CCI: Digital Comics: The Future is Now

Chip Mosher, Marketing director at BOOM! Studios, started the Digital Comics panel at Comic-Con International by detailing a few early successes of digital comics with "North Wind" and "Hexed." BOOM! teamed up with iVerse to bring "Hexed #1" to the Android mobile platform and, soon, to the iPhone.

LongBox CEO Rantz Hoseley then introduced himself and his product. "LongBox is a comprehensive hardware independent platform for secure distribution, sales, and reading of comics both standard and with enhanced content. We're launching September or October on Mac and PC with deployment planned for Xbox Live, handhelds and eReaders which will be next year."

Catastrophic Comics VP Chris Folino introduced himself. "Our company did the first motion comic on the iPhone. We also did the first motion comic with the lips moving and the mouth syncing on iTunes as well. Its called Sparks and its available now."

Finally, Comixology CEO David Steinberger told the audience more about his product. "We released the Comics application on the iPhone just yesterday. We have 20 publishers involved, 33 comics, and it's a 99-cent app. There is a Robert Kirkman exclusive, 'Walking Dead', on the app as well."

Mosher's first question for the panel was, "Will digital comics cannibalize the direct market audience?'"

iVerse's Michael Murphy explained, "I don't think digital comics will cannibalize the direct market. We've seen that after reading a few issues digitally, people go and buy the trades. We've seen that with all three publishers that we have. I don't think we're going to see digital comics take away from print material."

Hoseley agreed, adding, "I think it goes farther than that. [For example], I'm not going to convince my wife, no matter what I do, to go into a comic shop. But if I give her Bryan O'Malley's 'Lost at Sea,' she loves that. If you are reaching [people in this way] then you can tap into their phones and computers and build more of a mass market entertainment base. If your business model relies on you capturing a large portion of the direct market, then you're putting a revolver to your head with five bullets in the chamber."

Catastrophic's Folino said, "I think a year from now, [digital comics will] evolve into these little mini movies and they're going to attract a whole new audience. It's all going to rest on good stories. Your digital comic book will fail if it doesn't have a good, compelling story."

David Steinberger then spoke about Comixology's relationship with retailers. "A big part of our business is being friendly with retailers. In our application, we connect directly to retailers so that you can look up a local retailer using the GPS services on the iPhone. There is no reason that a digital comic book can't be released with a real life coupon inside. The truth is, you will sell more if you make the distribution and accessability easy for people."

Hoseley also wanted to emphasize accessability as a means to push products. "Do I think digital comics are going to grow the direct market? Absolutely. Do I think it's going to grow our mass market sales through Barnes and Noble and Borders? Absolutely. Do I think it's going to grow sales online? Absolutely. I'm pretty bullish on all fronts."

To illustrate his point, Hoseley asked the audience an audacious question, "How many people download music illegally?" After a few nervous laughs, about a fifth of the room raised their hand. "Everyone who didn't raise their hand, yeah right." That drew a few more laughs and the crowd became looser. "How many people [download music] using iTunes?" About a third of the room raised their hands. "Exactly, [this happens] because [iTunes] is easier than downloading bootleg stuff. When iTunes and other services made it easier to download for money than it was to bootleg it for free, people bought it. I've spend the last two years tracking Torrent sites and numbers. Anyone who says to me with a straight face that people don't want to read digital comics, I have a giant ream of numbers to show [them]. It is astounding and shocking. The [most popular] comics for the last twelve months consistently ranked above 500,000 downloads. The top three exceeded three to five million [downloads] per issue. If I can capture just 1% of that [market], that changes the game."

While digital comics are growing, Rantz Hoseley warned that we are still in a very tumultuous stage of development. "This is very much a new, undefined market. This industry basically had to crash and burn before [digital comics were accepted]."

Now that digital comics are finally here, we'll soon see which platform will capture the market.

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