IMAGE EXPO: Humble Bundle Launches "Image Firsts" Bundle

The newest Humble Bundle, themed "Image Firsts," launched this morning as Image Expo got under way in San Francisco. As the name suggests, the bundle includes first volumes, or in some cases first issues, of an assortment of Image Comics titles.

Humble Bundle sells "bundles" of games, e-books, and digital comics using a name-your-own-price model, with more content available for those willing to pay a slightly higher price, with each bundle typically available for two weeks. Image was the first publisher to be featured in a Humble comics bundle, so it were a natural choice for the first bundle of 2015, Humble Bundle director of books Kelley Allen told CBR. "We have a wonderful relationship with them, so we started talking about doing another bundle a few months ago," she said. "We started talking about, 'Why don't we do a bundle with Image Expo?' We thought it made a lot of sense." New bundles usually debut on Wednesdays, but Allen said they delayed the "Image Firsts" bundle until Thursday to coincide with the event.

The first tier of the bundle, available for as little as one cent, includes a special "Image Expo 2015 Preview Book" as well as the first volumes of Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn's "Alex + Ada," Rick Remender and Wesley Craig's "Deadly Class," Kyle Higgins and Rod Reis's "C.O.W.L.," Richard Starkings and Axel Medellin's "Elephantman 2260," Ryan Browne's "God Hates Astronauts," Bob Fingerman's "Minimum Wage," Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin's "Satellite Sam," and the first five issues of "Genius," by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Afua Richardson.

Readers who pay more than the average price (which changes as time goes on) will also receive the first volumes of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra's "The Manhattan Projects," Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's "The Wicked + The Divine," Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood's "The Fuse," Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's "Sex Criminals," and Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser's "Velvet," as well as issue #1 of "Wytches" by "Batman" scribe Scott Snyder and artist Jock, and volume 22 of "The Walking Dead."

The premium tier, at $18, also includes the first volume of "The Walking Dead Compendium" (comprising issues #1-48 of the comic), "Saga Book One" (issues #1-18), and "East of West: The World." Another set of titles will be added next week.

There's free content, as well -- every day, a different comic will be available for download, starting with Matt Fraction and Christian Ward's "ODY-C" #1. Allen said the free comics, all of which are first issues, allow readers to discover new series and encourage them to return to the site every day, and creators often get involved by promoting their comics on social media. "It's a way to get the word out and also a way to bring people in to take a look at the bundle as well."

Most of the titles were suggested by Image, but Allen added a few choices, herself. "'Sex Criminals' was not in the original bundle, but I was pushing for that," she said. "We went back and forth for a few weeks, and that's how we got to this list. It's a really interesting bundle."

Humble Bundle started out selling games, and that continues to be the majority of its business, both in its weekly bundles and in its store. For comics publishers, that presents an opportunity to introduce their work to a much larger audience. "Humble is very well known in the gaming industry," said Allen. "We have cachet with gamers." In terms of the Humble Bundle demographic, she said, "We don't know a lot about our demo, but what we do know is it's mostly male and between 18 and 35. I have been curating toward that demo in general, but we are trying to reach other demos as well."

Such as? "Women," Allen said. She sees women becoming more important to the comics industry, as well as the game industry, as both creators and readers. Humble Bundle recently offered a bundle of games with female protagonists, and Allen would like to offer some comics bundles pitched toward women readers, in terms of both content and creators--possibly even a bundle featuring all women creators. "Creators like Gail Simone and Fiona Staples are drawing a lot of women readers that comics haven't really seen before," she said. "I think there's a big trend there."

She's looking at manga as well: The first manga to appear in a Humble Bundle was "Knights of Sidonia"--the first three volumes were part of their Horror Bundle. "I am working to acquire manga, so I hope there will be a few manga bundles in 2015," Allen said.

Humble Bundle launched 20 e-book bundles last year, 12 of them being comics bundles. Those 20 bundles grossed $5.3 million, of which $3.5 million came from comics. When a customer purchases a bundle, be it games or comics, they are allowed to select not only the price but also what portion of the price will go to the publisher, to Humble Bundle, and to charity. Last month, the company announced that it had raised over $50 million for charity since its launch in 2010; of that, $1.2 million came from comics and e-book bundles. Donations from the "Image Firsts" Humble Bundle will go to the Hero Initiative; other bundles have supported the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities.

Most of the comics featured in Humble Bundles so far have already been out for at least a couple of months before the bundle launches. Allen said she would like to get some newer titles into the mix as well, but publishers have been reluctant. "That's understandable," she said. "They don't want our bundles to cut into their frontlist sales. I am trying to get publishers to offer more frontlist titles, and midlist as well, because I feel that Humble Bundle is not just a clearinghouse for backlists. I see us more as a discovery/promotional vehicle that gives publishers a way of showing their titles to an audience they never had access to before." That leads to more sales outside the Humble Bundle environment, she said: "I see our friends on Facebook say 'Wow, I read this book and I loved it so much that I found my local comic book store and bought the first issue, and then I bought volume 1 in print!' I see these bundles as a way of getting people to sample these comic books like they have never before and spur not only digital sales but print sales as well."

Allen has a number of comics bundles in the works for 2015. "If all my bundles don't fall through, I'm pretty much booked for the year," she said. "I am planning a good mix, I would say about 50-50 comics to trade books, and also mixed media bundles. I'm thinking about having shorter, more curated bundles as well, a few one-week bundles here and there. We're going to continue to experiment and see what works. I would love to get a romance bundle up and running. It doesn't quite fit with our demo, but we would like to expand it."

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