When the book finally closes on the comics industry in late December 2010, the most important word may be "digital." From crackdowns on online piracy across publishers and genres to announcement after announcement of new digital platforms, strategies and sales, the
After DC Comics shuttered its three-year run at a webcomics collective by closing out the Zuda Comics website, fans and industry watchers wondered what might become of the content serializing on the site beyond the few long-running marquee titles set to migrate to the publisher's iPad application, and Graphic.ly CEO Micah Baldwin made an open appeal to shuttered creators to bring their works to his company via deviantArt. However, in what could be perceived as a vote of confidence in the longevity of the Zuda creators and their value to the digital comics market, comiXology CEO David Steinberger recently reached out to CBR News to explain that his company had in fact already started making moves to bring creators from DC's line to his platform even before the Graphic.ly news went public.
"Of course, we have contacts with DC and with the Zuda guys, whether it's Ron [Perazza] or Kwanza [Johnson] or anyone over there and with David Gallaher and Steve Ellis who write and draw our 'Box 13' comic and were the first winners for Zuda," Steinberger explained. "We put out a note through them that if anyone was without a home that we'd be very happy to take them in and give them a place to post their stuff. So far, it looks like we've got a couple that have decided to do it, and we're giving a better deal to them. As a friendly show, since we're connected to DC and Zuda is an important part of their app, we wanted to take some of these other guys who might not have had enough material to make the cut a place to continue their storylines if they want and try to make some money."
For Steinberger, the comics prepared for Zuda represent a specific opportunity for how his company and their increasingly ubiquitous iPad and iPhone applications will move forward as well as a rallying point for where he sees all of digital comics moving in the months and years ahead. Specifically, he explained that "Zuda was a great experiment, and it created a few books I really think are going to last. In that way, I think it was a great success. I don't know the ins and outs of their discontinuing of the site, but I think those guys think this is a great opportunity for the properties that got established and have an audience that cares about them. For me, giving as many opportunities as we can while making a business out of this [is key]."
That basic business investment in Zuda creators capable of continuing their strips on their own combines with recent moves like locking up the indie crossover hit "Scott Pilgrim" series for their app to make comiXology a more diverse marketplace beyond major players like DC and Marvel Comics. "And then you've got books like 'Valentine' by Alex de Campi, which is digital-only at the moment, or 'Box 13' which was digital-only but then was put into print by Red 5 Comics. It's a great time of experimentation, and we're happy to give the Zuda guys in particular, who were already vetted for great content, a place to put their stuff out with us."
In a larger sense, the CEO spoke on how the future ahead for downloadable comics will be one that must be supportive of a wide range of material that can attract new readers to comics. "There's a wealth of reasons why finding comics is a little easier in a digital sense than it is in a print one," he told us, noting that comiXology has always had a hand in promoting lesser-known comics works. "Our background, since we're not really that old as a company, is that the first phase of our company was all about print comics – doing interviews and podcasts and columns, but mostly the pull list stuff. Consequently, when you're starting a new site about comics, it's not like Marvel and DC are going to pay you a lot of notice, so our site was really built by working with small publishers and independent creators. We have a real soft spot for that. Of course, it's awesome to have Marvel and DC, but as we continue to have more resources to bring to bear in digital, we're hoping to create more and more opportunities for creators to get their stuff out.
"For me, the beauty of digital distribution is that you have this infinite shelf space, and suddenly anyone can find different comics that they might like. Superhero comics are going to do great, and they're probably going to grow the market size in terms of more numbers in digital, but we also think there's a huge opportunity for smaller publishers to connect to an audience that's harder to connect to when you're talking about Diamond Distribution and direct sales."
Of course, talking about the general, perceived benefits of an "infinite shelf space" and turning that Wild West of content holding into a market and system that works on its own to promote new comics are different matters entirely, and Steinberger admitted, "One of our big jobs now – and going forward forever, I think – is making it easier for people to discover comics they might like. One way we do that is through having 'Genre' so you can browse by genre on our apps. You can decide 'I want a biography' and look at that, or search for a school drama or zombies or whatever. There's a whole bunch of that. The other way we do it is by having 'People who like this also like X, Y and Z' with each comic to pull people into purchasing.
"A lot of what we're looking into in terms of enhancing the apps is geared towards discovery. Even when we originated the pull list services and retailer services, it was all about being able to quickly discover what was coming out in the comic book store. The retailers that work with us find that people order all sorts of off things that they might never put on a shelf. There are a lot more comics out there than can get tons of attention from the mainstream press or even the comics press, and yet there probably is a big audience worldwide or online that might say, 'I am interested in school dramas.' The superhero genre doesn't have to dominate the inventory that much."
As for the next step in the proliferation of comics made for distribution on digital platforms, it seems that the Zuda talent may be on the front lines of seeing what can be sold where and how much an artist can make off of the options available. "Of course Marvel and DC make great books, so we'll give them a lot of attention," Steinberger concluded. "But as we open up those doors again, this is a really nice opportunity for us to do that for a group that's fairly well established and had already started making material. We know that they're going to have episodes and issues in on time and of a professional quality."