Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Digital Comics

An addendum to the last post, really, although it's near as long. People talk about digital comics (as in comics that you can download to your viewing device of choice) as something that will save comics. And I think those people are probably right. But we're not there yet.

Digital comics are tricky, because right now you have to serve two masters. Actually, you don't HAVE to, but if you're doing a book you want retailers to pick up you probably should. The thing there is that if you drop the price down low on the digital versions, you risk annoying the retailers, which is something to consider.

The other problem is that on digital comics, if you're going through the traditional digital outlets, is that you are only going to see probably 30% of the cover price, and maybe not even that. So at a buck an issue, say you get 30 cents. If you sold 30,000 copies digitally, you'd be doing okay. But you probably won't sell that many, at least not yet.

Digital comics have a lot of potential, because I think they represent an opportunity to grow the audience beyond what you're going to find in comic shops. It's rant for another time, but I think (and I realize I'm by no means the only one) that comics' biggest problem is that we've become a direct market only thing. If that were the case when I was young, I wouldn't be a comic fan now.

The other great aspect of digital comics, though, is that they allow comics to become more than just produce. Most modern publishing is built around what author Kirstine Katherine Rusch calls the produce model - the business is built around having new product that only lasts a few weeks and constantly needs to be replaced.

This is a little less true of comics than books, because back issue bins are fairly common, but the basic idea is the same. Unless you're actively looking for back issues of a certain thing, you're highly unlikely to just come across them. One of the reasons trades are popular is because they extended the functional life of a book, although they are also somewhat subject to the produce model.

Digital comics (digital anything) allow you infinite shelf space, which means that each of the individual bits you put out have an indefinite lifespan, since there's no out of print or out of stock. So your comic can, hypothetically, sell forever. Print book publishers are just starting to really exploit this, and some authors have discovered it, but comics hasn't really embraced it, although we're getting there.

So digital comics have a huge potential for both discoverability and permanence, but right now it's mostly just a drop in the bucket compared to direct market sales. Unless you're APE comics who can sell 1500 hard copies of a book and 150,000 digital copies.

*This model doesn't apply to the big authors and classic books as much, but it is true for most books, which have about six weeks to sell or be remaindered.


  1. This post certainly reflects what I'm also finding with my creator-owned digital sales.

    One area that I think is interesting to pursue is to take advantage of some of the special features digital can provide.

    Sure, $3.99 is a tough pill to swallow for a digital copy, which is usually not as good as the print version. (Limited backmatter, etc.)

    But how about a digital version that takes advantage of the platform? Embedded "creators commentary tracks"? Annotated script? Extended sketchbook pages?

    All of these things are basically free to reproduce digitally, and can be packaged with some of the digital platforms.

    Would people pay for these features? Who knows? But definitely worth a shot.

  2. "But how about a digital version that takes advantage of the platform? Embedded "creators commentary tracks"? Annotated script? Extended sketchbook pages? "

    Actually, I'm trying to do exactly that with Luther Strode. The day and date books don't have it, but I'm trying to work something out that after the book finishes, we'll bring out a special digital edition that basically walks the reader completely through production - they can see the scripts, the thumbs, the pencils and inks, all the way to the finished thing. And have commentary from all of us for the finished book.

    Still waiting to see whether I can make it happen, though. We wouldn't be competing with retailers, it would extend the life of the book, give people a look at how the comic is made, and promote the sequel.

    Which is like win, win, win, win in my book.