DC Comics Goes Digital

Last week DC Comics got into the game of digital comics with a new app for computers, iPhones, iPads, and the PS3. Some have been wondering why they haven't got into the game sooner, but talking to DC Comics about it, it seems like they've made some very calculating moves that sets their foray into digital publishing to a higher standard than others in the medium.

"We wanted to have a set in stone payment program so that creators, as we launch their titles digitally, that they would be fairly compensated for the work they were doing," said Jim Lee, the comics superstar and Co-Publisher of DC Comics. This statement has come under quite a bit of fire from Marvel who insists that they also have a fair compensation plan in place, though no one seems to know the exact details of it, and Len Wein's wife has come out very vocally saying that DC compensation programs for even the most minor characters (Swamp Thing and Human Target) have helped them get through tough times much more than the superstar characters Len Wein created for Marvel (including Wolverine).

DC also has a tiered pricing structure, so you're paying less for older books and more for newer books, but like all the other publishers working with Comixology, there is a nice selection of free comics on a pretty regular basis. They're also testing out same-day releases in the stores and digitally, which is fresh territory for the big comics publishers in the digital realm.

In my mind, though, the thing that poises DC far above the rest is their commitment to being an additive to retailers. Comics are much different than other printed mediums and they haven't seen their market slow in the wake of digital like newspapers or magazines, but it's still hard to make a shop dedicated solely to a printed medium profitable, and that's why they're taking part of the money from their sales and putting it into programs that directly benefit comics retailers. This incentivizing seems to place the digital delivery of a printed medium in tandem with each other instead of at odds, which is something very high on the minds of retailers. Lee said, "We really see this as an opportunity to reach new audiences and new comic book fans, fans that don't live near shops, kids. But the ultimate goal is to drive traffic back into the local comic book shop. Our industry is a little bit different than newspapers or magazines, in that we're not as reliant on advertising revenue, so our core business is very stable and strong, so we really see this as an opportunity to build on that and grow, rather than replacing something that's not working."

John Rood, Executive VP of Sales and Marketing at DC Entertainment, mentioned that, "We got our marching orders from Arianna Huffington herself when she talks about the four Es. Engagement, Enthusiasm, Empathy and Energy. You'll see that manifested in our launch. Consumer engagement is paramount to us. You're finding enthusiasm from the creators and retailers participating in this launch. We have an empathy to maintain our traditional business and make digital seem only additive and certainly, we're all about energy."

One of my biggest concerns in using these apps was the fact that I love lending comics to people and that's what makes it important to me to have physical copies, to share my love of the medium. Buying books online or with my phone makes it very hard to do that. I asked if they saw this new digital platform as a way of giving readers a taste and if they spent the money on the digital version, to give them a discount at the retail level for their hard copy purchase. To that point, Rood told me, "Yeah, I would say. We've mentioned that this is the first step of several of this being a digital strategy and I think the part that is going to be most interesting and compelling is this retailer incentive. Or incentives to get people to go to their local comic book shop and you're going to see us do things that have never been done before. But to your point, we're going to make more and more compelling incentives to bring customers into stores."

For their first major launch, they released a free 10 page tease of J. Michael Straczynski's upcoming run on Superman, driving traffic to their app and then, hopefully get those that were teased into the store to buy the series proper. It certainly worked for me. But that launch is also very symbolic. As Straczynski put it in my interview with him, "Growing up a kid in the mean streets of New Jersey and other areas, with very few options, Superman became an icon to me: his very existence said that anything is possible, and for me, that was a powerful message. He also stands for what is best in us, in what we hope we are when push comes to shove."

And hopefully this leads to the best in comics, but like all digital mediums, publishers are taking a bit of a wait and see approach.

For my money, more access to comics means more comics readers, and I think comics are important, making this great news for every fan of the medium, young and old, whether they read their books digitally or not.

You can check out the offerings from DC at the Comixology website.

You can read the full interviews with Jim Lee and John Rood here. And you can read my interviews with J. Michael Straczynski about Superman and Wonder Woman by clicking their names.

Bryan Young is the producer of Killer at Large and is the editor of the comic news and review site Big Shiny Robot!