I don’t know if you guys have heard, but this digital comics thing is a big issue right now. At the forefront of the movement are portals like Comixology and Graphic.ly; but a second movement has begun, as name creators have started putting up their own work for nearly no money at all.
One small success story? Pet Avengers creator Chris Eliopoulos, who put the entirety of his 129-page on sale for $2, and ended up with a hit. To find out more, and whether he thinks this is the wave of the comics future, we chatted with the writer – how else? – digitally:
Chris Eliopoulos: Not very. It's not really about getting rich. Yes, the money is nice, but this is also about getting my work out there into new hands--people who have never read my work and might be willing to take a chance on something for a couple of bucks. But, I will say, that the first book is a digital version of a print book I did. I made more money in 3 weeks of sales than I made in a year on the printed book.
Geek: Seriously though, what led to this decision? And how has the response been?
CE: I had been thinking about the idea and I heard from a few people who told me not to do this because selling a PDF guarantees pirating and sharing. I'm sure it's happening, but it was happening anyway. Finally Skottie Young went online and bit the bullet and gave it a go. My book had been out a while, so I jumped in as well. The response has been great, not just in sales, but the interest of readers and other creators. It's an interesting experiment and decided to release my second book exclusively digitally. So now I have 2 books available for $2 each.
Geek: For those who don't know the book, what's it about?
CE: Misery Loves Sherman is the comic strip I've done online for almost 3 years. It involves the neurotic Sherman, 2 aliens (Zort and Benny) and the living embodiment of death. It's like a comic strip collection you'd find in bookstores, but cheaper.
Geek: Why this price point for this many pages? Most people would be okay with buying one issue of a comic for $2 - why the whole enchilada?
CE: I felt there were a number of reasons for this specific product. This is a strip where you can view all of the daily strips online for free if you wanted to forward click for hours. The other reason is I see it as a loss-leader. People who take a chance on this book may like what they see and go out and pick up some of my other work whether digitally or printed.
I don't say this price is for everyone, but it works for this book. There's this breaking point you see--like apps. If you go to the Apple site to download an app, you can weigh in your mind if you think it's worth it for the price their asking. Like, if Angry Birds is available for $2, you might say, "Hey, it's $2, I'll give it a try." but if the price were $5, you might pass. My goal was to find that price point where people might give it a shot.
Geek: Was there any worry that people would say, "Two dollars for so many pages? It must be BAD."
CE: Yeah, sure. I think comics on the web have that same stigma. Because it's free, it must be bad. It's not always true, but what I say to people is I'm not paying for printing costs, not paying for distribution or retailers, so I'm passing the saving onto the customer. That's why book costs are so high--a large chunk of that $2.99 you pay for a comic goes to the distributor and retailer. I figure, it cost me the time to do the strips and putting the book together. That's what you're paying for.
Geek: You're also selling it through your website and Paypal, rather than a portal like Comixology or Graphic.ly - why is that?
CE: I think one big reason that people are hesitant to buy on those sites is the feeling they don't own anything. If the apps go under, you have no other means to read or save the comics you bought. People want to own these things, so I figured I'd offer them the ability to download a file they can view on their computer, iPad, phone or wherever a PDF can be read. And, again, the lower price is because I don't have to share the profit with anyone except a few pennies per book for Paypal and $5 a month for Fetch who does the hosting and e-mailing.
Geek: Let's say you don't already know who Chris Eliopoulos was, or what Misery Loves Sherman is - how would you find out about this book? Other than, you know, this interview we're doing right now.
CE: Well, I've been twittering and trying to get the word out. Frankly, that's the hard part--the marketing. I'm not a natural marketer, so I'm basically running around in the dark. Don't get me wrong, the book has sold well with little to no promotion, but if I was wiser when it comes to marketing or had more time, it would probably do even better getting non-comics readers interested.
Geek: You've been a huge proponent of getting comics into people's hands by any means necessary… Do you think this is the ideal way? What have you learned, good or bad from this experience that you might translate to the next iteration or approach?
CE: I don't know if there is one ideal way. I can only speak for myself and my work. My work tends not to be something mainstream comic book readers are looking for. It tends to be something that would appeal to parents and children--a more mainstream audience, so while I have a name amongst the comics world, I don't have much beyond.
What I need to do is try to get some work out there into the hands of non-comics readers whether it's through book publishers or digitally or word of mouth. It's sort of like climbing a mountain blindfolded--just feeling my way around.
Geek: What would you recommend to other people who have their own original graphic novels? Is this the way to go for them? Or is it specific to each case?
CE: I would think so, but don't limit it. If you can get into ComiXology or Graphic.ly or wherever--do it. The idea is to get eyes on the product and get good word of mouth and build from there. Also, it saves on printing costs and the worries that Diamond will or won't offer your book.
Misery Loves Sherman is available for digital download here – and let us know what you think, MTV Geekers: is this the wave of the future?