As far as sales partnerships go, it's fair to say that the deal between DC Comics and online retail giant Amazon received a rockier reception than either side expected. But with the launch of a new Amazon storefront for the publisher's digital and print offerings today, both players are banking on an influx of interest from readers.
Last month, DC announced that it would offer up 100 trade paperbacks and graphic novels as digital downloads exclusively on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet. Their hopes at a forward-looking PR bump were soon dashed as brick and mortar book chain Barnes & Noble publicly protested the exclusivity by pulling the selected titles from the shelves of their stores coast to coast. Since then, industry watchers have been waiting to see whether DC's four-month window with Amazon alone would in turn lead to more partnerships for devices like the B&N NOOK (and to hear DC execs tell it, such a move is very likely). However, with today's launch of a dedicated DC storefront at Amazon.com/DC, the publisher and retailer are looking to make their Kindle Fire debut as big as possible.
CBR News spoke to DC's Senior Vice President of Digital Hank Kanalz about the move for an inside look at what the company hopes to attain from the partnership and its new storefront. Below, he explains why now was the time to expand DC's digital business to trades, how pricing and promotion works differently with Amazon and what moves may lie ahead both for outside partners and the Kindle platform itself.
Hank Kanalz: I think first and foremost, it was the quality of the final product. And once we knew we had the quality nailed down, it was exposure and how wide we could go. Our goals with digital really are to expand our audience. We've found with our periodical digital stuff that it's been very additive to our business. We're not really cannibalizing our traditional base. So we wanted to make sure that if we were going to pursue this in the collected edition and OGN format that we did the same thing. We've got a very thriving collected edition business – both in front list and back list – and we didn't want to jeopardize that. Having gone through the experience of the New 52 in September, that really gave us the confidence and confirmed our long held belief that digital is additive to print, and so we signed on with Amazon both because they've been a terrific partner and because they too believe that digital would be additive to print. If we both believed that, we could go in with eyes open and build the business together.
The going rate for pricing on single issues has been to debut the books at the same price as print and then eventually drop those prices down a bit. How did you determine what the best way to price longer digital works was?
We took a look at the age of the content and the quantity of the pages, and then we looked at the work that would go into converting each one of these books to digital. But one of the differences [between this and the singles] is that when we're working with Amazon, it's not on the agency model. So the digital lists price is set based on a chart that balances what the book's size is and the price of the print book and kind of content, and then we set a digital price. And when it goes to Amazon, they sell it at what they sell it for. It's been very interesting to see where they set these books at with the launch today.
It's interesting too that hand-in-hand with the Kindle Fire offerings, there's now a dedicated DC storefront on Amazon's homepage for print and digital comics. How do you anticipate this to affect the business overall?
Yeah, we do. We certainly hope so, and we're absolutely sure this will affect things in a positive manner. I think that once you get all that information aggregated in one spot, it really becomes one-stop shopping for a collected editions person. It gives them a choice – "Do I want to buy this book instantly and have it shipped, or do I want to download it and read it right away?" I think if the pattern follows what we see for our periodicals, I think a lot of people are going to want to buy both. They're going to want their next collected edition in both formats because there's something tangible about having that physical book, especially with comics. You want to have that book on your shelf to complete your collection, but you also want to read it right now. I think this gives people want, which is always what we want.
Folks with iPads or similar devices running the comiXology-powered DC app have probably grown accustomed to that interface for reading digital comics. The Kindle Fire program for reading digital trades is a bit different in terms of its functionality. What's been your internal response so far to that change or your expected response from consumers?
It's interesting you say that. I had handed the Kindle to someone who had never read a digital comic at all – even on the iPad – and they thought it was terrific because it popped up the panels in the order that they're supposed to read things. They could read it as is on the seven-inch screen, but then when they wanted to zoom in, they just double tap, and there it is. I think that's going to be pretty interesting for people. And I think that people who are used to reading with comiXology's guided viewing technology...well, some of them will love this and some of them won't. It's personal taste. I think if you're used to one thing and the new thing does work the same way, they'll go, "This is weird." But it's along the same lines as when you use an Android operating system versus the Apple iOS. It's just that you're used to what you know. So I think people who discover comics on the Kindle will really love their comics there.
I'm excited about that, and I'm excited about the recommendation function that's build both into the DC store and the Kindle itself. I think we'll see more people reading and accessing this material and then leaving their comments and ratings. I think that's going to change in some interesting ways what your top sellers are. I'm sure you'll always see "Watchmen" on top of that list and some others, but it will be really cool to see what titles get exposure based on the recommendations.
There was a big to do online when DC announced its Kindle Fire deal was announced and Barnes & Noble stores in return pulled the 100 comics offered from store shelves. What kinds of discussions have you guys had about what to do moving forward both in terms of A) expanding out to other devices like the NOOK when this exclusivity deal is up and B) adding more titles beyond this initial 100 to the digital lists?
We're in constant communication to expand onto other devices. There's nothing we can talk about today as we want to keep it to Amazon, obviously. Our goal for today is to have our material available on as many devices as possible. Out backlist is so extensive – we have thousands of books – that we have a lot to and a long road ahead of us, and we want to move forward with as many different partners as possible.
Last up, obviously the Kindle Fire is a book reader first, but it is a very functional tablet and will have a lot of different programs and products within its OS. What kinds of discussions have you had around bringing other products to sell there such as the comiXology monthly serial app?
Let's leave that at "No comment" for now. Right now our focus is the 100 books and the store, but Amazon is a terrific partner, and we're in constant communication with them.
The DC Comics Store is live now at Amazon.com/DC