Archie Comics Makes Major Digital Move: An Interview With the CEO

Archie Comics is unveiling today a major step in digital distribution.
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Archie Comics is unveiling today a major step in digital distribution. They've teamed up with Graphicly and will now be selling comics through their Facebook fanpage.

With close to 120,000 fans, they're the largest publisher to add their Facebook fanbase to their digital sales strategy. Fans will be able to read comic book releases from Archie comics after buying them straight from their Facebook pages, but they'll be synced to all of their devices with the Graphicly app.

This is a very bold move for a major comics distributor, but also seems like a pretty obvious move, especially for Archie. They've been ahead of the curve on digital, offering comics digitally on the same day and date of their release in print, and they've got the most palatable pricing structure for their digital books. In fact, some of their apps offer unlimited access to their back catalogue.

To talk about this move, I was able to chat with the co-CEO of Archie Comics, Jon Goldwater.

Bryan Young: Archie has pursued an aggressive, successful digital distribution strategy in the last few years. Can you give me the highlights of that and tell me why you think it's been important?

Jon Goldwater: I saw firsthand what happened to the music industry when they didn't embrace digital, and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen to Archie. Unlike most direct market-centric comic companies, Archie has always been about being available. On the newsstand. In comic shops. In bookstores. So it made sense to translate that philosophy to digital, both in availability in timing. Despite what some other companies may claim, we were the first to go day-and-date digital, which means our titles are available to digital consumers the same day they hit stores. We also believe in a different pricing model for digital than print.

We were one of the first companies to aggressively put out collections and expanded product out there digitally. Our Archie Comics app, which is powered by the team at iVerse, has been downloaded close to 4 million times, and our comics are routinely among the most downloaded titles. Just last year in San Diego, we announced plans to launch the first-ever digital superhero universe with our Red Circle Comics app. The app will be a newsstand app via Apple. The shorthand we use is "Netflix for comics." Each week, a subscriber will get six pages of our flagship title, NEW CRUSADERS, plus access to our continually-growing archive of Crusaders comics dating back to the Golden Age of comics.

In addition to that, we were the first company to make Spanish-language editions of our titles available to our Spanish-speaking readers, and we've just launched a Facebook app - in partnership with our friends at Graphicly - to sell Archie comics to our Facebook fans. Currently, we have over 116,000 fans on our main Archie page, growing significantly each day.

Digital is important for a number of reasons. Mainly, we're always looking for ways to expand and grow the business. Archie is a global icon and one of the most recognizable brands anywhere. It'd be foolish to just limit ourselves to our existing distribution channels. We want Archie to be available to everyone everywhere. We want to create a one-stop shop -- an Archie "superstore" that'll serve everyone's needs. That's the goal. Digital is part of that over-arching plan.

BY: Can you explain the significance of this digital launch and why it could be seen as revolutionary?

JG: Facebook has been a huge source of fan interaction, feedback and energy. The ability to merge that with our significant digital output is really a no-brainer. No company with our level of reach on Facebook has done this. It's in the numbers. Having the chance to make our Facebook page a place for fans to not only learn about the company's news and initiatives but also to sample our titles and build a collection right on Facebook. It's really a major move toward connecting the potential reader to the product. We make it easy and hopefully create a new, lasting part of our fanbase.

BY: So how exactly will this work? You post a link to your Facebook followers and they can buy the comic and read it right then and there? Or will it open a new window into Graphicly?

It's totally embedded with Facebook. You head to the Archie Comics Facebook page, "Like" the page if you haven't already, and click on "Comics." From there, the app launches within the confines of the page and you're off! We wanted to make sure the process was simple and fast, and the Graphicly team has put together a very user-friendly experience. You can sample the first few pages of a title, and if you're interested, you're given the option to buy.

BY: Comics bought through facebook, will they be available for users in your app in perpetuity?

The purchase will sync with Graphicly, so on the site and through the Graphicly apps on iOS and Android, your collection stays together.

BY: Tell me about the partnership with Graphicly, how did that come about?

While we're not the first company to launch this app, we're the first comic company with a significant Facebook presence to step into this realm, and really, that's a testament to the great team at Graphicly. Our team got in touch with Graphicly about expanding our relationship and Facebook was one of their top pitches to us, in addition to a few other things we're still ironing out. It kind of hit us like a bolt of lightning.

Being able to connect directly with our immense Facebook community seemed like a great, untapped opportunity.

BY: What comics are going to be available through Facebook like this at launch?

We're going all out on this. The Facebook widget will be as up-to-date as we can make it, with many if not all the titles you'd find via the Archie app and our other digital outlets. We want this to be a regular stop for fans and a way for potential new readers to sample the latest and greatest Archie has to offer.

BY: Some people might say Archie comics are old fashioned or outdated, but they've been going strong almost as long as the major DC characters and longer than the brunt of the Marvel Universe. In your words, why do you think the Archie gang has continuing appeal?

Well, the fact is Archie is the most progressive comic book publisher out there. Our record speaks for itself.

Archie is for everyone. Riverdale presents an idealized but honest version of our world, and it's a warm, welcoming place that embraces everyone. When you read Archie, you want to spend more time with him, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Kevin, etc. You can tell any kind of story -- from the introduction of Kevin, to Betty and Veronica fairy tale adventures to KISS showing up in Riverdale. It's a landscape of unlimited potential and it's really the only place where anyone can come in and be welcome. Archie Comics are truly all-ages, for all fans, from kids to grandparents.

BY: Archie has also been very bold, rightly so, I think, in addressing social issues. I'm thinking directly about bi-partisanship with your Obama/Palin crossover, or LGBT issues with your Kevin Keller books... Why is that important to you and what else can we expect out of the Archie gang in the future on this front?

I've said this before, but Riverdale needs to reflect today and now. The days of Riverdale being retro and stuck in the past are gone. Archie and his friends will remain the same, but they have to interact with the modern world, otherwise we risk becoming a nostalgia publisher. We still retain our family, all-ages and clean image while dealing with today's world in an honest, funny and genuine way.

Who better to discuss what's going on in the world than Archie?

I think this sort of sales mechanism is going to have to catch on with other publishers, not just of comics, but of novels as well. Giving people the ability to buy right off the fan page is going to be a valuable step in sales.

I would love to be able to access this sort of model as an indie publisher myself.

Bryan Young is the editor of the geek news and review site Big Shiny Robot! and the author of God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

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