Archie Comics is leading the charge toward digital by making all the publisher's comics available on the same day as print — and with a lower price than their paper comics.
"We want to be the leader in embracing the new digital format of comic books. We want to jump ahead of Marvel and DC," said Archie CEO Jon Goldwater. "We're going to lead the way with new technology going forward, to make our products as accessible and available as we possibly can."The new digital policy begins April 1st on the publisher's iOS app and includes titles like Archie, Betty & Veronica, Jughead, Archie and Friends and June's launch of the Kevin Keller mini-series about Archie's first gay character. All digital titles will be $1.99 each, which is a dollar cheaper than the $2.99 price on Archie's print comics.
Other comic book publishers, including Marvel and DC, have released what the industry calls "day-and-date" titles before [editor's note: Newsarama will henceforth refer to "day-and-date" by the more succinct and self-explanatory "same day".] But the digital price is usually kept at the same price level as its print counterpart, presumably to discourage one format being more attractive than another.
But Goldwater said Archie approaches the digital and print markets as separate audiences. "The way we look at it is that, in general, the print customer and the digital customer are two separate customers," he explained. "As you know, comic books are not easily accessible everywhere. Not everyone is near a comic book shop, or near a place where they can get our comic books. And digital makes our books easily accessible and available on a global level. So to make our comics available digitally makes our books more available to a general Archie fan. But the Archie fan who wants our books in print are still going to find a way to get them."
"The bottom line for us is print is still the core of our business," Goldwater said. "But going forward, digital is going to be a very important player in everything we do from the publishing side."
Because Archie Comics are marketed as appropriate for "all ages," Goldwater said the digital market also opens the door to audiences that might not fit the demographic of traditional comic book stores. However, he believes the Archie digital audience is all ages.
"The good thing about us having a very recognizable brand is that it separates us from all the other traffic. Our app has Archie's face, Betty and Veronica's face on it. It's the Archie store. They know what they're getting. They're getting certainty, and it appeals to both the young reader and our older fan as well," he said. "We've been here 70 years, so we have fans from every demographic. And I think our books appeal to every demographic on all the "pads" and the "phones" and all the digital formats that are available."
And according to the CEO, the lower digital price of the company's comics is not just about cost. "It really reflects the fact that you don't leave with the book in hand," he said. "It's not a stand-alone product. Even though the book itself is created as a stand-alone product, and you're carrying it around on the device, when you have the comic book in hand, it's a different sort of experience. So we recognize the fact that, digitally, it's going to be a little less money."
Goldwater admitted that digital delivery has a lower overall cost than print, but said that doesn't mean publishers prefer one distribution method to another. "It's apples and oranges. First of all, even though it has a different cost, you have a different price expectation from the customer, because, like we talked about, it's not a physical book they own," he said. "And while it's true that if you release something digital only, you're not paying for a printing (which is very, very expensive), there are other fees to pay that you don't have to pay when you release a print book. So it's apples to oranges."Archie has been garnering mainstream media attention the last few years for its introduction of both a gay character and interracial relationship to Archie comics, as well as several stories that poke fun at social phenomena like Twilight and Sarah Palin. The publisher also recently launched a magazine-sized Life with Archie magazine to reach new markets with the Archie characters.
Goldwater also pointed out that Archie was already the first major publisher to have its own "app" on iPod Touch and iPhone (via iVerse). And once the iPad version of that app was released, downloads of the Archie app reached more than 2 million in 2010.
Of course, downloads don't mean sales, but Goldwater said it still means money. And although Newsarama recently reported that the digital market represents a tiny share of the overall comic book market, Goldwater expects that to grow exponentially.
"Overall, it's still small, but it's growing," he said. "Today's announcement of Verizon selling the iPhone is just going to open up our app to more readers through the app we have for sale on the Apple iTunes store. It means millions and millions of more customers. So in the big picture for Archie Comics, it's still small, but it is absolutely on the uptick. We expect digital to grow tremendously in the next 12 to 24 to 36 months.
"Frankly, for us, we look at it as a revenue stream," Goldwater said. "Certainly, it's an outreach tool. But it's absolutely a revenue stream for Archie Comics. Everything we do has to, in some shape or form, impact our bottom line."