C2E2: Mark Waid, Comics Retailer vs. Mark Waid, Digital Publisher
I went to two panels at C2E2. One was on Digital Comics; the other was titled “Mark Waid, Comics Retailer vs. Mark Waid, Digital Publisher”, which I thought was the best panel title ever.
As Waid explained, he launched Thrillbent.com, a digital comics site, in 2012 with John Rogers (Leverage, Blue Beetle). Digital comics were considered by some retailers to mean the death of print, the end of comics as we knew them overnight. Last year, Waid bought a comic book store, putting him on the “other side”, although as he went on to explain, it’s not that simple. (In my personal digital history, Mark Waid was also the very first person to show me an iPad. He’s been ahead of the curve for a while.) The other panelists were
- Jason Pierce, store co-owner
- James Tynion, writer of Batman Eternal and The Eighth Seal
- Christina Blanch, co-writer of The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood
- Troy Peteri, Thrillbent letterer and production guru
As expected, some of this panel was promotion for the Thrillbent 3.0 relaunch — more on that later — but much was also discussed about the bigger picture.
Waid began by presenting the virtues of digital, summing it up as a “pants-free experience”. Some people will leave print for digital, but the net gain is tremendous, because everyone who has internet access now has access to comics. They don’t have to travel to a comic store. Plus, stores can’t afford to carry everything someone might want on a whim. “The first lesson I learned as a retailer”, he said, “and I’ve been to every third comic store in America — was that I’d been a jerk for hoping that retailers stocked every copy every Wednesday of everything I wanted to find. You’d go out of business in a week if you ordered one of everything in the catalog.”
He continued, “I so rarely bet on the right horse”, but he believes digital helps create new customers. It drives people into stores, which offer a curated experience. They can make recommendations and build community. Digital is outreach, while stores provide guidance. No one experience is better than the other.
As a creator, he learned print is expensive to do. More than half of the gross profit is taken up by it. Funding creation of a comic ahead of time eats up a lot of money. A physical comic takes deep pockets. With Thrillbent, he could create these stories digitally or not at all. Then, they can create collections and comics based on existing digital stories, where the costs are already covered. If it’s already popular digitally, there’s less risk for the retailer, too.
Thrillbent 3.0, announced at WonderCon, launched the past week with an iPad app and new pricing structure. (An Android app is in development.) Previously, they offered free online comics every week, with the ability to buy download versions from the webstore or comiXology. Now, while there will always be free material on the site, they’re asking for a $3.99 per month subscription for all content access.
That price will include a relaunch of Waid’s Empire series with a Volume 2 drawn by Barry Kitson; a new horror series, The House in the Wall by James Tynion IV, Noah J. Yuenkel, and Eryk Donovan; a new chapter of Insufferable, “Home Field Advantage”; and the first comic written by novelist Seanan McGuire. Plus, new subscribers get a free PDF copy of the 192-page Empire graphic novel. All for the cost of one print comic.
During the panel, I asked about future plans, because it’s easy to put a lot of great stuff together for a launch, but I was curious about four or six months out. Waid says there will be more announcements coming this summer, and their goal is to release at least four comics’ worth of material a month in the long term with 2-3 new chapters a week.
Waid’s slogan, which I quite like, is, “Nobody gets rich, everybody gets paid.” He continued, “I love doing what I do, and making money allows me to keep doing what I do.” They’ll be divvying up the revenue among creators in terms of traffic, downloads and page views per particular property. He also knows that marketing and promotion is everything on the web, and that piece requires constant attention. Getting attention is, in his opinion, a bigger issue than piracy.
During the ending question period from the audience, when asked about Amazon, he said, “As a digital publisher, Amazon doesn’t bother me so much; as a retailer, knowing they have contact info for everyone who ever bought a comic from comixology creeps me out.”