"I think this whole year will be the year of devices," said David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology, at his New York Comic Con booth last weekend. "The question is, will companies be able to make marketplaces like Apple? They are really the only app and digital store that has worked so far. But we will see that this year."
ComiXology was one of the first comics reader apps for the iPhone and iPad and continues to be one of the most popular comics readers, with a wide range of content from DC, Marvel, and other comics publishers large and small. Customers download the app for free and purchase comics within the app. ComiXology uses a special guided view technology to display comics frame by frame on the iPhone and iPod Touch. The company also makes dedicated viewers for DC, Marvel, and Archie comics. And it is publishing its own comics: Tony Trov and Johnny Zito were at the booth, signing autographs and promoting their comic, Moon Girl, which comiXology is publishing on the iPhone.
Speaking before the comiXology panel, Steinberger said his big news is that the company is showing off self-authoring tools so creators can prep their work themselves. "We are doing everything we can to increase the throughput but also allow independents and creators to bring comics to us more thoroughly again," he said.
Steinberger said the tools would be made available to independent publishers. "We started with eight publishers and 40 comics only 14 months ago, at San Diego last year, and it was all with small publishers and indy creators," he said. "I hate every time we have to say 'Give us a little bit of time.'"
"The last couple of months, we have done 150 books a week. So it's really been about trying to catch up with demands. We did the Boom release, the Farscape stuff, and that was great to be able to put up 40 books all at once. The way these books are consumed, this is the way to do it."
ComiXology has a staff of adapters, all comics readers or film fans, Steinberger says, who prep the books and put them into the proper format for guided view. There is often an art to this; when they recently adapted Tokyopop's Hetalia manga for their viewer, for instance, his staff had to be aware not only of the different panel flow but also of the conventions of manga, where black backgrounds often indicate a flashback or a dream sequence. "We use a lot of black backrounds when we crop into a panel, to indicate you need to turn the phone," Steinberger said.
Hetalia was the first manga to go on comiXology, and there is more to come, Steinberger said: "There is a larger scope to the deal that will become apparent over the next couple of months. We are excited to have some manga in the app."
Overall, Steinberger said, the best selling books in comiXology are mass-market books that people know from the media, and the second best-selling category is comics that are being released on the same day they come out in print. "That indicates to me a casual audience that wants their stuff now," he said.
Steinberger recently polled his users on what enhancements they would like to the app. "They were interested in functionality in terms of reading and organization, way over social," he said. "Even Twitter and Facebook ranked pretty low. It's about reading experience, content, and organization."
The digital comics market is expanding rapidly; both Dark Horse and Yen Press announced their own comics readers at NYCC, and Longbox and Graphic.ly have recently debuted their own products. Steinberger doesn't seem to be worried. "Atomic Robo did really well for iVerse, and it does really well for us," he said. "iVerse had them long before we came along, yet we reach a totally different audience, all on the iPhone. There may be room for several of us in the long term. I hope Dark Horse and Yen Press will see we offer a great size audience where you can make money. I don't begrudge you your own store I encourage you."