Total Digital Distribution: iVerse Reacts to Diamond

News broke Monday that industry giant Diamond Comic Distributors has raised its minimum purchase order requirements from $1,500 to $2,500, making it very likely that indie comics and small press publishers will be hard-pressed to get certain items listed in "Previews," the Diamond catalogue with which all Direct Market retailers buy comic books. The situation is particularly dire for small publishers of serials, because issues subsequent to initial orders traditionally decrease in sales. While such underperforming products could potentially find an audience given the time, some may not even have that chance under Diamond's new rules - not without raising cover prices, anyway.

Publishers have already reacted, with indie mainstay SLG Publishing planning to create a system for retailers to re-order their books directly from them, should certain items fall behind Diamond's new cutoff. For his part, Dan Nadel - publisher of the small press hit "Powr Mastrs" -- told The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon, "I'm fucked."

For similarly "fucked" publishers, iVerse Media's Michel Murphey says he has a solution, one he's calling Total Digital Distribution, whereby serialized titles and other applicable material will be made cheaply available directly to readers in formats optimized and reformatted for mobile devices and desktop computers, with an eye toward eventual trade paperback sales. The company is also in development on an iTunes-like system to service such content.

Just as news of Diamond's new purchase-order benchmark began circulating, the digital comics developer -- who's seen success with inexpensively translating printed indie comics from publishers including Image and IDW to the iPhone and iPod touch devices - contacted CBR News to talk about his intriguing plans to work with disenfranchised publishers faced with financial uncertainty.

CBR: What's iVerse's take on the Diamond news that going forward, the minimum purchase threshold will be $2,500?

Michael Murphey: What Diamond is doing is effectively going to kill off a large portion of the indie press unless there is another way for those companies to make money. The reason this has happened to the industry is strangely similar to the credit crisis that has affected [the United States] - but unfortunately there is no government bail out coming for the comics industry.

iVerse, however, does have a plan of attack :create a digital revenue source for publishers that will never run out of stock - will always be able to sell back catalog - and will provide revenue to the publisher faster than traditional print distribution ever has. We have the tools to do that, and we're prepared to put them into action.

What is Total Digital Distribution?

We are creating a package for publishers that will give them distribution on the iPhone and iPod touch, on Google's Android Platform and all the supporting devices that it will run on, plus we can announce that we are heavily in development on an iTunes-like Desktop Application for both Windows and Mac that will allow publishers to sell their titles on millions of digital devices all over the world.

Let's say Comic Book Resources is a small publisher, and we're not able to meet Diamond's new demands without increasing our cover prices. What can iVerse do to help us? What's the package you plan to offer publishers?

We can do a variety of things.  

1) We can provide you with a revenue stream immediately.  If you choose to release your comic digitally before going to print, you can be making money off of it much faster. You don't have to solicit three months in advance, and you don't have to wait that entire time to see any money off your book.

2) Promotion. If you release a free first issue through iVerse and it's downloaded 10 to 25,000 times (a month) like our current free issues, that's a lot more eyeballs on your comics than in a "Previews" catalogue. We can include order codes for your print books, or even link directly to online outlets for people to purchase a print version of your book.

Both of those things will increase your revenue, awareness of your book, and also give you more options when dealing with these new restrictions. If you do your single issues digitally, then solicit your trade for print, you'll only have one book that has to get approved, and you'll be selling it at a higher price point than single issues.

Beyond just helping print sales, though, when all of this is in full swing, you're books are going to be in front of thousands of people who would never have stepped in a comic book store. On the iPhone and iPod touch especially, we're constantly getting emails from people who are new to comics, and are trying them for the first time in this new digital format.

We also have the books at the much lower cost of $0.99 per book.  That means a reader can buy four books for the cost of one $3.99 title.  Sure, some readers will choose to save some of their $3.99 - but most are going to buy more books than they did before.  We're getting tons of feedback that leads us to believe that to be true.  There will always be readers who want their books in print, but there is an entire new generation that wants their world digital. With what we're doing, both of those readers can be happy. We can help publishers bring in more money from their work, and make sure that they can "make it to trade" for those of us that also want to line our bookshelves with great comics.

I want it both ways, and we're doing everything we can to make that a reality.  

Is the ultimate goal for iVerse to become a kind of iTunes-for-comics; a one-stop shop for publishers and readers?

The ultimate goal of iVerse is to make digital comics a viable industry for comics creators, and to make sure that comics readers can get their books how and when they want. iTunes is a great model to follow, but we're not putting "iTunes blinders" on and saying, "Let's do that - just with comics" - because it has to be more than that.  The comics industry is a very unique entity, and we have to carve our own path, but we're certainly looking at the success of iTunes as a guiding light.

How will pricing work?

Pricing is something that we will ultimately work with all of our partners on for a method that will best benefit them and the consumer, while also being aware of the limitations we have.  The iPhone and iPod touch have some content restrictions that may make certain titles unavailable in that format.  One thing I can say is that $0.99 is key - but we have to make sure that the creators are making enough money to justify doing the work, too.

So right now we're looking at options.  For example, if you wanted a desktop version and an iPhone version of the same comic book, that's two completely different editions of the book. One is formatted in the traditional print way for a desktop screen, and the other is completely reformatted for viewing on a mobile device. Instead of charging everyone $1.98 for the book in both formats, we can charge $0.99 for the iPhone version through the App Store, and $0.99 for the desktop version in our upcoming application.  

That's still half the price of what most books are going to cost in the coming months - and if you only want it one way, you only have to pay $0.99.  

Again, we're still figuring that all out - and our partners definitely get a vote, but that's what we're leaning towards right now.  

Such an entity would come with its own Diamond-like restrictions on content, right?

Sure, there has to be some kind of professionalism involved with the books. I don't think having a measurable standard of quality is a bad thing, but these sales numbers that they are asking publishers to achieve don't necessary have anything to do with the quality of the books. If the first issue of "Bone" came out today, would it be able to survive with these kinds of sales restrictions? I don't know - but I would hate to think of what kind of amazing books the world could be missing out on because of low initial sales.

What about sales minimums?

We have no reason to have a sales minimum. The work has already been done by the time the book is out there for a customer to buy it. If the books don't sell enough to make it worth the creator's while, they probably won't continue with it. If they're doing a great book, though, and they want to keep at it, it's not going to kill us to make it available to the public. Sometimes books need time to grow an audience. When you don't have to have 2,000 copies of a print book sitting in a warehouse, it's a lot easier to give the books the time they need to grow.

How do you envision the Total Digital Distribution system coexisting with print comics or eventual trade paperback sales?

I think digital distribution is going to make it easier for creators to make it to trade. As a creator, it's incredibly hard to go out there, work for months on end with no income, and then pump even more money into a trade print run. With our distribution alternative, a creator has almost every platform out there (and yes, we will be working on other platforms in the future as demand for them rises) to sell comics on. Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPod touch, Google Android phones and devices - there are some serious sales possibilities on these platforms.

I love digital comics, obviously, but the bookshelf in my house is covered in trades - and always will be. Print comics aren't going anywhere - but the industry is evolving, and digital comics is going to be part of that evolution. Both digital and print have to live together - and they can even enhance one another. You can almost think of the digital stuff as the theatrical release, and the trade as DVD. Both have amazing potential for helping one another.

For more information on the iVerse Comics Reader and how it works, check out CBR's more in-depth look at the software. iVerse can be contacted here.

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