One year makes all the difference.
When ComiXology launched its "Comics by ComiXology" iPhone app in July 2009, the company appeared to be one in a crowd of developers. After all, there was more than one way to read a comic on Apple products.
But one year later, and ComiXology is all over the news because of its involvement with Marvel and DC. The two leading publishers have chosen ComiXology as a partner in their digital program, and the company is working with more than 30 other publishers like BOOM! Studios, who also has their own individual App, as well as holding exclusives with more than one creator.
So who is ComiXology? Where did they come from? And what are they up to next?
David Steinberger, CEO of ComiXology, grew up as an avid reader of comic books. He founded the company with another comic book fan, John Roberts, because they saw an opportunity for comics to utilize digital technology.
In 2006, Steinberger entered a business plan competition at NYU, where he was a student and eventually got his MBA. His startup, then called "Iconology," won the top prize, which gave him funding to launch the ComiXology software.
"That's how I got started," he said. "We won a few thousand bucks from the Stern Business School to get going.
"I can tell you, though, that we never, ever expected all of this to happen. In the business plan, we were very careful to say that our vision does not wholly depend on Marvel and/or DC being a part of it. Meaning, we never expected this to happen," he said with a laugh.
"So to be here, feeling like we're just getting our legs under us, feeling like we're just getting started, and yet we've done the thing that nobody thought, or nobody who invested in us or judged us in a competition was led to believe that we could do? It's just surreal," he said.
ComiXology first entered the digital world as an online tool for retailers at retailers.comixology.com. Comic shop owners subscribe to a service that allows customers to view previews and place orders right there on the website.
Because of ComiXology's relationship with retailers through its online service, the company has always been very active in promoting print comics as well as digital. All of its apps have a "BUY IN PRINT" link on each comic, and clicking on this button takes the digital reader to a list of comic shops near their current location.
This existing relationship with retailers has given ComiXology an advantage as it heads into the next stage of digital comics.
"We're in a unique position where we're friends with publishers, and we have a great consumer service, and we sell services to retailers on top of that," Steinberger explained. "And our retailers, when they work with ComiXology, when their customers purchase a digital comic book, our plan is for the retailers to actually make revenue from the sale of that comic.
"I can already coordinate user names with retailers. For example, if you have bought digital from ComiXology and you shop at Isotope, I probably know that," Steinberger explained. "So we can coordinate with retail locations. We've actually been tracking sales since January."
That's not to say the retailer affiliate program that DC announced yesterday will have anything to do with ComiXology's retailing subscribers. "What we're doing for DC is much wider. It won't be tied to paid subscriptions on ComiXology," he said. "All retailers will have the ability to take part in it."
When the "Comics" by ComiXology app launched on the iPhone OS, it already had 20 publishers on board and an exclusive from Robert Kirkman. Because it was among the first to utilize Apple's new in-app purchasing, Comics by ComiXology became the leading multi-publisher app soon after its launch and has held onto that spot ever since.
Within months, other creators had jumped on board, and the company now has more than 30 publishers available on its app. With a kids app being launched this summer, and their website integrating digital comics with their apps, the company has been busy expanding its stronghold.
But ComiXology's commitment to software for Apple devices paid off earlier this year when Apple announced it would release the iPad, which greatly enhanced the digital comics reading experience.
Suddenly, Apple's devices looked like the place to be. And ComiXology was already there.
By the time the iPad hit stores, ComiXology had partnered with Marvel to launch its new app, and soon after, they were able to pick up DC Comics.
"We really didn't think we could pull off DC after we got the Marvel app. We just figured they'd go with someone else because, you know... they're supposedly arch-enemies," Steinberger said. "But that's not how DC saw it."
But more significantly, the addition of DC to the Comics by ComiXology app rounded out the selection in a way that was really needed.
"It was the number one complaint we got," he said. "'Where's DC? Where's DC? Where's DC?' We get emailed that about 25 times a week, in one form or another," he said. "And to be able to pull it off and be the only ones that offer DC on the iPhone OS and the iPad, and to be able to have them on our website and store, and to be making a web store for them is beyond my wildest dreams, really."
After Marvel chose ComiXology as a partner in its iPad program, the user response was so great that the company had to quickly upgrade its server because of the demand. On Tuesday, Steinberger said the company had prepared for the influx of users it expected for Wednesday's launch of the DC app.
"We expanded our server capacity incredibly well," Steinberger said with a laugh.
With yesterday's announcement, ComiXology is definitely in the lead as the iPad/iPod/iPhone market shakes out. But other companies, including the much-anticipated but as-yet-unavailable Longbox Digital, are entering the marketplace, and that doesn't even take into account all the digital comics providers on other devices.
A single channel would certainly streamline purchases and be advantageous for the market. As creator Jonathan Hickman told Newsarama yesterday, "I think it's a mistake, and one that marginalizes an emerging market, not to have a single channel from which to buy."
Whether or not ComiXology ends up being that "single channel" remains to be seen, and Steinberger isn't taking anything for granted.
"I feel like, after Wednesday's announcement, we should be just cracking beers open and taking the weekend off, but that's just not going to happen," Steinberger said. "There are thousands of things we need to be doing next. The retailer affiliate program alone is a huge deal.
"It just makes me feel like we can really do something here," he said. "That's silly, I guess. From the outside, I keep getting told we've done something. But the worldwide market is out there. It's ridiculously big. Marvel and DC haven't made great penetration into the worldwide market. And we have the kids app, and the website tools, and we have so much work to do."
But Steinberger acknowledges ComiXology's accomplishments are worth celebrating, although he prefers to call those accomplishments "feedback."
"This is the best kind of feedback we could ask for, for whether or not we were going in the right direction. I guess that's the biggest thing for me. The question of, did we make the right choices to focus on the print market? And information about comics? And connections to retailers? And retailer tools? Was that really the right base for moving into digital comic books and binding all of this together?
"I feel like Marvel and DC have said 'yes,'" he said. "And it's the best confirmation that we're going in the right direction, that we're making the right decisions. It's crazy to step back and realize where we are, but it makes me very excited to see what is next, and what we can be doing to make all of this better in the next step."More on DC Digital: