Digital ComicsAlliance: The Biggest News From San Diego Comic-Con 2011
Welcome to a special San Diego Comic-Con 2011 edition of Digital ComicsAlliance. There were quite a few digital developments at SDCC this year, from distributors announcing their entry into the market or publishers offering new apps or services. After the jump, I'm going to run down the major news, provide some context, and tell you how excited you need to get about each piece of news. Are you ready?
Digital Comics Sales Double Since 2010: According to this Publishers Weekly report, ICv2 president Milton Griepp announced that, though precise figures are hard to come by, digital comics sales have doubled since 2010. Griepp estimates overall digital sales at somewhere between $6 and $18 million dollars. It's worth noting that there are no firm sales figures, presumably because ComiXology, Graphicly, and other distributors are closed systems. Digital profits are still low, but that's to be expected at this point, I think. We're just past the first year of the iPad as of April, which is around when digital comics began to dominate the online conversation. As time passes and publishers inch closer toward truly producing digital comics (meaning producing original and exclusive content, day-and-date releases, subscriptions, and so on) rather than dabbling, I imagine we'll see these numbers rise. This is another sign that digital books are still no danger to comic shops and bookstores, considering that combined comic sales were $635 million bucks in 2010, down from $680 million in 2009.
Should We Be Excited For This? Cautiously so, but yes. Digital sales going up will always be a good thing.
Top Shelf Joins iVerse's Comics+: Graphic novel publisher Top Shelf is going digital, and they're launching with 70 comics. You can view their comics in the Comics+ app on iPad or iPhone. Robot 6 interviewed Chris Ross, Top Shelf's newly minted Director of Digital Publishing, and pulled out a few more tidbits. They're going to be covered on several distributors, pushing to have as many books as possible online by the end of summer, and are looking to release day-and-date for their print and digital books from here on out.
Should We Be Excited For This? Absolutely! This is fantastic news. Top Shelf has comics for grown-ups, comics for kids, and comics for everyone in-between. Having such a well-respected publisher diving into digital comics can only be a good thing.
Panelfly Returns: Long gone digital comics distributor Panelfly made a surprise announcement coming into the con. They're coming back with new apps and new partners, with plans to integrate video and other non-comics content into their comics reader. Their announced release window is early August, with apps for both iOS and Android. They're making a hard play for the post-comics (for lack of a better phrase) aspect of digital comics--multimedia features, bonus material, and so on. This is a possible route for digital comics to go down, though I must admit that I'm a little skeptical. They have an app available for Burn Notice (iTunes link), a television show that airs on USA, that shows some of what they plan to bring to digital comics.
Should We Be Excited For This? Yes, but there are several questions that still need answering. What publishers are on board? What's the price range for these super-comics?
JManga Preps American Launch: As detailed by Deb Aoki, 39 manga publishers are ready to launch Jmanga.com, an online manga reading service that will launch toward the middle of August. The plan is for this site to eventually serve the needs of readers across the world, but it is launching in North America first. Information is scant for now, but is sure to explode in a couple of weeks as the program leaves closed beta and becomes open to the public. For further information, read Calvin Reid's in-depth report at Publishers Weekly.
Should We Be Excited For This? Very. Legal online manga is a free-for-all right now. Viz offers theirs for five bucks, Yen Press offers theirs for $8.99, and Dark Horse has their own pricing scheme. This may introduce a new standard price, in addition to making a lot of popular or obscure manga available to new readers. Assuming they stick the landing, this could be great.
VizManga.com Launches: Viz has had an iOS app for some time now, but they launched a website reader during San Diego Comic-Con, and threw in a 40% off sale on top of that. This is a necessary move for any manga publisher. Google the name of almost any manga and the first three hits will be scanslations. Battling that by making your books available for purchase on the web is essential, and having a reader as nice as Viz's is the best way to go. Whatever you buy on the iOS app is mirrored on the website, too, so you can read on the go and pick up later on. Right now, you can pay via Paypal or Amazon Payments.
Should We Be Excited For This? We'll have a longer review of Vizmanga.com after we finish experimenting with it, but, yes, this is awesome news.
DC Comics Launches Android App: This one does what it says on the tin. DC Comics has launched a ComiXology-powered branded Android app.
Should We Be Excited For This? Not really. DC Comics were already available in ComiXology's Comics app. This is a move that makes sense in terms of building or taking advantage of brand name recognition, but it isn't as new a development as the press release would have you believe.
Star Wars Goes Digital: Dark Horse has taken over fifty of the single issues in their Star Wars library and offered them for sale on Dark Horse Digital.
Should We Be Excited For This? Do you like Star Wars? It's fair to assume that these books will probably do pretty well for Dark Horse, considering how wide-ranging and excitable the fanbase for the series is. While most of those books aren't to my taste, I have to respect the wisdom involved in making them available to people who would like them.
Brigid Alverson on Digital Comics Pricing: Brigid Alverson riffs on an essay by Jim Campbell about digital comics pricing and comes up with some pretty profound observations. She sheds some light on another reason why companies are so protective of the Direct Market (publishers get a bigger share of the profits in the DM), points out that the vast majority of comics in Marvel and DC's back catalog paid for themselves years ago (making any digital profits, once production costs have been covered, found money), and suggests that the future of digital comics may be a distributor that takes less of a cut in order to sell more comics.
Should We Be
Excited For Worried About This? Only a little. Publishers have far more data on digital sales than we do, and presumably also have economists who can do the math to figure out exactly what's required to make digital comics a success for that specific company's definition of success. It is definitely an issue worth discussing, and hopefully that discussion will inspire someone to do the smart thing.
-ComiXology runs Marvel Mondays sales (wait for it) every Monday. Certain Marvel comics, usually ones from a specific series or united under a theme, are offered for half off. You can check their blog for the current sale on Monday mornings, and sometimes Sunday nights. Once Monday is gone, though, so is the sale. Keep an eye on their blog for other sales, too. Right now, Queen Sonja is on sale for $0.99 until 07/28.
-Dark Horse runs themed sales every weekend. They've run sales on Serenity, The Goon, Conan, and Fray, among others, so you're pretty much sure to find something to like at some point. This week's sale hasn't been announced yet, but stay tuned to the Dark Horse Digital blog.
-VizManga just launched, and in celebration, they're offering 40% off every first volume on their store. The sale runs until 07/31, so act fast.
There are a few different ways to get digital comics right now. Here's a selection of the methods, listed by company in alphabetical order, and the formats they support:
Archie Comics (iOS)
Boom! Studios (iOS [identical to the Boom! offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
Comics4Kids (iOS [ComiXology for all-ages comics])
ComiXology (iOS, Web, Android)
Dark Horse (iOS app that syncs to your account on the web)
DC Comics (iOS, Web [identical to the DC offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
DriveThru Comics (CBZ, PDF, ePUB, and more)
Dynamite Entertainment (iOS,Web, Android [identical to the Dynamite offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
Graphic.ly (iOS, Web, Android, Nook Color)
IDW Comics (iOS)
Image Comics (iOS [identical to the Image offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
iVerse's Comics+ (iOS, Nook Color)
Marvel Comics on Chrome (Web)
Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (Web)
My Digital Comics (PDF, CBZ, and more)
The Illustrated Section (PDF)
Square Enix Manga (web)
Viz Manga (iOS, web)
Yen Press (web)
There are a few things you need to know. You no longer need an iOS device (you know: iPad, iPod, iPhone), but you will need an internet connection, web browser, and, usually, Flash. Generally, you don't get to actually own your digital comics. You're paying to read them, and while this has been a fairly smooth process this far, that may rankle for some readers.
Are all these distributors different? Functionally, no, they aren't that different at all. Most of them allow for panel by panel reading (or a variation thereof) or page-based reading. The main differences are in selection. Frustratingly, certain comics are offered on several services, but released at different times. Marvel alone offers five choices. Most other publishers keep to one distribution method, and if they don't, they tend to keep their stuff mirrored across the various methods. If you want DC Comics, you're using ComiXology, for example, but Boom! Studios has comics on both. For Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, you'll have to pay a subscription fee. It's essentially Netflix for comics, however, so that may be worth it for you.
Personally, I use a mix of all the services, which is far from an optimal configuration, but one that works well. Poke around and see which one you like the most.
When do digital comics come out? Marvel has a weekly schedule, with an option for viewing the next month's releases. That's as close as you'll get to a release schedule. To see what's new on ComiXology, subscribe to this RSS feed. IDW generally releases books four weeks after they ship in print. ComiXology updates on Wednesdays, Graphic.ly updates throughout the week, and IDW's app updates on Tuesdays, with day-and-date books arriving on Wednesday. Dark Horse updates on Wednesdays. This category on iVerse's Comics+ site lists the updates for the week. Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited releases books every Monday.
I'll update with RSS feeds and landing pages that show new releases as they appear! If you're a digital comics publisher and you don't have a feed or page that users can visit... well, please create one. We'd all appreciate it.