Talking with IDW's New ePublishing Director

Smartphone culture and consumer demand for digital reading devices have propped electronic publishing on a sort of permanent horizon. With every leap in reader technology comes opportunities to advance content and connect with new audiences, which means some comic book companies are beginning to look inside as a way of better connecting with future readers outside.

With the hiring of Jeff Webber as Director of ePublishing, IDW is doing just that by becoming one of the first major publishers to move more of its electronic operations in-house.

Webber joined the IDW team following a stint at uClick, a company known for adapting Jeff Smith's "Bone" and Matt Fraction and Steve Sanders' "Five Fists of Science" to the iPhone.

"I think IDW, particularly, had been really energized about getting into the digital space and I was really intrigued by that," Webber told CBR News.

In April, IDW was the third largest comic book publisher according to Diamond statistics, and is now possibly the most popular publisher on the iPhone. As of press time, comic book titles made up 21 of Apple's 100 most popular book applications. Of those 21, IDW dominated with five titles, more than any other single publisher.

This achievement is owed, in part, to IDW's recognizable film licenses. The company is publishing comics based on many of this summer's most anticipated blockbusters, including the already successful "Star Trek," last weekend's "Terminator Salvation" and the widely-anticipated "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" films.

Upon the release of "Star Trek: Countdown" on the iPhone, Apple promoted the comic by giving it its own page at the iTunes store, contributing to a lucrative initial launch that neared 15 thousand downloads - a number that has continued to grow into the tens of thousands according to Webber.

Though the iPhone currently carries the majority of mobile comic book market, Webber says IDW plans to go wherever technology takes comics, possibly expanding to other avenues and devices such as eReaders other than Amazon's Kindle, smartphones using the Google Android operating system, Blackberries, the upcoming Palm Pre and even gaming platforms - which could include mobile gaming devices like Sony's PSP.

"We're basically trying to take the IDW line and distribute it wherever people can find it," Webber said.

Prior to the new in-house initiative, IDW had partnered with a variety of different digital distributors for their web and mobile releases, including Warner Bros., uClick and iVerse Media. In fact, given their successful partnership with iVerse on "Star Trek: Countdown," fans might wonder why IDW would take it upon themselves to helm future projects predominantly solo.

"Our goal is to be more in control of how we get our content out there," Webber explained. "That includes formatting and control of art files and directing how we deliver the experience to the reader."

Webber emphasized that the decision for IDW to become a more self-contained digital distributor didn't mean the end of partnerships with other technology companies though, just streamlining how projects are delivered to different electronic outlets.

"We're not at heart a technology company, but we'll be doing some things in-house, especially with the iPhone," Webber said. "It definitely makes sense to do some of the formatting ourselves."

The company's first in-house electronic offering will include its "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" comic adaptation and associated tie-ins, followed by titles corresponding with the August release of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Given the publicity behind these two films, IDW hopes to replicate the success they had with "Star Trek" in reaching new fans.

"We feel we're reaching a lot of people who didn't even realize there was [a 'Star Trek'] comic," Webber said. "People, especially non-traditional comic readers, are very comfortable with the slide-show approach to reading. I don't think a lot of folks even look at it as a comic book necessarily, as much as a way of telling a story graphically."

Even so, Webber contends, "[Mobile comics] are an opportunity to expose people to content they're not finding anywhere else."

One area of contention among comic book fans is the so-called "motion comic," a product that's not quite a comic and not quite a cartoon. Webber says that because of that disparity, IDW will be focusing more on retaining the qualities of a comic book in a digital space rather than adding audio or animation.

"Our focus is more on graphic storytelling," Webber said. "There's a difference between reading a comic and watching a cartoon, which is that it's more of a personal experience."

Currently most mobile and digital comics follow a print run at IDW, but simultaneous launches may soon become a reality, along with projects developed specifically for the digital format.

No matter what technology comes next, Webber says IDW isn't the only one invested in the continued success of comics on mobile devices. "There are a lot of really exciting ways to get comics out there. It's a two-way street, all the folks who are making these devices see how well comics are doing and they're all very interested in comics as a format."

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