Digital Comic Resources: Dark Horse Walks Back

The story of the week was Dark Horse Comics' "clarification" that new digital comics won't be priced lower than print -- except that some will be. Also, comiXology declared victory in the retailer storefront arena, VIZ begins releasing digital comics ahead of and cheaper than their print counterparts, Ape's "Pocket God" comic hits half a million downloads and Brian Wood and Brian Hibbs have differing opinions on the co-existence of digital and print comics.

Publishing: The big story of the week was Dark Horse's walk back from what appeared to be a promise to publish its books simultaneously in print and digital formats -- with the digital comic priced lower than print. When Dark Horse announced last week that it would be going with simultaneous releases starting on December 14, ROBOT 6 e-mailed their marketing staff about something else, and the staffer who responded added, "Prices are between 99 cents and 1.99 for single issues, with the occasional freebie - and trades ranging from 2.99 to 7.99." Retailers -- well, two retailers -- responded angrily, publicly threatening to stop ordering Dark Horse comics (except for pull lists, of course). That seems like rather weak sauce, but there was more pushback behind the scenes, and this week Dark Horse president and founder Mike Richardson issued a "clarification," stating that new single-issue digital comics would be priced at $2.99 for the first month and $1.99 thereafter. This isn't a total walkback, because some of Dark Horse's comics are priced at $3.50 in print, meaning the digital issues of those comics will still be cheaper -- unless there is another clarification.

Commentary: The post everyone was linking to this week was Brian Wood's blog post in which he approaches the digital question from a creator's point of view. Wood, who has written for numerous publisher from DC to Marvel to his current creator-owned gigs with Dark Horse, points out that digital comics have the potential to expand the market -- but not if they are priced as high as print: "The price point is being kept artificially high out of deference to our retail partners. The price that fair-minded readers WANT to buy digital comics at is starkly different from what's [sic] they are currently set at." Since many retailers don't carry his work anyway, Wood said he feels he is being made to "bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less. The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I'll just keel over and die from it."

Retailing: Brian Hibbs responded to Wood's post with one of his own outlining his concerns that digital comics would hurt the industry by inducing print customers to switch to digital, with a cascading series of effects that would end in catastrophe: "So what this means is that even losing a TINY portion of the readership through Channel Migration could potentially have dire effects. Seriously, if I lost just 10% of my customers, I'm done. And what we also know is that when physical stores close, most of that readership for comics UTTERLY VANISHES. The gist of this is that losing 10% of sales to migration could mean that the other 80% of that stores' sales are COMPLETELY LOST."

Publishing: Meanwhile, blithely ignoring all this, Viz pushed out a whole new set of its best-selling manga -- "Naruto," "Bleach," and "One Piece" -- well ahead of their print dates and priced at half the cost of print. Then just to put a cherry on it, they discounted all their digital volume #1's by 20% through the weekend. No one complained or threatened to boycott them. Admittedly, the situation is a bit different for Viz. Their comics are already published in Japan and widely pirated before the print editions appear. In response, they are shifting "Shonen Jump" magazine to the online-only "Shonen Jump Alpha," which will publish fresh chapters of these manga within weeks of their Japanese debut -- for 99 cents a week.

Retailing: ComiXology declared its Retailer Digital Storefronts to be "a resounding success" on their blog, stating that they have made payments to retailers "one month earlier and at a dramatically lower threshold than promised" for the past two months. Also, new Terms of Service are in the works "with language that is in better alignment with comiXology's commitment to servicing brick and mortar retailers." The program drew fire from some retailers, . At Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston complained particularly about the 45-day delay in payments, which comiXology's announcement addresses directly. When the controversy first erupted, comiXology CEO David Steinberger said the digital storefront program was rushed to accommodate DC's decision to release its New 52 comics in print and digital on the same day, and the Terms of Service would be revisited and revised; that seems to be what is happening now.

Apps: Last week, we noted the success of the kids' comic "Pocket God," which is one of the top grossing book apps in the iTunes Store and sells far more copies in digital than in print form. This week comes the news that the "Pocket God" comics app has been downloaded over 500,000 times. The app, which usually costs 99 cents, is being offered free for a very limited time via the Free App A Day app, and the 11th issue of the comic has just been published. It still has a way to go to beat the game app, which has been download 7 million times.

Apps: Mike Zagari describes what he did as Producer of the storybook app "Spider-Man: An Origin Story," a job that included directing the narration by Stan Lee himself.

Apps: Vaneta Rogers spoke with the creators of the "Double Feature" app, which was recently acquired by Graphicly. The creators of the app hope to reinvent comics for digital media, rather than simply transferring print comics to screens, and superheroes are definitely not on the menu: "One of the complaints you hear is that it's only 22 pages and it costs $3.99, and you have to know a whole bunch of stuff to understand what's going on. And it's only a lot of guys in tights punching each other," says Double Feature creator Tim Seely. "In Double Feature, we're trying to go the opposite tact. We're saying, look, there are other genres out there that people enjoy. And there's a whole world of people who might read a comic who would never walk into a comic book store, and who couldn't care less about Fear Itself or Flashpoint or something like that. They just want a one-and-done, read-on-the-train, relaxation kind of comic. That's what drives the content of Double Feature."

Publishing: Liquid Comics, the latest incarnation of Virgin Comics, announced a new online comics site, Graphic India, that will carry a range of Indian comics, both titles from Liquid's existing stock and new graphic novels commissioned by the company from emerging artists and writers (who will sign over the copyrights to Liquid).

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