Digital December: Archie Comics and The Appeal of $0.99
Archie is one of those comics companies that's been around forever, and is such a staple of the industry that it's easy to take them for granted. You can still find their books in grocery stores and other non-Direct Market stores, but they have a strong presence in the DM, as well. On top of that, they've got a robust library of digital comics priced at $0.99, and they managed to lock in that price point right under everyone's nose. We spoke to Archie co-CEO Jon Goldwater about Archie's digital plans, both past and present.ComicsAlliance: Just to start from the beginning and provide a foundation for this interview, how long has Archie been producing digital comics?
Jon Goldwater: It's been a little more then 1 year.
CA: Generally, how have digital comics performed in the marketplace for Archie?
JG: Digital comics have performed incredibly well for us, much better then I could have anticipated. Archie Freshman Year is the most downloaded comic on ITunes and our app has been downloaded many hundreds of thousands of times. We are excited about the future if digital. And don't forget Archie was the first of the major comic book publishers to embrace this new technology and the first to release our own app.
CA: Archie has its own iVerse branded app, but is also present on ComiXology's app, with different comics available on both apps. Am I correct in thinking that this separation of content is a result of happenstance, or is there a not immediately obvious reason behind the disparity?
JG: Yes, you are correct.
CA: Have you noticed that one app performs better than the other in the iTunes Store?
JG: Our own Archie branded app performs by far and away better than anything else, and that makes sense since that is one stop shopping for the consumer.
CA: One nice thing about Archie's digital books is the price point. $0.99 is more or less the holy grail of prices for digital comics, and one that every consumer I've ever spoken to supports. How hard was it to cut prices to that point?
JG: Not hard at all. We need to make our books available and affordable, therefore the price point needs to reflect consumer demand. If $0.99 is comfortable for the consumers, then it is comfortable for us.
CA: Have you had any feedback from customers on whether or not that price point works for them?
JG: The best feedback is in the sales, and the numbers seem to prove that the $0.99 is a fair and comfortable price point.
CA: Sonic the Hedgehog is present on Archie's digital offerings. Several companies have expressed a certain measure of difficulty when it comes to getting licensed properties released digitally. Have you experienced similar difficulties, or was it easy to pull off?
JG: We have a long and successful relationship with Sega. We have been publishing the Sonic books for 15 years and work closely with them on all aspects of everything we publish. They are incredibly supportive and a pleasure to work with.
CA: Do the Sonic comics perform similarly to how they do in print?
JG: They perform well digitally.
CA: How do you go about choosing which series get converted to digital comics first?
JG: Many factors go into deciding when to release a certain book or series, but the vast library of ours allows us to release the older books slowly while we decided which current books to release.
CA: How do you decide how far behind the print release the digital comics release should lag?
JG: It really depends on the series. For Life With Archie we lag roughly 30 days after release, which would coincide with them being replaced by the new issues on the newsstand. Certain books where there are current topics we release quickly, others we take our time with.
CA: Is that even a concern for Archie, which is seemingly timeless?
JG: Everything we do at Archie is carefully thought out and planned, so we discuss everything that is to be released and the timing of those releases.
CA: In terms of the digital comics reading experience as it currently stands, comics are generally stored on the cloud and are inaccessible for anything but reading. How do traditional ideas of ownership, whether that means the ability to legally transfer a work to another machine or simply having the ability to have a comic book stored on your desktop, factor into Archie's plans?
JG: Our plan is about reaching as many people through our stories and comics -- whether that means being available on a number of apps or expanding our distribution in print, we'll look into it carefully. We're still experiencing the early stages of mass distribution of comics digitally, so there's a lot that still needs to be defined. But we are sure that we want to make our books available to as many people as possible, digitally and in print, and our digital initiatives this year and in the future are a product of that.
CA: Where and how comics are sold has a habit of creating massive change in the comics industry. The rise of the Direct Market helped change how comics were consumed and who they were sold to. Speculators in the '90s depended on scarcity and conjecture to turn a fast buck. How do you see the advent of easy to attain and affordable digital comics affecting the comics industry?
JG: I think this is going to be terrific for the comic book industry. Anytime we can make Archie available to as many consumers as possible is a great thing for us. It gives us as whole to way to monetize our current books as well as our vast library. I think we have just seen the tip of the iceberg here, and the more places we can make our books available the better. I am excited about the possibilities, not just domestically but on a global scale as well.