BOOM!'s Chip Mosher discusses their digital distribution plans

Over the last couple of days BOOM! Studios has made two announcements related to digital distribution of their titles. Yesterday they launched their own iPad/iPhone application with some help from comiXology, and today they announced they plan to make their entire catalog of BOOM! Studios titles available via comiXology, iVerse, Graphic.ly and Panelfly.

I spoke with Chip Mosher, BOOM!'s director of marketing, about their digital plans, timing of releases, the customer base for their digital comics and more.

JK: Let’s talk timing, as that’s been a popular topic of late. How long will it take new BOOM! titles to reach the digital apps, compared to when books hit retail stores?

Chip: BOOM! really sees the digital comics market as its own animal. We were one of the first companies to have comics on the iPhone with iVerse back when they launched and have been watching the market place for a couple of years now. Having a consistent release schedule is important for that market segment, and what we are seeing is that the people who are reading digital comics are far and away removed from the rhythms of the direct market. A ton of what the release schedule depends on has to do with administrative things that are out of our control. Currently we have no plans on doing anything earlier than 30 days.

JK: You guys experimented with same day digital/print release before, in the form of North Wind and Hexed on MySpace. Did you guys consider releasing stuff via your new app on the same day as well? Why did you decide not to?

Chip: We're really proud of being the first comic book publisher to do day-and-date digital and print releases with NORTH WIND and then HEXED. Both books sold better because of doing the day-and-date promotions. Of course, part of doing any promotion is having the right book for the right promotion at the right time. If something like that comes up again, we'll consider it. But currently we have no plans to do day-and-date.

JK: When do you plan to have your back-catalog available?

Chip: Right now, each vendor that we are working with has access to over half the entire catalog of BOOM! Studios comics, and they will have access to the rest in a couple of weeks. Our goal with all the vendors is to have our entire catalog available through each one by the end of Summer 2010. Every vendor we are working with from comiXology to Graphic.ly to iVerse to Panelfly, we are letting work on their own schedule, as this is such an immense undertaking. We've been the first publisher to do most things digitally, and we're excited to be the first I believe to commit to having our whole back catalog available. I don't think there is any other publisher that has made a bigger commitment to digital comics.

JK: Will the BOOM Kids! titles or the BOOM! Town books be a part of the back-catalog you’re making available?

Chip: Disney has their own digital comics initiative with Disney Digicomics, and right now our BOOM Kids! line has been exclusively Disney and Disney/Pixar licensed titles. A ton of the comics we have done are available through the Disney Digicomics on the iPhone and iPad. And more should be on the way. So any Disney comics that we do, that will be available digitally, will exclusively be found through Disney Digicomics for the present.

With CBGB, published through BOOM! Town, that will be up eventually. The BOOM! Town publications that are trade paperbacks... well, while we are committed to getting all our single issues up, we are still deciding if or how we are going to handle collections. Though we may or may not have some plans for certain BOOM! Town trade paperbacks that I may or may not be able to discuss at this time. If that is cagey enough for ya!

JK: I believe you guys are on the Android phone as well. Any plans to expand to the Blackberry, like IDW recently has done?

Chip: Again this was another first for us, when we put HEXED #1 on the Android two years ago, we had 25,000 downloads in one day. We have a ton of plans in the works, but nothing I am willing to talk about right now!

JK: Looking at the various apps where you’ve already had a presence, how is this aspect of your business doing overall? And how much do you know about the people who are buying BOOM! titles digitally – are they new fans, lapsed fans or regular comics fans who are downloading books in lieu of buying the print version?

Chip: We certainly wouldn't have made this big push if there wasn't a market there. In doing the research on our sales, you'd be surprised that almost 40 percent are from overseas customers. The research we have done for the rest are people that have bought comics previously - in childhood - and have not stepped into a comic store to buy comics or are new readers. We haven't seen a lot of evidence that people are buying digital comics instead of the print versions and to get right to the point, we are not interested in pursuing direct market customers.

BOOM! coming out with our own iPad/iPhone app and then committing our back catalog and front list through four different vendors is just the tip of the iceberg. The digital comics market is just in its infancy. There is so much more to do. The question in the direct market has always been, how to you get new customers to come into a brick and mortar store. With digital, the question is, how do you get new readers to even read a comic to begin with - much less download an app to read a comic. We are in different stages of planning initiatives right now to use digital to feed the brick and mortar stores. We are planning initiatives to get non-comic readers to read comics digitally. Weaving in the brick and mortar stores into this new digital comics space is vital...and vital to the survival of the comics industry. For instance, we've been working with comiXology with their beta of their web store to figure out an affiliate system so retailers can sell

BOOM! Studios books through their website and profit from them. Now that we have our feet planted firmly in the marketplace, we'll be able to do a ton of things that we couldn't before.

JK: Do you see a point when it might be more beneficial or economical to just release something digitally vs. in print? I’m thinking specifically of something like the Anchor, which ended with issue #8 due to low sales.

Chip: I wouldn't ever rule out doing a print only or digital only comic. I think that they both have value and can be utilized in different ways to, let me be mercenary here, sell more books. Look, we are in the business of making great comics and being as profitable as we can. Sometimes we fall short of one or the other! But let's say a book like THE ANCHOR has a second life in print trades or in the digital space, we'd love to bring it back. If in the future we have a book that is not killing it in print sales, and the digital sales means we can continue printing it, that's great too. I think it's premature to take a firm stand on any of these issues.

JK: Why did you choose to go with multiple vendors, and what do they bring to the table that is different than each other?

Chip: As I mentioned way too many times already, BOOM! had a number of firsts in the digital comics space early on. The market has shaken out a bit and matured, where we feel confident taking a big position in the marketplace. That said, there are still competing vendors for the same space and they all have something to offer. iVerse's viewer is different than comiXology's view and both are different than Panelfly's viewer. And then Graphic.ly is a desktop app that has a social component that the other three vendors don't have.

At BOOM!, we strive to have some of the most diverse distribution in the comic book industry — whether that is being with Diamond and Haven for the direct market, Simon and Schuster for the Mass Market in United States, HarperCollinsCanada for Canada, Kable for newsstand distribution, another distributor for the Disney Theme parks, etc. — we historically haven't put our eggs in one basket. At a certain level, all four of these vendors are distributors, each with their own audience. Who are we to choose for the audience that wants to buy our comics digitally? All four are great companies that we have awesome working relationships with and who we look forward to working with for a long, long time.

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