Brian Wood on Digital Comics from the Creator’s Point of View

Dark Horse Comics going to day-and-date release, and the subsequent kerfuffle over the pricing has lead to a renewed look at the digital comics insurrection or opportunity, depending on how where you’re looking from.

Comic book writer Brian Wood (Northlanders, DMZ) posted his own thoughts on the rise and mystery of digital comics as a major issue in the current comic book market. It’s worth it to go read the entire post, but here are some selections of note. This is one of the few responses I’ve seen from the creative side of the industry, as other corners of comics make many proclamations, almost none with the hard use of historical evidence, since there isn’t any, hence his title, The Digital Question Mark.

Everyone I know loves comic shops.  Everyone I know who makes comics, especially creator-owned comics, is hurting, financially.  EVERYONE is bleeding, its a bad time.  So to what extent does digital as a publishing format represent an additional revenue stream, one on top of print sales through shops, one that can ease some of the suffering?

Don’t know.  No one knows, because we aren’t seeing true sales numbers yet.  No one’s figured out what the magic price point is, because none of the big players have taken the risk and offered a 99 cent comic, or a 1.99 comic, etc., in a meaningful way.  The price point is being kept artificially high out of deference to our retail partners.  The price that fair-minded readers WANT to buy digital comics at is starkly different from what’s they are currently set at.

This speaks to many of the thoughts that readers have had, and the dream price point of $0.99, which I tend to think is a dream we’ll never see unless the current market multiplies many times.

Did I mention everyone is bleeding?  I get the frustration.  But here’s the thing, speaking for myself:

I’ve had series cancelled recently.  I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons.  I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have).  My income from royalties have dropped.  Most comic shops don’t carry my books.  I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may not survive as it is now. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too.  I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times.  But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.

So I’ll have to bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less.  The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I’ll just keel over and die from it.

Digital hasn’t taken over for the physical sales loss, and at a much lower price point, it never will. It is possible that eventually, a lower price point would lead to increased sales. We don’t know yet. Wood wants to try it, and obviously readers would support lower prices. But how do you keep the stores going? Wood wants to try it like this.

No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt.  We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends.  We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income.  To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems!  It benefits no one at all.  It will not save us.

When I thought my Dark Horse comics were to be sold digitally at 1.99, I devised a plan to make the print singles a luxury object specifically for the benefit of the retailer community, to make it a unique book with truly added-value content so that the two formats would not be in competition for the same product.  So that the “higher priced” print single would be justified in the eyes of retailers and readers.

Things to note: Brian Wood is the writer of the upcoming Conan the Barbarian and The Massive from Dark Horse. Also, iFanboy is owned by Graphicly, a digital comics company. Everyone in comics has a horse in this race.



  1. I think Brian Wood has some great ideas there. Make the print book an added value object with making of pages, sketches, layouts, breakdowns, script pages, pitch documents, interviews et, web comic backups…..its work thats already finished, and adding a few extra pages to the form won’t kill the print run prices too much. As long as you don’t charge extra this could make fans happy.

    Make the digital cheaper, but just a stripped down story only. Like it or not, iTunes, the app store and other forms of on demand digital media has set the comfortable price point for what media is worth. The market size is kind of irrelevant to the price point people expect right now. Digital comics are overpriced right now compared to other items in a value vs. price situation. if you’re trying to get new people from outside of comics interested in checking these things out, you have to be aggressive and have new ideas.

    Everyone keeps saying that digital sales are only augmenting print sales at this point. If thats the case, then digital sales are essentially “found money”. It might be worth it long term to take a few risks and try some new ideas and business models with this new format. Who knows….maybe try to get some new readers outside of comics.

  2. I saw this on Wood’s tumblr this morning and really appreciated it. It’s nice to be able to discuss it here.

    As to the idea of a story-only digital version, I want to take it a step further and eliminate the panel-to-panel navigation.

    I don’t think anyone knows what percentage of digital readers are doing so on a phone rather than a tablet, but I hope most people would agree that a tablet provides the preferable reading experience.

    Maybe they could experiment with a cheaper, “full pages only” version for those of us that don’t want the guided view?

    • While I’m at it, why not have a “Save as Wallpaper” button in the app so you could preserve a particular piece of art?

    • I hate the guided view. Just give me a simple PDF/CBR and call it a day.

    • i don’t use the guided view at all. Its a cute extra and i appreciate the feature and the work, but its not something that i’m interested in usually. Its not the because of the format. Its because they are taking pages and artwork that wasn’t designed to be seen that way, and changing the storytelling and sequential design. its a little bit like taking a nature IMAX from 2001 and trying to retrofit it to 3d…never works right….actually it gives you a headache.

      if a creator designed a comic from the beginning to be viewed in a guided view style, it could be really cool and i would be into trying it.

    • Guided view is for the “new readers” who read and purchase books on their mobile phones, not so much for existing comic readers. It’s not for you. They’ve already got you. Whether it’s effective, or worth it, that’s a different story, but there you are.

    • Some current readers like guided view. Mike Romo, for instance.

      It’s also important to keep in mind that just because you don’t like something (the royal “you”) doesn’t mean that other people don’t like and use something.

    • @Josh: You’re not wrong (sorry). I totally get that we aren’t the desired market for digital comics, but most publishers seem to want to ultimately convert the new digital readers into print readers (but maybe that’s just lip service to retailers).

      I wonder if guided view (as essential as it is when reading comics on a phone) hinders that goal as phone readers get used to the guided view, then try out a print comic and don’t know how to read the page.

      I know I’m falling victim to the “new readers are idiots” argument that gets used in discussion of good jumping on points, and I know I’m way too entrenched in comics to have the right perspective, but unless the publishers are committed to developing digital comics as a unique storytelling language, you’d think they’d want to push for digital on tablets more than phones.

    • I think guided view gets stuck in some people’s craw (including mine from time to time) because it’s usually the second thing that gets mentioned as justification for why the digital books need to cost the same as print books (after deference to comic shops). When you don’t use it (or only use it for 2 page spreads that just don’t work digitally) it feels like you payed for something you didn’t use. It reminds me of how I felt about early DVDs that were very costly and had lots of special features that I didn’t really care about. Now that the prices are more bearable, I don’t care so much.

    • I understand the perceived need for a guided view, but I gave up on reading comics on my phone a LONG time ago. It’s like reading a book on the phone, a terrible experience. I don’t think anything smaller than a Kindle Fire or Nook tablet are big enough, and those are pushing it. Part of the reason is my vision, but I wish we had some numbers on guided view vs. full page. It’s not like you can’t zoom in when in full page view anyway, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

    • I love the guided view and I have been reading comics heavily a long time now.

    • Uh…The guided view in digital comics is what caught my eye in the first place. I wasn’t spending a dime on any type of comic, but guided few caught my eye, and then I started wanting my own copies of comics. I was a newby who got sucked in by the digital world, realized I’m just giving my money away for no ownership what so ever(and paying way too much for it). Within a couple months I was in the comic stores weekly getting my hands on a real copy, that i could give away, resale, trade. That’s how the cheaper digital comics are going to improve the lives of the creators. Once the digital price drops, new viewers(some will love guided view, and only buy for guided view in the beginning) will buy a digital copy, get sucked in to a story and want a physical copy. It’s going to bring more people into the stores. I may not have written this eloquently, but I know what I’m talking about, it’s what I do.

  3. Making the paper copy be a special edition type dealy is a great idea. I know some bands–the ones that spring to mind are Radiohead and NIN–have tried that w/ fancy schmancy CD versions alongside the downloadable versions.

    Maybe $1 is unrealistic at this point, but only because the publishers are trying so hard to appease comic retailers, which makes no sense at this point. That’s a sinking ship if there ever was one.

    • @mistershaw, “Maybe $1 is unrealistic at this point, but only because the publishers are trying so hard to appease comic retailers, which makes no sense at this point. That’s a sinking ship if there ever was one.” THANK YOU!!! I’m glad that there’s at least 2 of us here that aren’t crazy. Even shop owners gotta know that big million-dollar companies don’t TRULY care one way or another if comic shops close their doors, b/c “bid-niz is bid-niz”

    • No, a lot of us exist.

  4. I think comic shops are going to hurt with or with out digital, though. The audience for comics is just not growing. That’s the real issue. If anything, digital has the potential to be a way for more indie books to get out there. Will it generate new readers? Who knows. I’m not sure a new delivery system is what will attract people to comics, though. The stories themselves have to be “hype-worthy.” I know the Marvel movies success hasn’t translated into new readers, but I know several people who have been picking up the Walking Dead trades after watching the show. What’s different there? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that it’s not characters that have been around for decades in the mainstream. It’s a lot of questions, but overall, I think the way to attract new readers is with fresh content, not the Superman, Batman, Spiderman stuff that we all love but, really, the masses either think they already know what they need to know about, or don’t care to find out more. These are my rambling thoughts.

    • Parri (@pazzatron) says:

      When it comes to getting new readers on board I think digital will help get over the “comic book shops are scary” thing, but it’s still a pretty impenetrable world out there. With something like Walking Dead there’s reasonably achievable 100 issues to catch up on. If you just watched an X-Men movie and want to start reading it’s a daunting to know where to start.

      Sorry to promote another site but, here’s a few words I wrote about how the New 52 allowed me to finally become a comic book reader:

    • There is also the “i don’t want paper” thing. There is an entire generation of people coming up who legitimately purchase downloadable music, movies, tv shows, video games, books and apps. An entirely digital lifestyle. Why would those people have any desire to go to a shop and buy a paper comic book? Its a sad truth, that isn’t fashionable to discuss, but thats what the kids are doing these days. Its important that comics stay relevant to these new potential customers if there is any hope of growing the market.

    • Parri (@pazzatron) says:

      It’s a sad sad time that we live in. It depresses me that the children of the today will never know the relationship between a pencil and a cassette tape.

  5. Parri (@pazzatron) says:

    Great to see a creator’s perspective.

    When it comes to keeping stores going, I would love it if my LCS could have its own digital store front, powered by the likes of Graphically, Comixology etc. (

    To map this argument on the other digital hot potato… personally, my biggest love is music. If I want to buy an album I will always take the vinyl if it’s available. More often than not this is shipped with a download code, bigger artwork, special booklet and other goodies to make me want to shell out more than £7.99 for a digital download (often double). Are comic readers not the same? I thought we were supposed to be a breed of obsessive collectors, preserving and cataloguing alternative covers, special editions and miss-prints.

    I’m a +1 for the idea that making a hard copy of a book have ‘added value’. Some books you enjoy, other books/writers/artists you LOVE.

    And finally (sorry, long comment), digital books don’t seem to carry adverts. Why? Surely a small price drop could be offset by an increased advertising revenue?

    • its an interesting question about the ads. Even youtube and on demand shows carry ads now. Its annoying, but i don’t mind to keep the price right.

    • Parri (@pazzatron) says:

      We’re all used to ignoring them in printed books so introducing them during digital’s infancy seems like a no-brainer.

    • Its probably extremely difficult to sell ad space in digital comics, since pricing is based on circulation/downloads or something like that. For something like Batman, you could bundle it together as one ad buy with the print, but there prob aren’t enough numbers to make any real money from those ads. Kinda like how google ad words don’t really earn you real money for your blog unless you have s-tons of daily readers.

    • Parri (@pazzatron) says:

      It all comes down the old numbers forecasting again (and round in circles we go!). You’d figure the big two would be able to offer some introductory prices & print+digital packages to it’s key advertisers for digital insertions. It’s a little “Advertising 101” but surely the old rule of ‘create the impression of demand for space’ still stands?

    • I also buy vinyl. But the reality is, there’s not that many of us buying it. Most people are downloading. Even CD’s are not really selling. But yet, the music industry can still produce CD’s and vinyl. The problem is that comics don’t sell nearly as much as music does. In music, even though vinyl may be a nitch thing, it’s still substantial enough to keep producing more copies. With comics, I think if enough readers now switched to digital, it would likely not make sense to continue to print books, which would mean more shops close.

  6. It seems to me that DC’s plan of going day/date with hard copy price point and incrementally dropping the price each following month is a way to figure out what digital price points the market will bear.

    I still think most folks’ conception of digital is fundamentally flawed. When we talk about LCS retail and digital markets, IMO, we are talking about two distinct, discrete audiences. There is some overlap of course (I read both digital and hard copies and I’m sure I’m not alone in that), but who knows precisely how much? There are bound to be lots of readers who prefer only one delivery method.

    If we think of the two markets as unique then we can start to think of pricing for digital in a way that doesn’t conceptually threaten the LCS market. It seems to me that this is the massive road block in most peoples’ minds: the idea that digital will somehow displace and undermine the LCS market. But the problems that ail the LCS retail market have more to do with the Diamond distribution monopoly scheme, the fact that LCSs aren’t always the smartest retailers, and the inability of the entire industry to attract new, young customers.

  7. As long as publishers are sellers themselves in other people’s market, there is no future for digital. of the one dollar you spent, 30 cents go to Apple, Google, Amazon, etc. I assume 10-20 cents go to the App developer like Comixology, Graphicly, etc. And even if don’t factor in creator royalties, assuming the book doesn’t sell enough, you still have around $5000 on creator costs and operations. I don’t see how digital comics are even feasible under the current conditions. Comics are a niche product and the only way they can succeed is following the retail model; through bulk buyers and resellers.

  8. We’re all the converted here. We buy the comics we love every month whether it’s $2.99, $3.99, in print or digitally. Some of us do it grudgingly but we do it.

    I think the questions we need to ask ourselves are… If you were running DC or Marvel,

    1) How would you get your comics into the hands of more consumers?
    2) How would you get your long-term readers to buy more of your comics?

    We’ve heard the cries for cheaper books but would cheaper books alone thoroughly answer these questions? I don’t think it would, at least not long term. I appreciate the sentiment toward LCS but let’s face it… the majority of them are going to go under. Personally I’ve all but abandoned print. Strictly looking at the digital medium I think the answer isn’t (only) price but also frequency of publication.

    Idea: Sell comics as a digital weekly
    *5 pages a week of new content (or 1/4 of what we get now monthly)
    *1 pin-up page (fan submitted)
    *1 editorial page (varied content: could be a letter page, an interview with a creator, prose piece, etc.)
    *3 pages from a classic reprint or preview of another series

    Sell each issue for $0.99 and here’s the kicker… the first week of the month is always free.

    At $0.99 a week for 3 weeks, DC would only lose $0.03 on a monthly they sell for $2.99. Every month new readers could jump on free-of-charge (maybe include ads in these issues to offset costs and a few pages of recap).

    There’s so much more flexibility with the digital format someone is bound to figure out how to make it profitable in the publishing arena. Why can’t it be comics who figure it out first?

  9. Didn’t we try this special features on print copies before? While little things like the cover to the most recent issue of Optic Nerve are cool, I don’t want a repeat of holofoil die cut glow in the dark fifth ink embossed coverprinted with blood from the members of Kiss. That crap ruined sports cards, and I daresay it was a huge factor in the decline of the comic industry.

    • That’s an excellent point. We’re already back to variant covers, which many shops sell at above-cover prices. Let’s avoid gimmickry as much as possible.

      When I hear things like “added-value content,” I think of what DC is doing with Action. While there may be a few extra pages of story, they are including a lot of backmatter in the issues. I’ve seen a number of people on this site say they could do without the backmatter and save a buck. So, adding “filler” isn’t the best way justify the higher price tag and thereby entice people to buy it. It would have to be perceived as worthwhile, and I’m not sure what that would be. Personally, I’d like to get a digital download code with the paper book, like they do for a lot of vinyl.

      It’s sort of like all the DVDs and Blu-Rays that come with so many extras I don’t have time to watch. I’m lucky if I have time to watch the movie! It seems like a number of the big movie titles are being sold as 1-disc BD, or multi-disc (maybe with DVD and digital copy), at different price points. Not sure what the sales numbers are for the different editions, though.

      The music industry has tried to prop up CD sales by including exclusives with the physical disc that you don’t get with a digital copy. I see a lot that have a DVD included that may have music videos or live concerts, etc. That doesn’t seem to be saving sales of CDs, if you’ve been in a Target or Best Buy of late – the music sections are tiny.

  10. Parri (@pazzatron) says:

    This might be something Josh/Ron/Conor/Paul… might be able to answer. How possible is cross-pollination between a publisher’s comics and film departments? Do they talk to each other? Are they basically separate companies that share intellectual properties?

    We all know that comic book movies do extremely well but that it doesn’t translate to new readers / increased book sales on any significant level. Why can the movie campaign with a budget of $£$£ promote the book? An example would be next year’s Avengers movie. Imagine the impact if every one who bought a ticket from one of the big cinema chains (that’s going to be loads, right?) was given got a card with info on how to download the Marvel app, plug in a code from behind one of those scratch off panels and download a copy of Avengers #26 (or whatever it might be then).

    You just got who knows how many thousands of people to walk into your (digital) store. That’s half the battle.

    • Word. Could go one step further e-Tickets sent to their phones followed by text or email sent with free download to comic.
      My guess is these areas (movie, comic book) aren’t connected that tightly.

      Figure Marvel/DC sell more property branded items (lunchboxes, pajamas) than they do comic books. You butter the bread that’s freshest, not always the one that’s the most nourishing.

    • There have been a whole lot of successful movies, and very little done by way of converting those audiences to comics. It’s not for lack of trying. The DVDs have comics in them. I’ve seen them sold and given out at theaters. The properties are sold everywhere, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth the money or effort to try and sell more comics, because so far, people, on the whole, don’t want them. They’re better of marketing videos or toys or any other crap with Spider-Man on it instead of Spider-Man comics.

      That’s my read on it, bleak as it may be.

    • Parri (@pazzatron) says:


      Well now I’m just sad.

  11. I just got an iPad recently and I love digital comics, however, I don’t believe it’ll ever make me stop getting print issues altogether. Some of my favorite titles I’m going to get in print until they don’t off comics in print anymore. WIth the iPad being new I’ve been gobling up some titles I would’ve never tried before (partially due to the local shop not carying them). Some Dark Horse items and I also used the launch of the DC’s new 52 as a stepping stone. Basically for me my DC comics (the various Batman titles, JLA, Green Latern) are a digital only thing and I get them a month late when the price goes down. My main titles (the various Xmen titles, Wolverine, Witchblade, Spawn) I’ll still continue to get in print.

    This is how I’ve been able to justify not completly abandoning my favorite local shop and still embracing the digital.

    The only other thing I have to add is this. Having read about 50 digital comics in a relatively short time was cool but it was mind blowing how much ‘better’ having the print copy in my hand was when I finally picked up my month of pulls from the shop (the shop is about 45 minutes away). The color is better, the panels are bigger and splash pages ROCK!!! I hadn’t realized the difference (or was chosing to ignore it) but the difference when done back to back as I had done it was pretty monumental…at least to me.

  12. We keep saying the market is shrinking so eventually there will be not enough readers left.

    I’m of the opinion that the industry needs to go ahead with some sort of Scorched Earth plan. Drop the digital price of all new comics to $0.99 no matter the cost to the remaining comic shops. The best shops will adapt and survive.

    Listen, we all grew up going to comic shops and we might have freinds who work there, but nostalgia isn’t worth the future of this great medium we all love.

    • its not just about nostalgia, its about money. and its not a matter of just good shops vs bad. most shops of any kind couldnt afford to lose more than a small percentage of sales. this could mean many shops going under. in most industries this would be bad but survivable, but if enough shops go under, diamond which already is hurting could easily go under and the remaining shops are screwed. the chaos of trying to build a new infrastructure may not be worth it to keep print alive. Digital would the ahve to make up for all that in a very short period of time, and at 99 cents it woiuld have to more than double the circulation immediately. disney and warner only support comics (or movies or tv) as long as they meet minimum profitability standards. once they dont, those comics will cease, especially now when movies and tv are putting them in front of millions. if there were any hard evidence that the 99 cent price point WOULD bring in lots of new people, it would have been done. but there isnt. only speculation that it MIGHT bring in those people.companies rarely takes that kind of risk on a maybe.

    • if the majority of shops are already on life support as you suggest, your nightmare scenario will come about sooner or later through natural causes as all of us eventually stop reading comics and there aren’t enough young’ins to take our place.

      The industry needs a solid digital business model for the future, instead of figuring out gimmicks and ticks to prop up a 30 yr old business model. Progress happens whether you want it to or not.

  13. Personally, I think another ave to lower the price point would be to include more advertising in the digital format. Not my first choice but if the price would come down a dollar or so I wouldn’t mind having the same ads that are in the print copy. The revenue source would offset the price break and possibly lead to increased sales.

  14. I’ve read comics my entire life, and I still like guided view. I’ve recently gotten a friend into comics on his iPhone and he’s bought nearly $100.00 worth in one month on his phone. I think the price point is pretty harsh though. Obviously the more money saved on one series allows us to read more series. The economy sucks and my friend while he screwed himself over that month with spending so much, also bought a ton of books impulsively as he just had to click. I don’t see any reason why 99cents isn’t possible? I think comic fans like to think so but I also believe it is the outsider personality that keeps the industry from growing. Why haven’t comics been in more airports, libraries, book stores, etc? Limiting yourselves is what has kept you from growing, it seems really obvious but everyone is afraid to try something new. I’m just sick of all the talk and little action. People like when they can get stuff now not a month later at a dollar less from an already high price. I don’t believe 20 pages of literature is worth $4.00 at all personally. Not when I can read classic novels etc for free or a lower price.

  15. I agree with him that digital comics really hasn’t hit the price-point that’s going to be a tipping-point in terms of generating volume.

    I would expect to see more progress on that front in the coming year, as publishers sort it out.

    I wouldn’t expect day-and-date for half-off, but I do get a print copy a week later in the mail for almost that.

  16. Also, comic shops were not always the only way comic books were distributed.

    Before the early 80s, it was the spinner rack in the drugstore or the newsstand on the corner.

    It’s quite possible that the hobbyist and collector will be serviced by a different business model in the future.

  17. While his perspective on the matter is greater creatively than the various editors and publisher I’ve heard discuss the subject, I’m not sure if Brian is fully considering what he’s saying. Essentially, he’s arguing that a lower digital price point, for example $.99, will drive sales; conversely, those who buy the physical copy are subject to pay a higher price (eg: $3.99) with the leverage being additional content.

    This sadly doesn’t solve the problem, it only adds to it. Let us look to our friends in the music industry for the answer. Who buys a brand new album for at retail price $12.99? Who buys the same ‘brand new’ album on iTunes, for $.99 a song, or $9.90 (figuring only 10 songs were on the album)? The favor obviously swings digital. Now if that’s the way we’re willing to take this industry, than fine. But I don’t think most readers want it to go that way.

    Now for the record, I did not read Brian Wood’s full post, but rather only those highlighted here by Josh.

  18. Point 1.

    the average song/music is 3 minutes long and the average digital price for them is 99 cents.
    i find comics provide me with about 10 minutes of original entertainment and the digital price seems to be around $2.99
    i’m no math whiz but i say when looking at a per minute of orignal entertainment, we are selling comics short to say that they should be cheaper.
    are comics not as valuable (per minute) as music to us?

    (p.s. re-listening to music argument doesn’t hold that much water as yopu can re-read a comic just the same, you simply choose not to)

    • Strong observation. And to further your point, if I may, why do we only look at comics and insist the price be lowered? What about magazines? I think there’s a double standard here.

  19. Point 2.

    I think instead of “added value content” to books they should be worried about good “book design” instead.
    Who can say that you get the same experince from looking at a digital photo copy of “Asterios Polyp” compared to holding the book in your hand. seeing its interesting binding and design only adds to /prepares you for the experience presented inside.

    this of cousre means nothing if you only read comics for stories to pass your time.

    but better design would attract more “collectors” to purchase physical copies. But that would also mean creators seeing their work as an artform rather than just a delivery system for stories.

  20. Point 3.

    I wasn’t aware that Brian Wood was a hemophiliac. I hope he has good medical.