Archie Comics Goes Day-and-Date Digital

In a major move, Archie Comics today announced their upcoming Day-and-Date Digital initiative -- a landmark move beginning April 1 that makes the company's weekly comics output available for purchase both in print and digitally simultaneously.

Readers will still be able to purchase new comics in print at their local comic shops every week as per usual. However, the exact same comics will also be available for digital download for $1.99 each through the Archie Comics app from iVerse -- available on the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad. While Archie and other comic companies have previously offered one or two issues of a comic to readers in print and digitally with the same release date, this marks the first time a company's entire weekly publishing output will be available in both mediums on the same day.

CBR News spoke with Archie CEO Jon Goldwater about the monumental announcement. Goldwater explains the company's decision, eases readers concerns and teases the company's future digital plans.

CBR News: The big question, obviously, is why now? Why is this the right time to make this decision?

Jon Goldwater: A couple of reasons. As you may know, we were the first company to really embrace digital. Of Archie and Marvel and DC, Archie was the first company to launch our own standalone app. That has been monumentally successful for us. It's been downloaded almost 1.8 million times right now. So, it's been monumentally successful for us. When we first launched our app, it basically was a lot of older books and a lot of older materials. I wanted to see how that reacted, and slowly but surely, we put in more recent books and newer books. We also wanted to see how that may have affected our newsstand and we found out that not only has it not impacted our newsstand at all, but it's actually helped support our newsstand in making the books more available. We found that there are really two different audiences. Of course there is the huge Archie fan that likes the print comic and the digital comic, but honestly, there are two distinct audiences. There are the guys who love the print and people who are very happy to have it digitally. And for us, with the announcement that Verizon is now picking up the iPhone, that's going to make our app available to so many billions of more people. The timing is just right for us to do it. We just want to get Archie available to as many people as we can, as conveniently as possible. And our quality on the app is just so good and it translates so beautifully to the digital format. We thought the time was perfect to do it right now.

You just mentioned something I wanted to bring up. You said the Archie Comics App has been downloaded 1.8 million times at this point. In that regard, how significant have the actual digital sales of the comics been?

It's been fantastic. The wonderful the thing about that platform is that it's not just domestic, it's global. We have the ability now not just to sell our Archie Comics in Iowa or Arizona or wherever, but we can sell them in the UK and we can sell them in Japan and everywhere. It's been an incredible sort of storefront -- which is the best way I can put it -- for us on a global level. Our sales have, frankly, exceeded my expectations.

So, you would say there has been a significant number of sales because the app is opening it up to an international market.

Exactly right. We have had a lot of wonderful storylines recently, and we're doing everything we can to reinvigorate our brand. We have a tremendous amount of awareness that's been pointed toward Archie and the gang, and that also, of course, has helped a lot to bring a lot of attention to the app and where people can find comics. In some places, comics aren't easy to find. They're not available everywhere, anymore. So, the one place we certainly wanted to make them available was in your home or on your phone or on your iPad or whatever device you may have. If you don't have easy and ready access to a store that carries our books or digests, you'll certainly have access online.

You mention the ease of access and the greater, global market. You know, in regards to Archie and the gang, they are characters that are very recognizable and have been around for a long while. Do you think the fact that people can recognize a character like Archie makes it easier for you to do digital distribution because the audience already knows who you are?

I have to say, that's a brilliant question and the answer is absolutely, yes. We are an iconic character. We have been around for 70 years. People, when they see our Archie App, it's Archie, Betty and Veronica's faces. So, as you said, it's already established. It's easily recognizable. People know what they're getting. When they buy an Archie book, they buy certainty. They know exactly what they're getting. If they want to download it for their children or themselves or whatever it may be, we don't need to explain who we are. We are who we are. Everyone knows it just because we have been established for so long. And that absolutely gives us a leg up. We're very, very lucky to have that little bit of an edge so we're not competing against all the other people who are trying to get attention. We're very, very lucky in that regard.

Earlier, you mentioned that you haven't seen a decrease in the print sales because it's a different market. But have you talked to retailers or news agents and received feedback on digital sales in general?

We're always in very close communication with all our retailers because they support us. We want to do everything in partnership with them, as well, so we've made everyone aware of what our thoughts are going forward in terms of digital. And everyone's been supportive. Everyone knows that there's a lot of elbowing for attention, so to speak. There's so much information out there in the world that the more we can help with the awareness of Archie, they know that's going to help improve their sales as well. Maybe some kid walks into a store and says, "I saw that Archie thing online. I'm going to grab that book." And vice versa. "Oh. I can't get that book. I'll download it online." I think that they're very, very supportive. They understand the marketplace. They know what's going on, and right now, we certainly have their blessing.

It seems like consumers sometimes get defensive over this. "With the digital stuff, you're going to take down comic book stores. You're destroying them." But that really doesn't seem to be the case, based on what you're saying.

I don't think, in any way, shape or form, we would be doing something like that. We value the comic book itself as a standalone art form. Everything we do at Archie Comics is done to make the best quality book available, and by book, I mean comic book -- print comic book. That isn't to say we don't do some books just for digital. We do have a couple of standalone books that are available digitally, and we were the first company to do that as well, ahead of Marvel and DC. But by and large, everything we do is done with the comic book in mind. That's our lifeblood and that's our foundation and that will never change.

This next question is a bit strange, but making print comics can be expensive. Between paying creators and printing and distribution, it's a bit costly. On the other hand, digital seems, on the surface, to be cheaper, but there are obviously still costs in terms of development, distribution to Apple and such. What, then, is the net profit difference? Is it almost equal or does one provide a bit more of an edge?

It's interesting. It's actually almost the same. It's different ways of divvying up the pie. On the digital side, there are certain fees we don't have to pay on the print side, and of course on the print side, there are fees we don't have to pay on the digital. It's really apples and oranges for us. But, once again, to have both income streams is ideal and really, that's what we want.

What it sounds like is, it's not so much that doing one makes more money than the other as it is that doing both brings in more money than if you placed all your apples in one basket.

That's exactly right. There's a whole other income stream out there called digital comic books. We are embracing that with incredible enthusiasm, just like we embrace everything from the print side with enthusiasm. It's another way for us to market and promote and sell Archie and our brand and makes our books available. Like I said, comic books aren't available everywhere, so why now make them accessible and available to everyone who wants to buy an Archie book?

That also ties into the price, it seems. The $1.99 price tag for a download is cheaper than the current price of print comics. But I guess that's necessary, because you can't compare the digital market to the print market. It's a different market, and therefore needs to have a different price tag for that group of consumers.

That's exactly right. This is a different thing. In the comic book market, you're paying $2.99 and you're leaving with book in hand. On the digital side, you're paying $1.99 and you're leaving with a book in hand in different sort of sense, if you catch my drift. You don't have the smell of the paper and the feel of the art and all those things that you have with a traditional comic book. You do have the exact same story and the exact same art. It's just a different experience.

This is a digital specific question: are you able to distill specific numbers between someone downloading a comic or app to the iPhone versus the iPad? Or is it just one big number?

I kind of know one big number, but frankly, I'm fairly certainly I could break that out if I wanted to. To me, the game changer, so far during the time that I've been here at Archie Comics, has been the iPad. Our sales jumpstarted with the advent of the iPad. That really has proven to be a fantastic reading device for folks who love comic books. I would have to say, without knowing specific numbers off hand, if I were a betting man, I'd say that the iPad is proportionately ahead of everything else.

You mentioned that you feel the digital market can help print sales. Once someone reads a few issues of a comic online, they might be more willing to go pick up, say, the trade afterward. Do you see that as something likely to happen on a regular basis?

I do. I really look to the digital format to support all sorts of print initiatives. I definitely look at it in supporting the trade sales, without a doubt. If you download a series of books that are available as a trade, I think you'd ultimately go out and buy the trade, without a doubt. I think this is all one big support group. All this is, is another format, another avenue for us to get our books out there. I don't look at this as undercutting any one aspect of the business at all. It's another way to provide our brand and sell our brand. That's all this is.

To close out, I want to talk about the future. As we discussed earlier, Archie already has a few digital only issues, but what are the chances of doing a digital only ongoing? What are your future digital plans?

I have to tell you that we are going to do that. We have a bunch of digital only books coming up. A "Reggie and Me" comic book. "Reggie and Me" was one of our older titles, and we're going to harken back to that and put out digital only "Reggie and Me" books. We're going to be looking back into our library and cherry-picking some of our classic titles and writing new stories and probably release those as digital only. So, there are many things that we're going to be doing for our digital initiative coming down in the year.

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