ComiXology Hits 200 Million Download Mark

Posted by at 10:56 am on September 26, 2013

Comixology FounderComiXology has come a long way. Just this week, the digital comics provider passed a major milestone, with 200 million digital downloads. Now the Chelsea startup is looking at a rare alignment of the pop-cultural stars that could give it a record sales bump—and boost an overall comics market that is on track to have its best year in more than a decade. The blockbuster Walking Dead TV series returns to AMC for its fourth season Oct. 13 just as The Walking Dead comic that the show is based on releases its 10th-anniversary issue.

Digital platforms like comiXology’s are helping to solve a longtime problem for comics: their limited distribution. Once carried in candy shops and drugstores, they are now sold only in comic-book shops, which number about 2,500 across the U.S. and Canada.

“Digital has replaced the spin rack in the convenience store,” said Thor Parker, social marketing director at Midtown Comics, which has three Manhattan stores and calls itself the nation’s biggest comic-book retailer. Digital comics sales came to $70 million in 2012, up from $25 million the year before, according to ICv2. Mr. Griepp estimates growth this year to be in the double digits.

ComiXology grew out of founder David Steinberger’s love of comic books and the enormous collection he told his wife he would finally sell. A Juilliard graduate enrolled in NYU’s Stern School of Business at the time, he decided first to catalog the copies, and found there was no software available to help him. Comics’ disconnect with technology struck him as a business opportunity. He and two fellow M.B.A. students put together a proposal that won a Stern School business-plan competition in 2007.

ComiXology soon launched as a website that kept readers abreast of new releases and forged relationships with publishers, such as Manhattan-based giants DC Comics and Marvel, that would come in handy when it rolled out its iPhone e-reading application in 2009. The online store quickly gained a critical mass of titles and got out ahead of other niche players as “a one-stop shop” for comics, said Hank Kanalz, who heads up DC’s digital operations.

Just as important, comiXology’s apps made comics easily readable across mobile devices, expanding panels to full-screen size and carrying the reader through them with the company’s “guided view” technology. “They were ahead of the curve in terms of the experience they provided,” said Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson.

Mr. Steinberger declines to discuss finances, other than to say that the company was profitable last year and the year before. And growth has accelerated. The 200 million downloads mark comes just a year since comiXology hit the 100 million level, a milestone that took more than three years to reach. ComiXology also recently launched in France—whose comics market is as big as the American one—and now has deals with publishers that represent 50% of the French print market.

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