Digital comics are entering a bit of a boom era, according to recent data. Comics, the aptly named app by comiXology that acts as a one-stop digital storefront for many publishers, including DC and Marvel, has been the top grossing iPad app for six Wednesdays in a row.
The cannibal that wasn’t
Why only Wednesdays? Because that’s the day new comics are released. When digital comics were just getting started, that meant relatively little; publishers often held back digital releases, and in fact many only released titles from deep in their back catalogs at first. The reason for their reticence was that they felt digital editions would significantly cut into print book sales.
That hasn’t happened, according to comiXology. Instead, in September both print and digital comic sales reached record heights. September is also when DC decided to relaunch 52 of its titles at issue #1 (a move it dubbed the “New 52″), and make each of them available on the same day in print and digitally, via both the Comics app and its own branded comiXology-powered DC app.
Are digital and print comic buyers the same?
The reason digital comics haven’t negatively affected print comic sales could be that the two types of media appeal to entirely different consumer groups. Using the iPad as a delivery method opens up comics to new audiences, including basically anyone who owns an iPad and has even a basic familiarity with or interest in the costumed heroes whose mugs are now everywhere thanks to Hollywood, video games and TV shows.
Traditional comic book shops, on the other hand, cater to a much more narrowly focused audience. Comic books stores are destination establishments, for the most part, not places that people with only a vague sense of what they sell happen to stumble into. Row upon row of poly-bagged issues in filing boxes can also be an intimidating site for people new to the medium. Collectors and fans who enjoy the community element of the comic book shop will keep their pull lists, even in the face of the rise of digital, and fans introduced via the iPad and other devices could even make the leap to the shop once they embrace the culture.
Same day is the real superhero
I asked comiXology CEO David Steinberger about the app’s success, and how tied it was to DC’s New 52. Steinberger replied that in fact, the 3.0 release of Comics started the avalanche, but “the New 52 and other same day as print releases from other publishers, like Marvel and Image Comics, do great as well.” Marvel hasn’t been nearly as quick to embrace same day digital releases, but Steinberger points out that that could change, since the publishers who embrace that model are doing especially well on the Comics platform.
Another driver of sales could be Hollywood’s love affair with comic book properties. Captain America and Thor both charmed audiences this past summer, and The Avengers is coming next spring, with a stellar ensemble cast and a powerful hype machine behind it. It makes sense that comics, digital and otherwise, would enjoy some halo benefits from that attention.
What about subscriptions?
I’ve also argued that subscriptions are the next frontier for digital comics. Steinberger says that he thinks “subscriptions will be a very interesting model” for digital comics, but that currently, the available options aren’t really a natural fit for comics. “What is out there right now on different devices (Apple’s Newsstand, for instance) don’t work for comics, because they charge you monthly,” Steinberger said. “So you put the consumer in danger of being charged without product, or you make the consumer lag behind true same-day-as-print and they don’t get the newest material.”
Steinberger isn’t promising anything in terms of digital comics subscriptions, but it will be interesting to see if publishers and storefronts like Comics can come up with a solution that provides them some of the benefits like those magazine companies such as Condé Nast are seeing from Newsstand.