In an era where sales of comics in the Direct Market are having trouble finding steady footing while online options seem handier than ever, it's hard for some to not view the two systems of comic sales as being in competition. But with this week's announcement that comiXology is offering up the power for brick and mortar comic shops to sell digital comics through their own websites, David Steinberger is hoping to quell those fears.
The comiXology CEO spoke with CBR in the wake of the news to explain how he views the move as not just an extension of the digital distributor's business model but also as a potentially popular move for comic shop owners. "This gets us back to our roots," Steinberger said, noting that comiXology began as a service for organizing on sale print comic info -- a service they still provide to fans and retailer sites. "You probably saw that we announced how we've partnered with Milton Griepp of ICv2 to help us manage and make better retailer products for the brick and mortar guys. This just another step in creating ways for retailers to make more money, do well and not be afraid of this digital addition to the market. We want them to participate in it. Doing the read.DCComics.com site was a big step for us in terms of being able to create a storefront model."
By filling out an information form on comiXology's website, retailers can start the process of getting a widget that allows them to place a Comics By comiXology storefront on their own site or blog. "This is an opportunity for retailers that have built their own community and fans of their store to sell their own digital comics on the comiXology network and to make money off it. It's pretty simple," he said. "They do this by selling through a comiXology storefront embedded into their own site rather than having to send people to ours.
"I don't think anyone's done anything like this before, though it's close in terms of what Google did for small booksellers when they announced last summer that they'd allow digital sales through just about any small bookseller's site."
However, unlike the regular book world where massive chains are teetering on the brink thanks to many factors -- including online sales -- Steinberger feels comic shops and the digital sales of comics have a different, less competitive connection. "The biggest concern we're addressing on this front -- and not only with this but with the most recent version of the tools we'll be demoing at [retailer organization] ComicsPRO's [February meeting] -- is the fact that forward-looking retailers work really hard to build the community they have in the comic shop and online. One concern for them, even working with us even on the print side with our pull list subscription software, is whether or not we'll draw readers away from their site and towards us. That's something we've been trying to address, and the retailer tools we announced at the last ComicsPRO meeting are now rolling out, which allow retailers to embed our system in their site. They can build their own audience.
"We've done fairly well and have a nicely recognized brand, but it's not like we're Wal-Mart," Steinberger continued, commenting on the idea that digital comics are taking sales from once loyal customers. "Not everybody knows about the availability of digital comics, and I should stress that comic book fans are very loyal to retailers. This gives those retailers an opportunity to hang on to their fan base and also grow into what's going to be a really good business in digital.
"If you look at the ICv2 estimates of the digital market, it's a teeny percentage of the overall market. The idea that it's responsible for any downturn in regular comics, I think, is ridiculous. It's much more responsible for bringing other people into comics through new platforms."
Speaking of estimates, with the recent talk of exactly what kinds of sales numbers the digital market i pulling in and ICv2's gathering of sales charts for the Direct Market, could there be a similar list out for the digital space if comiXology and other companies like iVerse and Graphic.ly are interested? "I think that's going to be very difficult without a lot of publisher agreement," Steinberger said. "We put out a top ten list for our Comics By comiXology App as a promotional thing, and it got blown into this whole huge thing about how independents are ruling digital comic books. And we had said in our post that the list didn't include the branded Apps, so it didn't have the Marvel App, the DC App, the BOOM! App, the Image App -- and of course those are driving plenty of great sales. So to draw any overall conclusions from what we did is misguided at best.
"ICv2 is known for their charting of the Diamond list, and there is no Diamond of digital comics, so to try and wrangle up or get an agreement from every publisher who have non-disclosure agreements with every digital provider to release those numbers is going to be very difficult. In other words, the answer is, no, I don't see that happening any time soon. People like Milton will continue to estimate the market size, but that's as good as it's going to get."
Overall, the CEO said plans for comiXology moving forward are to continue expand the brand in both directions of the market, print and digital. "Although it seemed like it was a quiet year for us last year in terms of our retailer services, they're still a great part of our business. We are committed to continuing to support and make great tools for them. The idea of integrating print and digital sales for those guys is something we're looking forward to. The guys that work with us aren't fearful of digital. They've been interested in trying to take part in it. We just had to get our ducks in a row to make this happen," he said.
"For us, because we've always been this hybrid of retailer support and digital sales, it's a natural place for us to go. I think the customers that already use our services are going to be happy to go forward with us. We are going to do this, and we're lining up support from publishers on this now. I think the ComicsPRO meeting will be the first chance to hear back on what everybody thinks."