DC Comics has launched a new digital comics program, and the company is jumping in with both feet.
Today, the publisher is launching a new, multi-platform digital program that will include much of its back catalog and, surprisingly, one brand new bi-weekly title, Justice League: Generation Lost. DC is also actively working with comics’ retailers to launch an affiliate program that allows physical comic book stores to profit from the sale of digital comics.
"This is the first step in many to come," said John Rood, DC's executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development.
To begin the digital launch, DC is partnering with ComiXology to release a DC Comics app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, while also making its comics available through the Sony PlayStation Network and the Comics by ComiXology app and website. Titles will be priced from $.99 to $2.99 and will include everything from WildStorm, Vertigo and Zuda titles like Fables: Legends in Exile and Bayou to superhero comics like Batman: Hush and Green Lantern: Rebirth.Justice League: Generation Lost will hit digital stores every two weeks at the same time as its print version hits stores, beginning with today's Issue #4. The digital version will be $2.99, the same price as its print version, although the first three already-released issues are $1.99. Several free comics are also available, including today's release of a 10-page preview from Superman #700, which goes on sale in stores today.
"We spent a lot of time coming up with a pretty diverse slate," DC's co-publisher Jim Lee told Newsarama. "If you look at the offerings, it gives you a peek at the sort of thinking we have as we jump into the digital arena, and who we think the digital consumer is going to be. We think that consumer is not going to be one category of early adopters."
ComiXology also powers the Marvel app that was released last month, giving the developer a leading position in the digital comics marketplace, particularly on Apple devices. However, Rood left the door wide open for other platforms and developers.
"We see these as our first partners in what's going to be a long and varied digital strategy," Rood told Newsarama. "We've used this time since starting at DC to see where the consumer interest is and where the greatest consumer interface is. We're awfully proud of our relationship with ComiXology and Sony, and we're proud of our products. There will be more, but we think this is where comics reading is going, digitally, so far. But there will be more."
The "more" Rood mentioned includes a comic book store on DCComics.com, which he said is coming soon. But comics purchased now through the DC Comics and ComiXology apps will be integrated into the new DCComics.com website store, so consumers can read their digital comics on both platforms. "One of the reasons we chose a limited number of partners at the beginning was that we wanted to have convergence between them," Lee said.
This "convergence" is something DC's rival, Marvel, doesn't have between platforms, instead offering a subscription service on Marvel.com that is separate from its other digital comics. Rood didn't miss the chance to point that out.
"Consumers have told us that convergence matters a great deal, and they've told us by their words, and they've told us by what they've chosen not to subscribe to," he said.
The retailer affiliate program that DC is touting with the launch is not yet in place, but David Steinberger of ComiXology said DC is insistent upon its inclusion in their digital program.
"There's going to be an opt-in program to have an affiliate revenue," Steinberger told Newsarama, explaining the retailer program. "We'll be setting up a whole program and website for retailers, but we couldn't work with them until after this launch, because we had to be able to talk about it. The digital comics program had to be launched and out in the open. So now, what we're looking to do with DC is much more robust and open than anything we've done with retailers before. And DC is leading the charge to get this established for retailers."In fact, DC included a quote from Joe Field, president of the retailer organization ComicsPRO in its press release announcing the launch. "We've been working awfully closely with all kinds of retailers, not just in retailer organizations, but important retailer partners that are outside the retailer organizations, to insure that anything we do regarding publishing is seen as additive, that we are taking new consumers and closing the loop and incentivizing them to return to brick and mortar, and that we are doing all we can to make this feel additive," Rood said.
That relationship with retailers may be strained by the plans for Justice League: Generation Lost. While a digital release of DC's older titles has been expected by fans for awhile, it's surprising news that the publisher will release the digital version of Generation Lost concurrent with its print release dates, although at the same price.
"We wanted to have a day-and-date title priced at the same price point as a traditional comic book," Lee said, "to allow the consumers that wanted to start a digital collection to have the same level of excitement as a traditional buyer. But we wanted to price it in a way that wouldn't hurt our traditional marketplace."
Lee said the company considered both the timeliness of Generation Lost and its accessibility when choosing the title for concurrent print and digital release.
"We really wanted to choose a project that had the best chance of surviving as a day-and-date book," Lee said, explaining that the Justice League is a recognizable team to new comics readers. "That title just started, and we expect it to run for 24 issues, so we thought it would be a great candidate for how our day-and-date strategy would work, in terms of finding a new digital consumer and also seeing its positive effect on the brick-and-mortar, traditional comic book marketplace. We really wanted this to be additive."
That term "additive" was mentioned a lot by Lee and Rood to describe the digital program, using Generation Lost as an example of what they're hoping the entire digital program will achieve.
"We see it being additive in the sense that, anytime you put focus on something and put it in front of more eyeballs, the better your marketing is, the better you're promoting it," Lee said. "The fact that Generation Lost has been singled out and been elevated for this should get more fans talking about it, and get new fans talking about it. You can't help but see it's going to drive interest and attention to that title, not only in the digital space. I think you're going to see a bump up in the print side as well."
Rood said preliminary research done by DC and its partners indicates the digital marketplace is reaching a consumer that doesn't necessarily have access to what he called "brick-and-mortar" stores.
"[Research shows] some very exciting things in terms of how global a market it is, how additive it is, that our assumptions are currently true that it's bringing new readers into the fold, and, moreover, how this is directly encouraging consumption of traditional comics at comic book retailers," Rood said. "That part is paying out in the research to date, and that was before the digital publishing world had Batman, Superman and Green Lantern in the mix."
The retailer component of DC's digital launch was emphasized by the two executives because the future of comic book stores is important to the company's future, they said.
"We've been so pleased that we continue to hear, anecdotally, that we listen to the retailer better than any other," Rood said. "So we consider that relationship so very cherished that we're going to make sure that continues and only strengthens as we go into this wonderful new medium."Rood emphasized that the perception that publishers would benefit from going strictly digital and eliminating physical stores is completely unfounded. Although it might seem that profit would increase, the loss of audience loyalty and participation would be detrimental to the future of comic books.
"There is such a vital and exciting experience at brick-and-mortar. If you just had your eyes on the numbers, perhaps you could justify one over the other, but I see it all so very necessary to have these thousands of local gatherings that help DC Entertainment. And that means comics, but that also means DC films, television, interactive entertainment, video games and merchandise," Rood said. "There's no better evangelists for our brand than the retailer and the fellow shoppers at retail. They're always going to be in the mix to help us spread the good word of DC."
Both the Comics by ComiXology app and the DC Comics app have a retailer locator service that pops up at the end of reading a comic. ComiXology, which also offers retailer website services, has long touted its efforts to lead digital consumers toward print comics at stores.
"They've got their own experience to date working with comic retailers," Rood said of ComiXology. "We saw that as a plus, as we try to craft a digital publishing program that is most beneficial to retailers as well."
Lee said he also liked the fact that ComiXology offers different views as customers navigate comic books digitally. "I think it's fairly ideal, and allows people the flexibility of approaching the Internet comic book store the way they want," he said. "My preference is not to do it panel by panel, because I think it goes against the core of what we do as artists, when you design the page. You design the panels to be seen next to one another. So things like that were a consideration in our final determination of which app developer we'd partner up with."
Although Lee has made it no secret that he's an avid iPad user, he said the launch of the iPad was only part of why DC is making its move toward digital now. "We'd made our plans and strategy before the iPad came out, but obviously its commercial success, and probably more importantly, its perception of commercial success, was important to creating the positive reception we needed to create a digital comics channel," Lee said.
"I think it's all really great. I love the fact that it's portable, the screen is very bright and glowing, the colors are very vibrant. I think it's an ideal tool and mechanism for reading digital comics," he said. "And the fact that you can have Wi-Fi or 3G digital service and download them instantaneously, or near instantaneously, will be a boom for the comic book business in general."
There are currently no plans to change the Zuda webcomics site, and the executives wouldn't comment on whether the future of the site is in question, although the first installment of the Zuda webcomic Bayou is among the current offerings on the DC Comics app.DC also confirmed that the publisher has a royalty program in place for the writers, artists and other talent who created the comics sold on their digital stores. Rood said the future of DC's digital strategy will probably be focused on collections, which is one of the publisher's strong points, particularly through its Vertigo line. "We are very eager to work with other technology, and other partners, and certainly more formats that we're great at, including collected editions, original graphic novels, magazines and things beyond the periodical," he said.
Beyond that, Lee said the possibilities for DC's digital presence are endless, and he's excited to see what happens, both as a company representative and as an artist.
"I think that five or 10 years from now, digital comic books are going to be very, very different from what we have today," Lee said, "but I also think you're going to have a whole new generation of creators that are going to fully exploit the abilities of these devices and the software that will be developed, and really unleash the power of what digital comics can be. And I think as a fan, that's just going to be super exciting.
"So hopefully I'll still be out there selling a couple stories here and there," he said with a laugh, "but I think it's going to be a really exciting time for comics."