ComiXology CEO David Steinberger was a busy man, demonstrating the company's new family-friendly app, called Comics 4 Kids, on the convention floor of the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo on Friday. The app is set to launch in late April on the iPhone and iPad with over 50 titles, including Archie comics and "SpongeBob SquarePants."
Like the company's existing Comics app, the Comics 4 Kids app allows the user to browse through different titles, read samples and then purchase them through the iTunes store. "It will have some free content, and most of the comics will be 99 cents," Steinberger told CBR News. Graphic novels will be available as single chapters or bundled at a discount. The app will also feature a simplified interface so that kids can navigate it easily.
On of the launch titles, featuring SpongeBob Squarepants, will only be available for a limited time, and only on the Comics 4 Kids app. Once it is downloaded, however, the reader can keep it indefinitely. The Archie comics will be a permanent fixture on both Comics and Comics 4 Kids.
ComiXology's Comics app is rated for readers 17 and up, and comiXology also powers Marvel's comics app, which is rated for readers 12 and up. This leads to some inconsistencies, which Steinberger addressed.
"We released 'Kick-Ass' yesterday, and that's not going to end up on the Marvel app because that's a 17 and over comic," Steinberger said. "That's why it's important to do a kids app: Because Nickelodeon doesn't want 'SpongeBob' next to 'The Walking Dead.' Can you blame them?"
ComiXology's Comics app does include children's comics, but because the app is rated 17 and over, kids can't download it themselves and it won't download onto devices that have parental protections set for younger ages.
And while Archie Comics has its own app, putting their books onto comiXology's app as well extends the publisher's digital reach. "We have been in the top 20 book apps, mostly the top 10, for nine months, and nobody else has even hung out in the top 100 for all that time," Steinberger explained. "We have a much larger audience, but I think we have a much more casual audience. It's a free app, it's called Comics, people want to check it out."
"People went with iVerse, or they went with Panelfly, or they went with us, and I think there's some discrete audience. The hardcore comic book guys, they are getting all these apps because not all the same properties are available, but [for] the more casual consumer who is interested in the licensed material or the old Archies to give their kids, I think it is a real good opportunity for these publishers to expand."
Comics 4 Kids offers parents an additional benefit, as well, allowing their kids to explore comics without worrying about inappropriate content. "There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about education, learning and comics, and we think it's appropriate to try to do something in there and make it so that parents feel good about just handing [the iPod, iPhone or iPad] over to kids and not having to vet every single thing," Steinberger said.
ComiXology also hopes to serve retail stores that sell printed comics, and Steinberger feels there is room to grow in both the digital channel and the direct market.
"Of course, we do retailer services, so this has been a really interesting kind of wire walk. We believe the market can expand in both directions. It's like not enough people know about comics, or have access to a comic book store, or feel invited into a comic book store, and to introduce people to these licenses and non-superhero books and superhero books through digital and get them into the culture of comics through a store - we feel that's a huge opportunity. Every time someone looks up 'comics,' [in the iTunes store] they will come up with us because that's the name of the app."
CBR's Kiel Phegley contributed to this report.