David DiGilio's first foray into the world of comics publishing has been an unusual one. The creator of the popular ABC television series "Traveler"made his comics debut last week with "North Wind" from BOOM! Studios. The five-issue miniseries takes a look at a world that finds itself facing a post-apocalyptic mess, but instead of expansive deserts or overflowing seas, as is usually depicted in such stories, the world of "North Wind" has entered a new Ice Age, creating new problems for the few remaining inhabits of Earth.
While "North Wind" has thus far been generally well received, it's not the story that's causing an uproar in the retailer community. In an usual move, BOOM! Studios has chosen to release each issue of "North Wind" both in print for purchase and simultaneously for free online via MySpace Comic Books. While releasing online the entirety of a first issue as a promotional tool isn't unusual, it tends to happen some time after the book has been available from comics retailers. Releasing an entire project online and for free while the book is still in stores is very unusual, and as you could imagine, there are some in the retailer community reacting strongly – both positively and negatively.
CBR News spoke with "North Wind" creator David DiGilio and BOOM! Studios Marketing & Sales Director Chip Mosher to learn what's behind this decision and whether this experiment has been successful in broadening the reach of the bok.
The idea of offering the simultaneous, free online release was born during the BOOM! Studios holiday party, where Mosher, DiGilio and MySpace Comic Books' Sam Humphries were talking about promotional opportunities via the largest social networking site on the Internet. "I had heard about the site, and as Sam was telling me more about it, and Chip and Sam got the idea to do the simultaneous launch," David DiGilio told CBR News. "It kind of snowballed from there, as Chip told Ross [Richie, BOOM!'s Publisher], Andy [Cosby, BOOM!'s President], and the rest of the BOOM! team about the idea. I think I lost my eggnog because I thought it was so cool.
"The MySpace Comic Books page has over 140,000 friends. I'm an outgoing guy, but I don't think I've met 140,000 people in my entire life," continued DiGilio. "So that kind of network and that kind of exposure is great. I really just wanted to see the quality of the digital pages. Chip gave me some samples to check out on the site, and it's a great medium; a great way to sample a book or catch up on back issues."
There's evidence to support that having something available online for free leads to both increased awareness of the physical product and, ultimately, increased sales. "CrossGen basically did the same thing with their 'Comics on the Web' initiative, seeing re-orders increasing 54% and orders for their whole line increased 30% a week after they went live," Chip Mosher told CBR News. "DC just had a massive hit with the 'Heroes' hardcover collection and all that material is all online [for free]. Then there are the collections of online material that have recently come out, from 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' to 'Girl Genius' to 'The Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto' which is listed as #98 in all books on Amazon.com. That's not just in the Graphic Novel category, that is in all books!
"And let's face it, with bootlegging still rampant, simultaneous releases of all comic titles have been happening for the last couple of years now and sales of comics have increased."
DiGilio admits he had a few concerns about how this might affect sales on the book, and feels it's only natural for retailers to have similar concerns. In the end, however, the writer felt there were two good reasons to do the simultaneous launch. "First, comics have always been a collector's medium," he said. "We love comics. We buy them. We read them. We preserve them. If you love 'North Wind' online, then chances are you'll want a hard copy for your collection.
"Secondly, there is so much competition for eyeballs out there, that you need ways to distinguish your launch."
Reaction to this decision from the retail community has been strong. On the Comic Book Industry Alliance message board, a private forum frequented by comics store owners discussing retailing issues, numerous retailers were outraged that the physical "North Wind" they were selling in their stores was also available online for free. Some were especially upset because they didn't know the MySpace promotion existed when they placed their orders for the series.
However, BOOM! told CBR News they've received lots of direct e-mail from retailers pledging support for the simultaneous MySpace release, stating it helped increase awareness of the book and actually helped sell more copies, not fewer.
"I know there are some out there that doubt the wisdom of this kind of promotion, and believe you me, we have heard from them, but I think the evidence is there to support us," said Mosher. "Right now, we are collecting links from stores with MySpace addresses to include when issue #2 of 'North Wind' goes up. So, any retailer reading this right now that has a MySpace presence and wants to take part, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know the link to your store and what city it is in and we'll make sure you are listed."
One thing is for certain: the simultaneous release of "North Wind" online and in print has generated press for BOOM Studios that wouldn't have likely manifested otherwise. "People have been selling out of 'North Wind' across the country," said Mosher. "BoingBoing.net spotlighted us last week. MySpaceTVfeatured the 'North Wind' trailer we commissioned and we got over five thousand views in 48 hours. I really wanted to reach out to those people who may never have read a BOOM! book before, but also to people that don't read comics. One commenter said that he hadn't read a comic in decades, but that he loved the book and wanted to know where he could buy it. I personally corresponded with him to let him know how to find his nearest comic store. I can't tell you how gratifying something like that is!"
BOOM! chose "North Wind" as the first title for this bold marketing experiment due in no small part to David DiGilio's growing fan following from "Traveler." As the series aired, DiGilio blogged about the show at TVGuide.com, making his a name worth watching. "We really wanted to connect with that fanbase, a fanbase that might not be aware of comic books and the direct market, and saw MySpace as the way to do it," said Mosher.
Following the results thus far, DiGilio said he might consider doing this again for future comic book releases. "I do want to see how and if the book's retail sales are affected, positively or negatively, but the Web is really a great place for storytellers to interact with their audience," DiGilio remarked. "I did it with the blog on TVGuide.com for 'Traveler.' You need to have give-and-take with your viewers/readers. And I guess you could say that putting the book up on MySpace is launching with a big give to the fans. You hope they'll give back by buying hard copies and spreading good word of mouth."
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