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    Hank Kanalz talks DC’s Big Digital Changes [Interview]

    By | November 27th, 2012
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments

    Just recently, DC underwent some major changes in its digital comics business, as its main line went day-and-date on the Nook, Kindle and iBookstore. This meant some major (and exciting) changes, as they were the first to go down this path.

    Given that we were pretty excited for this, we reached out to DC to talk with their Senior Vice President of Digital, Hank Kanalz. Today at MC, we chat with Hank about those big changes, their digital direct titles, the additive nature of their print and digital audiences, how he consumes comics, and much, much more.

    The big news from the past week was that DC would begin releasing individual issues day-and-date on the Kindle and Nook Stores as well as iBookstore. Why the decision to be the first major publisher to do this, and how long has this been in the works?

    Hank Kanalz: Our goal is to reach the widest possible audience and these new deals are a huge step in accomplishing that goal. The decision to be first follows a series of firsts for us starting with same-day digital and creating a wide range of digital first content. We feel digital is additive to our overall business and will continue to find innovative ways to broaden our reach. The deals have been in the works for a while (sorry, we can’t offer specifics).

    Given that DC was already day-and-date on ComiXology, what new audiences do you feel these other avenues open up for DC as a publisher?

    HK: The recent eBookstore deals will reach a more mainstream, casual audience and make it really easy for them to impulse buy with one click. For example, over the past year we saw huge upticks when certain comics became mainstream news, like with the Superman and Wonder Woman kiss on the cover of JUSTICE LEAGUE — that lead to a big uptick in month over month digital issue sales. Digital makes it really easy for casual readers to embrace their curiosity.

    According to an interview you did with Forbes last month, DC has seen both its print and digital segments grow over the past two years, with the latter not cannibalizing the audience of the former in any tangible way. Why do you think that is, and do you think that is sustainable?

    HK: Our growth is due to a combination of a few things. First off, we chose the right time to go same-day digital with the launch of DC COMICS — THE NEW 52. The success of that launch lead to growth across the entire industry. Secondly, we’ve found that digital is additive — you have your core print books that you buy every month but maybe you want to check out a few more — digital allows for the impulse sampling. Also, we’ve found digital to be great for new and casual readers. It enables purchases by people who may not have a comic shop near them.

    That growth across both segments is incredible, as it was reported that digital alone is up 197% since September of 2011, but how much would you attribute that to the New 52 relaunch?

    HK: See answer above — much of the success is in line with The New 52 launch, but also the explosion of eReaders and tablets. It’s been a great confluence of events.

    Digital first offerings are something that have taken a foothold in DC’s lineup the past few months, and they seem to be doing well given overall reception and excitement. What was the genesis of the idea, and was releasing books first through digital and eventually through print an experiment as much as anything?

    HK: Our approach to digital first books has been to tie them to other forms of media — like with the ARKHAM UNHINGED book based on the bestselling video games, or with SMALLVILLE SEASON 11 — these topics have a built-in audience so we find that fans of the games or TV show will find the comics and often it’s the first time they are reading comics. The digital to print release schedule has been somewhat of an experiment — but a successful one. For example, the BEYOND series is very successful digitally, and many of the print issues have also sold out. Clearly, people want to consume quality content in whatever their preferred format — digital or print.

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    What are the primary drivers in the difference between pricing on digital first offerings vs. print first?

    HK: The digital-first comics offer weekly chapters that are formatted for your digital device — so we’re giving you more total monthly content just in smaller weekly segments that cost $.99 each. We found that our digital reader reads in smaller bursts, so the intent is to deliver a good reading experience at a greater frequency.

    So far, the general public has mostly only guessed at digital sales with no real facts being shared as to how, say, Batman #13 sold in digital. Is sharing some sort of sales results that go deeper than anecdotal on the road map?

    HK: We do release our monthly sales rankings for the top 20 digital books but at this time we are not releasing specific numbers.

    For me as a reader, I still mostly buy print copies, but as someone who knows what a bear it is to reread comics that have been long packed away, having download codes with purchase of a comic is an appealing feature. Is that something DC has discussed moving across its line, or do you see a clear separation between print and digital audiences?

    HK: Right now we offer digital combo packs for several of our top titles. There are no plans to offer codes line-wide, as the coordination to do this make production fairly complicated.

    How do you read your comics?

    HK: I read in both print and digital. As a lifelong comic reader, I will always collect my favorites, like JUSTICE LEAGUE. But I also like to keep up with a lot of the books during my morning train ride into the office or while I’m traveling — so in those cases definitely digital. And then of course, there’s all the quality control — hah hah! All of that is digital!

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).