The buzz around digital comics has continued to build in recent years, as they’ve moved from browser-only platforms to apps on smartphones like the iPhone. The debut of the iPad, Apple’s tablet computer, in April 2010 brought this buzz to a crescendo: the iPad’s screen is almost the same size as a comic book, making it arguably the best vehicle to date on which to view digital comics.
Publishers have responded with varying levels of speed, and several distributors have also come to the forefront, including Graphic.ly, a community-based digital comics platform that offers more than 1,000 comics for download to a desktop or mobile device. As part of Digital Comics Month, we spoke with Ron Richards, Vice President of External Relations at Graphic.ly:
TFAW.com: How long have you been distributing digital comics? When, and how, was your company founded?
Ron Richards: Graphic.ly was founded in January 2010 and we’ve been distributing digital comics for the past year. Our company was founded after spinning out of the TechStars program in Boulder, Colorado.
TFAW.com: What drew you to digital comics?
RR: Our love of comics and technology drew us to the world of digital comics, by seeing what was coming on the horizon as devices and other technology would support the reality of digital comics, Graphic.ly was created to help usher in the digital age.
TFAW.com: What did you think when you first heard about the possibility of reading comics in a digital format?
RR: As far as Graphic.ly is concerned, we’ve been talking about reading comic in a digital format for as long as we can remember, at least the early 2000s when we started seeing those archive CD-Rom sets of old Marvel comics begin to be released.
TFAW.com: Who is buying your digital comics? Is it your usual audience, or do you think you’re reaching a more nontraditional demographic?
RR: Our audience is an interesting mix of the usual comics audience (albeit a bit more tech savvy) and the non-traditional comic audience who is tech savvy and curious about online comics. Our goal is to cater to both audiences equally, with the real growth coming from the non-typical comic readers.
TFAW.com: Do you currently offer day and date comics? Will you offer more of those in the future?
RR: We do offer day and date comics by some of our publishers. We’d love to offer more of them in the future, but ultimately it’s up to our publisher’s release schedules.
TFAW.com: Do you provide digital “graphic novels,” or just standalone issues?
RR: The catalog in Graphic.ly provides both standalone issues as well as collected editions and graphic novels.
TFAW.com: How have iPhone-sized versus iPad-sized digital comics fared?
RR: We haven’t really seen many iPhone-specific sized digital comics, rather the comics we sell are the standard comic size, then made available to read on whatever device the reader is on.
TFAW.com: Right now, many publishers are going through several distributors at once. Will that continue, or do you plan to require exclusivity?
RR: We have no plans to require exclusivity for our publishers.
TFAW.com: How does iTunes figure in your service (if at all)?
RR: iTunes figures in our service purely in that we have an iPhone and iPad app available. But we also have our desktop app, a Windows 7 phone app and an Android app on the way, so we’re not dependent on iTunes.
TFAW.com: What are the advantages of your service, compared to other digital comics distributors?
RR: There are several advantages of the Graphic.ly platform. First is that we are the most socially connected platform out there, with the ability for users to connect as friends and comment on and interact within the comics themselves. Additionally, with our desktop application and our mobile applications, you can choose where and when you want to read the comics in your collection. They’re yours to use as you see fit!
TFAW.com: How do you feel publishers have responded to the digital comics format? Have there been any changes in the way they produce comics that you’ve seen?
RR: It’s been interesting to see the publishers’ reaction to digital comics, with last year definitely being a watermark in the future of digital comics. Most of the independent publishers are ready to embrace and use digital comics, while the bigger publishers, while getting involved, are still figuring it out. I haven’t seen any dramatic changes in how they produce comics thanks to digital, rather more of experimentation around pricing and distribution.
TFAW.com: What have been some of the major challenges of bringing comics into the digital age?
RR: Easily the biggest challenges have come in availability of the comics themselves. Getting back-libraries converted into digital format is a large undertaking and takes time. Further getting access to current inventory is challenging as publishers work to balance between retail and digital.
TFAW.com: What do you think of the piracy issue that comes along with digital distribution?
RR: Piracy is rampant with comics, but if we’ve learned anything from the music industry is that if you make the materials available digitally, at a fair price, piracy will minimize.
TFAW.com: What are your plans for future development?
RR: Our plans for future development involve continued development of our web platform as well as further refining our current offering of products.
TFAW.com: If one of your digital comics readers wanted to get the hard copy after they read the digital comic, how do you help them find out where to get a copy?
RR: We encourage our publishers to include information within the book (usually at the end) as to where they can buy the book offline.
TFAW.com: What do you think digital comics will mean for traditional retailers in the upcoming years?
RR: Hopefully digital comics becomes just another way for people to get comics, another retail avenue. We’d love to see retailers selling credits or some way for their customers to still shop at their store, and get their comics digitally. I think we’ll see the issue format move to digital, while the collected editions will continue to thrive, and that’s what will make up most retailers offerings.
TFAW.com: Do you think digital comics spell the end of floppies?
RR: Not necessarily. It may change the landscape or the economy of “floppies,” but ultimately the marketplace and customers will determine the fate of floppies. If they’re still being bought, the publishers will still print them.
TFAW.com: Do you honestly think digital stores and the traditional direct market can both continue to thrive?
RR: I honestly hope so.
TFAW.com: Do you have any retailer incentives or plans to include traditional retailers in your digital comics program?
RR: Not currently, but it’s been discussed and we’re very much open to working with retailers in some capacity.
We want to thank Ron Richards for taking the time to answer all of our questions! Make sure to keep coming back throughout January–we’ll be interviewing other influential publishers and distributors to let you know what they’re offering, and what the future might hold for us all. Next up: Paul Ens of Red 5 Comics will answer our questions on Friday, January 14.
Have you purchased digital comics? What do think about the future of the comics industry? Post your comments below!