Digital Comic Resources: Digital Sales, "Smallville" Returns

It's all about the numbers this week, except not really: ICv2 estimates that digital comics sales have tripled and DC reveals its top selling digital comics in January, but neither one gives any hard numbers, just estimates and comparisons. And there's good news for "Smallville" fans, as the long-running television show is returning as a digital-first comic.

Digital Comics: ICv2 published estimates of total sales of digital comics this week that put the value of the market as a whole at $25 million in 2011. Some readers viewed that number with suspicion: Unlike Diamond, digital distributors do not release sales numbers, and digital sales are notoriously difficult to pin down. If ICv2's numbers are accurate, though, the market will have tripled in a year. (That certainly feels right, given the large number of publishers moving to digital, the prominence of comics apps among the top-grossing apps in the iTunes store and the number of digital comics that made news last year.) The rate of digital comics sales appears to be growing rapidly, and ICv2 attributed the past year's increase to three factors: DC's decision to release its New 52 titles digitally the same day as print; the industry-wide trend toward same-day digital and print releases; and the growing number of digital platforms available to comics fans.

Digital Comics: DC Comics unveiled the results of a survey of New 52 readers at the ComicsPRO convention in Dallas this week. There were actually three surveys: One given in comics shops, one done online, and one given to purchasers of digital comics (via the comiXology and DC apps). The results showed that 57% of digital readers buy print comics, while only 16% of print customers also buy digital. Most of the readers fall in the 18-44 age groups, but digital buyers skewed older: 48% were over 35, compared to 35% of print customers. DC Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood told ICv2 that he thinks the digital sales of the New 52 comics are "additive," because digital sales have stayed constant as a percentage of print sales--if digital were cannibalizing print, he would expect to see the digital percentage increase. Rood also remarked that very few readers had redeemed the digital codes that DC put in combo packs.

Digital Comics: Since the publishers won't give hard numbers, speculation is what we're left with. Heidi MacDonald tried to pin it down a bit, based on things John Rood has said, and figured digital sales at between 6% and 16% of print.

Digital Comics: Following in the footsteps of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Charmed," the television show "Smallville" is getting a new life as a comic. That's big news for "Smallville" fans, but the rest of us should be watching as well because DC has an interesting format in mind: They will release a chapter digitally once a week, then collect the chapters into a print comic a month later. Writer Bryan Q. Miller and artist Pere Perez, who were also responsible for "Batgirl: The Flood," will be the creative team for the comics. No word on pricing or length, but the idea of weekly chapters to keep readers engaged (as the weekly TV show did) is interesting.

Digital Comics: Eight of DC's top ten selling digital comics in January were issue #5's of their New 52 comics, which suggests that a large cohort of readers are picking up those comics every month. DC's John Rood, who was having a busy week, told CBR that digital sales are still "relatively insignificant" as a percentage of print sales, but that well known series such as "Action" and "Detective Comics," or series that feature well-known characters such as Superman and Batman, tend to have a higher percentage of print sales than other comics.

E-books: Search for "graphic novel" in the Nook and Kindle stores, and you're likely to find a lot of novels that are graphic, but not in the way we think. Sascha Segan of PCMag.com notes that both e-bookstores have been infested with self-published porn, much of it not even comics. Part of the problem is that neither store has a lot of graphic novels to begin with, so, as he says, "the porn bubbles to the top," and when he pointed this out to Barnes & Noble, they immediately removed the out-of-place titles. "It's a rule of the Internet," he writes. "Stop editing and moderating, just for a minute, and everything will turn to porn and spam." And that gets to the root of the matter: You can't automate everything. As Segan points out, Amazon's curated "Comic Books" store contains only comics, but their full "Comics & Graphic Novels" section includes prose porn in the top ten.

E-books: All 15 volumes of Robert Kirkman's best-selling zombie comic "The Walking Dead" are now available as iBooks. The first volume is priced at $8.99 and the others at $9.99. This is the first Image property to make it to iBooks, but more are on the way, with "Chew" becoming available in the next couple of weeks.

Publishing: ComiXology CEO David Steinberger talks about the beginnings of his business as an attempt to catalog his own comics collection, as well as his tastes in comics and graphic novels.

Piracy: Back in October, Steve Niles wrote about his one-shot comic, "Pieces for Mom," which sold fewer than 10,000 copies when it was published by Image Comics--but has been downloaded illegally over 20,000 times since then. He sees the downloads as one reason why the publisher chose not to do more (although he doesn't seem to have considered the possibility that many of those downloads were to people who would like to buy the comic but couldn't find it). And he put up a PDF for readers to download legitimately, along with a "Donate" button. This week he summarized a conversation he had with Neil Gaiman on Twitter, in which Gaiman pointed out that not all downloads are lost sales, and that piracy does help bring the book to new readers. "What I quickly realized was Neil and I have had completely different experiences with the exact same thing," he wrote. "That tells me the answer lies somewhere in the middle." As a result, Niles has resolved to worry less about finding ways to stop people from pirating his work and more about satisfying the people who support it.

Announcements: More speculation at The Beat: Todd Allen wonders exactly what Marvel is up to with their very tantalizing announcement that they will have big news--most likely of a digital nature--at their panel at SxSW. He comes up with five possibilities, some more likely than others.

Experiments: Jamie Gambell offered a free download of his comic "Omnitarium" on his website a few weeks ago, along with a donate button. The results: 478 views, 61 downloads, two donations, and no comments or other responses, which surprised him: "Even with free things, creating can be a vacuum," he concluded.

Tools:French company Aquafadas has rolled out a set of digital tools that comics creators can use to make their own apps and create a panel-by-panel view so their comics will be readable in a variety of modes on mobile devices.

Advice: At the Graphicly blog, creator Paul Allor ("Clockwork") has some advice for up-and-coming artists on using digital effectively: Don't stick to the standard 22-page monthly book, but experiment with formats, timing and side stories.

Platforms: Aspen Comics, already available via comiXology, iVerse, and Graphicly, are also now available on the Nook.

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