CBR's Publishers Roundtable: Sales & Strategy

In an era for comics where soft sales and shifting formats make the news alongside bookstore closings and big media crossovers, everyone is looking for the next big thing or the great white hope. The constant questions for the medium include "How to comics get bigger?" or more importantly "How do comics sell better?"

While the big two publishers for serial end of the medium - Marvel Comics and DC Comics - are doing everything they can these days to build up their market share and mark their publishing moves with stories in major national news outlets from Marvel's introduction of new Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales to DC's massive New 52 relaunch, a significant portion of the comics market lies with smaller outfits who still do the work of publishing and promoting a diverse range of comics month in, month out. And while these players are often thought of as the independent companies of monthly comics, their visibility and bottom line is often heavily impacted by the moves of the Big Two.

To get their side of the sales battle, CBR News reached out to Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson, IDW CEO Ted Adams, Top Cow President Matt Hawkins, Dynamite Entertainment Publisher Nick Barrucci and BOOM! Studios Publisher Ross Richie (Image Comics' "Image Central" division was invited as well but declined) to offer their take on how they carve out a Direct Market space in the face of things like the New 52, what programs in trade paperbacks and graphic novels do to aid their bottom line, the challenge of building a digital strategy and the methods needed to make a splash on their biggest books.

CBR News: September is angling to be a big month for the Direct Market in terms of a lot of high-profile launches for the big two of Marvel and DC: the whole New 52 initiative, a hot news item in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and on down the line. What's your expectation for what your month will be like both creatively and in terms of sales?

Mike Richardson: Actually our month looks good. We have a number of high profile series launching and the pre-orders are strong.

Ted Adams: We already have our pre-orders for September and they exceeded our estimates. When we first heard about DC's relaunch, we had some concern that retail dollars might move from us to DC but that didn't happen. From our perspective, it looks like retailers increased their budgets to handle the new DC titles.

We had some big titles in September and the pre-orders on all of them were higher than our internal estimates. Our bigger releases for the month are the new ongoing "Star Trek" series that takes place in the movie universe, a new ongoing "Ghostbusters" series, a special issue of "Locke & Key" and the Definitive "Flash Gordon" and "Jungle Jim." We also saw steady or increased pre-orders for our ongoing titles like "Transformers," "GI Joe," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Godzilla" and "Doctor Who."

And we've seen strong re-order activity for both our comics and collected editions this entire year. Our relaunch of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" sold through a large overprint, and books like "Locke & Key" continue to sell large quantities week-after-week of both the trade and hardcover versions. We also recently joined Diamond's FOC program and, as of today, all of our adjustments have been positive.

The bottom line is that September is going to be a good month for IDW.

Matt Hawkins: Our ongoing series had their typical sales patterns and were unaffected. We specifically moved new launches out of that month. We normally do Pilot Season September/October but we moved it to Oct/Nov once 52 was announced. The sales on our mini-series did dip more than the typical sales decline. Creatively we do what we do we don't allow what other people are doing to affect that unless it's something that is insanely similar.

Nick Barrucci: Creatively and sales allow this to be a solid month for us. Sales will be in part to the push and focus on "Game of Thrones" as our launch title in September as well as keeping our line entire line solid. And "Game of Thrones" is doing better than expected. We just received orders on #2 and it is holding pretty strong. We can't complain. There is a lot of excitement in the market, I think DC hit this with all cylinders and knocked it out of the park, and while they're taking away some sales from everybody (in my opinion) there is excitement and that's what this market needs. That's the most important thing for all of us, especially fans and retailers.

Ross Richie: Our September launch, "The Rinse," is working great and response has been terrific. Our sales have not seemed to be impacted at all by what Marvel and DC are doing, we had a strong month.

Obviously, the fortunes of DC and Marvel have an impact on the DM in general, but I was wondering how much their status impacts what you and yours do - both directly and indirectly. Recently a month came through where it appeared DC had added on a few percentage points to their market share while Marvel's stayed pretty much solidly where it had been. This prompted a lot of people to wonder whether the pie size didn't so much split between Marvel and DC but between those two and everyone else. Do you think that's true? If DC's pushes on Marvel more, does it just mean people are buying fewer non-superhero titles?

Hawkins: If you look at the last 20 years of data Marvel and DC have always flooded the market with books.  There are of course limited dollars to be had in the direct market so every time DC or Marvel flexes their muscles it affects the little guys.  Fortunately they can't do it every month.

Barrucci: I do believe that the pie splits up more. I think it's easy to look at Marvel and DC as they are the two biggest publishers, and feeling that the points go "back and forth." But the percentages have to come from the rest if Marvel or DC is maintaining their market share and the other is gaining. Where else could it come from? I don't know what Diamond's sales were that month and I don't know how it impacted the other publishers. The only thing I can say for us is that we've had a pretty steady year with quite a few up months and if Diamond's sales went up that month I don't know which publisher DC's increase in market share took away from. If Diamond had less sales it seems to be crystal clear that they did take away sales from other companies. Dynamite publishes more superhero books than any other publisher outside of Marvel and DC and from that point of view and looking at our sales, I'd say we're effected less than anyone else.

Richie: I have no idea. What I do know is that if Marvel and DC are making retailers money, they have more money in general, and that can't be a bad thing for BOOM!.

Richardson: First, the big projects launched by Marvel or DC obviously affect the comics market as a whole, but we're primarily talking about the Direct Sales Market and less about the traditional bookstores. Our DSM market share will be up in September when compared to months earlier in the year, but that is the result of a stronger line-up. The best books will sell despite anything that Marvel and DC do. I'm not sure what you mean by the last question, since DC sales are mostly derived from superhero comics.

Adams: I'm not sure what month you're referencing but July was IDW's biggest showing ever on Diamond's monthly market share report (as measured by dollars).

So this week was the first full week of DC's New 52 initiative. So far anecdotal evidence says that a lot more books will be moving both in the stores and online (though some of that we'll never know real numbers on for sure). In what ways does that kind of buzz impact your titles at all? Folks at Marvel have said this is generally good for them. Does the same hold true for you? Does a rising tide float all boats in other words?

Richardson: I believe that any promotion that draws attention to the comics industry and brings people into stores (brick & mortar or virtual) is probably good, and this is clearly a major promotional move. It will be interesting to see how the majority of titles of the 52 do down the line.

Adams: More people shopping at comic stores is good for IDW. The quality of our line stacks up with anyone else in the business and good comic shops are going to cross-sell new customers.

Hawkins: Yes I believe that more traffic into the stores benefits everyone. 

Richie: I think we need every publisher to be generating excitement in the comics stores and getting fans and retailers excited about comics. We need more people reading comics and more people excited about comics.

Barrucci: Let me say this first. I do not believe anyone you are interviewing here will say anything impacts their company negatively. No one wants to give a spin that's not optimistic. So, having said, that in what ways does this kind of buzz impact our sales? I think it's neutral, I don't think in September or for the rest of this year DC's launch will impact our sales at all, this impacts DC's sales. More DC books will sell because of this. Consumers who are coming in, whether it's existing customers, lapsed customers or new customers who never realized how cool comics can be will come in and buy DC comics. That's it. I don't think that they are going to try any books or any other titles from any other publishers, and if they do it will be such a small percentage it won't effect anyone in any major way. Fans walk in to a store, and the buzz is DC Comics.

Here's how I see the buzz being pushed: "'Action Comics' #1 rocks and it's already going to a 2nd printing. Did you get a copy? No, well would you like to pre-order the 2nd print? Yes, cool. And we have 'Superman' #1 coming soon. Shall I hold a copy for you? Will do. 'Batgirl' #1 is receiving a perfect 10 and selling out. We're sold out, but we have these other DC Comics that you might want to try. Did you see Tony Daniel's 'Detective Comics' #1? It's great! Want to try it? We've also got 'Batman' #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Cappullo. That will be out in a few weeks, and Scott just won a Harvey Award for 'American Vampire.' Oh, and if you like Scott Snyder, and if you don't you have to try his comics, 'Swamp Thing' #1 is out and it's a great story. It's reading like the best Swamp Thing story since Alan Moore. They're selling out too. 'Justice League' is soooo good it's on it's third printing. I need that now. And by the way, we'll have more DC Comics coming in over the next 3 weeks. This is 70 years in the making and it's never happened before. It's historic, do you want to try out and see history happening? You can be a part of it buying these comics." And it's what retailers should be doing. Selling what makes them money when the opportunity strikes. It is easier when there are comics that have the most sales potential, but there is nothing wrong with that. They should and need to capitalize.

Now this is my opinion. I don't know this for a fact. And the same thing happened when Marvel had "Civil War." The "Civil War" series sold fantastic, and all Civil War tie-in books at the time sold way better, regardless of the characters, they just sold better because Civil War was "the buzz" in comics shops. I just know, as a fan, going to a comic store, buying my comics month in and month out (which I still do) talking to consumers and talking about the buzz books, that's what encourages additional sales. And the buzz books today and for the foreseeable future will be DC comics. I do not feel that there will be much of a lift for any other title from any other publishers. DC did it right, they did it perfectly, as perfect as anyone can imagine and they're getting all the attention and to be honest, they took the risk, they deserve it.

Do I agree with other publishers that this is generally good news for them? Yes, it is on so many levels. Not on every level, but on so many levels. It's generally good news for the whole industry because if retailers are making more money they are more stable. The drop in sales have been so bad this summer, that one of the biggest and best retailers in the country was affected. And it hurts the industry. Atomic was one of the top retailers who carried comics, and help "move the needle." Mike was, and always will be, a mainstay in our industry. If Atomic Comics were still around during this DC launch I would say, not knowing all the reasons why they closed down, that this would have impacted them positively sales wise to where the money would have helped them where they may not have needed to shut down. Would they make all of the money last week, this week, or this month? I don't know, but over the course of the rest of the year I believe it could have. It's terrible that they closed down literally a few weeks before they DC re-launch happened, terrible. But DC is going to put more money in retailer's pockets both from outside the industry and inside. This will help stabilize retailers cash flow. And the marketing that DC is putting behind this, is incredible. It's unprecedented. Between the news coverage, the advertising they are doing, the co-op, it is historic. This is better than a movie bringing awareness as I feel few movies push the industry, and today do not push comics sales as they may have. On select titles and characters, yes. Across the board, no. DC is working to promote comics. The periodicals. The bread and butter of the industry. They are creating the awareness that only DC or Marvel could. Long-term will it help? Yes. Does a rising tide float all boats in other words? Sure, why not. A rising tide will float boats, but is it today or long term. I'm betting long term. But today, the rising tide allows DC's boat more than anyone's, and again, as it should be. They made it happen.

With so many new and often untested titles hitting from DC this fall, did you change up any of your own publishing plans to see how things would shake out? Say, were any titles moved to later in the year? What's your strategy for fall in general?

Hawkins: Yeah as I said above we moved Pilot Season out of September to give the DC launch some room. The rest of our Fall plan is unaffected.

Barrucci: The DC plan didn't effect our publishing schedule at all. There are a few reasons for it. First and foremost DC really kept this close to the vest until a month before Previews hit, and most publishers were already in the midst of prepping September offerings when the news hit. They kept it so close to the vest and I don't think anyone could have predicted it and done much about it in readjusting their schedules. Could we have pushed projects back? I'm sure we could have, but to be blunt, our production schedule was set for the year and it made no sense to push any projects back and have this kind of reaction of pushing titles back. DC's announcement, and their commitment/push on their publishing schedule is so great there was no month for the rest of this year they were not going to get the majority of the attention. Our strategy for fall in general is stable. Game of Thrones was our single greatest push in September. In October our pushes are Captain Victory #1 and Dark Shadows #1. We did not push those #1's launches back. In November our pushes are still flash Gordon #1 and Silver Star #1. Those are the #1's we're launching, we have not deviated. With very few exceptions we have a minimum of two #1's a month.

Was there a concern that the additional excitement would take away from us? There's always a concern. If you're not concerned I think you're foolish. However, you cannot always react to what everyone else is doing. You should always evaluate how you react.

Richardson: No, we actually are releasing several major titles in September.

Adams: We didn't change our publishing schedule because of DC's relaunch.

Richie: We haven't changed a thing -- in hindsight, I guess that's great given that we haven't been impacted in any way that I can see.

"Fear Itself." "Flashpoint." "Spider-Island"...even publishing initiatives from a lot of the non-big two players from "Cobra Civil War" to "Artifacts" have replicated the event comics model over the past year. Conventional wisdom holds that putting out more comics that are linked together is the easiest way to increase interest and impact market share. What have you learned about event books as this practice has become more and more normalized? Is there anything that can break the market from that cycle?

Richardson: Event books bring in sales, and from a publisher's standpoint, there is little reason to avoid them.

Adams: We had our own hugely successful event title earlier this year -- Infestation. All of the books in that event sold out and we'll be doing a follow-up to it that launches next January.

Hawkins: We do an event type thing once a year that is much more contained than what Marvel and DC do.  We did First Born, Broken Trinity, Artifacts we are certainly party to the concept on our smaller level.  The only thing that will break the market from doing this is for people to stop buying them.  You vote with your dollars every week.

Barrucci: We have not done event crossovers to date, but we are planning an event crossover next year. At lease one, possibly more. Looking at the numbers alone, the conventional wisdom is correct. Having event crossovers increases sales and the event model is not the only way, but today it is one of the major ways to increase sales. Is it the best way to corner the comics market, fans/retailers/publishers can debate both sides of that. Is it a way to create more awareness for your characters? Yes and getting more consumers to purchase more comics especially more of each respective publisher's comics is important to each respective publisher.

Richie: I really have no experience with "event books" because we don't do them, so I'm not sure I'm even qualified enough to field the question!

In general, are there too many comics on the market? If so, what could we use less of and what could we use more of?

Richie: I think we need each project to be strong. Over-producing can be an effective way to crowd rack space against the next publisher that's smaller than you, but if fans get tired of buying too many super-hero books that are "necessary" but "don't matter" and quits all together, we all lose. Where we all win is that we're all bringing our "A" game and getting fans and retailers to enjoy the entertainment we provide as much as we do!

Barrucci: There probably are too many comics on the market. I feel there are. I'm not going to comment on what we could use less of and what we could use more of, I'm biased. On what we could use less of, it's not fair to say because I'll take any title from any other publisher but ours, and anyone else's opinion will differ. What we could use more of, I prefer not to say either because we would probably want to grow that aspect of the industry, and if I say it here, someone else will have that opportunity.

Hawkins: I don't know how to respond to that.  I would say yes, but the market dictates what it dictates.  People can't publish books at a loss for long so the market has as many books as it can sustain.  Are there too many novels published every month?  Too many TV shows?  Movies?  Video games?  If there are fans who read it and can sustain it as a going concern then saying we should have a limit to the title count overall is sort of a moot question.

Richardson: The market decides if there are too many comics on the rack. If publishers knew what books would increase their sales, they'd offer more of those books. The fact is, you publish the books you feel strongly about and hope you can reach the intended audience. With that said, yes, the market feels crowded.

Adams: There's always enough room for good comic books and, luckily for all of us, what makes a good comic book is different for every customer.

A lot of what we're talking about here is the periodical side of the business, but a huge chunk of the market and everybody's bottom line is in trades and graphic novels now. How do those two areas relate for you? Can the promise of good trade sales justify publishing something as a monthly comic? Does the book side of the business have a little more autonomy or longevity than the ups and downs of comics in the DM like we've been talking about?

Richie: Yes, absolutely. Does the book side of the business have a little more autonomy or longevity than the ups and downs of comics in the DM like we've been talking about? Sure, some books do better in the book trade than the DM, and that can inform our publishing decisions and patient to under-write things that are perhaps underperforming in comics shops.

Richardson: Dark Horse, almost from day one, has produced both ongoing and limited series with an eye toward moving them toward collections. As a result, I believe we've educated our readers to that fact and the result has been a very strong trade program at some expense to our periodical line. As a comics publisher, however, I feel that we must publish the "pamphlets" or risk our credibility with the larger fan-base. Obviously, the pamphlets come and go, but the trades stay alive in backlist. Many of our strong sellers have been active for two decades, so the strategy of "pamphlets to trade" is sound. There's another factor to consider. The comics readership has aged. One study showed the average reader's age to be in the early to mid-twenties. Now, removing comics "collectors" from the discussion, there is no doubt in my mind that a 25 to 30 year old reader would rather have a book/trade on his shelf then a pamphlet in a box in the basement. Thus, a rise in graphic novel sales, but a decrease in pamphlet sales.

Adams: Sure -- we produce titles for a variety of markets, including some that reach beyond the direct market and the traditional book market.

One recent example is our adaptation of Peter Beagle's "Last Unicorn." The comic book didn't do big business for us in the direct market but the collected hardcover edition has been one of our best-selling titles in the book channel, appearing on the New York Times Bestseller list for 9 weeks. We've gone through 4 printings and the sales of the $24.99 hardcover are about 5 times what we sold of the $3.99 "Last Unicorn" #1.

Another example is "Code Word: Geronimo," which we released this week. It's a graphic novel that tells the story of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden, and it had relatively small sales in the direct market, better sales in the book channel but was carried in a big way by Wal-Mart.

Hawkins: We do both the 32 page books and the trade paperbacks. Amortizing the creative costs across more SKU's makes more sense most of the time and there are people who like to read the books on a more regular basis. There is no one area that warrants projects anymore, it's a combination of all the various revenue streams from the monthly books, trades, digital, etc.

Barrucci: The periodicals drive this business. As a matter of fact the periodicals drive this business more than the collections do. Collection sales have dropped. If you look at Diamond's numbers that are released each month with the percentage of collection sales, both up and down, collection sales have dropped by a larger percentage than periodicals. I said this in an earlier interview and I'll reiterate it. The bookstore and collection market has dropped off. The Diamond sales numbers show it in the direct market. Retailers only have so much shelf space. We're not in a position we were in four years ago, five years ago where retailers could continue to reorder collections and continue to sell them since there were less per month being offered. Today, there are too many collections out in the market. If a retailer has eight feet of shelf space, with "x" amount of slots, he's only going to be able to carry "x" amount of collections, which translates to all publishers having diminishing returns. There are titles that are evergreens that retailers are going to continue to restock -- "Watchmen," "Dark Knight," "Daredevil: Born Again," Kevin Smith's "Daredevil," "Kingdom Come," "Marvels" and a few more. These are the mainstays that have been around forever, and there seems to be few new collections that have the same impact. Again, those are the evergreens that will continue to sell. 98% of other titles are disposable to retailers. They will buy what they need for existing customers, one or two extra possibly. It will be based on what they can continue to allocate funds for without putting themselves at risk. Not much extra for the shelves and for the most part when they're out, they're out. There seems to be a minimum of 80 collections a month retailers can order, and I think it's actually higher. So let me pick some arbitrary numbers. Let's average it out to 80 collections a month from all publishers. That's 20 collections a week. If you factor in 20 collections a week and lets have the average price point be at $16.99, that means retailers on average are paying $8.50 a collection. Let's say retailers on average buy two of each collection you're looking at a $1700.00 commitment every month allocated for collection purchases. Retailers cannot afford to buy much more than they can sell. Even the largest retailers can only buy what they feel they can sell in 60 days or so for cash flow reasons. They'll reorder it if a fan wants it, but the reorders aren't there as they used to be.

There has also been the argument that book stores carry more collections and make them more viable. Yes, to a degree. Again, picking arbitrary numbers, and a brick and mortar chain, Barnes & Noble, they have "x" amount of shelf space they're going to buy to have new graphic novels displayed, and they're not going to buy anything old unless it's an evergreen. Sales data will dictate that, and from what I can see and discussing it with the book buyers - brick and mortar book retailers are buying less graphic novels, not more. They're being careful. There is too much inventory left. Let's take it from two other points of view. Everyone talks about amazon.com and the internet and how people can buy as much as they want as there is so much diversity and choices online, as there's endless online "shelf space", which suggests people can buy endless amounts of collections. At the end of the day, if a consumer has $100 to spend on collections he's spending $100 whether there are 60 collections that month, 80 or 100 collections. Now might a consumer spend more if there are really desirable collections he wants, and stretch his budget, possibly taking from other forms of entertainment outside of comics, absolutely that may happen. He may decide to spend $125 this month but he's not going to go to $200 or $300, with few exceptions. I don't think that's realistic for him to go to $200 or $300. It doesn't seem to be realistic that you can expect that. So the dollars that a consumer can spend, the fact that there are more and more collections every month on online sites such as Amazon still means there is going to be diminishing returns. It's easier today for a retailer to take a bet on periodicals than it is on collections. If you look around many comic conventions you will see that many retailers are selling collections that are barely within two months to two years old, and at $5 each, 3 for $10. These are collections that MSRP at $16.99 and higher, which retailers have paid $8.50 and higher for. There is a reason why that is happening . . . there are too many collections out there and less consumers are buying them. The book side of the business is not as autonomous or has more or less longevity than the ups and downs of comics in the direct market. I do think Borders has proven that.

Borders closed for good just a few weeks back. How has that impacted what you're able to do on the trade front? Do you feel like the buyers that were getting comics at those stores are migrating to other sources, leaving comics all together, or is it too soon to tell?

Hawkins: We lost a lot of money with Borders closing, too soon to tell the long term effects.  Two of the Borders that were here in LA have become independent book stores so who knows.  In general, every time a retail outlet closes a certain % of those people don't come back or look for other places to find the books so every shrinkage in retail causes us to lose overall sales.

Richardson: A good portion of the comics trades sold in traditional book stores was manga (Japanese comics). In fact, shojo manga (Japanese comics for teen-age girls) was primarily responsible for the increased sales in the "graphic novel" category. Borders was probably the moist aggressive with regard to shojo in particular, and manga in general, so their demise has hurt the overall manga market. Dark Horse has the longest continuous program with regard to publishing manga in the United States, but our shojo schedule is limited, so we have probably been affected less than some of the other publishers. Also, our titles tend to be strong in the DM, not the case with much of the manga sold in traditional bookstores. I believe it is important to capture the girls that have outgrown shojo and keep them as comics readers. Our programs with authors such as Janet Evanovich and P.C.Cast are aimed at those readers.

Adams: Less retail outlets is never a good thing but the collapse of Borders didn't come as a surprise to anyone (or at least it shouldn't have) and we'd already significantly decreased the number of titles we sold them. Everyone's hope is that the Borders customers will migrate to other stores. I think it's a real opportunity for comic stores that are near any of the closing stores.

Richie: It seems like to me, as readers age, it's easier to get GNs from non-comic store sources. I think the audience in the book trade is a Direct Market reader who for whatever reason can't get to a local store anymore.

Barrucci: It's way too soon to tell. Anyone who says they have data, well, they don't. They have a feeling.

Digital is the last big piece of the retail puzzle right now even though it's still a growing market. As with a lot of things, people are watching to see what DC's results with day-and-date will be. Does that impact your digital strategy at all? Do you think line-wide day-and-date is something that'll be practical or smart for you to try anytime soon?

Richardson: Obviously we're watching DC's experiment and it's possible that it will affect our own strategy, but we are already offering some of our books as day-and-date.

Adams: Our eBooks strategy isn't driven by our competitors. IDW was the first major comics publisher in iTunes and PSP and we've been leading the way for years and we'll continue to do that. This week we became the first major comics publisher in the iBooks section of Itunes and I believe that's going to lead to a lot of new customers finding our titles.

We have a mix of some day-and-date books while overall we release our digital books about 4 weeks after print. For IDW, day and date is sometimes important from a licensing or marketing perspective, especially for brands that don't have as big of a presence in comic shops. However, we find that many of IDW's digital readers are new to comics, or at least do not regularly frequent comic shops, and those readers are not really even aware of what "day and date".

Hawkins: DC and Marvel are the market leaders and the smaller companies for the most part will follow their lead.  We are watching closely their various experiments.

Richie: We did day-and-date first in 2007, and will continue to make our own mind up about what works best for BOOM!. Some things work at certain times, some don't.

Barrucci: We won't know what DC's results are, so it will be hard to base too much on their actions, except that I feel they are going to succeed and we'll try and evaluate what can work for us. ICv2 or other sites that track the information will cite the success that DC will have, and knowing where they land and seeing whether or not we feel that digital has effected them positively or negatively will give us data. So the earliest we would be able to react would be six months from now. Anything that enhances retailer sales we're moving forward wholeheartedly.

Is there any way to track how much illegal downloading hurts sales for a company like yours? Do you have a good idea for how many people read your stuff in that format, or a strategy for combatting that kind of piracy?

Richardson: We are active in shutting down the sites as fast as we can find them. There is no way to tell exactly how seriously we are being damaged, but I recently heard that one comic had been illegally downloaded over 100,000 times. If that is true, you have to assume that some of those people would have otherwise paid to own the comic. It is amazing to me the lack of ethics or understanding possessed by those who think they have the right to illegally download material offered for sale, material that could not exist if it the artists and producers creating it were not paid. For-sale content is owned by someone, often the person who created it. It's sort of like walking into another person's house and saying they have the right to help themselves to whatever they want. I guess it's great as long as it's not your own house.

Richie: Wish I knew and wish I had a way to combat it. 

Hawkins: There is no real way to track a direct impact no.  Illegal downloads for us are in the range of 25,000 to 100,000 for English.

Adams: I don't know of a good way to track illegal downloading. The best strategy is to make the books available in a legal and legitimate format. I believe that most people will do the right thing and the jerks that steal content were probably never going to by the books in the first place.

There is no grey area here - if you're illegally downloading our titles, you're stealing from IDW and our creators. This is a black-and-white issue and illegally downloading a title is no different than walking into a store and stealing a comic.

Barrucci: This is a legal situation which has challenges in navigating which we are pursuing. There are many, and like Hydra, shut one down, and 2 more will pop up in it's place.

How long do you think it'll be before digital comic sales will be able to carry a significant portion of all periodical sales or be strong enough to help justify publishing material in the same way comics and trades do now?

Barrucci: I don't know. It's an evolving business.

Richardson: I believe that is certainly the future and we are seeing the growth every month. The speed with which digital sales grow will be determined by several factors: convenience, availability, access, and the evolving technology. I can't predict whether we're talking about two years or five years, but we are definitely moving in that direction.

Adams: At this point, digital represents about 4% of our total Net Revenue. That's up significantly from last year and it will continue to increase. With that said, it's going to be a long time before it comes anywhere near our print revenue.

The direct market continues to be IDW's biggest marketplace and it's where we will continue to focus the majority of our energy.

Hawkins: The digital sales impact is real now.  It's a cumulative effect and the digital sales is the sole growth area.

Richie: No idea. I know that we are very, very far away from that being a reality -- so far that I think even guessing 10 years is a silly suggestion. 

On the whole, what things would you most like to see happen in the DM - with DC and Marvel, with your own business, with the market in general - over the next six months?

Richardson: We don't really worry about what DC, Marvel, or any of the other publishers are doing. We are revamping and freshening our own line right now, a constant process, of course, but something we really focus on every few years. We'd like to see the market grow, obviously, and in order to do that, we need to have strong content, and not just superhero content. Over reliance on one genre has been one factor in allowing the market to shrink steadily over the last several decades. The best way to achieve growth is for our market to offer a wide variety of content for a wide variety of tastes, just as other entertainment mediums do.

Adams: Our fiscal year just ended and our sales are up over 20% over last year and our September and October pre-orders exceeded our estimates. So, I'm optimistic that the rest of the year is going to be good.

I worked for Jim Lee at WildStorm for 4 years and I've known Bob Wayne for more than 20 years. I figured if anyone was going to figure out how to get people excited about comics again, it would be them and it looks like that may be what's happening. It'll be months before we know for certain how many new readers they've gained or how long those readers will stick around but there's no question that the results from the first two week should remind us all that people like to read comics. We all need to do a better of getting the word out about the great books that can be found every week at your local comic store.

Hawkins: I would like to see our retail base stronger and that will only happen with the publishers helping them.  As for us it's all about managing costs, focusing on quality and limited, manageable output.

Barrucci: Simply put, I'd like to see the market grow.

Richie: I'd love to see the market grow!

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