By Todd Allen

Top Cow’s been talking about their digital plans again.  This has all been announced prior to Comicon, but I haven’t really commented on it yet and now’s as good a time as any.  The two major pieces are a Kickstarter campaign to relaunch Cyber Force and moving Pilot Season over to Mark Waid’s Thrillbent site.

The Kickstarter campaign is a very interesting thing.  Top Cow is not the first publisher in the world to use crowdfunding to launch a series, but the idea of doing a crowdfunding campaign to make a comic available for free in _print_ is very, very interesting thinking.

Cyberforce will be relaunched with the initial 5-issue opening arc being given out free to stores in a manner similar to Free Comic Book Day.  It will also be available for free online.  Presumably, when issue 6 hits, it will no longer be free and they’re looking to convert free readers to paid customers.  It’s a very ambitious program.

CBR had the money quote on this a few days ago:

“Ultimately, the primary goal was to try and get as many lapsed or casual readers back into reading comics and trying to drive them into comic book stores,” Hawkins told CBR before diving into the multiple “tiers” donators will be able to choose from, with more incentives the higher the amount you pledge. “We’re doing a black and white variant of each issue of Marc’s covers that is only available through Kickstarter,” Hawkins explained. “Marc is using the original art for the cover to #1 as a higher tier incentive. The moneymaker will be the $50 tier, which will be the only way to ever get the hardcover of the first volume. Hardcovers seem to be what people collect now, and we only need to sell 1500 of those at the $50 tier — where you also get all five sketch variants — to raise the $75k we need.”

The more exclusive and expensive upgrade options are definitely where you can make your money in a crowdfunding campaign.  And Top Cow knows a thing or three about variant covers and collectibles.  That said, these guys have some pretty huge balls to be setting it up this way.

This Kickstarter campaign is not yet active.  Personally, I think it’s a little insane to have been talking about a Kickstarter campaign for a week without having the campaign live and ready to accept pledges.  Now, I also wouldn’t want to launch a Kickstarter during SDCC when 100K-200K of my target audience are away from home and with more limited Internet access than you’d otherwise have.  But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Kickstarter campaign went live today.  It wouldn’t be over until mid-August if it’s the standard 30 day campaign.  $75K is not a small amount of money to raise.   October solicitations are out right now.

The way Top Cow has set this up basically says: “Hey fans, we’ve set all this up.  Come pay for it.”  A more standard approach is, “if you fund this, we’ll do it.”  It’s presumed this will go quickly.  It might.  Certainly, Top Cow should have plenty of data to make projections on those limited edition pledge items.

Still, if they don’t make the goal, will this be re-solicited as a normal, $3.99 comic in August?  Would they need to push the release date back to get into the normal solicitation cycle?  When you plan a Kickstarter, the contingency planning should be part of it.

It’s a very cool concept, but daaaaaaaamn — they structured this as to go for broke.  More power to them.

With Pilot Season, things are a little more straight forward.  The new issues will be viewed over at Thrillbent.  You can can vote for you favorite.  The winner gets a mini-series and the mini-series gets a collected edition in print.  Which is the standard operating procedure for webcomics.

Pilot Season wasn’t selling terribly well for Top Cow in print, but they were getting tons of people looking at the material during experiments with digital editions.  They decided to go with the format where the eyeballs were.  Nothing complicated at all and it will only help Thrillbent build an audience.