Stephen Christy, Director of Development for Archaia Comics, moderated an in-depth discussion of the future of digital distribution for comics, at the first annual Long Beach Comic Con. Populating the panel were various digital comic creators, including: Rantz Hoseley, the editor of "Comic Book Tattoo" and CEO and Founder of LongBox Inc., Joshua Hale Fialkov, the creator of "Tumor," the first digital graphic novel developed for the Amazon Kindle; David Gallaher, creator of "High Moon," a digital webcomic that runs on ZudaComics.com, and "Box 13," an exclusive iPhone comic; and Matt Maxwell, the creator of 'Strangeways,' a webcomic running on CBR's Robot 6.
Christy focused primarily on the theme of reaching out to the larger potential audience for comic books, outside of the comic book stores, through digital distribution. He described the theory behind LongBox Digital as it being a one stop shop for digital comics. He then announced that all of Archaia's titles will be available on Longbox, eventually.
Zeroing in specifically on Archaia's success with the digital comic, "Tumor," Christy said "'Tumor' has been the number one selling comic on the Kindle for eight weeks, beating comics such as 'Star Trek,' popular mangas, 'Indiana Jones,' and other major licensed projects."
Christy said that Archaia is focusing on new ways to get comics out in front of the public, by looking at Kindle, Longbox, "or through other devices, who we are talking to, which we have not announced yet. The biggest goal is to try and find an audience. How do you find an audience in new ways?"
Regarding "Comic Book Tattoo," Hoseley said "It's a best seller by real book industry standards and comic industry standards. However, on the ICV2 numbers, which are the commonly held tracking numbers for sales and stuff, it would not appear anywhere on the top 500. That's largely because, for all the thousands of copies sold, less than 10% of the copies sold went through the direct market shops. We've sold thousands and thousands and thousands of copies through places like Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon, and other direct sales outlets."
Christy spoke about the similar case of "Gunnerkrigg Court." "We have a book called 'Gunnerkrigg Court' that is a webcomic that we have a hardcopy of. We sold 10,000 copies of the first edition, which is a $27.00 hard cover, through the book market. And we've sold like 800 through the direct market. 'Gunnerkrigg Court' is like Harry Potter for girls, and I don't know many 8 year old girls that go into regular comic book shops. When we can get a book like 'Gunnerkrigg' out to those 8 year old girls that should be reading it, and they can walk into any Borders or Barnes & Noble or Amazon or just order it online…that's an amazing thing.
"Those are people that wouldn't be reading comics otherwise. They would never be able to find 'Gunnerkrigg Court' if they had to go between issues of Spider-Man and X-Men to do it. This is a new age, a completely new age. And it's something to be happy about, because the audience is limitless. You can only go up from where you are right now, essentially," explained Christy.
Expanding further on the movement of the independent comics industry away from the comic shop, Hoseley said, "The real question for decades has been 'How do we get people into comic shops?' Technology has made it so that it doesn't have to be a matter of getting people into the comic shop or comics back on the newsstand. We can directly address the potential entertainment audience through digital entertainment consumers, where they are."
As for how to best reach an audience digitally, Hoseley offered some basic rules. "We have to make it incredibly easy and risk free from their perception, i.e. cheap, and you have to make it immediate. We've gotten into an instant gratification culture. You look at a variety of applications, such as Facebook, that's a very clear example that people are willing to invest time in something if it's right there in front of them. Which is why one of the reasons Longbox was designed from day one to be a multi-device platform."
As for which devices LongBox will be targeting, Hoseley was less forthcoming. "We are launching on Mac and PC, and within the year we will be on multiple devices that I cannot announce because we still have not finished the paperwork. But, they are game systems that are very high profile, they are handheld devices that are very high profile, and there is some pretty cool exclusive content that's being done for those."
Hoseley continued, "The thing about the social networking aspect is that it gives us that ability to…laterally link and promote cross-media. So if there is a movie, that you can directly link to the comic, and back. And same with games. If you are on your XBOX 360, there is a downloadable game, and you're reading the comic on there and then you can download the game, or vice versa. It's just right there."
Fialkov spoke about the cost of publishing digitally, using "Tumor" as his example. "It's $30.00 an issue, plus labor, to put a comic on the Kindle. And when you look at publishing and some of the sheer amount of costs that go into getting a single issue out, you're spending thousands of dollars just to print one book," said Fialkov.
When asked if LongBox is going to be working with any new publishers or up and coming creators, Hoseley was frank about what he could and could not discuss.
"I can tell you a couple of exclusive first run things that we are going to do. We are going to be doing an exclusive thing with Archaia, on a handheld device which I thought I would be able to announce by now, but I can't because they are a very large multinational corporation that has lawyers that are bigger than the combined staff of both LongBox and Archaia. But it is a very well known brand that Archaia has," said Hoseley.
"We've got this Fialkov guy, who has this really kick ass book called 'Punks,' that I've been a fan of since day one. The next chapter of 'Punks' is going to be a first run title on LongBox. And our discussions now are, how do we include actual punk songs and stuff into that? And Joshua is like, 'If you want to do any of that, that's fine, I just don't want to have to pay any money for that,'" Hosely said to laughter from the audience and Fialkov.
Fialkov added,"Our goal is, we actually want to give it away for free. Because I really believe in the book, and I have never had anybody read it and not come back and want to buy a t-shirt. People frikken love the thing. It goes back into the whole logic of, if you make good stuff, and you let people actually have a way to read it, you will find success," he said.
Hoseley then returned to the subject of the unannounced big announcement, stating "LongBox has been kind of silent since San Diego [Comic-Con International]. Because we were kind of approached on the first day of San Diego by a very large entertainment company about doing a strategic partnership with them, that would include both money and awesomeness… there have been weeks and weeks of 14, 16 hour days, going through an immense amount of paperwork to do this. We're very excited about it. It seems like everything is going to go through as planned," said Hoseley, again dancing around the identity of the company in question.
As for the effect this deal will have, Hoseley said "That, all of a sudden leaves us with a multinational launch with literally millions of installed users. So we're pretty stoked about it," he said.
Offering what little specific news he could, Hoseley added, "I will say this. The one thing we do have, prior to all the paperwork, is we will run a private press publisher and creator launch beta. That will be in the next couple of weeks, so that people that are not directly involved with LongBox can actually see that, yes, we are ready to launch, as soon as this damn paperwork is done," he said with a grin.