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Diamond Comic Distributors, which in February shuttered its own short-lived digital program, has signed a multi-year agreement for Trajectory Inc. to convert comics for digital distribution worldwide.
This morning’s announcement is light on details, stating only that Trajectory will produce digital comics through a facility in Beijing for distribution through its network of online retailers and school and library vendors. However, Publishers Weekly reports that, under the agreement, publishers will pay a one-time fee of $1 per page for production, and upload PDFs of their comics to a Trajectory website; the company will then convert those PDFs into the formats specified by each retail channel.
PW notes that the partnership provides Diamond with a much-needed digital component, even if it’s not actually a replacement for Diamond Digital: That initiative, which seemed doomed from the start, was intended to give direct-market retailers a digital comics service that didn’t compete with them; the Trajectory deal creates a service for comics publishers intended to compete with comiXology, the now Amazon-owned market leader.
Diamond Comic Distributors’ digital comics program, Diamond Digital, will shut down on Friday, although titles purchased through the service will continue to be available via iVerse’s Comics Plus app.
The news broke Friday at The Hollywood Reporter, where Graeme McMillan picked up on an email sent to retailers two weeks ago. The stated reason: “18 months after its launch, results indicate that Diamond Digital has not gained enough traction in the marketplace to continue.”
There are a lot of reasons why Diamond Digital didn’t work, but I think chief among them is the initial concept was flawed. The idea wasn’t to provide readers with a simple, easy-to-use digital comics service; it was to protect brick-and-mortar retailers by providing them with a digital comics service that wouldn’t compete with them. That drive to avoid competition resulted in a clunky and almost-unusable platform. Meanwhile, comiXology took a different tack and expanded the comics market, bringing in new readers — who then found their way to comics shops and bought print comics.
Of course, the biggest problem operationally was that Diamond Digital catered to a market dominated by Marvel and DC but didn’t carry single-issue comics from either publisher. And granted, that is a huge flaw.
Publishing | The Amazing Spider-Man #700 led the pack in the December comics numbers with 200,000 copies selling to comics shops, and with a cover price if $7.99, it racked up a cool $1.6 million in sales. Avengers #1 sold 186,000 copies but at a more reasonable price, so the dollars didn’t pile up as high for that one. ICv2 also has the December charts for the Top 300 comics and graphic novels in the direct market. John Jackson Miller takes it to the next level with sales estimates for the top 1,000 comics and trades of 2012. [ICv2]
Publishing | At the other end of the scale, Rob Clough talks to Chuck Forsman, the guy behind micropublisher Oily Comics. [The Comics Journal]
Diamond Digital has released a video for retailers that explains how to use its program. Retailers have two ways of selling digitally through Diamond: They can print out digital codes that they sell and the user then redeems for a digital comic, and they can also set up a digital comics storefront and keep a cut of the sales. The video does a nice job of explaining how to do that. And for the rest of us, it’s a peek behind the digital curtain.
One revealing detail is that retailers keep 33 percent of the cover price of any comic sold digitally. It’s safe to say that’s less than they would make from the sale of a printed comic, but they don’t have to worry about ordering inventory or ending up with unsold comics on their hands. On the other hand, it’s more than they would get from comiXology, which has a similar program; comiXology gives retailers 15 percent of the sale price if they use a standard comiXology storefront and 30 percent if they use the DC storefront. (On the other hand, comiXology offers a wider range of comics for sale, so there you go. Nothing’s perfect.) Retailers take in the full amount for each sale, then Diamond bills them for 67 percent on their weekly invoice.
Customers can redeem the codes at the website digitalcomicsreader.com or on a special Digital Comics Reader app, which is available for Android and iPhone.
I’m not sure how to interpret this, but ICv2 confirmed that Dave Bowen, the director of Diamond Digital, has left the company (the way this is worded suggests it was voluntary) and two other staffers, web development manager Jeff Dillon and programmer Lev Schneider, have been let go due to a “restructuring” of Diamond Comic Distributors’ web team. “We are currently hiring Web programmers with different skill sets,” a Diamond spokesperson told the retailer news and analysis site.
At The Beat, Todd Allen beat me to it and dialed up Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse, which puts the digital in Diamond Digital. Murphey sounds pretty sanguine: “Everything is fine on our end, and things are moving forward positively with Diamond. I expect no delay in the project because of any layoffs.”
It’s worth pointing out that “no delay” is a relative term, given that Diamond Digital was initially supposed to launch in September 2011, and it’s only in beta now. It’s already delayed. The question is whether the layoffs mean it is doomed — or something else is going on.
UPDATE: Michael Murphey comments (below) that Diamond Digital is “NOT doomed,” and the delay is a result of adding features that retailers had requested. Noted!
Legal | Todd McFarlane Productions has emerged from bankruptcy after more than seven years, having paid more than $2.2 million to creditors, according to court documents dug up by Daniel Best. Of that, $1.1 million was part of McFarlane’s settlement with Neil Gaiman, which brought to a close the decade-long legal battle over the rights to Medieval Spawn, the heavenly warrior Angela and other characters (it’s unknown how much of that disbursement was eaten up by legal fees and how much actually went to Gaiman; the writer has publicly stated he gives money won in the proceedings to charity). Todd McFarlane Productions filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2004 following the $15 million court award to former NHL player Tony Twist, who sued over the use of his name in Spawn for the mob enforcer Antonio “Tony Twist” Twistelli. McFarlane and Twist settled in 2007 for $5 million. [20th Century Danny Boy]
Aspen Comics sent over a press release earlier today detailing their plans to offer their comics digitally through iVerse‘s Comics+ application. They also plan to participate in the Diamond Digital retailer initiative that iVerse and Diamond Comics Distributors are set to launch later this summer.
Titles now available on the Comics+ app for the various iOS devices include Fathom, Executive Assistant: Iris, Soulfire and Shrugged. comiXology announced last month that they would be carrying Aspen titles as well.
You can find the complete press release on the iVerse announcement after the jump.
Update: Aspen Comics are also available on Graphicly.
Publishing | February brought a noteworthy, if unwanted, record for the direct market: The lowest-ever top title on record. Green Lantern #62 led Diamond Comic Distributors’ Top 300 with an estimated 71,500 copies, 18,400 less than the previous record holder. Chart watcher John Jackson Miller writes, “For the first time, we probably cannot say that when all reorders and newsstand sales are added, the total will be above 100,000 — although we certainly would expect its eventual readership to go above that mark given reprint editions (to say nothing of digital).”
DC’s $29.99 Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne deluxe hardcover helped to push year-over-year dollars sales up 6.92 percent, offsetting a slight decline in periodicals to and nudging combined sales up .94 percent. “Sales of those ‘long tail’ titles below the Top 300 masked a weakness at the top of the list,” ICv2 notes. “Unit numbers at the top of both the periodical and graphic novel lists were some of the lowest since ICv2 has been tracking comic sales.” [ICv2.com]
Awards | Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as part of the prestigious Nebula Awards. “When the nice lady from the Nebula committee called me, she said this is ‘essentially the Nebula Award for young adult books’,” Deutsch writes. Although graphic novels are specifically mentioned in the Andre Norton Award guidelines, this appears to be the first time one has been nominated. The award was established in 2005 in honor of prolific science fiction and fantasy author Andre Norton, who passed away that year. The winners will be announced May 21 in Washington, D.C., during the Nebula Awards banquet. [SFFWA]
Passings | We’ll collect reactions later today to the sudden death of respected comics and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie — Comic Book Resources has remembrances from more than a dozen industry figures — but I wanted to go ahead and point to a handful of links: The Associated press obituary; a few words from Christopher Irving, accompanied by a beautiful portrait of McDuffie photographed by Seth Kushner on Feb. 13; the origin of Static; and a look at Spider-Man anti-drug PSA comics written by McDuffie. There’s also McDuffie’s message board, where he interacted candidly with fans on a regular basis. Two threads are devoted to the news of his death and memories of the creator they often referred to as “the Maestro.” The site’s administrator has posted a message last night on the main page: “Dwayne’s family and friends would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of condolences. They are much appreciated in this difficult time.” [Dwayne McDuffie]
Last week’s announcement that Diamond and iVerse would team up to form Diamond Digital, and sell digital comics in comics stores, left a lot of questions unanswered. So I went straight to the source: Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse, which is Diamond’s digital partner in this deal.
iVerse is the company behind the Comics Plus app, as well as a number of branded apps, including IDW and Archie. Unlike comiXology and Graphicly, their apps run only on the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch, but that is about to change: As Michael explains below, they are expanding onto other platforms, which should make the program more attractive.
Brigid: I’m still trying to get a handle on how this works. I understand that customers who buy the digital copies will be handed a printed code, which they then redeem. How? Through iVerse’s digital storefront?
Michael: That is one way a retailer can sell a digital comic to a customer, yes. The retailer can also sell digital comics on their website. Codes can be redeemed on the retailer’s website or inside the Comics Plus application from iVerse.
Brigid: Will the sale go through the iTunes store?
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing plans to close about 192 of its 639 Borders, Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet locations over the next several weeks. It’s unclear how many of the company’s 6,100 full-time and 11,400 part-time employees will be affected by the closings. Borders, which listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.27 billion in assets, plans to continue to operate through the court process with the help of $505 million in financing from lenders led by G.E. Capital.
The likelihood of bankruptcy has loomed for the past several weeks as the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller pushed unsuccessfully for publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans. That concession was critical to Borders securing $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital. Publishers like Penguin Group, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are now, in Publishers Weekly‘s words, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Diamond Book Distributors, which stopped shipping to Borders last month, is owed $3.9 million. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]
Publishing | The 61st volume of Eiichiro Oda’s insanely popular pirate manga One Piece sold more than 2 million copies in its first three days of release, according to the Japanese market-survey firm Oricon. It’s the fastest-selling book in the Oricon chart’s nearly three-year history, breaking the previous record set by the 60th volume of One Piece, which sold more than 2 million copies in four days. [Anime News Network]
Retailing | Heidi MacDonald talks to Dave Bowen, Diamond’s director of digital distribution, about the newly announced deal with iVerse Media that will allow retailers to sell digital comics in their stores: “The retailer will login using their Diamond retailer login and be presented with the opportunity to create store-specific, item-specific codes in whatever quantities they need. Then we’ll use some approved cryptographically secure method to generate random codes for the retailer to use. And we’ll format those in a PDF which they can then print out. Likely what will happen is, it’ll print easily on Avery 30-up laser labels. So what you have is a sheet of Avery laser labels with a bunch of different books and codes on individual labels. In that case the retailer takes that material and secures it and then when someone wants Transformers #16 they simply ring the sale and give the label or sticker or cut-out to the consumer. […] It’s really very simple. Then the consumer that has that code, which is live, they could literally step out of the line, pull out their iphone or ipad or whatever other device and redeem the code and begin reading the material.” Meanwhile, Todd Allen dissects what he describes as “a particularly silly digital download scheme.” [The Beat, Indignant Online]