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Kirkman: digital has not cannibalized print sales


This quote from Robert Kirkman has been making the rounds, but it’s well worth circulating some more: as digital WALKING DEAD sales rise, print stays level. Is this only applicable to media phenomenon THE WALKING DEAD? Like Kirkman, we’ve seen evidence that it is not.

I don’t really know the hard numbers off the top of my head, but I know when it started at comiXology, we were doing 5% and as we’ve continued to work with comiXology and branched out into other digital platforms, we’ve seen digital sales go from 5% of print sales to we’re getting close to 25 to 30% of print sales. The digital market is jumping and rising and growing exponentially while the print market continues to grow. I can say that I’ve seen that on all of my other books too, books like “Invincible.” The digital market continues to double over time, while the print market is completely unaffected. While I will say that there’s a lot of retailers out there and people who are hardcore fans of print comics that see digital as a threat, I can say that I’ve seen no end of evidence that that’s not the case at all, that we’re seeing a growing digital audience coinciding with a growing print audience and the two seem to be feeding off of each other in a way that seems to bring more sales to both, which is a really exciting and uplifting thing to see for the industry as a whole.


  1. Digital comics can’t reach their true potential until the publishers and services ease up on the price. I’m talking 99 cents a book or super cheap subscription ease up.

  2. It would be interesting to see if these sales are in the publication month or over a longer period of time than 30 days. Does he se an increase as books get older and are sold at a discount digitally?

  3. They should be at least a dollar cheaper than print. I really wish they would release the numbers.

    Could some lower selling books like X-treme X-Men or I, Vampire be doing enough in digital to avoid cancellation?

  4. Seeing double digit growth in digital without cannibalizing print sales is a near perfect formula for not only industry health going forward, but seeing those digital prices coming down in the future. It warms my heart to see this unfolding for comic books… other industries aren’t so lucky.

  5. But if the digital sales are still rising, then there is no economic imperative to lower the price.

    Back in February 2011, I posted this:
    “1981 was when the Direct Market matured. That year, Marvel Comics released Dazzler #1 only to comics shops, selling an estimated 400,000 copies. Looking at circulation figures, Marvel realized that Ka-Zar, Moon Knight, and Micronauts were not selling well via newsstands, but could be viable if sold exclusively via subscriptions and the Direct Market of comics shops. By the end of the decade, Marvel, DC, and most publishers distributed more titles via the more lucrative Direct Market than to newsstands.”

    How much of the total cost does printing a comic add to the Profit & Loss spreadsheet? Penny-pinching Marvel might be the first to move to a digital comic/paper collection model.

    I, Vampire has at least a year before circulation is a concern. Why? The first collection charted on the NY Times bestseller list. Vampires are still a popular genre in mass market fiction markets.

  6. Torsten is correct. Indeed, if digital prices were cut to one or two dollars cheaper, I think that would spark a fleeing from print (in the similar way that iTunes undercut music retailers. The balance that comic companies and Comixology have struck — same price as retail for new comics, discounted for older — is cooperatively smart in a way not often seen in the free market: There’s an understanding that it’s important for the entire industry to thrive — the companies, retail and digital storefront.

  7. Of course Kirkman’s situation is unique – the entire WD phenomenon is an anomaly, who are we kidding?

    Digital comics should be $1. The problem with hitting that number (ever) is that the publishers still have too many middlemen (Apple, Comixology, etc) taking cuts to effectively lower pricing, which shows exactly how lame they all are – they didn’t prepare a platform for what will inevitably be their primary sales format. If the Marvel/Disney thing had happened earlier, I bet this wouldn’t be the case.

    I find it hilarious that some new book are launched digitally at 2.99 or 3.99, but that’s just placating B&M retailers that publishers need now, but ultimately will not.

    There are still years of growth in digital, but just like iTunes, it will plateau and flatline. Right now you have a lot of people buying favorite back issues to have with them at all times, it’s not all new issues. There are more users coming, but it will take more Walking Deads and comics with non-superhero appeal to drive the market beyond fanboys.

  8. Comics “shouldn’t” be anything.
    In a free market economy, producers set the price. If the consumers spend enough to make a profit, then the price is correct. If sales aren’t maximized, then the price is adjusted, costs are recalculated, and a new balance is attained.

    If a profit cannot be attained at any model, then the product is abandoned.

    So, digital is selling at cover price, or $1 off older issues, or at special “bulk” offers. No reason to drop the price, if that price drop doesn’t lead to new sales. (Sort of like “waiting for the trade”.)

    I’m waiting for either:
    1) a comics website retailer to automate digital sales via Diamond’s or Comixology’s digital retailer storefronts, offering a severe discount on digital comics which non-retail-website stores cannot match, selling comics 24/7 nationwide.
    2) an 800-pound gorilla of a retailer (Apple? Amazon?) making a “direct” deal with Marvel, DC, everyone, and then setting up a website like iTunes which will corner the market. Yeah, we’ll attain the dream of comics being mainstream again, just like in the days of spinner racks, but at what cost? (Remember…the grocery store spinner racks were sponsored by the Comics Magazine Association of America… you know… the Comics Code people.)

  9. The digital platform for comics seems to be popular just as much for the fact that it enables creators a more direct form of distribution for their work, as much as for it’s immediacy and convienience. The platform works for the most esoteric of properties as well as the most commercial.
    This provides opportunities for creators that want to do something different for their work to be seen.

  10. I don’t agree with Robert Kirkman. The power of digital media lowered the sales of all kind of printed media. Next generation will read everything from their screens.

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