We had the chance to sit down with the publisher and discuss their new venture, and what their future plans are for digital comics, and what they have in store for traditional retailers:
TFAW.com: How long have you been producing digital comics?
Dark Horse Comics: Dark Horse has always been a leader in the rise of digital comics. We’ve been offering digital comics on our website for years and began releasing standalone comics apps into iTunes in May of 2009.
TFAW.com: How did you choose which comics would go digital first? What was your thought process behind your launch?
DH: We are committed to insuring that our customers are happy with our digital product offering at launch. As a result, we’ve focused on curating a selection of our most popular new and old items. We look at a tremendous number of factors in determining the final mix: unit sales, fan requests, creator popularity, website traffic, brand longevity, frontlist offerings, and more.
TFAW.com: How have digital comics been selling for you, compared to traditional comics?
DH: To date, Dark Horse’s participation has been very limited in broader digital-comic offerings (such as comiXology). As a result, digital comics have made up a small fraction of our total sales, but we’ve tested the waters of standalone comics apps in the iTunes store, and the increasing demand for the format in the marketplace is exciting and undeniable.
TFAW.com: Have you considered a digital-only option for comics that have lower sales? Do you think this is an opportunity to extend the lives of series that might otherwise be canceled due to financial realities?
DH: Absolutely. This is a really exciting option for the consumer, the creator, and the publisher. As most readers might surmise, the production, storage, and distribution costs of digital comics are lower than their print counterparts. Lower costs mean more opportunity to experiment, take risks, and increase frequency. We envision a future where more comics are available “on the shelf” to more people, anytime they want to read them.
TFAW.com: With the lower overhead costs (presumably) with digital comics, do you feel the freedom to take more risks when it comes to greenlighting projects? Could this provide more opportunities for untested talent?
DH: Undoubtedly. While Dark Horse is committed to curating a high-quality collection of comics for our fans, the reduced costs of producing digital can definitely factor in when deciding to greenlight specific projects.
TFAW.com: Who is buying your digital comics? Is it your usual audience, or do you think you’re reaching a more nontraditional demographic?
DH: We believe there is significant potential in the existing print-comics market and we intend to show them why digital comics are awesome and worth their time. To expand the business—and for us all to increase the size of the industry pie—we need to court new customers. Digital.DarkHorse.com is the first stage in our plan to reach out to casual fans of superhero movies, platform gaming, and gadgets, as well as lapsed readers.
TFAW.com: Currently, customers are still buying standalone issues. Are you planning to offer digital “graphic novels”?
DH: Yes. Digital.DarkHorse.com will offer excellent prices, easy access, and simple storage of collections of comics, original graphic novels, and more.
TFAW.com: Do you currently offer day-and-date comics? Will you offer more of those in the future?
DH: We understand that day-and-date comics are an issue of serious concern to our partners in the direct market. As a result, we will not be offering digital day-and-date comics at launch. We do see an opportunity to do day-and-date right in the near future though. Watch for more news on the Dark Horse blog.
TFAW.com: If you offer day-and-date comics, what sort of an impact have you seen on traditional sales?
DH: Several publishers have experimented with day-and-date comics so far. Most of them report minimal impact to print sales. Some have stated that digital comics are having a positive impact on the sale of print comics. Until there is more transparent data available in the marketplace, it’s simply speculation.
TFAW.com: What are the advantages of creating your own store versus partnering with a third party like comiXology?
DH: Dark Horse sees many significant advantages to running our own store. Two examples: 1) We have the capacity to quickly adjust our technology based on consumer feedback. This gives us a competitive edge. 2) We can control the look and feel of the experience. We’re not interested in being clones of iTunes or comiXology. Dark Horse has its own aesthetic, and we believe our fans appreciate that and want to have the experience carried over to their own reading experiences.
TFAW.com: Digital comics have broken a lot of the traditional barriers of the direct market—they’re easy to purchase and less expensive than the paper versions. Do you think this will help publishers develop a wider audience?
DH: Absolutely! There are millions of potential fans out there waiting for a low-cost, easy point of entry to experience digital comics. This assumption has been critical to the development and execution of our digital-comics strategy from day one.
TFAW.com: Realistically, what do you think digital comics will mean for traditional retailers in the upcoming years?
DH: Sales trends on digital comics in the marketplace indicate a tremendous desire for the product. As such, we’ll pursue the opportunity with gusto. Traditional comics still account for the vast majority of our sales and revenue—accordingly, we’ll continue to devote a tremendous amount of assets to the creation, distribution, and marketing of print comics in the direct market and in bookstores. It’s our hope that digital comics will provide an easy and low-cost point of entry that will generate new readers and drive them into brick-and-mortar retailers of all kinds.
TFAW.com: Do you have any retailer incentives or plans to include traditional retailers in your digital-comics program?
DH: In October of 2010 Dark Horse announced a retailer component to our digital strategy. Now that the store and app are launching, watch for details to be revealed on the Dark Horse blog over the coming months.
We want to thank Dark Horse Comics for the update! Interested in digital comics? Check out our Digital Comics Month interviews here at TFAW.com.
Have you been eagerly anticipating Dark Horse’s expanded library of digital comics? Which ones are you going to download first? Post your comments below!