Our Mission Is To Make Everybody A Comics Fan: Comixology’s David Steinberger Talks Comixology Unlimited
Digital comics app Comixology pulled off a major surprise this week with the launch of Comixology Unlimited, a monthly subscription service that's hoping to be the Netflix of comics, the Spotify of sequential art, the Marvel Unlimited of books not published by Marvel.
The Twitter reaction since the launch suggests the news wasn't just a surprise to readers, but to many of the creators involved too. ComicsAlliance spoke to Comixology CEO David Steinberger about the rollout, what is and isn't available on the service, and what the future might hold for Comixology Unlimited.
ComicsAlliance: To start with, Do you just want to talk about the thinking behind launching Comixology Unlimited?
David Steinberger: You know, Comixology has close to a hundred thousand books for sale, and for both the core buyer who doesn't necessarily have time or knowledge about all the things that are great out there, and also for the new buyer, who walks into a store or takes a look at our site and doesn't know where to start, we're trying to find a solution for, how do you make a membership program that enlightens everybody to the incredible amount of great content out there, and is at a price point that doesn't keep them from becoming a huge fan of ongoing content from the store?
CA: You mention comic stores there. How is Unlimited intended to sit alongside --- or separate to --- the existing business model of selling books individually, on Comixology and elsewhere?
DS: So our goal is, and what we tried to shape the program to achieve, is introducing people to a lot of amazing content that is ongoing or that is collected into trades, both on the physical and digital sides. We're happy either way. Obviously we're connected to Amazon, and we have our retailer affiliate model as well as digital. But we're a retailer, so we have all the right reasons to get people super-engaged in reading the content --- and hopefully they find some books that they really love and want to continue reading.
And we will be adding content to the program as we go, we'll probably be cycling some of the content out as we go, to keep things fresh and exciting.
If you look at the launch group of content, particularly on the new buyer side, what we might call an 'affinity' audience, somebody who is into the movies or TV shows or animation or anime; let's take the example of Attack on Titan. You can connect with somebody who's watched the anime and is totally into it, and get them hooked into the original comic, and then we've got 10 or 12 other manga series for them to sample and enjoy.
CA: Having looked at the Unlimited selection, it does seem to be skewed towards the first collection, or the first batch of issues, of a series. Is that an intentional decision?
DS: The aim is to create new buyers of comics and new fans of comics, as well to expand the reach and engagement of core fans. And the best way to do that is to provide the starting point for many different series.
Now, am I saying we will never have full series on there? No, not at all. In fact we currently have some full graphic novels available, and we have varying amounts of volumes for different publishers. We have five volumes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, for example, which is a huge amount of content.
CA: What can you tell us about the publishers that you've got on board? Obviously there's no Marvel or DC...
DS: If you look at who's putting out the best content in comics, we have a lot of the best publishers on Unlimited. Marvel and DC clearly are not there. We're happy partners of theirs on the à la carte side, and of course we talked to them as well... But Image is the third top publisher. I think of the top publishers, we have the spread between number three and number eight completely covered.
And I think it's an opportunity for people who maybe don't go off the beaten path that often to get in there and sample what's been going on in comics for the last 15 years. It's such an incredible wealth of diverse and wonderful content.
CA: Watching the response to this news on Twitter, I've noticed creators talking about it, and it seems like many weren't aware this launch was happening. As far as I'm aware, you do let creators know about upcoming sales on their work, so is there a reason this news wasn't shared with them?
DS: I've seen a little bit of this myself and, I mean, some of that is publisher communication, and not Comixology communication. If you look at the Submit publishers, for instance C. Spike Trotman, she's a Submit creator, a self-published creator with us, we actually reached out to her --- Unlimited is kind of an invite-only service for now for Submit publishers --- and we talked to her, and you can see her tweeting about knowing about the deal several weeks ago.
I can't really speak for the publishers we work with. Obviously we do deals directly with them and don't want to get between them and their creators, it's super important for them to own that relationship, so I can't speak for them but I can tell you that every publisher that's represented and every creator from Submit that's represented, fully understands what the deal is, and there's no surprise there.
The idea is that we get more people into comics. We would not be doing this if we didn't believe that it's going to lift all boats up. I know there's a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt, but this is designed to make everyone more money.
CA: So in terms of that money, what can you tell us about the creators' situation in terms of royalties from Comixology Unlimited?
DS: That's all confidential information but, again, it's designed to create more money for everybody and lift all boats.
CA: But is that money direct from the service itself, or is the idea that Unlimited subscriptions will sell more issues and more trades down the line?
DS: We believe that all of it together will make more money --- and obviously it's possible to make money on the service too. I don't want to discount the idea that people can make money there.
CA: So how long has Unlimited been in the works? When you look at the connection with Amazon, this service seems to sit neatly alongside stuff like Prime Video and Kindle Unlimited. Is that the origin of this idea, or did it start before the Amazon acquisition?
DS: Well, as you can imagine, just simply seeing kind of cultural consumption becoming more subscription-oriented, in TV, movies, and obviously music; comics are their own animal, but I think this is a type of service that younger people in particular believe should be a part of that consumption model.
So I'd say it's been on our mind since forever. Since Netflix, right?
CA: As you mention Netflix --- does this open up any new opportunities in terms of content? Obviously Netflix produces its own original content. Are there any plans for Unlimited to feed back into creating new stuff?
DS: Nothing to announce there for sure. We already have a lot of amazing content without having to do that, so no, nothing to talk about there.
CA: You've announced that you intend to launch Unlimited in countries outside of the US. How close are those plans to fruition?
DS: We're working on it right now. We don't pre-announce that type of thing, but it's super important to us. Our mission is to make everybody on the planet a comics fan and that's very hard to do when you're only in the US. We plan to be as worldwide as possible. It all just takes work to get done.