Digital Comics Month marches on! IDW Publishing, founded in 1999, is currently the fifth-largest comic book publisher in the nation.
Today, this publisher is home to some of the most exciting licensed comics in the world, including Angel, Doctor Who, G.I. Joe, Star Trek, and Transformers, as well as acclaimed creator-driven titles like Fallen Angel and Locke & Key.
We spoke with Jeff Webber, Director of ePublishing at IDW on the state of comics in the digital age:
TFAW.com: How many titles/issues do you currently have available? What do you project to have at the same time next year?
Jeff Webber: We have over 650 books in distribution across multiple partners and platforms. Today we distribute to Apple iOS, Sony PSP, Nokia, Blackberry, and Kindle, with more platforms coming in 2011.
TFAW.com: How did you choose which comics would go digital first? What was the thought process behind your launch?
JW: Star Trek and Transformers were our first major digital lines, tied to the 2009 movies. Our major digital push is around our bigger licenses. We’ve always wanted to expose our comics line to as broad an audience as possible, so it’s natural to use digital to reach fans of the brands who are non-typical comics readers and grow the market.
TFAW.com: What are the biggest challenges in publishing digital comics?
JW: Technology is always a moving target. We have to make sure that the time and effort involved result in a format that has a reasonable life span. Also, marketing is a challenge. It’s often difficult for people to discover digital comics amidst the wide range of apps and books available.
TFAW.com: How have digital comics been selling for you, compared to traditional comics?
JW: Digital sales are still just a drop in the bucket of our monthly sales. Digital is still a very young medium.
TFAW.com: Have you considered a digital-only option for comics that have lower sales? Do you think this is an opportunity to extend the lives of series that might otherwise be canceled due to financial realities?
JW: We do have plans for original digital-only comics. These will be digital projects from the ground up because they will take advantage of digital formats and distribution, therefore really unrelated to print sales. We have some interesting ideas that you will see in 2011 that will not only be strong digital stories, but will drive print sales due to exposing a huge audience to the brands and comics in general.
TFAW.com: Do you have any plans to soft-launch any titles in digital and publish those titles that do well?
JW: It’s not in our immediate plans at this time.
TFAW.com: Who is buying your digital comics? Is it your usual audience, or do you think you’re reaching a more nontraditional demographic?
JW: We truly feel the bulk of our digital purchases are made by people that are not regularly going to comic shops on Wednesdays. Our best sellers are mostly tied to other media–movies, TV and games. Our EA Comics line does very well with the game tie-in. And our Konami Silent Hill line is extremely popular on PSP. An example is that one of the senior directors from Apple was at our booth during San Diego Comic-Con. She wasn’t a comics fan but went nuts when she saw True Blood. She downloaded the app right there and went home reading the print book on the plane! I’m positive she’s never stepped foot in a comic shop before, but ended up enjoying both the digital and print formats.
The other major digital audience is outside of the US–over 40% of our digital sales are international.
TFAW.com: Currently, customers are still buying standalone issues. Are you planning to offer digital “graphic novels”?
JW: We just started an iPad-only Digital Graphic Novel line. We are offering books from our catalog that include big brands such as the Star Trek Movie Adaptation; books that we’d like to promote more such as Tribes: The Dog Years; critically recognized books like Parker series; and some books that will be digital only, the first being After the Fire.
TFAW.com: Do you currently offer day and date comics? Will you offer more of those in the future?
JW: Only on rare cases, usually if there is a dictate from the licensor. Most of our books are released digitally four weeks or more after print.
TFAW.com: What sort of an impact have you seen on traditional sales?
JW: We’ve really seen no impact–another reason we believe digital and print customers are not the same people. We believe most of our digital customers are not necessarily aware of what “day and date” really even means. Some of our best sellers are books that have been out for years in print and digital customers are just discovering them.
TFAW.com: How did you choose to partner with iVerse? What are the advantages of working with a third party, instead of creating your own store?
JW: We have built our own single issue and graphic novel apps and work with our technology partner iVerse for our storefront apps. IDW’s expertise is in creating great stories, and we prefer working with a partner because their expertise is in the technology.
TFAW.com: Digital comics have broken a lot of the traditional barriers of the direct market–they’re easy to purchase and less expensive than the paper versions. Do you think this will help publishers develop a wider audience?
JW: Yes, definitely.
TFAW.com: What do you think of the piracy issue that comes along with digital distribution?
JW: The good thing about apps and distribution through most of the major hand held and online outlets is that these come with control over file formats and are not easily pirated. We do not distribute PDFs to some of the more generic storefronts.
TFAW.com: If one of your digital comics readers wanted to get the hard copy after they read the digital comic, how do you help them find out where to get a copy?
JW: We include a comic shop locator in all our storefront apps, and link back to our online site also.
TFAW.com: What do you think digital comics will mean for traditional retailers in the upcoming years?
JW: We really feel that digital is about increasing exposure!
TFAW.com: Do you have any retailer incentives or plans to include traditional retailers in your digital comics program?
JW: We have some very interesting plans around this topic for 2011, but I can’t share them yet!
We want to thank Jeff Webber for taking the time to answer all of our questions! You can check out all of our IDW comics and graphic novels here at TFAW.com. Make sure to keep coming back throughout January–we’ll be interviewing other influential publishers and distributors to let you know what they’re offering, and what the future might hold for us all. Next up: Ralph Tedesco of Zenescope talks about whether they’re considering digital-only comics on 1/21.
Have you purchased digital comics? What’s your favorite IDW digital comic? Post your comments below!