IDW: Digital Comics and The Future

IDW Publishing are a forward thinking company as well as being one of the first to release digital so soon after print, they are also leading the charge into moving towards more platforms to distribute their comics.

Hot on the heels of IDW CEO Ted Adams appearing at the ICv2 conference I had a chance to share some correspondence with Jeff Webber – who is the director of ePublishing for IDW:

As one of the first major comic publishers to launch digital initiatives, IDW Publishing is in a unique position to participate in the evolution of today’s digital comics. Following is a big picture view of our digital business.

The landscape

Four key roles are emerging:
1. Publisher – where it all begins. This could be IDW Publishing, DC, Marvel or an independent creator. These are the people that invest in a creative product that people want.
2. Technology partner – the apps, servers, databases and development tools. Companies like iVerse, Graphic.ly or Comixology make a constant effort to bring out new features and take advantage of new functionality offered by the distributors.
3. Retailer – marketing and consumer sales. These are the storefront apps, the Apple App Store or Sony PlayStation Store, and even efforts like print ads for digital products. In a very crowded digital landscape, helping consumers find the product is critical.
4. Distributor – the connection to the end customer. Apple, Sony, Nokia or Amazon all are pipelines to the customer — the combination of device and services to get digital comics.

Those four roles may be independent or intertwined depending on the platform. For example, a publisher may work with a technology partner that is also the retailer — you see this with Apple where iVerse or Comixology also runs a storefront. In Sony’s case, they are the technology, retailer and distributor combined. On the Web the retailer may have a more direct connection.

It’s also up to the publisher to decide how big a part they want in the entire ecological system. You especially see a range of choices on Apple iOS platforms (iPad, iPhone and iPod touch). In the early days of the App Store a comic application was a fairly simple and inexpensive software project. Now we have in-app purchases, subscriptions, community features, etc. that make app software development much more complex. Add in the constant updates and new features that Apple brings, and it’s a major investment. So almost all publishers at this point have opted to work with technology partners. For the most part, those partners are also the retailers, as with iVerse’s Comics Plus, Graphic.ly or Comixology’s Comics.

Just from this statement here, we can see that IDW are looking across the board as far as digital publishing is concerned. The addition of in-app purchasing has increased the scope for companies such as iVerse, Comixology and Graphic.Ly to distrubute a wider range of comics.

IDW has taken a very strategic role in digital publishing. We were very early in forming a digital team, the first major publisher to bring comics to the Apple iOS, the first publisher with our own comics storefront apps, and the first subscription comic app – True Blood Comics. We have elected to be much more involved in the end-to-end business. Many comics publishers are treating digital as simply another distribution point, turning over all technology and retailing to an outside partner. iVerse is IDW’s technology partner on Apple and we work very closely with them on features and functionality and we offer our books in their Comics Plus app.However, IDW is it’s own retailer for four major storefronts — IDW Comics, Transformers Comics, Star Trek Comics and G. I. Joe Comics — as well as over 100 single issue or graphic novel apps.

This level of effort has allowed us to forge a relationship with Apple. IDW meets regularly with Apple partner managers and helped bring comics to the forefront on the App Store with the popular Comics category that went up in July for San Diego Comic-Con.

IDW seem to be making a more pro-active approach to digital distribution – by not only working with Apple and distribution partners like iVerse (Comics+) they can spread the amount of people who are able to read their comics. Brands such as True Blood, Transformers and Star Trek also help raise their company profile.

As much as Apple iOS devices are central to comics digital publishing, many other distribution outlets are coming online rapidly. IDW is working with them to bring our catalog to all digital customers.

Sony has emerged as a top-tier comics outlet with it’s PSP Comics offering. Sony developed a complete solution and put “Comics” at the top of the PlayStation Store. IDW partnered very early with Sony and helped test and define the software, and we work closely with Sony to help market our brands. IDW has even worked to bring other high profile creators to the PSP — most notably Jeff Smith’s Bone and RASL (http://psp.us.playstationcomics.com/main.html)! It’s been very interesting to see that indy comics have performed remarkably well on the PSP, where typically the big brands are tops on Apple devices.

PSP Comics have been something of a revelation. I have seen a lot more about them than I would have thought and they seemed to have added a previously unseen dimension to the hand-held device  which was unthought of.

Nokia is jumping into comics too. They specifically reached out to IDW to help bring comics to the OVI store. It’s been an amazing partnership — Nokia has developed custom comics software and special marketing efforts. Nokia is by far the largest mobile phone company in the world and it’s exciting to see a company of this scale getting behind digital comics.

IDW is delving into many other partnerships and platforms, with product now live or coming very soon. This includes the Graphic.ly, Android, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, OverDrive and more.

The thought of Nokia being able to add IDW comics is also a new step. IDW were the first to offer their comics onto Blackberry and now are working with one of the largest phone companies! The more accessible their comics are, they more can read them – its a simple plan, but one that looks to work well. The moves toward Kindle, Android and other platforms will also ensure that IDW can be a true worldwide player!

IDW’s content mix makes a very strong offering. All of these new outlets are introducing comics to a very broad audience that may never have visited comic shops. Fans of series such as Star Trek, Transformers and True Blood are discovering comics. These are brands that companies Apple, Sony or Nokia are happy to promote, or as with True Blood, place the comic app in the same screen as the TV series.

Our digital catalog is very large — we presently have produced over 600 digital books, which amounts to over 2500 individual items across all distribution outlets. Until the recent growth of the DC and Marvel digital lines, no other comics publishers came close. And while DC and Marvel are the heavyweights in digital as well as print, the digital market does not seem to be a skewed. The two big brands are not selling more issues by nearly the same factor as in print. We’ve seen days where a single issue of True Blood outperformed the both entire Marvel or DC apps. There’s probably a good case to be made that Transformers is the biggest single digital comics character franchise over any other by any publisher.

IDW really wants to offer the collections most important to you. For instance, if you are a True Blood fan, you can download True Blood Comics (http://itunes.com/apps/idwpublishing/truebloodcomics) and subscribe to the whole initial 6 issues series on the iPad and iPhone, or you can get them straight from your PSP. Or if you are a Transformers fan, check out all the platforms here (http://www.idwpublishing.com/digitalcomics/transformers/).

The addition of separate apps for separate brands is a new one. I can’t see and X-Men app or a Batman app being produced, so to cater to the fans of these shows and movies is a novel approach which can work across platforms. I really like the subscription service available – it was something I was unaware of, but is an excellent use of the apps for fans of the comics.

Where IDW have the added advantage is that fans are attracted by the ‘known’ names of True Blood, Star Trek and Transformers, but can then follow up – with many different Transformers titles for example or new titles such as Kill Shakespeare or Yours Truly Jack the Ripper

Finally, we are finding that print sales results often correlate to a strong digital presence. Our print sales have kept going up along with strong digital sales. In addition, we tend to see an average of 40% of all our digital sales from outside the US.

These are the sort of stats I like to see! I’m glad to see that the print medium hasn’t suffered as a result of digital distribution. I’m not a print hater and I do get print works too (when I can) In fact there are titles I own in both mediums! The rise in both sales is also very interesting – perhaps the rise in the digital presence for IDW is adding to their brand recognition in the local comic shops.

The sales from outside the US is also a good indicator – sadly only the ‘big two’ seem to get prominence in the UK, so it can be hard to find non Marvel or DC comics in shops – especially when comic shops can be few and far between. The fact that IDW have such strong brands as an incentive available for digital readers helps to increase their market share. Try searching the app store for Transformers, Star Trek or True Blood – if you are a fan of those, then IDW is at the top!

Hopefully I will have some more news after IDW appear at the New York Comic Con – as Jeff said – The landscape is changing daily. These are exciting times!

IDW have been very forward with their plans as far as digital comics are concerned and thing are looking good in the future for them.


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