Todd Allen has been keeping tabs on digital comics since the mid-19s, first as a graduate student, then as a journalist, and now as the author of a groundbreaking new edition of The digital comic economy. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Allen, who regularly contributes to Weekly editors, has released a fully revised and updated edition of his book, first published in 2005. The book tracks the latest developments in the rapidly changing industry following Amazon’s purchase of comiXology, and features a comprehensive breakdown real financial opportunities and publication costs. , sell and promote comics online. While conventional wisdom says that digital comics are an important part of the future of the industry, Allen has started looking at how it actually works – and his analysis has a lot to say about the whole world of e-books.
PW: You offer a stark indictment of the state of the direct market under Diamond, the print comics distributor with a virtual monopoly on the sale of comic book periodicals. Has the rise of digital significantly changed this landscape?
TA: The diamond is a single point of failure, pure and simple. There’s no replacement should anything happen, and truly indie titles have struggled [getting exposure] under Diamond.
PW: How can online distributors make it easier to find an audience for new content?
TA: That’s the big question. Everything indicates that comiXology is looking to integrate discovery in a way similar to how Audible titles appear on Amazon’s main site. This should be somewhere in 2015. And I can’t imagine Amazon not looking for independent creators like they found with prose on the Kindle. You hate putting too many eggs in one basket, but a lot of hope for the little guys is betting on Amazon to open things up to a wider audience.
PW: Who is the audience for your book?
TA: There are many audiences: professionals who need to better understand how the market works, now that digital technology has entered the scene. If royalty checks start reflecting different discount rates on comics, that might clarify some things. Also professionals and aspiring professionals trying to decide if they want to try their hand at digital, as it offers an alternative to the print edition with which some creators have found success. Academics in Media and Business Studies. And then the fans who just want to better understand how the business works.
PW: The book contains a wealth of details about actual costs and finances, which are almost never disclosed or discussed. How did you collect all this data?
TA: It’s just a matter of tracking things down. It takes a bit of time, so most people don’t care. For comic numbers, ICv2 and ComicChron cover the direct market [i.e. comic stores] Good. There is usually an annual leak of BookScan numbers for bookstores. For printing costs, I went to get quotes. If you really want to dig, you can estimate library sales by seeing what’s listed for a title on WorldCat.
PW: Online advertising revenue seems to play an important role in the economics of webcomics as well as other “free” online content. But the effectiveness of digital advertising is at an all time low. Can webcomics survive the collapse of this model if it were to happen?
TA: It depends on the individual comic and its revenue mix. Most webcomics have been built on merchandise, with advertising being a relatively recent development, so I don’t think that would be a deal breaker for most of them. That wouldn’t exactly help story-driven tapes that don’t market as easily.
PW also asked Allen to name the trends he’s watching for 2015. Here are a few.
- How is the integration of comiXology by Amazon going?
- What’s up with iVerse now that they have DC and still offer Apple in-app purchases, which comiXology discontinued shortly after the acquisition?
- Whether Marvel decides to bring digital comics sales in-house or open them up to platforms other than Amazon/Comixology for monthlies.
- If the industry can agree on a standard format for digital comics.
- Will DRMs disappear?
- Will be Patreon keep growing like Kickstarter did?
Rob Salkowitz is an author and consultant specializing in the business implications of digital technology. He is the co-founder and director of strategy and content at MediaPlant, a Seattle-based communications company, and teaches digital media at the University of Washington Graduate School of Communications. His books include Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture (McGraw-Hill, 2012) and Young World Rising (Wiley, 2010).