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Exclusive Interview: Peter Phillips & David Gabriel on the State of Marvel Digital Comics

Avengers Vs. X-Men is breaking records and shaping the direction of the future of digital comics for Marvel.

Digital comics are said to be the future but that future is here. While some may still be on the fence over converting to reading comics in a digital format, there's no denying that the popularity is growing each week.

With the success of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, Marvel has not only seen an increase in print sales with the series but it's also changing the way they look at the digital format. We recently had the opportunity to speak exclusively with Peter Phillips, SVP & General Manager, Marvel Digital Media and David Gabriel, SVP, Sales about the big crossover and what it means for their outlook on digital comics.

Comic Vine: We're seeing a big push in digital content with AVENGERS VS X-MEN, what's the feedback been on the AR content?

Peter Phillips: It's been fantastic! People are clamoring for more. We are receiving great feedback not only from consumer response in downloads but through customer service, media outlets and conventions. Marvel had an overwhelming positive response last month at C2E2.

David Gabriel: The program has proven so successful, that we looking to integrate AR into collected edition, as well as other comics. AR content will definitely be used in the upcoming AvX collection available in November. The collection will contain all original AR applications along with new content created exclusively for the hardcover.

== TEASER ==

CV: What other content are we going to see? So far it's just been in the AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, where will we see the AR app used next?

DG: We have continued plans to use AR within the AvX series; in addition we are currently working on a large-scale integration tied to something very big we haven’t announced yet.

CV: We've seen the 'trailers' on the cover, writer commentary, character bios and the different stages of artwork through the AR app. Are there plans for other types of content to be seen?

PP: Yes, we have several new AR applications in development that I can’t speak to at the moment. We are approaching development based on positive user feedback, along with generating new ideas from our design team. We want to ensure a diverse AR experience for fans every time.

CV: Do you have a way to track how many people are actually using the AR app or is it based on the number of times the app is downloaded?

PP: We definitely have access to track both the number of user downloads and actual app usage to generate metrics.

CV: AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1 is breaking sales records. The issue included a free digital download. How did the issue do as a straight forward download?

DG: So far, AVENGERS VS X-MEN #1 is our top selling same-day-as-print digitally purchased comic. Each subsequent issue has had higher first day purchases than the previous issue, telling us that the audience has grown and readers are coming back for more. This of course is being mirrored with print orders too, which is a great sign all around! We are currently seeing 3 – 5% redemption of the overall sales attributable to the free download in the print product.

CV: Do you feel the success is based on the content, that this is the big Marvel crossover?

DG: I do think it's the content. I tell the editors all the time that all the marketing people can do is to make sure the initial orders for the print books gets out there to the retailers' hands. Once we start seeing sellouts, second prints, third prints and now digital sales increasing week after week, that is all due to the editorial content. That's all the creators and editors.

PP: We’ve also made improvements to our Marvel.com website recently, along with developing an easier process to buy comics through different channels. We’re ensuring people are aware exactly how they can purchase digital comics. No matter where you buy, your purchased comics will be available on all your devices, including PC & Mac laptop and desktop, Apple® iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®, and Android™ smartphone and tablet devices.

CV: With the digital sales increasing for each issue of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, are you seeing an increase on other digital sales as well?

DG: The success of Avengers Vs X-Men is certainly affecting tie-in issues, as well as, some unrelated comics. The collected editions are also seeing increased numbers in digital sales. Sales are increasing every day across all platforms.

While digital are increasing, it’s nice to report that all related print sales are also going up. So while we're seeing issue AvX #3 digital sales surpassing issue 2, print sales of AvX #4 are tracking higher than issues 2 and 3. We are expecting this trend to continue for issues 5 and 6. This is phenomenal feat in the comic industry, were distribution usually trends downward. The upswing is sales is great reflection on the quality of the product.

CV: When people look at the monthly sales, it's only the print sales. Are we going to see digital numbers factored into the overall market shares standings?

DG: No, the market share is determined by Diamond; who does not have access to digital sales. The most effective measure of digital sales impact will be comic rankings through comiXology.

CV: When titles are canceled, we assume it's due to low sales. Will digital sales be able to start "saving" titles?

DG: I don't think the industry, including Marvel, is there yet. I believe in a couple of years that could all change; however we are currently not at a point where digital sales will factor into the overall profitability of single print books.

CV: Marvel is now shifting over to the free digital codes with all $3.99 titles, are people using those codes?

DG: They are. We are currently seeing approximately a 3% redemption rate on $3.99 titles with the AvX series reaching closer to 10%, if not higher. To place this in perspective, AvX is trending at a higher than the redemption rate for digital DVD codes.

Marvel is the first publisher to include this added value across our line, free to consumers. We are also applying codes to graphic novels like the SEASON ONE books. A test on the success of digital codes will be the Jason Aaron and Marc Silvestri INCREDIBLE HULK run and the AvX oversized hardcover. The AvX hardcover collection will also feature and exclusive printed version of the NOVA Infinite comic.

Marvel is also the only publisher paying back retailers for the redemption of free digital comic downloads. So retailers are making money on digital comic redemptions.

CV: So that's why when you redeem a code, you're asked to enter the store you bought the comic from?

DG: That is correct.

CV: Prior to the release of Avengers Vs. X-Men #1, we saw the Nova Infinite digital comic. Are we going to start seeing more digital exclusive content like that?

DG: You’ll definitely get another Infinite Comic very soon—specifically in Avengers VS. X-Men #6. The theme for the second act of AvX is “No More Avengers” and this Infinite Comic has major repercussions for a principle character in the story. So when you buy your print or digital copy of Avengers VS X-men #6, you’ll get the Infinite Comic bundled in there for free or you can buy it separately.

CV: What about the Marvel Digital Unlimited reader? Will we ever be able to access our accounts on smart phones and tablets?

PP: That's a great idea. I love it! [laughs] All joking aside, yes, eventually you will be able to access your MDU account on all supported devices. I don't have a "when" or a "how," but I can tell you that it is one of the most requested amendments to our digital offerings right now. Because of that, we have prioritized the project and it’s moving closer to completion.

CV: We've seen a lot of innovations so far since Avengers Vs. X-Men #1. What's next? Do you guys already have plans for the next big thing to 'wow' us?

PP: Do we have the next big thing? I don't know exactly what it is, but I know we're planning based on the reaction we are seeing through this endeavor and internal discussions. We have several ideas that we are currently pursuing to enhance the comic reading experience further.

CV: With Marvel having the Number 1 book again and four of the top ten books being Marvel, is there more pressure to maintain this momentum?

DG: We don’t ever look at the market share reports and feel satisfied—our goal is to always push for higher sales because we produce a lot of excellent content. So while we’re happy to have the #1 book in the industry again and be the #1 publisher, we’re always looking at ways to increase sales on all our books.

Right now retailers and fans are responding the high quality of comics our editorial team delivers each week and our goal is to make sure as many readers as possible check out these series. The pressure is always on us to bring more readers to comics and to retailers because we believe Marvel has a product with a very broad appeal.

CV: In terms of the dollar amounts in the market share, obviously the more $3.99 books available could mean higher dollar amounts but also could turn off fans, even with the free digital download. How much thought is put into maintaining the $2.99 for as many books as possible?

DG: Looking at the sales for Marvel and its competitors, it certainly doesn’t seem like the $3.99 price point is a huge barrier for fans or retailers. We believe the price of our comics is justified by the content and that we deliver an exceptional value for the price.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #4 is on sale Wednesday, May 16.

30 Comments
Edited by Urthiln

I'm still a comic book sort of guy, I don't think I could ever get into having my comics digital (although I said this about having an iPod before too). Comic books will be the new vinyl records. There is just something about browsing comics or records that you will never replicate digitally. But I'm sure digital comics will catch on a lot more in the next few years.

That said I could definitely see the appeal of having my collection at my finger tips if I'm away from home, that would be very nice indeed.

Posted by KainScion

i'm sorry but aVx is a crappy event. they can throw as many characters as they want in it but its still crappy. fear itself was better.

Posted by Chaos Burn

Its entirely situational that this series is doing 'well'.... the fact that more people than ever have ipods and android phones etc means that this event is the first big event for niave consumers (most likely recently hooked by the Avengers film) on these devices, they are a success of circumstances, not quality of product

Posted by TheOptimist

David Gabriel: The program has proven so successful, that we looking to integrate AR into collected edition, as well as other comics. AR content will definitely be used in the upcoming AvX collection available in November. The collection will contain all original AR applications along with new content created exclusively for the hardcover.

NO! Argh! No! That is incredibly not what I wanted to hear. I'm incredibly turned off by the inclusion of the little AR boxes... I'm so disappointed to hear this. I'm sure it will make some people happy, I am not one of them.

Posted by clintlandon

I feel cheap saying this, but I don't read new Marvel comics. I can read all of the older new 52 Batman comics for $2. Pick up the new one for 3 if I feel like it. I don't expect it to go down, but I'll just stick with the Marvel back catalogue, then.

Posted by Petey_is_Spidey

Marvel Digital Comics is one of the primary ways I read comics.

Posted by feargalr

I love digital stuff. I think its great, and absolutely the way the industry should be moving, for single issues anyway. But I'll still always want my favourite story arcs in hard back

Posted by TheHeat

I still haven't read a single Marvel digital comic yet. The AR app is pretty cool if you ask me.

Posted by Dernman

Print soon will be dead.

Posted by CombatSpoon86

One of their recent successes. Allows people to get it on the go. Allows people to get into comics who buy the physical copy and get the digital code for free. Win Win situation. I've taken advantage from my friends who give me their codes now.

I'll still always be a print guy but now count me in as a digital guy as well.

Posted by DATNIGGA

@KainScion: Its all about personal preference I love AvX.. but fear itself? you liked fear itself? lol 99% of it was random fodder dieing & superhero's getting terribly owned by the worthy in EVERY fight

Edited by ZEELLO

wow so if I buy a 3.99 marvel comic I get a digital version free. That's awesome. and the store gets money? wat

That's pretty awesome.

Does Playstation Vita have a comics reader by the way? I'm guess not but it's a disappointment if that's the case, seeing as PSP had one, and digital comics are a bigger thing now. Kind of ironic.

Posted by pspin

Thanks digital comics, because all the stereotypical comic reader needs is another reason to not associate with people and play large amounts of D&D.

Seriously though I started with digital but moved to print because I like the feel of paper in hand and digital comics are a pain with hat stupid panel flow what ever the hell it is. I hope they never go all digital. AR is neat though I wish they could just tell you which panels are AR instead of putting those little boxes in.

Posted by Nudeviking

@Urthiln said:

I'm still a comic book sort of guy, I don't think I could ever get into having my comics digital (although I said this about having an iPod before too). Comic books will be the new vinyl records. There is just something about browsing comics or records that you will never replicate digitally. But I'm sure digital comics will catch on a lot more in the next few years.

That said I could definitely see the appeal of having my collection at my finger tips if I'm away from home, that would be very nice indeed.

The comic book/vinyl comparison is pretty apt. When Marvel first rolled out the free digital downloads with purchases of physical comics it reminded me of what tons of indie record labels (and maybe major labels too...but I have no idea) have been doing for the past few years. Buy the 7" single get the mp3 download codes for free. That way you can have the collectible thing and the digital, easy to use version for one price.

I'm with you, in that there's nothing like a stack of records or comic books, but having easy access to your collection without having to hook a turntable up to your computer or scan page after page yourself is awesome.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus
"Looking at the sales for Marvel and its competitors, it certainly doesn’t seem like the $3.99 price point is a huge barrier for fans or retailers. We believe the price of our comics is justified by the content and that we deliver an exceptional value for the price."

Wow, rather overly confident in themselves aren't they? Just don't really understand why a "holding the line at 2.99" deal wouldn't hold up for Marvel since its the major competitor to the other of the big two. Its not like these guys are IDW or Dynamite in which they have no choice but to keep the price at that level.

Posted by 5ive

this is a win for all parties involved

Posted by Keen314

As soon as they release DRM-free digital comics, I'll stop buying physical books. Marvel and DC need to learn from the music studios.

Posted by GreenFuse

It's super frustrating when you use abbreviations w/o saying what they stand for. What the frack is AR? Thanks, google...

I love digital comics but I don't like that an internet connection is required to read your downloaded comics. I hope they change that.

AvX has been a big letdown thus far.

Posted by Wowlock

Ah yes ....those ''records'' has nothing do with The Avengers movie , sure. Such overconfidence....

Personally I am forced to use the digital version since the comics do not sell on hardcopy in my country but I can understand the sentimental value of a hard-paper print. I still miss the old games I have with CDs and Sega games and digital purchase do not give the same feeling.

Posted by blur1528

@Petey_is_Spidey said:

Marvel Digital Comics is one of the primary ways I read comics.

I love the iOS app.

Posted by blur1528

@CombatSpoon86 said:

One of their recent successes. Allows people to get it on the go. Allows people to get into comics who buy the physical copy and get the digital code for free. Win Win situation. I've taken advantage from my friends who give me their codes now.

I'll still always be a print guy but now count me in as a digital guy as well.

Exactly.

Posted by revbucky

@RedheadedAtrocitus said:

"Looking at the sales for Marvel and its competitors, it certainly doesn’t seem like the $3.99 price point is a huge barrier for fans or retailers. We believe the price of our comics is justified by the content and that we deliver an exceptional value for the price."

Wow, rather overly confident in themselves aren't they? Just don't really understand why a "holding the line at 2.99" deal wouldn't hold up for Marvel since its the major competitor to the other of the big two. Its not like these guys are IDW or Dynamite in which they have no choice but to keep the price at that level.

I agree with you and thought the same thing when I read those comments.

Posted by SupremeHyperion

I'm a in hand type of reader as well but I do enjoy the ability to buy and have ready a comic in about 5 seconds sitting in my house drinking coffee. I find myself grabbing at some titles i normally wouldn't have bought when they have their sales and the visual quality is pretty amazing. digital comics is reason enough to own a portable reader.

Posted by lorex
@KainScion said:

i'm sorry but aVx is a crappy event. they can throw as many characters as they want in it but its still crappy. fear itself was better.

I agree with you 100%. Marvel must think we are all stupid to think this event is a good idea. It is clearly a stunt to boost sales and unfortunately most of the fans ate it up. I was a but disappointed in the comic vine staff and other industry media for not calling Marvel out on their BS, but I suppost they have to play nice to maintain good relations in otder to get future interviews and such.
Online
Posted by Novaar

As somebody as said each to their own but I'm both amazed and not surprised by AvX's succes. The concept seemed highly dubious to begin with and since then, in the ones I've read, we've had leaders acting like idiots (hello Capt, hi there Cyclops), recons. An event that, for me, comes far too soon after the mutants splitting for it to work well. But hey, that's Marvel, home of the 10,000 big events where you promo stuff before you even get through them (an X-men wedding and a Gambit series announced before AvX? Sort of gives some games away...)

With so many people being wary I didn't know if this would flop. I gave it a try but it seems as if a lot of people did. I'm giving up on it. I love my fights as much as the next guy but they have to make some sort of sense and none of this does. What I'll be interested in is whether the big numbers continue. Even Comicvine, with it's give every comic a five rating system, went from 5 to 3 by a couple of issues in!

As for digital comics it's a bit like Kindle and books for me. I love tech and new gadgets. But at the same time I like my books and comics to be in the hard form. There's something a bit special about opening a comic for the first time and I'd like that to stay.

Posted by thatlad

It costs £2.05-£2.60 for a comic if I'm buying from a comic book store online, that includes postage and packing.

It costs £1.99-£2.49 for a digital version, no packaging, no materials, no postage. There's just no value for me in a same day purchase. That being said I've got over 400+ comics from marvel alone, mainly the 69p issues, I tend to buy a whole series at a time.

If Marvel get their pricing sorted they could really draw in massive amount of readers. Until then it's still paper for me.

Posted by crazed_h3ro

First let me say, Thor is going to get SMASHED by the Phoenix Force, I am sorry but had to say it.

I am a traditional comic book fan, I will always go the the Comic store to pick up the latest Comics. Digital comics...well not so interested in it, yes it will be a lot easier and faster to get your comics but, very limited comics are available off the bat, and seems very complicated.

Posted by thatlad

AR is ridiculous, it adds a whole new app and awkward step of holding the device to the comic trying to get it lined up. IM ALREADY PUTTING A DIGI CODE IN FFS! Just put all the extra content in the comics app. Stop making things more labourious. One major thing I want is to be able to just key the digi code within the marvel app. So annoying to mess with that website

Posted by KidSupreme

Thats really cool! :D

Edited by Hector

I got into buying comics about 9 months ago. I just finished filling up a box. Now I can't decided whether to buy another one and continue buying physical copies or just move on to digital.