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Archie Comics and iVerse Launch New Web-Based Digital Comics Storefront [Interview]

Accessing Archie Comics’ catalog digitally just got a little more convenient for fans of Archie, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man and other titles. Archie and iVerse Media have expanded their partnership with a new web-based storefront that syncs the duo’s digital reading experience beyond apps and across multiple devices. Designed with cross-platform functionality in mind, the new web-based storefront utilizes HTML5 and is supported on traditional browsers, along with mobile platforms on iOS, Android and other mobile devices. ComicsAlliance got in touch with Archie CEO Jon Goldwater and iVerse CEO Michael Murphey to learn more about the storefront and its place in the continually-evolving digital comics landscape. Read the full interview after the cut.

ComicsAlliance: Tell me a little about the new web-based Archie Comics digital storefront. What benefits does it offer new and existing readers and what makes it unique among other digital comic services?

Michael Murphey: What really sets this apart from anything else out there right now is that it is built completely in HTML 5, and it is designed for touch. The web app works really well on mobile devices, and it is the first of its kind to provide a complete shopping and reading experience in-browser on tablets. That’s important because it maximizes compatibility, and gives the readers more choices on how they make their purchases, and view their content, than they’ve had before.

Existing users will, of course, be able to view all of their previously purchased content on the web – both on desktop, and on whatever mobile device they might choose to access the site on.

Jon Goldwater: This is what we’ve been building toward since Archie first dove into digital – well in advance of other comic companies. This is your one-stop shop for all things Archie Digital, be they Android, iOS, anything. Now, from your desktop or mobile, you can shop for Archie and know it’ll sync with your devices. Our hats go off to Michael and his staff for laboring on this. It looks beautiful. You can find it by visiting digital.archiecomics.com, or via our main homepage.

CA: What do you think it is about Archie’s material and target audience that makes it optimal for a digital experience?

MM: I think a large part of it is Archie’s universal appeal. When you look at almost every tween sitcom on television right now, you can trace the core concepts for those things right back to Riverdale. That format works in all languages, and in almost every part of the world. Every time a kid engages with an Archie app, and reads a digital comic, they can instantly see the same type of content they can relate to. Since that generation has grown up almost completely digitally, it makes perfect sense that they would gravitate to the digital versions of the comics. Then you look at the video game based titles like Sonic and Mega Man and it’s very easy to see why that audience dig having their books on the same device that they can play those character’s games on.

I also think the Archie product shines so well on digital devices because the art is colorful, and simple. Back when we were dealing with fairly low-rez screens on some of these smartphones, Archie books were always easier to read because you could see what was going on more clearly at a lower rez, and the fonts were easier to read. Now that we’re living in a Retina-world, they just look amazing — but in those early days I think Archie fans had an easier time adapting to digital because the product was better suited for it than some of the other material out there.

JG: Michael hit the nail on the head – there’s a hunger for more Archie product, and our goal has always been to make Archie Comics as available and readable as possible. We’re not joking when we say “Archie is everywhere.” People are coming back to Archie and we’ve seen our digital numbers reflect that. The comics are fun to read, not bogged down by years and years of repetitive continuity and they’re family friendly. Our fans range from 7 to 70, and the base is growing.

CA: From a design standpoint, what are some of the key areas of usability and functionality that iVerse focused on when building the Archie digital comics storefront?

MM: Ease of use and simplicity are a main focus of all our products. It’s very easy to get caught up in over complicating a product on the web. We wanted the webstore to have the same easy to use features as our apps, and we wanted to make sure that the site worked as well with a finger as it would with a pointer. We feel very strongly that a web app like this should be built with touch in mind, and we’ll continue to evolve and enhance that with future updates.

CA: What do you think are currently the biggest challenges facing digital distribution and how is iVerse working to address these challenges with its publishing partners like Archie?

MM: I think the biggest challenge facing digital distribution right now is understanding exactly what the role of the digital distributor is – and creating the right eco system that allows everyone to flourish in this time of evolution. Should a digital distributor be a monolith that can strong arm prices and limit product availability? I don’t think so.

We’re passionate about comics, and we’re passionate about technology. So our role is to create the technology, and keep that technology updated and working as the mobile devices rapidly change, so that creators can make great comics, without having to worry about the constantly changing landscape. We should also do our part to work with creators on new business models and new ways to tell graphic stories on these devices.

That’s why you see us doing things like our Library program, and why you see Archie and iVerse working so closely together on the New Crusaders App that’s debuting next month. They make beautiful comics, we make beautiful apps – and the user gets an unprecedented value for their dollar, that we all believe will engage new readers.

CA: Archie was one of the first — if not the first — major comic book publisher to take its content same-day digital. They were also one of the first major publishers to release digital-first content and exclusives. What have been the measurable effects been — positive or negative — of Archie’s digital strategies?

JG: Our proactive digital strategy has paid off. I knew, personally, from my experience in the music industry, that digital could not be ignored. We had to be aggressive and we had to be inclusive. Unlike some of our competitors – who claim to have been first in a lot of the things we spearheaded – we chose not to go exclusive with a specific tablet or platform. Instead, we did what Archie always has – made our comics as available as possible to as many people as we could. And it paid off. Whereas when I got to Archie, digital was not even on our radar, now digital is a vibrant and visible revenue stream. We’ve opened the characters up to a new and returning audience and we’re excited to see where it goes.

MM: I’ve seen nothing but positive effects from Archie choosing to be forward thinking and aggressive in the digital space. I think we all looked at sales from December and January of this year and wanted to do backflips. It’s been really great to take this journey with Archie. When Jon and I first talked about bringing Archie into the Digital Age, iVerse was a two-man show that I was still running out of a spare bedroom in my house. The revenue growth since that time has been amazing, and has had a significant impact, I think, for both companies. I believe that that growth is largely due to Archie’s willingness to go day-and-date early, and to take risks like creating digital exclusive content that you can’t get anywhere else… and I haven’t seen any evidence that that has had a negative impact on print sales either. It’s simply a different audience, and I’m very glad to be playing a role in reaching those people.

CA: Archie has also been one of the first publishers to make its digital comics available in Spanish. Will the new digital storefront’s interface accommodate Spanish readers as well?

MM: Absolutely. The Spanish titles are available on the site, and you can expect some more expansion into other languages as well in the near future.

CA: Is there anything else our readers should know about the new digital storefront and its content?

MM: Just that the site, as with all our apps, are constantly evolving — so expect it to be tweaked and enhanced over the next year — and we’re always interested in hearing ways we can improve on what we’ve built. So if you have thoughts on how we can make it better – let us know.

JG: In addition to the storefront and the upcoming Red Circle app, we’re in the process of rolling out an expanded and curated line of digital-exclusive titles. We started with a few Sonic titles but are also doing themed, 100-page comics including Archie and the gang. These are coming out about once a month and the response so far has been excellent. We’ll be doing more of these, which collect key stories from the past and recent comics. We’ll also have some major announcements about digital-exclusive original content in the coming months. This should make our digital storefront a vibrant part of Archie publishing for years to come.

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