Digital Comic Editions – Can They Increase Sales?

As a comic book creator (odd thing for me to say, being a fan for so long), I’m grappling with this whole digital publishing issue.  It’s not that I haven’t embraced it.  I have.  Fully.  Harbor Moon is available on Graphic.ly, Comixology and Wowio.  And probably for illegal download elsewhere.

My issue isn’t – should I or shouldn’t I – it is price points.

I started off at $2.50 an issue (the first issue is free).  My reasoning was – it should cost more for the entire book digitally than buying it in hard copy.  In fact, sticker price is $19.95 on the book, but you can get it direct from the site for $15 (no shipping and handling), and it’s on Amazon for about $15.  So, it is still less than cover price.  However, I found that compared to other titles, we were really high.  And we weren’t moving any units digitally.  The first issue was (and continues to) move a lot of units.  It’s free, so at least it looks and sounds enticing.

About two months into this experiment I shifted the price down to $1.99 an issue.  So, to own all of the issues (and thus the full book), plus a ton of extra content we created just for the digital edition – it is $9.95.  That seemed like a really good deal to me.

Now, about 6 months after that, we are continuing to move 1st issues, but the rest aren’t moving.  I have a theory that people will download everything they can for free.  And then they will get to it whenever, if ever, they can.  For an indie book, we are at the bottom of most reader’s piles.  It was my thought that after a few months we would see a real uptick in digital downloads, at least for Issue #2.

As you can guess, this has not been the case.  First, a sort of explanation (reasoning to myself) – Harbor Moon was never meant to be broken up into issues.  It was always meant to be one book, read as a whole.  But Graphic.ly (my first deal digitally) doesn’t offer full books yet.  So we had to break it up.  In doing so we created some extra content, made the issues flow from one to the next, etc…  I thought we did a good job with that.  But the book is a mystery.  It’s a mystery with a few layers.  I don’t want to call it highbrow, but we definitely don’t spell things out for anyone initially.  And this could turn some people off.  They may finish reading Issue 1 and be like – what the fuck did I just read?

So, it is now that I contemplate the value of a digital edition.  Is it better to charge less and actually move units or not make any money on them at all?

The bigger question is: If your digital edition is priced well below your physical copy, will it hurt sales of the physical edition?

This is really hard to quantify.  Especially right now, when we are on the crux of the ereader movement.  It is trendy and lots of people do it – but it is still not the standard.  Maybe we’re a year off, maybe we’re three or five years off.  But right now, moving hard copies is where most of the revenues come from.

But I’m starting to think, and I had to step back and be a fan again, that if you price the digital editions at a very cheap price point ($.99), then you can move more copies, get more eyeballs on your book, and create fans.

Fans support you.   Fans buy your work.

If I was Robert Kirkman, I wouldn’t even be debating this.  I would put my books out in hard cover with a $25/30 price tag, my issues out digitally for $1.99 – and just sit back.  He has legions of fans.  But that was built over time.

I have to take my lumps (financially) in order to build that fan base.  And that means, getting people to read the book.  I may even experiment with giving Issue #2 away for free.  Or $.25.  Which is basically free.  More important than money to me is that people read the book.  I think they will enjoy it.  If you look at the artwork and hate it, okay – I understand.  It is subjective.  I can’t change your opinion.  But I think if you enjoy the art, even slightly, you’ll enjoy the book.  I would guarantee it, but I have nothing to back that up with.

So, I’m going to shift my digital pricing strategy.  And if you downloaded Harbor Moon and are waiting for Issue 2, you’re in luck.

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