Jim Lee is perhaps one of comics biggest super-stars, having drawn seminal runs on Batman in the 2000s, X-Men in the 1990s and was the founder of Wildstorm comics in 1992. Today, he serves as the Co-Publisher of DC Comics (alongside Dan Didio.) They replaced Paul Levitz.
John Rood is the Executive VP of Sales & Marketing for DC Entertainment. Before coming on to DC Entertainment, Rood spent 10 years at ABC Family where he was, most recently, the Senior VP of Marketing.
The two of them took the time to talk with me about DC's monumental move into digital comics, changing that game forever. (For more info about it, you can read Androidika's remarks this morning.)
BSR: As Far as DC jumping into digital, what was the inciting event that made DC want to make that jump, and why the choice to launch today?
John Rood: It's a long process. It's a process that began prior to the new executives being named in February. We have an outstanding set of colleagues on a digital task force that have been following potential platforms and partnerships and we wanted to get it right. First is not always best and we are really pleased by how much we listen to our retail partners and how much we listen to consumers and how much we followed where we thought the best interface is and who the best potential vendor partners were. And we found them in this first step with Comixology and Sony and there will be other partners.
Jim Lee: It's just the DC path. We also wanted to have a set in stone payment program so that creators, as we launch their titles digitally, that they would be fairly compensated for the work they were doing.
BSR!: It sounds like you guys have more steps, moving into digital, and I guess the one question you're getting from everybody is, "Are you going to have an online subscription service where people can get on with a computer instead of having to have a mobile device or their playstation?"
JR: There are going to be other platforms and there are going to be other partners. We don't know yet if there are going to be other prices. To date I haven't heard, anecdotally, of a subscription model that's working. And maybe that's just because Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern haven't come to the party. We're going to let our consumers and retailers tell us which pricing models are optable which pricing models are additive. Because it's all about being additive. Furthermore, there are other places where graphic content can be enjoyed digitally, so we're anticipating other places. E-Readers like the Kindle are on our radar, mobile devices like the DROID are on our radar.
JL: And you can actually read our comics on your computer. If you go to Comixology.Com, they have their DC branded store where you can download the books. When you do that, you have convergence, where you can read it on your computer screen, your mobile device, or your iPad. And momentarily it will be at DCComics.com.
BSR!: You guys are having a portion of the proceeds going to retailer affiliate programs. Why was that important to you guys and what exactly is that going to entail?
JR: There is no better place to evangalize these brands than at the comic book shop and we consider the retailers and fellow consumers at brick and mortar stores to not only DC Comics, but content born of DC Comics like the films, television, interactive entertainment, merchandise. We've heard for a long time that no one listens to the retailer better than we do and we wanted to continue that valued streak, and bring to market a digital program that is seen by retailers as additive. And that's why it mattered. Money talks and we will have funds that will be spent in a variety of ways in collaboration and in agreement with our retailers.
JL: We really see this as an opportunity to reach new audiences and new comic book fans, fans that don't live near shops, kids. But the ultimate goal is to drive traffic back into the local comic book shop. Our industry is a little bit different than newspapers or magazines, in that we're not as reliant on advertising revenue, so our core business is very stable and strong, so we really see this as an opportunity to build on that and grow, rather than replacing something that's not working.
JR: I should say we got our marching orders from Arianna Huffington herself when she talks about the four Es. Engagement, Enthusiasm, Empathy and Energy. You'll see that manifested in our launch. Consumer engagement is paramount to us. You're finding enthusiasm from the creators and retailers participating in this launch. We have an empathy to maintain our traditional business and make digital seem only additive and certainly, we're all about energy.
BSR!: You guys are doing something are releasing, at least for now, one miniseries on the same day on the comixology app as the comic book store. Is that something you're experimenting with to see the viability of it? Do you expect to do more of that?
JL: You're right in labeling it an experiment. Part of it is that we were interested in seeing to what degree our consumers wanted to collect comics digitally, to be part of the excitement for a comic books release and be able to have both for convenience and an opportunity to buy it at the same time as their friends who is buying in print form. And we plan on getting feedback from the brick and mortar stores and seeing if it creates an uptick in sales because there's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and interest in that title because it's earmarked as a day and date title. And there's a lot of tentative interest and debate over the longterm viability of that program and it's something we definitely want to explore and build on.
BSR!: I downloaded the app this morning and read the 10 page arc of Superman: Grounded. Do you see this is a tool to help you let people sample comics for free in hopes that they'll get to the brick and mortar stores.
JR: We definitely want to close the loop and drive greater traffic to brick and mortar and use that mixed economy and track consumers who are actually doing that. To date, research and good anecdotal feedback about, not only to Jim's point about people filling out their collections multi-media, but new consumers through digital and being driven and incentivized to get to their local comic shop, which warms our heart. We really intend for this to be additive. This changes the game today. The game changer is that DC is in it. And so we expect even greater traffic back to retailers as a result of our offering and our empathy in the way we go about pricing and sampling and the selection of titles and our entire intent is to be additive.
BSR!: I've had apps like this for a while and I'll read a story and think, "Do I want to spend the $2 or $3 to buy it now, or just go to my shop and buy the trade, or do I just buy the first issue?" Has there been any thought to offering a discount at the brick and mortar store if you've bought the entire trade digitally, or something. Are there thoughts along those lines?
JR: Yeah, I would say. We've mentioned that this is the first step of several of this being a digital strategy and I think the part that is going to be most interesting and compelling is this retailer incentive. Or incentives to get people to go to their local comic book shop and you're going to see us do things that have never been done before. And it will be across all media, to ensure that the comic book shop remains vital. There are several other things that will expand, and today's focus is certainly periodicals and we look forward to bringing original graphic novels and magazine offerings to these digital publishing. But to your point, we're going to make more and more compelling incentives to bring customers into stores.
BSR!: Do you guys see exclusive content that will be just digital that people can't find in stores to tease for things you can only get in stores?
JL: It's interesting, when we first went down this path, we discussed that option, but as we got into the strategy and realized that it's crucial for us to close the loop in terms of driving new fans to the brick and mortar store that we realized this channel is all about expanding the core business. And if that's really your intent, then limiting it to one channel of distribution seems counter-intuitive. At least at the beginning. That being said, we've experimented with digital only content before with Zuda.com and will continue with that. But eventually, anything that sells well will be collected into print because there's a very strong, very viable appetite for that from our core consumer.
BSR!: What is the cost difference between putting something on this app versus sending it to the store where maybe... do you guys see yourselves trying to try out talent like you did with Zuda.com using this tool.
JR: Absolutely. We've got more tools in our toolbox now to develop our roster of creators and to bring content to the customers instantaneously to hear their response to it.
JL: One of the great things about comics is the interactivity between the fan reader and the professionals. I think having this channel will make having that channel more intuitive and more real time than ever before. We feel a lot of opportunities where the fan response will shape the kind of stories we create and the kind of stories we tell and the format we tell them in.
BSR!: The established print media has been grappling with the switch to digital. How confident are you guys that this is the way that DC needs to go to thrive in that market and how important do you think that market is?
JR: We're soon going to be finding out how important it is, we've only been basing it on anecdotes and the missteps of others. But we have every intent for it to be additive. We have no intent for it to replace media. We're doing it to further engage. And we're doing it broaden a consumer base for our comics and shops, but also for all the DC Entertainment brought to you by Warner Brothers. So we're very excited about being where the consumers are, giving them what they tell us they want, and letting them read comics in more and more places in more and more varying ways.
BSR!: Thank you guys for your time.
JR & JL: Thank you.