publishing one’s issues and books.

“While digital-first is somewhat new, the kind of process we’re going through, this is the future,” said Fialkov. “This is how things are going to be. The floppy comic model is becoming unfeasible. It’s really hard to make money. When I ran a small press, I only made money through relationships and knowing publishers. Now you don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

Digital-first publishing also allows creators to spend less time between finishing a work and publishing it because costs of printing and distribution are decreased.

Infurnani said the time frame for comic creation, which can take up to two years, can be shortened to give creators “instant gratification.”

Submit has succeeded in attracting creators. Roberts informed the panel audience that Submit is the 10th largest publisher on comiXology with 330 series and new ones being released every week.

Many writers and artists dream of working in comics, and with the relative ease of digital publishing, many more will be able to than before.

And getting new creative voices into the comics world is every bit as important as getting new readers.

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The state of comiXology Part 1: Rapid sales growth shows prominence in comics market

This post is the first in a two-part series on comiXology’s impact on the comics industry in light of its 200 millionth digital comic download.

By now, it’s safe to say comiXology is a big deal in the comics industry.

The digital comics retailer had its 200 millionth comic download in late September—only a year after it hit the 100 million-download mark. The site has had its digital reader since 2009.

"The Walking Dead" comic book series released its 10th anniversary issue, #115, just in time for the season 4 premiere of the popular TV adaptation. Art by Charlie Adlard. Image from IGN.
“The Walking Dead” comic book series released its 10th anniversary issue, #115, just in time for the season 4 premiere of the popular TV adaptation. Art by Charlie Adlard. Image from IGN.

ComiXology benefits from a strong market for new readers, as the wild popularity of DC and (especially) Marvel movies and The Walking Dead TV series has played a role in putting the comics industry on pace for its best year since 2000, according to Comics Alliance.

The site is not just capitalizing on trends, though. It has helped expand the comics audience in its own right.

The rise of digital media has created a larger comics market than was available when print was the only medium for comics.

“It was already a fractured, poorly distributed market,” said comiXology CEO David Steinberger.

While comics may not have been poorly distributed, as single issues and collected editions were available in bookstores and online, digital downloads have made it easier for readers who do not live near comic stores to buy new issues as soon as they are released.

Buying comics, especially in issue format, online is not always cost effective (when factoring in shipping costs) or timely (I used to have subscriptions through Marvel and usually received my issues a week after they came out). Although many sites offer free or discounted shipping for certain amounts spent, those offers might not be inviting for new readers

Someone who is interested in giving comics a try might not want to spend $25 to get free shipping on Amazon, for example.

Spending $9 on a quick download of The Walking Dead Volume 1 could be more appealing for a fan of the show who wants to give the comics a shot.

Digital sales have benefits for longtime readers as well.

Because cloud storage space does not have the same limitations as print, books never go out of print, and books that have gone out of print are easier to publish again.

"Green Arrow" #11 is one of many out-of-print comics published via comiXology. Art by Matt Wagner. Image from iFanboy.
“Green Arrow” #11 is one of many out-of-print comics published via comiXology. Art by Matt Wagner. Image from iFanboy.

For example, DC published filmmaker Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow series, originally published in 2001-2002, on comiXology in 2010 after the collected editions of the series had been out of print for several years.

ComiXology is not the only company to promote digital comics, but it is the market leader. The company had $19 million in sales in 2011 out of the overall sales numbers for digital comics, which totaled $25 million.

Digital comics sales increased to $70 million in 2012.

Digital has some questionable aspects, but it has proved to be a viable market and has made an impact on the comics industry.

“Digital has replaced the spin rack in the convenience store,” said Thor Parker, social marketing director of Midtown Comics, one of America’s biggest comic book retailers.

Parker is right. For the first time ever, comics are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Physical location no longer matters, and the potential for further audience expansion is tremendous.

Digital Comic Sales: Competing Views on Convenience and Ownership

When I have some time away from coursework, graduate assistant work, or thesis work, one of my favorite things to do is read comics. Not only do I love the comics medium, but I also enjoy reading about new developments and issues in the comics industry.

One important development in comics today is digital comic sales. ComiXology, the leading seller of digital comics, was the third highest-grossing app for the iPad in 2012. Image Comics, publisher of bestselling series The Walking Dead and Saga, reported 12 percent of its overall revenue in 2012 came from digital sales. The company expects a 3 percent increase in 2013 (chart from Wired, data courtesy of Image Comics).

imagecharts

At its annual Image Expo in July 2013, Image announced it would begin selling all its comics via its website in PDF, CBR, CBZ, and EPUB formats in addition to its print comics. Buyers can download these comics directly to their hard drives free of any digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. While DRM restrictions can help protect a company from online piracy, they may inhibit users’ experience.

In an interview with Wired, Image publisher Eric Stephenson made a case for removing DRM restrictions as a piracy prevention measure. “My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment,” Stephenson said. “There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high. Obviously we don’t want everybody giving a copy to a hundred friends, but this argument has been around since home taping was supposedly killing music back in the ’70s, and that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it’s happening now.”

ComiXology’s business model is more akin to buying a subscription to content on a website. On comiXology, users create an account with the site and pay for the comics they want to read. They can access these comics on any device by using a web browser or the free ComiXology mobile app. The requirement of reading the comics in-app is a form of DRM.

In a panel at this year’s Comic-Con International called “Digital and Print: Friends or Foes?” ComiXology co-founder and CTO John D. Roberts defended the company’s business model by asserting the benefits of the company’s cloud storage system outweighed customers’ disdain for DRM.

“I have always thought that people may not like DRM, but if you gave them a really convenient product, that kind of outweighed what DRM was. In our cloud-based system, you can download a comic right here, but if you have a PDF file sitting on your computer, you then have to get into iTunes, you have to copy it to your device — it’s not exactly the most user friendly experience…,” Roberts said.

Roberts makes a very compelling point. I strongly prefer print over digital for my comic reading, but at the times I have bought digital comics, I used ComiXology. I found it much more convenient to download an iPad app than copy a PDF and, more importantly, cloud storage keeps me from filling up more hard drive space on my laptop and tablet. Space is a hot commodity, and in the age where more and more media are sold digitally, the ability to spare some room is always welcome.

However, DRM restrictions are the major reason I could not fully embrace digital over print (other than just having a preference for reading print, of course). In the ComiXology model, I do not own the comics. With direct downloads, I do. I would always have reservations about paying the same price (or only saving a little) for a ComiXology purchase as a print edition or download of which I have full ownership.

Particularly disconcerting is the idea that if ComiXology went under, users’ access to their purchases might go down with the ship. This very thing happened this past spring to users of JManga, a site for buying Japanese comics with a similar model to ComiXology. The site shut down in May 2013, so users could no longer read the comics they had bought. While the likelihood of ComiXology suffering the same fate is extremely slight, because of the company’s success at the forefront of digital comic sales, the possibility of losing content I have paid for makes it a tough sell.

A growing number of creators, including influential writer Warren Ellis, seems to support the viability of DRM-free downloads. Ellis, along with artist Jason Howard, launched Image’s new online store with their webcomic “Scatterlands.” A high-profile creator willing to release material exclusively through the site from day one is quite an endorsement.

Scatterlands-1

ComiXology can be a great place to find new comics. It is very easy to use and accessible to people new to comics, as well as those new to digital platforms. It features sales every week on a wide variety of comics that give readers a low barrier of entry to discovering new stories. Issues never go out of print online, and there are stories I probably never would have read if they were not on ComiXology, as their collected editions are expensive or hard to find. But for digital sales to further grow in the long run, customers may need more protection for their purchases.