Friday at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, IDW Publishing announced its library of "Doctor Who" comics will be available worldwide on the iPad, iPhone and other iOS devices effective immediately, with a launch on the Sony PSP within weeks. The current and recent ongoing series written by Tony Lee, as well as several miniseries and the "Classics" line, will be included at launch in a "Doctor Who" branded app. CBR News spoke with IDW's Director of ePublishing Jeff Webber about the announcement, as well as the publisher's other plans and partnerships in the digital arena.
The arrival of "Doctor Who" comics on the iPad, PSP and other devices is especially notable because not only had IDW not been able to publish its series digitally until now, but because the print comics have been limited to North American distribution. "It's been a lot of negotiation back and forth with BBC," Webber said of the process of acquiring worldwide digital rights. "With the 'Doctor Who' [television] series that's coming out this Spring, where he comes to the US, they're really interested in expanding the brand a lot more throughout 2011 -- it's a big push for BBC. They gave us worldwide digital rights, which is just great for us. A lot of people really had to try to find every way they could to circumvent the system to get print books -- they had to buy from somebody in the US and ship individually, whatever -- now those folks can get the digital comics. It'll be out both on the PSP and all the iOS platforms and probably some other platforms before too long, as soon as we filter it through, probably things like Kindle and some of the others."
IDW's presentation at C2E2 had many of its "Doctor Who" series on display, including the recent ongoing starring the Tenth Doctor, the current series with the Eleventh and many of the "Classics" series reprinting older strips, as well as several miniseries. "The app will launch with about 40 comics to start with, so you've got a pretty big selection right off the bat. That will include almost all of the titles IDW has done to date, as well as some of the classics," Webber said. "It will also include a couple issues from the Matt Smith series that has just been coming out, which I think are some of the best that IDW has produced so far. Personally, I love the first issue of the new series. We'll keep refreshing it with everything that IDW has and then keep filling it in with more of the classic series, as well. We really want to get the full range of the 'Doctor Who' audience."
Webber credited Apple for supporting its digital comics programs through the iTunes stores and noted that the nature of "Doctor Who" and the demographics of IDW's digital audiences should make a winning combination for the publisher and its partners. "The Apple folks have been really excited about this, too, because 'Doctor Who' episodes do extremely well. Apple's been good with these things before -- with 'True Blood,' for instance, they put the comic on the same special page they created for the 'True Blood' [television] series. I'm hoping they'll go ahead and do something like that for 'Doctor Who,' too. They've been really supportive of the launch.
"'Doctor Who' will be on the PSP about a week later, I think the launch date for that is the 30th," Webber continued. "The entire 40 books will be coming to the PSP. The PSP audience leans heavily for Europe and other territories besides the US, so that'll be good too. We're seeing at IDW, upwards of 40% of our digital sales happening outside of the US, so I have to imagine 'Doctor Who' will lean even further that way."
Other programs currently in the works include a partnership with Nokia, which, due to the phone brand's recent arrangement with Microsoft, will see IDW developing its titles for the Windows Phone 7 platform, to be sold both in Nokia's Ovi store and the Windows storefront. "We'll have product and probably some bigger announcements later in the year," Webber told CBR. "Again, Nokia sales in the US aren't nearly as strong as they are in other markets -- in Europe and Asia, Nokia is still by far the largest handset supplier."
IDW recently released the first creator-branded iOS application with an app devoted to Ben Templesmith, who rose to prominence with "30 Days of Night" and has subsequently done a number of series with the publisher, including "Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse" and others. "Obviously Ben has the long-term ties with IDW. We always thought we'd like to try something with a creator-based app and see if there's an ability for creators to direct their fan base to their own titles. Ben just seemed like a natural fit," Webber said. "Ben has a really big following on Twitter and people who follow his blogs and he's very active at all the different cons across the country and across the world. It just seemed like a natural fit for us to start with a Ben Templesmith app, and it may be something we proceed with further with some of the other creators who are pretty prolific."
Webber told CBR that part of the function of creator apps is to help readers find content that might not be easily located within existing apps. "We wanted to put a creator-branded app at the top level of the store, because if you didn't have something like that, if you were to search for 'Ben Templesmith,' even though he's inside our comic apps, you never would have found his name," Webber said. And though the Templesmith app is, by its nature, not pulling in as many downloads as apps like "Transformers" and "True Blood," IDW is happy with the results. "Frankly, the engines are all in place for us to do these custom apps, so it's a nice opportunity to really try it out and experiment [with]."
Beyond the introduction of creator-specific apps and digital subscriptions for titles like "True Blood," IDW has also begun offering exclusive digital comics with broad popular appeal, such as the case with its "Infestation" app. The "Infestation" crossover brought zombies from the "Zombies vs. Robots" universe into the worlds of "Transformers," "Star Trek," "G.I. Joe," and "Ghostbusters," but those reading the event on an iPad will get an additional chapter -- "Pocket God," developed in conjunction with Ape Entertainment. "One of the interesting things, when you look in the comics space on these digital platforms -- I'll go ahead and speak for Ape and iVerse on this -- I bet the number-one selling individual brand right now on Apple devices is 'Pocket God.' Individual issues I'd say outsell anything else out there -- 'Transformers,' 'Walking Dead,' any other individual comics. Because if you look at the rankings, that one 'Pocket God' app is right at the top up with Marvel and DC," Webber said. "Part of that is because the 'Pocket God' game is so successful and the 'Pocket God' game advertises the comic within the game. There's lots of crossover sales between the comic app and the game app, so even though most of the comic book world might not even know that there's a 'Pocket God' comic, the mass market is eating that up. What's interesting to us is, fans of 'Pocket God' are going to come and grab the 'Infestation' comic app -- in this whole discussion of how do digital comics tie into print, I really feel like this whole 'Pocket God' tie-in to something we're doing that is predominantly a comic shop thing is only going to help bring a lot of readers into the rest of the IDW universe."
Another digital initiative IDW has in the works involves a partnership with Sharp that will see the publisher's comics appear on tablets and TVs. Webber said that IDW is developing applications for tablet computers that Sharp has recently debuted in Japan and which will be reaching the United States toward the end of 2011. "The tablets are made to work with their Aquos high-end TVs, where you can transfer content between the tablet and the television. You could be looking at a comic on the tablet [and] with a swipe of your finger, send the image up to your TV across the room," Webber told CBR. "Right now we're the only comics partner working with Sharp in this early phase for the US market. They'll have some comics coming out in Japan probably by this summer -- obviously, some Japanese schedules may change after the last couple weeks. We're going to be the first comics partner with this platform." At the Consumer Electronics Expo in January, Sharp demoed "Transformers" comics on its new televisions.
Webber is proud of the success IDW has had in the digital realm thus far, telling CBR, "We're hitting a pretty significant milestone as far as, somewhere in the past few weeks or month, we've crossed the three million download mark. What I like to play up is that we do have 800 individual comics out there; I think except for Marvel and DC we probably have the most of anybody out there."