Dark Horse Delves Into Digicomics, Keeps Change

Digital comics are ascendant, and it won’t be long until they replace the majority of print comics, which are fast becoming earnings losers as well as environmental wastes of space and trees. But rather than let third parties help with digital delivery and take cuts of its revenue, Dark Horse Comics — home of killer titles like Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many more — is going it alone. Could it be the model for the digital comics industry going forward. I found out for Wired.

Dark Horse Comics’ Digital Initiative Promises Innovative Ideas, Lower Prices

Dark Horse Comics is going digital with a slick e-comics reader that will work on any smartphone or computer. An added bonus: By handling sales through Dark Horse’s web store rather than Apple’s payment channel, the Hellboy publisher will gain increased flexibility while keeping prices at $1.50 per issue.

Launching in January, Dark Horse’s digital comics will be readable in two ways: an app for iOS devices like the iPad (pictured above in this exclusive first look) and an HTML5 reader on the Dark Horse website. Comics downloaded from the Dark Horse web store can be queued for offline reading in the app, and an Android app and a version of the HTML5 reader optimized for display on any smartphone are also in the works.

“Going this route has enabled us to assume more control over our content, in terms of how we are choosing to present, publish and distribute it, while hopefully earning us and our creators a little more money in the process,” said Dark Horse online marketing manager Matt Parkinson.

This hybrid model will allow Dark Horse to sidestep the 30 percent cut taken by Apple for sales made through the iPad maker’s in-app payments channel. Apple’s iron grip on digital publishing has irritated some magazine publishers, who want greater flexibility to sell subscriptions through iTunes and balk at Apple’s large cut of sales. By harnessing sales from its own web store to iOS and Android apps, Dark Horse could have hit upon a winning strategy for Comics 2.0.

Dark Horse’s approach helps keep down cover prices — comics will be pegged at what Parkinson called “an industry low $1.49 price point” — while giving writers and artists a larger percentage of profits.

“By creating and managing our own digital publishing program we have successfully eliminated third-party fees on our digital editions and are passing the savings on to our customers,” Parkinson said.

The arrangement also lets Dark Horse be more flexible with regards to bundling comics, usage terms, editorial control and release schedules than the publisher could be if it were dependent on Apple’s pipeline, said lead developer Lennon Day-Reynolds.

“The App Store guidelines haven’t been much of a problem for us in releasing single-book apps in the past, but there are certainly things we’d like to try that can’t be easily accomplished when using Apple’s commerce backend,” he said. “Maintaining more editorial control is one such advantage, but we also look forward to having the freedom to experiment with sales, distribution and communication ideas that aren’t easily accomplished inside the App Store’s boundaries. Also, we really want to offer access to folks who don’t have or want an iOS device. The web is a proven platform for doing that.”

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