With this week's full release of DC Comics' New 52 day-and-date digital initiatives drawing debate over the ability of the comics market to keep up with 21st century technology and the veracity of sales claims, it may be easy for some readers to forget that another long-standing member of the comics publishing game has been pushing their whole line on the digital front for a long while: Archie Comics.
Last April, the publisher took its core monthly titles -- including "Archie," "Veronica" and the "Life With Archie" magazine -- day-and-date through its iVerse powered App for phones and iPads, and since then the company has expanded its partnerships and offerings to include monthly comics on comiXology, Graphicly and through incoming eBook and web-based initiatives. Furthermore, the company took "Jinx" -- its "Life With Archie" teenage update of classic kids property "Lil' Jinx" -- online as a digital exclusive serial. With the question of digital comics occupying so much of the comics discussion, CBR News spoke with Archie representatives on both the business and creative end of their moves to take stock of how such a wide-range of initiatives has impacted the publisher over the year.
"I think whenever you enter into a new venture, it's always the great unknown, but that doesn't mean you don't go into it full bore if you have confidence in what your product is," Archie CEO Jon Goldwater told CBR News. "We have so much confidence in our product at Archie whether it be the Archie titles themselves or any of our licensed titles or whatever it may be that we embrace all our partnerships in the digital arena and feel we'll be successful. If it doesn't work, we can reevaluate. But there's no hesitancy. We jump right in."
Goldwater spoke to a successful launch, saying that the Archie Comics App has seen millions of downloads and brisk sales, though when asked whether the actual sales levels rivaled the publisher's traditional print business, he admitted that, to date, digital hasn't come close to touching print. "I think of this as a revenue stream on its own right now. Is it a significant revenue stream? No. But it is significant enough to be a fully fledged revenue stream. From our perspective, our goal is to increase the revenue stream and that revenue flow through all our partners, whether it be iVerse, Random House with their soon to launch digital initiative or what have you. So even though right now the revenues are only a small portion of what our annual revenues are -- and it actually pales in comparison to the revenue we generate from print -- it still is significant enough to stand alone, and we anticipate incredible growth from it in the future."
Part of that growth will come through the offering of digital exclusives. Under the pen of writer J. Torres and artist Rick Burchett, "Jinx" has been one of the few regular projects in comics meant to draw both the longtime fan and new readers to a digital platform. Torres explained to CBR that his work on the strip has coincided with his own growth as a digital comics reader. "It was around the time I just got an iPad, and I was really starting to get into reading comics digitally," the writer said. "Even before that, I was reading comics online, and probably the only subscription I've ever applied to online was for the Archie Digital web browser version. I was really getting into reading stuff on the Archie site and the Marvel site and, of course, all the various webcomics -- and it made me think of doing a web comic. I've talked to artists and have had stops and starts, but then Archie came along and said they wanted to do 'Jinx' as a digital exclusive, and I said, 'I'm there.'
"They've got a built-in audience. I couldn't tell you what percentage of their readership was in terms of print only versus kids who might be reading their comics online, but more and more, I'm hearing about and experiencing myself the fact that with a three-and-a-half-year-old at home, he's constantly commandeering my iPad. I can only imagine what it's like in a house with teenagers. Given my experience, I'd imagine there are a lot of kids out there reading comics in digital where it's easier to find and more people can find them readily. And hopefully they're people who wouldn't be able to find a comic at a comic shop or book store. It's almost exponential in its potential."
Of course, the majority of Torres' job on "Jinx" has little to do with the format of the final product, even in his own eyes. "To be honest, I try not to think too much about how it'll be presented digitally, and I just try to think of it as a comic page," he said. "It's paced the way I've paced it if I would have done it as print only, although in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about how people will swipe across the page. But you still think about page turns and splashes and surprises in the same way."
The strip tells the story of the titular teen heroine -- a sports-crazy kid who attempts to break the gender barrier at her high school's football program during the first semester of her Freshman year. "When I was first approached, I went back and reread a lot of the old 'Lil Jinx' strips," Torres recalled. "Two things stood out in my mind: they were very sporty kids who were always going out to play baseball or go fishing or some other sports activity, and a lot of the humor came from kind of put down humor with the kids cutting each other up and Jinx and her dad having arguments. So when I started plotting the story, it made sense that if she was sporty as a little girl she'd probably want to continue with that in high school. And being from Canada, I did a bit of research on American high school to get the grades right and sports programs. And with that, I got the idea for Jinx to try out for a sport that was for boys only at her school.
"I'd like to tell the story of her entire high school career, with a miniseries here or there for the summer or Christmas break. I'd love to tell the story from Freshman year to graduation, but it remains to be seen how well the book does. So far, the feedback from Archie editorial and marketing has been positive and encouraging."
Goldwater said that while more plans for original content are in the works, the main goal for Archie is finding better ways to place its digital products in the hands of readers. "Our next big endeavor is figuring out how to spread the word that our app is there and available. Quite frankly, we're amazed at the number of people who have already found our app and at the number of downloads that people get each month of our books. I'd assume that's word of mouth, but it's way too many to be just comic book fans. We're talking in the millions, so it can't just be pure comic book fans or Archie fans. So word is getting out there, but as far as a unique marketing plan to reach fans digitally, that's something we're talking about internally, right now."
Though the CEO said that regardless of the marketing plan, more new stories for their Apps will continue apace. "We're going to do exclusives for everyone. Previously, before we did 'Jinx,' we did the Archie characters in Halloween exclusives and Christmas stories, so we have done digital-exclusive books with our classic characters, and those have done extremely well. The Jinx model is the first time we're stepping out of the 'Archie box' so to speak. I'm curious to see how it does, but we've got tons of digital exclusives planned going forward. The Jinx model is really exciting for us. We love the story and the art and that world. She's a second-tier character to the public, but she's a very important character to Archie Comics."
Torres noted that the plan for his strip also involves expanding all of Archie's material across multiple platforms. "It's not just about making a grab for the digital market. They're also interested in reaching out to the book audience and the YA novel audience and educators and librarians. Digital comics are a means to that end, but all of it is with an eye towards reaching a broader audience."
Ultimately, Goldwater told CBR his top priority both in digital and print is bringing a more modern sensibility to Archie's products in order to expand their reach, part of which is a diversification of offerings. "If you look at the Archie App, we've got Double Digest for sale and graphic novels for sale. My marching orders here at Archie are to get way more graphic novels up as soon as possible, and way more Double Digests up as soon as possible," he said. "Our sales on graphic novels digitally are incredibly strong. I'm thrilled by them. We want to launch a fully-fledged digital bookstore that I like to call the Archie Super Store. It's got everything from the classics to our current books to our digests to our graphic novels. Ultimately, 70 years of content will be up there. It's a massive undertaking, but that is our goal. We are slowly but surely making headway on that as well. And we're also about to relaunch our own digital subscription service at ArchieDigital.com. You can subscribe either on a monthly or annual basis, and you'll see a lot of our classics there.
"I want everyone to embrace the 'Life With Archie' magazine, and we have that where you can buy the full magazine or the individual stories. Then, of course, there's the Kevin Keller material, which I hope everyone embraces, as well as our traditional Archie books and the Sonic books. We've got a lot on the plate that we want people to enjoy."