In comics, plenty of lip service gets paid to the power of creators and cartoonists across nearly every publisher. But since its inception 18 years ago, Image Comics has earned a reputation as arguably the most hands-off player for creators in the world of mainstream comics. With the advent of mobile comics services across devices like Apple's suit of iPods and the iPad, some of the strongest players have been large corporate publishers like DC and Marvel whose parent companies and tight contracts make it easy for them to exploit their stories past and present in this new medium. On the Image side of the equation, creators interested in expanding their reach into new digital markets have been left to their own devices in terms of securing partnerships and profits....until now.
As reported yesterday on Robot 6, Image has partnered with comiXology on a new Image Comics app for Apple mobile products. The age 17+ application currently contains a wide cross-section of some of the publisher's most popular titles including "Chew," "Haunt," "Youngblood," "Jack Staff" and more – 60 different series in all. Of course, a coordinated effort to group so many titless from so many different creators begs the question of how Image and comiXology can make the program work within the business standard set by the company's years of publishing.
"We're constantly thinking about how to work with creators in more innovative ways that make it easier for professional content to get distributed digitally. Image is the master publisher for creator-owned works, and it just makes sense for us to work together to extend their distribution digitally," comiXology CEO David Steinberger told CBR News about the app that will pay its profits back to creators on a book-by-book basis. "We're always trying to find more streamlined ways to get deals done and creator-owned projects onto the app. We love our partnerships with DC and Marvel, but we continue to have a soft spot for the indie creators. The creator-owned hunger, passion and drive is really exciting to be a part of, and I'm excited we've made this breakthrough app for Image so that it's easier than ever for the best creator-owned works to get on our platform."
Image Publisher Eric Stephenson explained some of the specifics of how Image was able to streamline the process of publishing and paying for creator-owned work online. He noted that Image will take a small processing fee off of each comic sold on the app, saying "Yes. It wouldn't make sense for us otherwise. Though, this will work very much like what you call the 'classic Image deal.' As always, the goal is to allow creators to do the kind of comics they want to do, while retaining the rights and the lion's share of the profits."
Stephenson added that "more or less" any book in print at Image will make its way to the app sooner or later. "I would imagine if we're confident enough in something to publish a print version, it will have a digital life as well." In addition, from here on out, the standard contract to publish through Image Central will be one that includes first rights for print and digital as one deal. "There's no option from this point forward. It's part of our standard publishing agreement. Obviously, though, if something has already been produced for the web, that's a slightly different situation, but in terms of wholly original material, print and digital will be bundled together from now on."
As the app is for ages 17 and over, both Steinberger and Stephenson expected little to no issue getting more comics from the Image library approved for sale by Apple, with the Image publisher saying, "There is a process we have to go through with each and every release. There are definitely types of content that are prohibited. Image doesn't do a lot of that type of material, but regardless, everything has to be submitted to Apple first."
And as with comiXology apps of the past, Image's app will have a variety of features outside the sale of titles, including the many free samples already in the library and general comics outreach functions. "Image also recognizes the importance of the retailers, and the Image Comics app will have the retailer finder that we've built into all our apps," said Steinberger. "There's more to come, as well, but nothing we can announce right now. It's a really exciting time for us, and the Image Comics app is the first in many steps we'll be taking to support the indy portion of the industry over the next six months."
The origins of the Image app stretch back to the advent of the iPad as an outlet for comics sales, as Stephenson explained. "It's something we've been considering for a while now. I think our interest intensified a bit once the iPad was released, because let's face it, comics look way cooler on the iPad than they do on a phone. The iPad just seems better suited to our medium -- there's not a lot lost in translation -- and until there are other devices on the market, I think it's going to be the best delivery system for digital comics.
"You know, a number of Image creators were already on comiXology, so we've had a chance to really watch how the app worked and developed over the last year or so. We've been very impressed by what the comiXology team has built and how easy they've been to deal with, so it just made sense to ramp up our commitment to a more structured partnership."
Steinberger added that this latest deal for his company (comiXology has created dedicated applications for four of the top seven comic publishers) is "particularly gratifying for us because it means we'll have more creator-owned work on the app than ever! In the last year (and change), comiXology has had to do individual deals with every single creator – that's a huge undertaking when you think of the amount of great content out there, and how successful and busy we've become.
"Now, Image-connected creators have a direct line to print and digital, without having to go through the business and legal reviews, if they want. It's fantastic."
The Images Comics app is currently live as part of Apple's iTunes sales platform.