Robot 6

Digital comics by the numbers

Earlier this year, Mia Weisner, a graduate student at the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, asked readers of the webcomics news site Fleen to help out with her doctoral research by answering a survey on digital comics. Fleen’s Gary Tyrrell posted the results this week, and they make for interesting reading.

Of the 572 people who responded, only half said they read superhero comics. Action/adventure, humor/comedy and science fiction were the top genres, with over 60 percent each. Of course, this wasn’t a random sample (you can tell from the very first number: 98.6 percent were comics readers), and the preferred genres may reflect the sorts of things people come to Fleen to read about in the first place.

Still, these are the folks who are most likely to read digital comics, so the numbers paint an interesting picture. Some of the highlights:

  • 86 percent are open to the idea of digital comics but only 42 percent have actually bought them.
  • 33.3 percent of those who have bought digital comics bought them through comiXology, 31.7 percent bought them direct from publishers, and the other digital comics services (iVerse,, Panelfly) each claimed less than a 19 percent share).
  • 2.4 percent are willing to pay full (print) cover price for a digital comic, 8.5% are willing to pay up to 80 percent of cover price, and everyone else is looking for a better deal.
  • More than a third of the respondents were in the 22-30 age group.
  • Over half hate not really owning the comic, and 44 percent loathe DRM

If you look at these numbers, it looks like the digital comics folks are leaving money on the table. Half their potential audience isn’t buying and high cover price looks like a big part of the problem. Readers clearly perceive digital comics as a lesser product—because except for direct PDF downloads, you really don’t own them for good—and they aren’t willing to pay the full print price. Of course, as noted above, this is a self-selected group, but the readers of Fleen are probably an audience that digital comics marketers would want to pursue.



Not owning the comic and the DRM is the reason I don’t get digital comics. Marvel had the right idea a few years ago releasing their comics on DVDs. You got an insane amount of value. I bought all their DVDs. I had to get them used online at a substantial markup. But even though, I spent hundreds of dollars it works out to pennies per issue. I also own a physical item, the disc, which was a comfort to me.

The other side effect is that I never really cared about a lot of the characters (like the Hulk), but reading their stories from the beginning has made me love almost all of Marvel’s characters. When I finish the DVDs I’ll be tempted to follow a lot more series than I would have done otherwise.

Sadly, Marvel was too greedy, they’d rather someone shell out hundreds of dollars to get trades of the series, instead of buying their dvds. Now all their awesome DVDs are out of print.

Comic publishers have a lot to learn about digital distribution from the book publishing world. I would buy a lot more comics if there was a good digital system in place.

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