ComiXology, the leading digital platform for comic books, announced Friday a new approach to comic book distribution that just might change the way readers access new titles.
Working in conjunction with Amazon.com, comiXology is offering "print-on-demand" comic books and graphic novels, allowing certain titles in its comiXology Originals digital line to be printed and sent direct-to-home via Amazon.
The company is also experimenting with the release of multiple new issues of its comiXology Originals at one time for binge-reading. And it's offering several new creator-owned titles that are free to read for subscribers to Amazon Prime and other book streaming services.
Along with the new approach, the company is launching several creator-owned titles in its comiXology Originals line, including Savage Game by NFL player Ryan Kalil (written by Shawn Kittelson and illustrated by Chris B. Murray), Superfreaks by writers Elsa Charretier and Pierrick Colinet and artist Margaux Saltel, Ask for Mercy from Richard Starkings and artist Abigail Jill Harding, and Elephantmen 2261: The Death of Shorty from Starkings and artists Axel Medellin and Boo Cook.
ComiXology started as a software and pull-list platform for brick-and-mortar retailers in the late-2000s. But with the growth of eBooks soon after (and the launch of Apple's iPad in 2010), comiXology emerged as the leading reading platform and distribution network for digital comic books.
In 2014, comiXology was purchased by Amazon. Now, with this announcement, the company is not only expanding its previously announced comixology Originals line, but it's utilizing its affiliation with Amazon to both reach more readers and offer a different distribution method for print comic books.
The company also teased more comiXology Original titles to be released in the future, announcing a list of creators that included Tyler Crook, Kristian Donaldson, Alti Firmansyah, Sam Humphries, Megan Kearney, Kel McDonald, Hope Nicholson, Mike Norton, MK Reed, Mark Sable, Tim Seeley, C. Spike Trotman, Jen Vaughn, and Magdalene Visaggio.
Newsarama talked to David Steinberger, CEO and co-founder of comiXology, and Chip Mosher, the company's head of content, to find out more about the print-on-demand approach, the new titles that are available to Amazon Prime customers, and what this means for the future of comic books.
Newsarama: David, this feels like another step forward for comiXology, going all-in on creator-owned titles original to comiXology and Amazon Print-On Demand. What do you see as the opportunity here?
David Steinberger: We've done comiXology Originals for more than a year. And the original idea for the program was simply, can we do some work that might not necessarily resonate in the direct market but that we think might be really great in our subscription program and in digital in general?
We'd decided that working directly with creators in addition to publishers is a great avenue for us to be able to also experiment with release cadence, with distribution changes and opportunities, to see and experiment in ways that we might not be able to do directly with publishers. And that's expressed, obviously, in the distribution channels that we're sending these books through.
So it's a great opportunity to be able to give more opportunities to more creators, and test things like... does dropping an entire single-issue series of five issues work as a binge-reading experience? Does offering print-on-demand through Amazon.com work well?
Nrama: Well it is a little different distribution model. ComiXology just ended officially some of its last remaining services for brick-and-mortar stores. Is this experimentation with print-on-demand an acknowledgment that there might be a better way to get comics into people's hands than the current direct market route?
Steinberger: You're talking about the pull-list site. Yes, we retired that, and thankfully, it's been a very quiet experience and all the retailers I've talked to were able to very easily replace the service and were very happy with the amount of notice we gave them and all that.
I guess I'd characterize it this way. We have an opportunity to try out different distribution methods. I don't think I would characterize it as trying to do something because something else isn't working. But it's more about experimenting with different opportunities and methods to see what happens.
Our core belief, always, is that we're out there to make new fans of the form. Digital itself is able to reach very conveniently more potential fans than the direct-market can, just simply from its scale and size and location and all those things. Obviously, digital always has infinite shelf space and all that.
Let's say print-on-demand really works. The quality of it is great, otherwise we wouldn't do it at all. But there are many, many, many books that direct-market retailers will not stock, because they will sell one once in a great moon or they just don't have enough shelf space. That could be a really good opportunity if the quality is there and the price point is right, all those things, for publishers to keep things "in stock." Because it prints on demand, you obviously don't have to print a bunch of those, warehouse them, and incur all those expenses in order to keep something in stock.
For me, I think it was about a year-and-a-half ago, I was in a retail shop that's actually now gone, unfortunately, in Seattle, where somebody said, "There's just way too many good books out there. I can't possibly stock them all."
The steps that we've all taken as an entire industry, and the steps that have been taken toward being able to meet readers with who they are and creators that look like them and all that, the question is, is that where it's going to suffer in terms of diversity? Is there a particular genre that just won't get stocked in the direct market?
We have a real opportunity to experiment, try things out, and try to find audiences that the direct market may not be able to reach or want to reach.
To me, that just creates more fans, which will support the direct market in turn, and will increase the audience for comic books, graphic novels and manga.
So it's all win-win for the entire system for us to be able to experiment.
We really hope and expect a lot of it will work. We're doing it very intentionally, obviously. But we get to take those risks and see, and then work with the publishers who sell with us to give them the knowledge of what's working and what's not working.
Nrama: For a brick-and-mortar retailer, is there any opportunity for them to get the print-on-demand?
Chip Mosher: Right now, we're baby stepping into the print-on-demand. It's available through Amazon.com, so that means it's U.S. only. As we see if it works or not, we'll see about expanding it.
We'd love to eventually get the books into the comic shops and brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Nrama: I think you'll get a lot of attention from the Amazon Prime part of this. I can see new reader interest for comic books. Is there any chance you'd stock these at Amazon retail stores? It would be neat to have spinner racks again.
Steinberger: Yeah, that would be awesome.
Those stores have a pretty specific selection for each market. I think… if they think this would resonate with their readers, I'm sure they would stock them. But we don't have anything to announce or anything like that, for sure.
But to your point about Amazon Prime, I think that's an exciting part of this. If you're a Prime member, you can read these. In terms of our mission of exposing everyone on the planet to comics, graphic novels and manga, this basically says, if you're a Prime member, you can download this. And that's global.
Nrama: Who's acting as editor and publisher on the creator-owned titles being released through comiXology Originals?
Mosher: I'm taking the lead on the program internally at comiXology.
Nrama: How did you go about recruiting these launch titles and different creators who are getting involved in this?
Mosher: It happened very organically. We've been in the comic book industry for more than 10 years now, so we have deep relationships with different aspects, including creators. So for instance, when David and I got the first round of print-on-demand tests, the number one person we wanted to get feedback from was Richard Starkings.
Richard was one of the first people that we worked with at comiXology to get their comics in guided view. I think Elephantmen #1 was the first entry in the master comiXology database of books.
So we had a long history with him. We signed with him when we were signing with independent creators before the publishers signed with us.
So given his history with us, and given that his career spans print and digital. You know, he hand-lettered The Killing Joke and basically created digital lettering.
We really wanted to get his opinion on the print-on-demand. We thought it was amazing. But we sat down and showed it to him.
He looked at the blacks and was amazed that the blacks were true.
He smelled the books. P-O-D has a really bad reputation of being smelly. The books smelled great.
And Richard immediately started pitching us on bringing Elephantmen back for a digital series.
So multiply different conversations like that with these different creators is how we naturally came across the roster that we're revealing.
Nrama: You gave a list of creators involved in upcoming projects. How big and long-term does comiXology have this new initiative mapped out?
Mosher: We have a lot more titles and series coming out. Obviously, we're working with a stellar bunch of creators. We're super excited with the diversity. The guiding principle for us on acquiring content, given that we're making these titles available on Prime, Kindle Unlimited, comiXology Unlimited, is are these great for first-time comics readers?
We really wanted to get a wide swatch of content, and that means getting a wide range of creators from different backgrounds and perspectives. And we're really super happy with where we landed.