Digital Comics: Past and Future

Box 13 by Gallaher and Ellis

Well, as 2009 wraps up I find myself marveling at the speed of innovation and wondering about what will happen next. So, being a columnist, I’m going to throw out some nuggets and a few predictions because that’s what we all do in January. Bear with me, pay attention, and next year you can all write in and tell me how crazy I was.

Ready? Great, let’s do this thing!

It’s almost hard to realize that this time last year there were no mobile comics! That’s, right, iVerse and Robot Comics were just getting their feet wet this time last year, with Panelfy and Comixology party crashers in the Spring. Now, Comixology has over 800 comics on their roles! I remember reading the Icv2 lists when they just started tracking mobile comics and it was astonishing when 200 comics total (between ALL companies!) was reached. And now, look at us! All of this progress, pretty much in the last 9 months.

Seriously, when you look at the size of the comic market, this is iPod level growth! Extremely promising by all accounts.

However, while the market is growing – how many are buying?

Comixology released it’s top 10 lists for 2009 a couple of weeks ago. You can find them here ( They actually gave two lists – one for raw download numbers, one for paid downloads. These lists are pretty short on data, so we are free to speculate with wild abandon! Here’s what I take away from them:

1. The top spots are 90% print adaptations (only Box 13 is made for digital – good job David and Steve!)
2. Kirkman is seriously rocking the digital world!
3. Smaller companies are finding some legs with digital (Go Red 5 and Th3rd World!)
4. Marvel is doing well, but isn’t completely dominating the digital scene.
5. We have no idea if anyone is actually making any actual profit aside from Comixology (and we’re not totally sure of that, in all honesty).

The great thing about Top Ten lists like this is it shows a little slice of the market, which is always good. The bad thing is that we have no idea whatsoever about sales numbers. What does it take to be the top of the paid download list (and, remember, that’s series, not individual issues)? 100 downloads? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? How many people downloaded the free number one of Atomic Robo? How many bought number 2 for 99 cents?

At the Baltimore Comic Con, I had the pleasure of sharing a lunch table with some good folks from BOOM! We were talking a bit of digital (of course), and got to talking about Hexed #1. For those following digital, Hexed set a record for the most downloads to Android systems (some crazy number like 10,000 downloads in 24 hours) – it was a free issue. I asked them how the second (not free) issue sold. They said it was incredibly small – on the order of 200 (but, their print sales did well!). So, when looked at as a paid series, Hexed did incredibly awesome. When looked at in terms of generating income, it did not do very well (at least when it comes to digital).

When the first issue of a fairly popular paid series is free, the entire data set is completely screwed. This “series” grouping is (intentional or not) statistical whitewashing – we have no idea how well any digital comic did in terms of generating revenue. Until someone (anyone?) starts publishing actual sales numbers this market is still entirely a mystery. But, and this is true for all new markets, this is totally OK. Right now digital comics are in search of a business model – all of the companies out there, large and small, distributing digital comics are pioneers in this field.

I applaud Comixology for at least putting a list out there (one I find very promising by the way, especially because of Points 3 and 4). I hope that one day we will be able to generate a list similar to Diamond’s Top 300, because until we do so it will be very hard to start understanding this market.


In order to be fair and put my money where my mouth is, I’ll report SOLDIER’s ( numbers. The website (with the comic serialized for free) did incredible, generating over 10,000 unique visitors and nearly 700,000 screen views in 2 months. Sales wise, not so great, and we mimicked BOOM! – everyone read the free stuff, only about 100 paid downloads so far. Needless to say, we will never offer a free issue in conjunction with a paid one ever again. We’ve got some more books coming out shortly with an all new App and Format (and it is awesome, by the way!) – and while there will be previews on the website, there will not be any more free issues.

Final words on 2009: The mobile comic market got off to a great start, but the degree of monetization is still undefined. I feel entirely confident, however, that this market will continue to grow and the money will follow as the business model matures.

And now, on to the Future! What will happen in 2010?

Multi-Platform digital comic "Valentine"

Here are Rob’s Digital Comic Predictions:

1. More comics will go multi-platform (ala Valentine (
2. You’ll start seeing a lot less “Free” and a lot more “$.99”
3. PC Reader based digital comic sales are going to pick up (Kindle for PC, B&N for PC)
4. Tablet computers will seriously jeopardize the current iPhone dominance of digital comics
5. PDF/ePUB downloads of comics will grow in market share over mobile app downloads
6. As the monetization of digital comics grows, traditional comic publishing is going to change dramatically.
7. A lot more comics will be sized 500×800 pixels rather than 6.5 x 10 inches.
8. More comics will be made specifically for digital, especially smaller presses and independents.
9. DC will enter the digital comics market.

That’s all for now, good readers! More in 2 weeks, when we take a look at the latest trends in the webcomic scene!

Originally run in Comics Bulletin.

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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