comiXology Originals only launched last year, but the digital distribution platform’s line of comics has already made a big splash, with over a dozen titles published created by recognizable names in the industry.
The Beat has been covering the line regularly because of the high quality of the comics released through the imprint. Given the critical success of the books, we were curious to learn more about the development of comiXology’s line of comics, the business model, how the team approaches creators, and where the Originals heading.
With the help of comiXology and its Head of Content Chip Mosher, The Beat learned the answer to most of those questions and a whole lot more. Read through the history of comiXology Originals, its early success, and the staff’s continued interest in publishing creator-focused comics.
When the comiXology app first launched in April of 2010, the iOS App Store didn’t yet offer free apps. In order to provide value with customers’ purchase, comiXology commissioned a comic to include with the app. But it wasn’t until years later that comiXology fully dived into making comics.
Mosher and his team only started thinking seriously about more exclusive original content for comiXology/Kindle a couple of years ago after the company launched the comiXology Unlimited subscription service. As part of the service, readers have access to over 20,000 comics, graphic novels, and manga for $5.99 a month. Mosher and his team designed the Originals program as an added value for comiXology Originals. Now, all of its series and graphic novels are offered to subscribers the day they’re released.
In 2017, before the launch of comiXology Originals as we know it, the company collaborated on books with established publishers. The one exception was Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost, on which comiXology worked with the estate and their agents Denis Kitchen and John Lind to finish a project that Kurtzman hadn’t been able to complete in his lifetime. The book won the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic.
comiXology Originals officially debuted in June 2018 with four creator-owned projects: Savage Game, Superfreaks, Elephantmen 2261: The Death of Shorty, and Ask for Mercy. They were a mix of genres and formats: a graphic novel, two mini-series and a mini-series where they debuted all five issues simultaneously to encourage binge reading. The team wanted to embrace a diversity of format, storytelling, and creative voices and experiment with different release strategies that best suit each project.
The whole company is involved in the production of comiXology Originals, including David Steinberger, comiXology’s Co-Founder and CEO and Head of Digital Comics Worldwide for Kindle. All the employees pitch in with the titles’ marketing and production.
comiXology has the benefit of being owned by Amazon, a parent company that values and encourages experimentation. comiXology Originals has been an iterative process over the last three years, during which time the team tested and learned as it went along.
The comiXology Originals line is available through Amazon subscription services Prime Reading, Kindle Unlimited and, of course, comiXology Unlimited. Its ties with Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading are especially valuable, creating a potential audience of millions of new readers.
Pairing the Originals with Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited is a strong selling point for creators. Jim Zub, writer of the YA science-fiction series Stone Star said that its inclusion in Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading persuaded him to jump aboard. As someone very interested in the business side of comics, he was intrigued by the opportunity to open up a series to a wider readership largely made up of people who aren’t regular comic book readers.
Since comiXology Originals serve as selling points for the comiXology Unlimited, Kindle Unlimited, and Prime Reading subscription services, their worth isn’t based strictly on sales. Like Netflix series, they’re created to encourage people to subscribe to the service and stay subscribed to it. Plus, Amazon is famous for not expecting immediate profits from all of its offerings and giving their products and services time to grow and mature.
It’s unlikely that all of the series published under the comiXology Originals banner would sustain themselves at a traditional publisher. But the books aren’t fighting for the same LCS readership that other comics are competing for, they’re intended for an entirely different market. That means the ComiXology’s line of comics created jobs in comics that didn’t exist before.
Since comiXology Originals is a curated line, the team proactively approached creators with an eye on keeping the line as diverse as possible. They don’t put together creative teams or come to them with their own concepts. The team looks for creators and cartoonists with a strong point of view who have series or books to pitch that are already fairly down the road.
comiXology Originals’ payment scheme is very appealing to a lot of creators. They’re paid an advance against royalties and retain full rights of their IP. comiXology even lets creators choose whether or not to allow customers to download DRM-free versions of the comics they purchase. That kind of flexibility is rare in comics.
Mark Sable‘s and Kristian Donaldson’s The Dark was one of the first books acquired for comiXology Originals, even though it only released two months ago. Donaldson integrated 3D models into his hand drawing method for the series. Because of the extra work involved the 120-page graphic novel took him over a year to draw. The Dark is a book Mosher is particularly proud of because he doesn’t think a book that required so much more out of the artist could have happened anywhere else.
When asked about target audiences or demographics, Mosher said that comiXology’s goal is to make everyone on the planet a fan of comics. However, he indicated that he’s especially excited to get the Originals in new readers’ hands.
“Not only do we want to get regular, weekly comic fans excited about the latest comiXology releases. And we also want to reach new readers who aren’t reading comics… yet. There’s a whole generation of comic readers who grew up reading comics by people like Raina Telgemeier and we want to help connect them with new comics and creators they haven’t discovered yet. A lot of the comiXology Originals titles appeal to new readers and that’s by design.”
Physical editions of comiXology Originals use a print-on-demand model. POD is an ugly term for many industry professionals because it’s frequently associated with inferior production quality. But Amazon’s print-on-demand is superior to many of its competitors and the quality of the graphic novels is comparably to trade paperbacks published by Marvel and DC.
The marketing for comiXology Originals is stellar, some of the best I’ve seen in comics. Pamela Mullin Horvath of Superfan Promotions, the outside publicity team of record for comiXology, consistently reaches out to me and other members of The Beat’s staff about the line’s newest projects and is quick to answer any questions. By scheduling interviews and with comiXology Originals creators and arranging podcast appearances, comiXology ensures that even comic book readers who don’t visit its website are aware of the company’s latest projects.
Full swing ahead
Over the course of 2018, comiXology launched 11 new comics. The team doubled that in 2019, releasing eight series just over September and October.
comiXology has done an admirable keeping its line diverse by acquiring projects across a number of genres to appeal to a wider audience, including Prime and Kindle readers. Chip Mosher said that if you look at something like Delver by Spike Trotman, MK Reed, and Clive Hawken and compare it to something like Tremor Dose or The Dark or The Stone King, you can see there is something for everyone. That doesn’t even factor in comiXology’s manga offerings that appeal to an international audience.
Because the readers of comiXology Originals aren’t the same demographic as Wednesday Warriors, the line’s most widely read books may not be what you think. For example, Ask for Mercy is one of its bigger success stories even though the creators aren’t huge draws in the direct market.
Without offering specifics, Mosher says that comiXology has been very happy with the ability of the Originals line to attract new comic readers. Over the past year, he’s learned that the hunger for comics from all quarters has not abated. The team is extremely happy with all the subscription channels it’s participating in – Prime Reading, Kindle Unlimited, and comiXology Unlimited – and looks forward to maximizing the results as comiXology Originals mature.
comiXology never pre-announces news, but Mosher says it has a lot going on in 2020. We’ve already learned that they signed a multi-book deal with Stout Club Entertainment, an artist collective comprised of Rafael Albuquerque, Eduardo Medeiros, Mateus Santolouco, and Rafael Scavone. Based on what we saw from comiXology Originals this year, many more are sure to follow and, if the trend continues, each announcement will be bigger than the last.
Earlier today, comiXology also revealed that Ray Fawkes is writing and drawing a new graphic novel exclusive to the Originals line, entitled In the Flood.
[Editor’s Note: Post-publication, this piece received minor edits to make the author’s opinion clearer in some areas.]