In the wake of the ICv2 Digital and Comics Conference that kicked off this year’s New York Comic con, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest stories coming out of the show will likely skew to digital. Dark Horse Comics didn’t waste anytime and announced the beginnings of a comprehensive digital publishing program that is not only looking to bypass some of the restrictions of the App Store but also claims to offer features aimed specifically at including physical store retailing.
Yesterday at New York Comic Con Dark Horse senior editor Scott Allie; publicity director Jeremy Atkins and v-p of marketing Micha Hershman announced that beginning in January Dark Horse is planning to launch a “proprietary” digital publishing program that will allow any mobile device with a web browser to download and read Dark Horse comics. Users will be able to download a Dark Horse app from iTunes and then navigate to digital.darkhorse.com and buy and download comics. Currently Dark Horse offers some comics as Apple apps for iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad; Android apps are also on the way.
The new proprietary system will launch with more than 170 Dark Horse comics, a mix of new material and backlist, and single issue comics will sell for $1.49; in addition to book and repackaged collections selling for $2.99 to $5.99. Manga–under scrutiny because of sales declines, claims of piracy from scanlations and Japanese reluctance to offer digital rights–will be missing. DH licensing exec Michael Gambos acknowledged that “licensing problems,” continue to prevent U.S. licensees from offering manga in digital format. Asked if any of DH’s popular manga would be available in the new digital program anytime in 2011, Gambos was noncommital, but emphasized that “We’re working on manga.” To promote the new digital program, Dark Horse is offering 8 apps, including such comics as Janet Evanovich’s Troublemaker and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, for free over this weekend only.
Most importantly the new digital program will include “exclusive stuff for physical store retailers,” Hershman said, although more details on the store program—including when it will launch—will come later. DH emphasized that the new retailer digital effort is focused on comics shops or the direct market, the network of roughly 3,000 specialty comics retailers generally serviced by Diamond Comics Distributors. The Dark Horse contingent declined to say whether the new retailer digital program would also include general bookstore and national book retailers, noting that the program was conceived with the direct market in mind.
Hershman said Dark Horse has developed a proprietary digital system for several reasons. “No censorship and no problems from Apple about the content of our comics,” he said. In addition, he said that bypassing the App store will allow Dark Horse to “pay creators more rather than pay fees to Apple,” and that it will mean “lower prices for comics.”
Dark Horse digital downloads will include day and date release for print and digital for some comics, a practice under much scrutiny for how it will impact the sales of print comics in physical stores. Certainly the Dark Horse program looks comprehensive and addresses a serious question about Apple’s control and possible censorship in the wake of the release of the iPad, a device generally seen as likely to generate a huge increase in new comics readers. Will Apple’s often arbitrary restrictions on nudity and sexual content limit the material that comics publishers can distribute on the ipad?
Much of the discussion during the ICv2 Digital Conference focused on ways to integrate physical store retailers into comics publisher’s digital programs by offering free in-store premiums or discounts. Comics app developer Comixology has long worked to include physical store retailers in its digital program and DC Comics claims to creating a program as well. However, we’re still waiting to hear from DC Comics, and now from Dark Horse, more details on just how these programs will work and which physical stores will get a piece of the digital action.