DC Breaks Another Digital Barrier in BATMAN BEYOND UNLIMITED

DC Breaks Another Digital Barrier

Releasing a comic on digital before print isn't a new concept in the comic book industry. But next year, DC Entertainment will begin implementing the idea in a new way.

Beginning in February, chapters of a new comic called Batman Beyond Unlimited will be released each week for 99 cents on DC's digital platforms. Fans will be able to read several of those shorter chapters before they will be made available as part of a collected monthly print comic.

Upon its debut, the print comic will include two stories: Batman Beyond by Adam Beechen and Norm Breyfogle, and Justice League Beyond by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. Each of the two stories will be told in chapter installments online.

While the release schedule for the digital and print versions of Batman Beyond Unlimited is a little confusing, it's meant to put the print comic's release in the middle of the digital schedule. In other words: The Justice League Beyond stories will be on digital before they're available in print. But the collection in print will come out on the same day as the first chapter of Batman Beyond. Then the second chapter of Batman Beyond will follow print.

It's a new approach, but using a comic and concept that already have a fan following.

The concept behind the Beyond comics is from the Batman Beyond animated series that ran from 1999 to 2002. In the series, a young hero named Terry McGinnis takes on the Batman identity under the mentorship of an aged Bruce Wayne.

Eventually, DC Comics made Beyond's concept part of its comic book continuity, beginning with a mini-series in 2010, then a later ongoing series earlier this year.

DC fans had wondered why that ongoing Batman Beyond series wasn't part of the New 52 when it launched in September, but DC announced in August that Batman Beyond would return in 2012.

This isn't the first time DC has experimented with digital-first comics. The publisher just recently released the limited series Beyond the Fringe, Batman: Arkham Unleashed and Batman: Arkham City on digital before collecting them for print.

But Batman Beyond Unlimited represents the first ongoing comic — and the first one in DCU continuity — to be released digital first. Plus its weekly digital/monthly print format is a little different from what's been tried before.

Marvel has already released several digital-first comics that were in-continuity, including Fear Itself: The Worthy and Spider Island: I Spider New York. The publisher also released a Captain America: Reborn prequel digital first, as well as several in-continuity digital-only stories on its Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service.

Archie Comics also recently announced it would release a series of short, digital chapters each week for its new Red Circle series, The New Crusaders, but that will be offered through a subscription.

But this represents a first for DC — the latest in a series of bold moves the company has taken this year to try a variety of digital initiatives, including its decision to release all its "New 52" comics digitally on the same day as print beginning in September.

To find out more about the Batman Beyond Unlimited and this attempt at digital-first comics, Newsarama talked to DC's Senior Vice President of Digital Hank Kanalz.

Newsarama: Hank, how did the decision to try out this format in particular come about? 

Hank Kanalz: We’re in a great place to experiment with different formats. We have an idea of what’s working in general, so this is an opportunity to test release patterns and formats with terrific content.

This particular title was under a lot of internal discussion, as it features fan-favorite talent and solid material.

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Is it risky to release the material in this fashion? It could be, but we have confidence that this will work in both the digital and print space. We’re fortunate that DC Entertainment leadership supports new initiatives designed to grow the market, and allows us to forge ahead in this space. 

Nrama: We've seen digital-first comics from several publishers. But this one is a shorter, weekly series. Why did DC choose to try this as a weekly?

Kanalz: It’s mostly about content flow and pace. A weekly digital release allows readers to keep up, and hopefully come back each week for the next installment. It also allows us to keep a monthly schedule in-store, as this is an over-sized monthly book.

One of the most consistent issues in our feedback loop is price point. A 99-cent price point for each chapter is an appealing “sampling” price that I hope will break down the returning-customer price barrier.

Nrama: Is there any research or experience that suggests a shorter weekly format works better on digital? Or is this an experiment to find out just that?

Kanalz: That’s only part of what we’re looking to find out. We started the experiment with Batman: Arkham City, leading into the game release, and having the stories fall in-between the print release. We were encouraged by the results, but that was a series of done-in-one stories tied to the overall Arkham City world. It was very easy to start at any one point, which is always a good thing, but I think we were missing the “can’t-miss-an-issue” mentality. There was consistency across all the chapters, but we saw pop-ups with fan favorite villains. We wanted to take this a step forward and tell a continuing story. We’ll see what that does in both digital and print.

Nrama: How will these comics be distributed digitally? 

Kanalz: You can purchase these via read.dccomics.com, as well as our DC App and the comiXology App. Like our other periodicals, you buy it once, and you can read it on all the devices supported.

Nrama: Who's the target audience and why do you think this content and format fits that audience?

Kanalz: First and foremost, the target is fans of the Batman Beyond characters. I’m amazed at the active fans of the show, and now the comic. The most recent two comic book series performed well, so we do have some expectation that this will, too. Adam’s doing a terrific job on the story, and we have the return of Norm Breyfogle to Batman!

Equally exciting is the fine work by fan-favorites Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. They are collaborating on both the art and the story, expanding on the Batman Beyond “universe” of characters. The Justice League Beyond characters have long been of interest, and Dustin and Derek really sink their teeth into these characters. They’re doing a great continuing story, but will also have beats where they can focus on each of the characters individually.

Nrama: Will DC editorial in New York oversee the editorial on these?

Kanalz: The Beyond books are handled by Group Editor Ben Abernathy. He’s really taken the Justice League Beyond material with Dustin and Derek to a new level. Jim Chadwick edits the Batman Beyond material.

We have some more Beyond news coming in the months ahead too.

Nrama: Adam Beechen's recent Batman Beyond ongoing series was set firmly in current DC continuity. Will these comics continue that trend? Will in-continuity references be made?

Kanalz: Yes, we aren’t losing anything in the Beyond world established in previous issues, and are expanding upon the Beyond canon and lore.

Nrama: DC has done a few "digital first" releases before, but — and correct me if I'm wrong — never an ongoing series like this one. 

Kanalz: Yes, this is the first of its kind.

Nrama: Is there no concern that releasing digital first will cut into print sales?

Kanalz: This was a topic discussed at great length internally, and since this is the first time we’ve done this, we won’t know the answer until we try. We found with the launch of The New 52 that releasing the books "same day digitally" was additive to the business, and retailers didn’t see digital cutting into print sales.

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The release of the print book on the same day as the digital Batman Beyond, and in advance of the subsequent Batman Beyond chapters, is a similar model. We are only interested in pursuing digital initiatives that are beneficial to the direct market. Fans should have a choice as to where they want to purchase their content, and in what format. 

Nrama: Do you think this is the future of comics?

Kanalz: I think this is one of many components to the future of comics. You’re asking the senior vice president of digital, so my answer is a resounding yes. But it’s just a part of it.

Nrama: Anything else you want to share with fans and retailers about this project?

Kanalz: Digital isn’t instant! The teams have been hard at work on these books. It’s some of Dustin’s best work I’ve seen in a long time, and he’s been working with DC and WildStorm before that for some time. And it’s amazing to see Norm back on Batman. Derek and Adam bring it on with their stories. I know Beyond fans will love this, and we intend on signing up many new fans too.

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