10 or so years ago, Rick Veitch and a couple of other comic industry self publishers were going crazy over the possibilities the Internet held for comic book distribution and getting away from the monopoly held by Diamond Comic Distributors. They put together a plan – well, an idea of a possible plan – and a website (www.comicon.com). They called their concept the “connect sales market” (a play on the industry-standard “direct sales market”) and some people thought it was going to change the industry. Unfortunately, nothing really came from the talk or their rallying cries. Comicon.com turned in to nothing more than a comic book directory that companies had to pay to be a part of…disguised as an “online comic con,” which seemed to convince a lot of people in to paying to be a part of what is normally a free thing.
Since then, nothing has really revolutionary has been done in terms of online comic distribution. The idea of digital comics has been around forever, as have webcomics. Really, the most interesting thing developed has been print on demand and the online ordering sites like Indy Planet and Comixpress. Indy Planet, in particular, has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale industry.
Digital comics are now a lot more widely accepted and available through devices like the iPad and Smartphones, and more publishers have begun to explore digital options. The problems, and publishers who have flocked to services like Comixology are painfully aware of this, is that sales are not burning up the charts the way we had all been led to believe they would.
If anyone remembers the great build up for Comixology in the weeks and months before it went live, every publisher out there was convinced this “latest technological marvel” was going to be the answer to their prayers and bring in numbers to rival print sales. However, when it finally went live and every sat back to wait for the explosion of orders, the reality was a bit of a let down.
You see, what happened with Comixology (which was no real advancement on what had already been offered for many years by places like DriveThruComics or Wowio – or many months by PanelFly – they just had a good PR department working for them), was that Comixology thought the publishers would be bring in traffic and publishers just assumed Comixology was going to be generating interest in sales. In other words: no one was really doing anything to promote the product or drive traffic, especially outside of the comic industry itself. This has been confirmed for me both people at Comixology, by various publishers/creators and by the higher-ups at other e-distributors. Everyone seemed to be of the mindset that “if we make it they will come.”
It’s kind of funny when you think about it. The comic industry has become a business that wants to pretend real business rules don’t apply to it. And we all wonder why the industry is in the toilet.
As a bit of an internet marketing guy myself (I run a number of affiliate based websites that are responsible for nearly $4mil in sales this year alone), a few people have asked my opinion on the situation and what I’d or recommend – no actual comic publishers have asked or have seemed overly interested in internet marketing at all when I tried to talk to them – people like comic store owners, convention retailers, creators and small press publishers.
Below you’ll find my fairly rambling and oft-times stream of thought response. The note hasn’t been edited for content and is what I came up while I was out running errands – and was, in fact, typed up and emailed from my phone. Also, the note isn’t meant as an end-all, be-all solution for the industry or digital comic distribution. It is just made up of my own thoughts about the possibilities that already exist and can be exploited by those daring enough to try. And, most importantly, it is meant as a conversation starter, something to get people talking and thinking and trying, instead of just sitting back and waiting for things to happen or waiting for the next new piece of tech that “will definitely work this time.”
Hopefully this gets people talking. Enjoy!
The problems with comic books, as I see them, come mainly from exposure and availability. Potential customers either don’t know about them or aren’t in places where they are sold. They once had sales of convenience and opportunity as a very large portion of their revenue and now they are a destination product (you don’t stumble onto a comic you want to buy, you have to actively search for a place to buy them — comic shops, conventions, online).
Where video games and film/TV have exposure (TV, ads/marketing in mainstream media) and convenience (internet, widespread distribution to outlets consumers are already going, etc), they have also developed their own distribution channels (consoles, direct TV, Netflix, etc etc). I’d say their own pursuit of destination shopping channels (Blockbuster, Gamestop, etc) are in as much trouble as the ones for comics, so we’ll ignore those.
Comics are available on the Internet, yes, but without the high level of exposure to the mainstream, they are unable (and, to be honest, mostly unwilling) to drive traffic to their destination sites.
Comics tend to have problems in becoming accepted in to the wider distribution channels due to their periodical nature and their low price point. Why would a retailer risk shelf space on a produce with a $2.99 price point and an even tinier margin?
We can also agree that developing a stand alone distribution unit (consoles, Netflix type box, comic book TIVO) is out of the question due to cost of development and production being prohibitive.
What that leaves, then, is developing a system that interacts with distribution networks already in place for other media for delivery of the content in digital format. What I’m talking about is a digital delivery hub (based on the internet for ease of access and integration with all delivery channels/outlets, but not focusing on it as a delivery channel itself) which connects to already established channels and allows vendors to either purchase blocks of digital content for resale or, if the desire is there to minimize risk on the retailer’s part, allow real-time sales and delivery.
In other words, develop a network that delivers the content to:
1. iPads, Smartphones, eReaders, etc., over the wireless connections already available in most retail outlets. These retail outlets do not have to be limited to comic shops and can even include places like movie theaters (more on this below), malls and airplanes.
2. Set top cable boxes with “Direct TV” style features. Content can easily, and cheaply, be delivered over set top boxes direct to other devices. This is now being done with coupons, news and the like. It’s not a stretch to deliver entertainment content as well. I’ve offered “exclusive” video content and deals through On Demand in the past and it’s worked very well. Making something available on TV (especially if you take advantage of their “pop up offers” features) does amazing things for sales.
3. Consoles. This is an almost exact duplication of the set top cable boxes, with content either being stored on the console itself or delivered to a third-party media reader (iPad,etc).
4. If a user had an App installed on their device, there’s potential for them to receive delivery of the content (or offers for the content) while in transit and not actually at a retail establishment. In other words, a potential customer could be driving by a comic shop (for example) and receive a text or other message notifying them of a sale, discount or even just the week’s new releases available for purchase. This could be utilized to an incredible advantage at places like SDCC if done properly and monitored for misuse.
Going back to theaters, content could be released to a theater chain in conjunction with a related film. Enjoy the Captain America movie? Beep Beep – an offer for Cap America comics pops up on your phone or iPad. Pick up a special collection of Cap comics based on the film you watched AND with additional material not available otherwise.
The key is to give places a product that takes up no shelf space, costs nothing to stock and is available at the touch of a button. If the system is real-time, versus requiring retailers to buy “credits” for blocks of content (or whatever), then there is also no start up cost for a retailer.
The interesting thing to realize is that the infrastructure for all of this is already in place. This “network” is already being used by a number of different industries, although without the “hub” I mentioned. There would be very little in the way of programming because it is already done. Everything I mentioned is here and being ignored!
The beautiful thing here is that you are still catering to the brick-and-mortar crowd and giving them an opportunity to take advantage of sales they would otherwise miss out on.
The easiest way to do this would be to work with one of the digital distributors (PanelFly, Comixology) and create this as a B2B segment of their business. This takes advantage of the content deals they already posses. The more difficult way would be to start from scratch.
With that being said, in their current states, there really isn’t much of a reason for a publisher to be using a 3rd party “app” or e-distributor. For the most part, they aren’t going to be bring you any more traffic or exposure and you’re just giving up a piece of the profit pie for no added benefit. Unless this changes, I foresee all publishers (and the Big Ones for sure) developing their own apps and taking their digital sales solo.
That’s the “just” of what I had in mind. The opportunity behind this delivery system is huge — a hub like this could take it a step further and offer any sort of digital content: films, TV episodes, music, whatever. It’s taking the Internet and adding an active sales component to it, which no one is really doing.
Obviously, there’s more to it than this quick, stream of thought note, but that’s my basic idea and an “answer” to expanding digital delivery to a wider audience — driving that traffic in a way that isn’t currently being done.