C2E2 2011: comiXology and the State of the Comicsphere

ComiXology Offer Mobile Comics App

New advances in technology like the iPad and high-speed wireless networks have pushed digital comics faster and further then they have ever gone before. At the 2011 C2E2 in Chicago a panel hosted by a leader in digital comic destitution, the CEO of comiXology David Steinberger, focused on the fate of both direct market and digital comics sales. With Steinberger was Milton Griepp of ICv2.com, Patrick Brower the Co-owner of Challenger’s Comics + Conversation in Chicago and comics writer David Gallaher (High Moon, Box 13).

Steinberger started with a little information about comiXology, their retailer services, and new authoring tools before asking the panel about changing trends in comics’ sales over 2010 and through the current year. Griepp called 2010 a down year, based on a 10% decrease in printed issue distribution from Diamond to the retailers of comics. Griepp ascribed this drop not to the recent hubbub about the individual price of comics, but on the content of the comics themselves. He claims that both the Disney takeover of Marvel and the righting of Warner Bros. control over DC has lead to creators and editors being worried about their jobs over the content of their product, hurting its quality and effecting sales. Brower claims that while sales of comics from the Big 2 slid, the increase in sales for small press and independent comics filled the void and, at least in his shop, sales increased though the number of different comics being sold, rather than more of the same few comics selling. He went on to agree that any price change didn’t have an effect on sales independent of other factors.

On the topic of the individual thing that has the biggest long-term impact on comic sales in 2010, Gallaher immediately offered the iPad, and the access to digital comics it offers. Griepp concurred and added that the association that certain non-superhero comics had with other major media projects, such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Walking Dead boosted sales. Steinberger asked if Marvel should have done more with their 2010 movies. Gallaher noted that the movies Iron Man 2 and Jonah Hex didn’t drive any sales for those books, and Griepp reasoned that it was because the movie’s storylines where completely original, there wasn’t an exact book that told the story of and behind the movie. Finally Patrick Brower concurred, commenting that people didn’t coming into the story for the more famous books based on the movies like that had with Watchmen and Road to Perdition.

Steinberger asked for the low point of 2010, and Griepp said it was the continuing decline of Manga sales caused by the closeting of bookstores in malls and the shift in programming on Cartoon Network away from anime. Brower said the closing of thousands of comic retailers, and Gallaher named the still present reluctance of publishers and creators to embrace the digital format. Steinberger counted that last point with the argument that digital comics are still expensive to produce and takes a unique set of skills.

Looking to the future, Steinberger is dismayed at the closing of the Borders book store chain, Griepp adding that that’s a lot of places to buy graphic novels that are just now no longer there anymore. Brower said that not having easy access to graphic novels are going to cause casual fans to just quit buying them entirely, even avoiding buying them online as Steinberger offered as a solution. Gallaher wants to see in the future both stores and digital retailers capture those casual fans and make them into loyal fans. Something that Brower says won’t happen until both kinds of stores change to sell the products that customers want, noting that he abounded comic based t-shirt sales in his shop, as the quantity of sizes nodded made the effort futile.

In 2011 there will be five major comic book movies that Milton Griepp says will keep comics exposed, Gallaher adds the Wonder Woman television show and season two of The Walking Dead, and that the mobile platforms need to be used to reach more people, it can also reduce household clutter if fans could replace physical copies with digital ones. He would also like to see some kind of digital lending program developed that will allow sharing in a similar manner as letting a friend borrow a physical comic.

Steinberger announced that the comiXology “Comics for Kids” app is at Apple for approval and then opened the floor to questions.

The first regarded an app for 17+ or R-rated comics, and Steinberger said that everything short of “hardcore” material is getting though the approval process now, with only blatant or possibly litigious material being blocked.

A comics fan asked about the turnover delay for digital comics, and Steinberger said that some are delivered the same day online as in stores, the timing is largely up to the publishers who need to balance digital timing with direct market pre-orders.

On the prospect of digital comics on eReaders like the Nook Color, Steinberger reported that grayscale manga has worked out well so far, but there is an issue with file size and bandwidth usage on the high resolution images used in comics, but something will eventually be worked out.

On the topic of a permanent 99 cent price point, Steinberger and Griepp went back and forth on how direct market retailers would react, positively or negatively to be beaten out on price by at least two dollars on every comic and the fact that at 99 cents, you could never do a sale. Gallaher added that a lot of first issues are out there now for 99 cents, like High Moon, though the first issue of that book is even cheaper- free. Griepp finished by stating that they are all really competing with copied comics, the price has to stay low enough to keep from encouraging people to turn to piracy.

On 3-D comics, Steinberger stated that the technology is not quite there, and would be at this point prohibitively expensive. comiXology at least will focus on improving the reading process.

Finally on comiXology’s possible plans to support Free Comic Book Day, the panel all agreed that it’s not that day that needs help, it’s getting the people to come to FCBD to come back the next week and buy some comics.

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