Above WormWorld by Daniel Lieske, a digital comic recommended by David Baxter.

Moving forward with digital was the theme of today’s ICv2 Comics and Digital conference, which kicked off New York Comic Con with an afternoon of panels and idea sharing. And for those who are moving, they are doing so with zeal and purpose. As opposed to previous such industry gatherings, where digital was timidly referring to in veiled terms, left the Gods of Tradition strike the heretics dead, almost all of today’s speakers are living in a world where digital is already a part of their revenue stream. It made for a lively day of engaged attendees.

This is despite the day kicking off with a rather downbeat white paper from Milton Griepp. The numbers were all down: sales overall are down 12% overall, with comics up a mere 1% while graphic novels are down 20%. The GN decline is partly due to the”Watchmen effect” — Griepp theorized hat if it weren’t for the block buster sales of the GN last spring, comics sales would have been significantly down in 2009 — but also due to the softness in the bookstore market.

“Comics shops are holding their own,” said Griepp, in answer to an audience question.

However on the digital side, Griepp said that sales are up to $6-8 million in the US, a 1000% increase of the $500,000-$1 million business for 2009, estimated in his last white paper.

But even that sanguine statistic paled before the next session where Masaaki Shimizu, General Manager of International Business Strategy Division at Bitway ran down the statistics on the Japanese digital comics industry: $600 million a year. That’s US dollars. We fact checked with Shimizu after the panel to make sure we heard that right. By comparison, the Japanese PRINT comics industry is ¥1 billion, he said. Some digital comics are downloaded 10,000 times a day, he said.

The other participants on the state of digital panel included Dario Di Zanni, Sr. Manager, Marketing and Business Development–New Media, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Michael Murphey of iVerse, Lindsey Levinson of Overdrive, David Steinberger of Comixology and Ron Richards of Graphic.ly. They were all pragmatic and upbeat, clearly all have growing businesses.

Asked about what is selling, surprisingly, several mentioned that material that skews younger is leading their sales. Call it a renegade theory, but getting comics for younger readers out where younger readers can get at them might just increase comics readerships.

Shimizu mentioned that most of the digital comics in Japan are sold on mobile platform, including enhanced phones — it’s mostly women. “When we started in 2003 we didn’t expect that our audience would be 60% women,” he said. “For mobile retail service, high teen females are the biggest audience. High 20s and low 30s are the top in sales.”
Murphey reported, “Our audience is skewing younger. We have a few that have skewed older that have done well, but the younger titles seem to be the ones that are being purchased the mos–parents are getting things for kids to read.”

While the Apple IOS platform is reported to have the most success, the Sony PSP is also a strong delivery device for comics — PSP buyers are a bit more adventurous, said Murphey.

Other points that came up throughout the day:

• Publishers — both print and digital — are beginning to chafe against Apple and its restrictions for what you can charge and content. Apple never meant to be both a tech manufacturer and a content provider, said Ted Adams of IDW later in the day.

• Comics have the music business as a skeleton along the highway….if they don’t get smarter about what is already happening they’ll end up in the same state

• As more platforms become available the market is going to grow exponentially.

• Publishers would be silly not to look into advertising opportunities for digital comics. .

• It was also pointed out that the dedicated comic shop audience is perhaps 300,000 people — the iVerse app alone has been downloaded 2.5 million times.

The next program was digital and creativity, which I moderated. It was a very lively session which could have gone on all day. All the participants are very dedicated to the digital platform, and truly, where digital and comics will end up is a wide open frontier of opportunity. Also clumsiness — the whole room groaned when Douglas Wolk bought up motion comics. Alex De Campi talked a lot about Valentine, and how the page format had given her a chance to write with different pacing. People rarely came out and mentioned downloads, but Robot Comics David Baxter mentioned that Robot 13 has now had 200,000 downloads, and a 5 or 6% conversion rate from the free sample to the paid issues and “The print edition is completely sold out.”

On the print vs digital panel, digital was winning handily. The retailer with pitchfork demographic was represented by John Riley, owner of Grasshopper Comics, but he was very funny and wry in admitting that the digital world is here to stay. What he pleaded for is a way to make digital comics sell more comics in ALL forms. One idea that came up again and again — bonus content, whether as with graphic.ly “audio tracks” of creator comments, or as Riley suggested, extra pages or features that are downloaded able in a retail environment. “We’re going up the digital ramp last. If I had a wifi hotspot where you download a few extra free pages, trust me while you’re there I’ll sell you something.”

The biggest bombshell came from Marvel’s David Gabriel (see next story.) He said that digital has yet to equal what Midtown of of the biggest comics retailers in the country, sold on titles available on digital platforms. However Ultimate Thor #1, which was sold day and date, was the first to sell more in digital that at Midtown. “In April we had zero download and now we had we passed 2 million downloads in five months that’s pretty fantastic – but that does not translate into 2 million downloads a day.”

The print vs digital was really no battle, just an acknowledgement that the business is changing. As folks gathered around for the traditional blue cocktails of the Transcontinental schmooze hour, the main topic was just how we were all going to fit into this brave new world.


  1. “graphic novels are down 20%.”

    This headline, and the attribution of this to a “Watchmen effect” is driving me crazy.

    ICv2 counts bookstore sales in their equations, and that means they’re counting the status of the rapidly deflating manga market in with these numbers. 20% is not representative of the direct market’s graphic novel performance at all.

  2. Tim is correct about that being an industry-wide figure, and not a Direct Market statistic.

    Through August, the combined sales of the Top 300 Trades each month in the Direct Market were down 9% versus the same grouping in 2009. The figure doesn’t change much when you extend it to the whole backlist.

  3. If you subtract out Watchmen sales from 2009 in the Direct Market, the top-selling trade paperbacks are down closer to 6% for the year to date; so in the Direct Market in 2010, the “Watchmen Effect” would be something like 2 or 3 points.

  4. Nobody really answered directly when I asked about ads in digital comics — although it seemed iVerse, Graphic.ly, Comixology, and others all had plans for the future, but just not showing their hand. Although Michael Murphy did say that a digital comic could conceivably be given away if partnered with the right advertisers. This is a potential big friggin’ deal.

    Another interesting point was how successful indie books have been — very encouraging. Many of us had been concerned that the big guys would monopolize the digital space.

    I debated in my head for days whether to go to the conference and decided to attend at the last minute — I made the right choice. The whole event was an amazing view into the near future. The panelists were great, informative, and a lot of fun. I really appreciated Mark Waid’s candor.

    Great job by all who put on the conference!

  5. In your rundown of the comments made by Masaaki Shimizu, you write that he stated that the digital comics market is a $600 million/yr (US) one, vs 1 billion Yen/yr for print comics… I can’t help but think that this is a typo or a slip-up in your notes, as in spite of all the hype for digital, I still find it hard to believe that the Japanese digital comics market is ten times bigger than the print market.

    Also, out of curiosity did Shimizu break down what percentage of digital sales are for cell phones vs for PCs and other non-phone devices? Japan is big on cell phone comics in a way that we don’t seem to be over in the States.

  6. Although Michael Murphy did say that a digital comic could conceivably be given away if partnered with the right advertisers.

    Dc already did this, giving away first issues of several comics, all sponsored by the NBC show “The Event.”