Digital comics distributor iVerse Media is the number-two company in a field that is dominated by its rival comiXology, which has exclusive contracts with many traditional comics publishers. Rather than fight that head-on, iVerse is responding with several moves to expand the market by becoming the new newsstand where readers can discover comics for the first time and by developing ways to make publishing easier for independent creators. The first steps: A new name, a new look and new platforms for their flagship ComicsPlus app.
"I am not content to sell digital comics to the established comics fanbase," iVerse CEO Michael Murphey told CBR News, pointing to the success of "The Avengers" andChristopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies. "People dig these heroes and concepts. Look at what Top Shelf produces -- how many people who love indy films would love that stuff if they could find it? We found comics on the newsstand because that's where we were. These devices, that's where people are, and we have to help them find comics."
To make comics even easier to find, iVerse launched a web store and Android app for ComicsPlus this week, and Murphey said the company will be placing renewed emphasis on helping indy creators publish and promote their work.
"We are focusing on independent creators, indy comics and how not only to spotlight that material but help them to grow," Murphey said. The rebranding and expansion to new platforms are the first steps, with the company planning to make more announcements in the coming month, leading up to Comic-Con International in July.
The rebranding has several components, including changing the name of the app from Comics+ to ComicsPlus. "It makes it easier to write out and easier to find in the App Store," Murphey explained. The app also has a new design and a lighter color scheme. "You look at comics in general right now and they are really dark, a lot of dark colors, very gloomy," Murphey said In the new app, on the other hand, "everything is much brighter, cleaner, happier looking."
The addition of two new platforms -- the web and Android -- is long overdue for ComicsPlus, although several of iVerse's branded apps, including the Archie app, have been available on multiple platforms for some time. The web store was designed in HTML5, so it runs on almost all devices, including the iPad. The web store uses PayPal to process payments while the Android app uses Google's payment system.
Beyond that, Murphey told CBR that iVerse is looking at ways to help creators make comics, fund them and publish them. "One of the things we have done is looked at a lot of the different ways that creators have opportunities, now, to be able to find new ways to make their comics, and the entire process of comics from conception to being able to gather groups, the ways they do it, funding and how they distribute them, doing it in ways that shouldn't be limited by what fits on the paper screen," he said. "And at the same time, it would be really nice if creators had a simple way to get things into the store, the same way that Amazon Kindle allows direct publishing. We have taken a lot of that into consideration, and we will be talking more about it in the future weeks."
ComicsPlus will also feature extras such as videos and background material. "Extra content is a great thing that we are finding more and more indy creators are excited about doing," he said. "One great example is the folks who do 'Tarot' for Broadsword. They have done making-of videos for their books, discussing the creative process and how they are doing what they are doing. It's like a DVD with special features. We also have people who want to do things like scripts and preview pages, pages in pencil -- anything you would find in directors' edition comics. We are the only platform that has video and audio support for material, so we can put that stuff in. If creators want to do something we haven't put in, we can build it in. It doesn't have to just be paperless comics."
Social media tools are also built into the new system. "You will find the sharing features on every page describing a book, every site where you can purchase a book and in the iOS app, at the end of every book," Murphey said. "You can rate the book and share with friends on Facebook or Twitter -- that's fairly simple stuff."
In addition to its signature ComicsPlus app, iVerse also powers a number of popular branded apps, including Archie, Dreamworks and Pocket God. "One of the things you will notice if you look at these apps is that they are not all the same, not just the same app with different colors," Murphey said. "They have different layouts, different backgrounds and a lot of things that let them be their own app. [They aren't] a cookie-cutter version of another app."
The Diamond Digital program will also fit in smoothly with the new system, Murphey said. "The core of that product is the same product we use for everything we do. We tailor it to work with Diamond's payment system rather than PayPal." Although Diamond lost three of its digital development employees last week, Murphey said the team as a whole is still in place, and in fact, iVerse expanded from about 20 employees last year to 31 at present.
"We are looking to accelerate growth in the comic book industry," Murphey said. "We are going to experiment with a lot of stuff in 2012 and see how we can do that, because that is what we are interested in."
This means iVerse will be reaching outside comics circles to advertise and support their offerings. "We will be promoting ourselves online in comics markets, but we will also do that in areas that aren't comics markets, because that's where you find new people," he said. "A lot of the podcasting advertising we are starting to do fairly aggressively we are not necessarily doing on comic book podcasts; we are doing that on podcasts that might be geek-themed or might have geek tendencies but aren't comics material. It might be stand-up comedy or indy film, where comics might be complementary to what is being talked about. We might do ads that focus on indy, Top Shelf stuff and not even focus on superheroes. Really, it's just a matter of taking a look at the target audience and looking at it with respect to people who have digital devices, not just people who like comic books."