By Bruce Lidl
Lost somewhat in the initial burst of news from last week’s ImageExpo was the announcement of a new Image Humble Bundle offering, beginning that morning and lasting until January 21. The “Humble Image Comics Bundle 2: Image Firsts” is a massive collection of digital comics that can be purchased for whatever price the consumer chooses. Included in the basic bundle are the beginning issues of a number of recent series, including Alex + Ada, Deadly Class, C.O.W.L., Elephantmen 2260 Book One, Minimum Wage, God Hates Astronauts, Genius, and Satellite Sam. Paying at least $15 also gets you the slightly higher profile titles The Manhattan Projects, The Wicked + The Divine, The Fuse, Velvet, Sex Criminals, Wytches, The Walking Dead Vol. 22: A New Beginning (#127-132), The Fade Out #1, Nailbiter, Stray Bullets, Southern Bastards, and Shutter. And finally, a stretch price of $18 brings The Walking Dead Compendium One (#1-48), East of West: The World, and Saga Book One (#1-18). For anybody at all interested in Image brand comics, the price truly cannot be beat, especially as the retail price of the comics would be over $300 according to Humble Bundle. Also, purchasers are strongly encouraged to mark a portion of their price paid towards charity, in this case the comics creator focused Hero Initiative. As of this evening, the Image bundle has generated almost $318,000, with over five days left to go.
The current offering is the third Humble Bundle to include Image titles. The first time Humble Bundle included any digital comics was the Image bundle in April 2014 that generated almost $400,000 revenue in two weeks, with titles including Saga, Walking Dead, Fatale, Invincible and Chew. Image imprint Skybound also did a special Comic-Con Humble Bundle in July 2014 as well, which was almost entirely Kirkman based titles such as The Walking Dead, Invincible, Thief of Thieves, and Super Dinosaur. That bundle alone generated $232,000.
Other comic publishers that have released Humble Bundles since April include Dark Horse, Oni, Dynamite, BOOM!, IDW, Top Shelf and Valiant. According to Kelley Allen, Director of Books for Humble Bundle, comics publishers are eager to work with them, and she has a number of ebook and comics bundles planned in 2015 alongside Humble Bundle’s traditional gaming focused offerings. The average revenue number for the comics based bundles so far has been $288,000 for the 14 day period. According to Allen, non-gaming bundles allow Humble to “break out from their core gaming audience” but from the comics perspective, they can also create “enormous crossover” by getting great comics in front of the very large Humble Bundle community. With a very clearly defined, and devoted, young male demographic, Humble Bundle chooses comics with both a logical appeal, like Transformers, Star Wars and The Walking Dead, but Allen also curates high quality titles that may stretch demographic borders. She “pushed very hard” to include titles like Sex Criminals in the latest Image bundle, trusting the Humble Bundle audience to appreciate an outstanding title, even without prior awareness.
While the Humble Bundles may help expand the reach of digital comics, they are also helping to encourage comics publishers to feel comfortable with forgoing DRM protections for their products. Humble Bundles, regardless of content, gaming or ebooks, do not use Digital Rights Management anti-copying technologies, both for philosophical reasons and from a practical standpoint. As Allen pointed out, why use DRM when the consumer could theoretically decide to purchase the content for one cent in any case? Even Dark Horse, which has been very reluctant to forgo DRM generally, was convinced to try not using it for their big Star Wars themed Humble Bundle in October and was rewarded with sales over $375,000 for the two week offering.
Fundamentally, the Humble Bundle “pay what you want” approach reflects exactly the insights independent game developers have learned over the years in regards to digital sales. Since their products are almost universally available to be pirated, often in formats that are actually *more* user friendly than the official versions, game creators have learned to embrace the concept of giving customers compelling reasons to purchase, in the recognition that they do not have to anymore. Distribution options like Steam and Humble Bundle provide explicit value beyond what a pirated version can give, whether through ease of use, personal connection to the creators, community recognition, charitable giving, etc. The Humble Bundle experiment really leverages the unique potential of digital distribution, as the pay what you want model could not really scale in a system that necessitated fulfillment and postage charges. With this almost “donation” type model there is no extra expense for the seller after the first sale, everything after that is essentially “profit.” And the possibility that the new readers exposed to the material may become fans, and go on to make further purchases, even print purchases in local comic books stores, only heightens the value of the Humble Bundle offering. We are likely to see a number of interesting comics based bundles in 2015 and we will learn if this kind of non-traditional sales can become a significant portion of publishers’ revenue, in much the same way digital has already established itself recently.