ComiXology: Over 50 million served — but how many sold?

ICv2 kicks off the week with an interesting bit of digital comics news: More than 50 million comics have been downloaded from the digital comics distributor comiXology since it launched in July 2009. This news comes in a bit of a void, as digital comics distributors, unlike Diamond Comic Distributors, don't release their sales numbers. Perhaps ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp, who is on the comiXology board, has some insider knowledge, because the article adds that 5 million of the downloads occurred in December alone — in other words, 10 percent of the total downloads over the entire life of the business occurred in a single month. No word on January or February, though. Also, the article notes that "a significant percentage of the 5 million comics downloaded were free." Which immediately (at least in my mind) raises the question, "What's the percentage?" It must be pretty high, as ICv2 estimated the entire digital comics market in 2011 at $25 million; even if everybody bought their comics at comiXology, during one of its 99-cent sales, that would still mean only half the downloads were paid.

With the statistics out of the way, the article goes on to discuss the usual questions of whether digital sales are supplanting or supplementing print and how piracy figures into all of this. Ten points to Top Cow's Filip Sablik for this observation:

“Anybody that thinks piracy doesn’t have an impact is drinking the Kool-Aid. But there’s a pretty significant group of people that were reading illegal content that if they have a legal, safe, easy way to buy they do so.”

“Once you’re into the system and can sync across platforms, it’s not worth the hassle to get illegal copies,” he said.

The point about syncing across platforms is a good one, and it implies another essential strategy: Being available across multiple platforms to begin with. The most successful comics distributors (comiXology, and in the manga world, Viz and Digital Manga) are doing this; the others keep having to answer questions about why they aren't. ComiXology is the most widely available—the web for convenience, the iPad for reading quality, the Kindle Fire for ... I don't know, ask someone who owns one, but Kindle owners tend to buy more books than the print-on-paper crowd — so they are always there when you need them, a key point in today's on-demand society.

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