Talking Digital Comics With ComiXology’s David Steinberger

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So how do you find these indie books? Is there a submissions process?

We’ve been out for ten months, and for the months before that, we worked with publishers. Before then, we’d been working with publishers for the site for two years, and we knew all the publishers and had, in essence, been doing PR for them by talking about their books on the site, and having a podcast and helping them sell their books, so at first it was simply demoing the project and telling them we were doing it.

At this point, we get a lot of submissions and we’re working really hard to innovate how independent and creator-owned works get onto the site, so in the next few months there should be some additions to the site to make that a lot easier. Right now, we take an email and take some samples of the work and look at it. Obviously, we do this guided view for the books, and that does take human interaction so there is a limit, at the moment, to how much we can process, but – as long as it’s professional quality, we lean towards stuff that’ll make the most money, of course, like anyone, but as we start getting into comics for kids, there are going to be more opportunities to getting comics onto there.

How do you decide on pricing? Or is that not something you get to define for publishers?

That’s the publishers. We give some advice, but – this is an early market, so to act like anyone or company can act like an iTunes of comics and dictate what price a comic should be, is crazy. For the most part, we give some advice, and we help lead publishers and answer their questions in terms of our experience and what we’ve seen, but we leave them to it. Mostly, prices fall between 99 cents and $1.99, but you also see, for instance, The Pro, which has been very high on our charts for the last few weeks, is $3.99. Sure, it’s an 80 page book, but it’s selling very very well. There isn’t a magic number yet, and even Steve Jobs had to give up on trying to dictate too heavily that every song had to be 99 cents.

Frankly, the price has to be set by the customer, what’s acceptable to them. To be able to experiment with a wide range of prices and compare it to print is much better.

Do you ever have a moment of having to tell a publisher, no, that’s too expensive?

Depending on the length of the book… You haven’t seen a lot of book publishers in here yet. You haven’t seen many of the, I don’t know what you’d call them, the literature publishers’ comics move into digital yet. Partially because they’re looking at it the same way they look at the eBook and eReader market, and thinking that the digital needs to be as close as possible to print so as not to cannibalize that, but they’re a lot more cautious about that. Certainly, we’ve had publishers tell us that they want to do a $15, 50 page comic, because that’s what it retails for in the bookstore, and we respectfully tell them no. But the iPad changes things quite a bit. There was a lot of work in trying to get a comic to work on the iPhone, and it’s more a – some people call it digital snacking, think that the iPhone is a digital snacking device, something where you’ll fool around for a few minutes at a time, and that works really well for a 22 page comic. But for an 80 pager, it’s a little more difficult to get people to buy things that aren’t cheap and quick to consume. On the iPad, I think there’s a lot more potential for something longer form, and for people to pay more money for that. I think The Pro is a good example of that, even though it’s only four bucks.

This has been a big debate in the comic community, especially lately with Marvel and the day-and-date on Iron Man with it being a little more expensive for digital; there’s an assumption that it has to be cheaper for digital, because it’s assumed to be cheaper to get the comics into digital, because you’re saving on printing costs. There’s some value to that, but at the end of the day, again, the cost has to be set by the consumer and what they’re willing to pay, for the convenience of not getting it mailed to them, or having to walk to the comic book store, or – especially in urban areas – not having to fill up every last area with shelf space. But I think there are limits, yeah. I think once you get into, these are never going to be hardcover value books. They are digital, they aren’t physical, and to try to sell something for twenty bucks that sells for twenty bucks in hardcover, you’re going to have a tough time selling that, sure.

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