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.