July 23, 2013

Comic book publishers adapting to the digital age with apps for tablets


DC and Marvel are using platforms like Comixology to expand reach a digital readership.

Comic-Con International just wrapped up in San Diego over the weekend, and one of the big business stories to emerge from the convention is the comic book industry’s increasing adaptability when it comes to digital publishing. Gregory Schmidt reports for the New York Times that the two biggest comic book publishers, DC and Marvel, have found success using platforms that cater to tablets and full-color e-readers.

Schmidt details the distribution problem that comic publishers have faced for decades, as physical books moved from being sold in bookstores and newsstands in the 1960s and 1970s to specialty shops in the 1980s. By the 1990s, he writes, “distribution had become too focused on existing readers and had failed to attract new ones.” But with the advent of tablets like the iPad, “they can now reach readers anywhere in the world,” and without having to get them into a dedicated comic book store. With lower barriers to entry in digital distribution, it’s also easier for new publishers to reach the market.

One of the biggest e-comic distributors, ComiXology, has seen a surge in popularity lately. In June, it reached 180 million unique comic downloads; its profits increased from $25 million to $70 million between 2011 and 2012; and it ranked third on Apple’s list of top ten apps for 2012. To boot, Jim Lee, the CEO of DC, tells Schmidt that 30% of the readers of the comic Injustice were new to comic books entirely.

Another, smaller operation, Madefire, took two years to develop its app and has made its focus original content featuring animation, sound effects, and music—creating a more authentically hybrid form. One of its co-founders, Ben Wolstenholme explains, “We’ve optimized for a digital-first reading experience.” With its audience steadily growing, Madefire was recently able to make a deal with publisher IDW to create “motion books” for Star TrekMy Little Pony, and Transformers, along with its original content. The balance between the two endeavors could be tricky, but Wolstenholme says it’s all in service of their goal of reaching a more mainstream audience of comic book readers.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.