Print and digital may have found the ideal place to coexist: the comic book industry
This article by George Gene Gustines originally appeared on The New York Times website on July 20, 2014.
Print and digital may have found the ideal place to coexist: the comic book industry.
A report released last week estimates that North American sales of comics — whether single issues, collected editions or digital downloads — were $870 million for 2013, up from $635 million in 2012. Digital sales rose to $90 million from $70 million. That strong demand for digital is welcome news for the entrepreneurial writers and artists who are continuing to evolve their digital portfolios.
In April, Thrillbent, a website for free digital comics that began in 2012, rolled out a $3.99 per month subscription model. The site was developed by Mark Waid, a popular comic book writer, John Rogers, a television writer and producer, and Lori Matsumoto, the major-domo.
“We’ve been really good at doing what I’ve been wanting to do,” Mr. Waid said, “creating a situation where we can provide content and fans can pay a fair price for it.”
Thrillbent’s subscription model will help provide stability for its creators and consumers, Mr. Waid said, and help the site take its next step: moving beyond comics by him and his friends and bringing in writers like the science fiction author Seanan McGuire, who come with their own considerable audience.
Mr. Waid also hopes to appeal to a wider demographic (meaning female readers) by including coming series like “Everstar,” with an all-female creative team, about an 11-year-old spacecraft pilot.
Letting others into the comics sandbox is also a goal of the Panel Syndicate, a pay-what-you-want hub for original comics that was started last year by the writer Brian K. Vaughan and the artist Marcos Martin. Their first offering, “The Private Eye,” is a detective story set in a futuristic world where the Internet is no longer used. Last month “was the most successful yet in terms of downloads,” Mr. Vaughan said.
While he would not go into specific numbers, Mr. Vaughan said that the creative team — including the colorist Muntsa Vicente — were earning at least as much as they would to create a comic for traditional publishers like DC and Marvel Comics. More “people pay something than pay nothing,” Mr. Vaughan said of the pay-what-you-want model. “Against all odds, we’re doing great.”
Mr. Vaughan has written critically acclaimed series for Marvel (“Runaways”) and the DC imprint Vertigo (“Y the Last Man”). His current series, “Saga,” is published by Image Comics, and he has watched its digital progress with keen interest.
When the latest issue was released on June 25, it was the most-downloaded comic of that week on Comixology, which sells digital comics from over 100 publishers. “I never imaged that digital sales of ‘Saga’ would represent a quarter of our sales,” he said.
In June, according to estimates by ICv2, an online trade publication that covers pop culture for retailers, only two comics series — one starring Batman and the other starring Spider-Man — sold more than 100,000 copies in comic book stores. (ICv2 joined with Comics Chronicle, a comics research site that tracks industry figures, to report on last year’s sales figures.)
Brian Hibbs, the owner of the Comix Experience in San Francisco, sees a silver lining in digital. “The problem for the longest time for the comic book industry is that we were off the newsstand. We had no way to expose people to comics,” he said. Interested readers would have to visit a comic book store.
Even with the convenience of digital purchase, Mr. Hibbs has still seen 6 to 10 percent annual growth at his store since digital has been a factor.
“I’m not going to make a causal connection between those two, necessarily,” he said. “Our best-case scenario — that digital will act like a newsstand — seems to have come true.”