With the launch of the latest version of its app, Archie Comics is combining two different types of digital comics services: Readers can buy comics one at a time (as they do with comiXology and Comics Plus) or they can subscribe to an “all-you-can-eat” service that allows them to read thousands of comics for a single monthly fee (similar to Marvel Unlimited).
Both of these models have been around for a while, but the twist here is that Archie has put them in a single app (designed and run by iVerse Media). Open up the Archie iOS app and you have two options: Pay $9.99 a month for unlimited access to thousands of comics, or buy the comics one at a time and keep them forever. Right now the Archie Unlimited feature is only available for iOS devices, but iVerse CEO Michael Murphey says an Android app will be coming in a few weeks. We talked to Murphey and Archie CEO Jon Goldwater to get the details on this as well as some of Archie’s other digital plans.
Why did you decide to add Archie Unlimited to the Archie app?
Murphey: Earlier this year, around Comic-Con, we released a 5.0 version of the Archie Comics app. Compared to previous apps, it’s a major redesign. We did a lot of focus group testing with different types of users, including kids and adults. We wanted to go through and find out what can we do to make it easier to access free content, find what you are looking for.
This was one of the things we thought would be a very good value to the consumer. The single purchase, single download model is great, being able to publish comics on the day they are released is great, but when you have a vast back catalog like Archie does, it makes sense to offer an-all-you-can-eat model. Thankfully, Jon and the guys at Archie are very willing to experiment in the digital space. They were able to put it together so everything in the app that’s a year old you can get for one monthly price.
Is this a streaming-only app?
Murphey: You can download up to six issues at a time for offline reading, so if you don’t have a WiFi connection you can still access them.
Why did you decide to include both Archie Unlimited and single purchases in the same app?
Murphey: The great thing about having single purchase comics and Unlimited in the same app is if you are reading a story that is part of the Unlimited program and you move into newer material that is not part of the Unlimited option, you can purchase if you want
Look at a lot of the all-you-can-eat options, for example, Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon Instant. When I was looking at how we wanted to do this for comics, I was looking at how I was interacting with those products, talking to Jon and the guys and bouncing it off them.
With Amazon Instant, I have been watching Doctor Who like crazy this week, because of the 50th anniversary. You can watch it on the subscription service, and then when you get to the newer episodes, you are able to purchase them without leaving the application. With Netflix you have to go to iTunes or somewhere else.
So when I was looking at doing the subscription model, we were looking at these examples. As long as you keep it clear within the app what is what, it’s easy for the user to understand what they get and for us to allow them to purchase what they want without having to go to a separate app. With digital users you have a variety of different consumers. Some want to look at free content, some want to purchase new stuff, some want to dig through the archives for months and months. All should be able to use the application.
What happens to your comics if your subscription ends?
Murphey: If the subscription ends, you keep the ones you have purchased. There are two kinds of shelves: The ones you purchase and the ones that are available in Unlimited. If you go to an Unlimited comic you want to read again, and you have canceled your subscription, a pop-up comes up and you can re-subscribe, or you can purchase it if you just want that book and don’t want to re-subscribe. You also have the option to delete the product if you don’t want it taking up space any more.
What sort of content is on the app?
Murphey: It’s everything that goes back more than 12 months. Every month new stuff is added, going all the way back to the very beginning of Archie.
Do you mean every Archie comic ever made?
Murphey: It’s not every single book.
Goldwater: My vision is to get everything up there. That’s a tremendous number of books, and it takes time. We really haven’t scratched the surface yet.
Murphey: I think there are about 4,000 comics right now you can get inside Unlimited, and that’s both new and classic material. When we add older products they are available for individual purchase but also go into the Unlimited program.
Are there any regional restrictions?
Murphey: No, it’s available worldwide.
What about the Archie Digital product you have now?
Murphey: We still have subscribers to that. We are talking about how we will unify it. The content at archiedigital.com is almost exclusively older, classic material. With Archie Unlimited we have been able to introduce a lot of newer material from the last few years. As we sync the databases, all that new stuff will fly over here, too.
Are you planning to discontinue archiedigital.com?
Murphey: No, we are going to evolve it into the product we are talking about today. Digital has reached the point were we are starting to see the unification of things in different spaces. It’s an evolutionary process as we have to develop these different things and slide them all together.
Are you planning on moving onto any e-book platforms?
Murphey: You are going to see Archie product in the iBookstore in the next couple of weeks. We have several items that we have submitted to them that we are waiting for approval on. One of our goals is being able to get the material out anywhere and everywhere. We are not concerned with things being on our proprietary platform, we are concerned with getting things out to as many spaces as possible.
Will those be single purchases?
Murphey: Yes. Those will be holding to the Apple iBooks business mode.
Last year you released the Red Circle app that allowed subscribers to read the older comics in an Unlimited format and also buy the New Crusaders comics one at a time—so it’s a bit like the new app. What are you doing with that?
Murphey: We learned some great things with the Red Circle app. We quietly released an update that moves us out of the Newsstand and lets us get back into the main area of iTunes. The model there is where the genesis of this idea came from.
What about Sonic the Hedgehog?
Murphey: There are Sonic books in the Archie app, but we have a Sonic Comics app that has been very successful for us. Both Sonic and Mega Man have their own apps. Those apps are currently running the 4.5 version of our system, and we might in future move them to some of these other options.
Would you do a Sonic Unlimited app?
Goldwater: We really haven’t looked into that yet, but everything is on the table. Michael and I need to have that discussion. If it makes economic sense to do it, we would do it. Absolutely.
A former book editor and newspaper reporter, Brigid Alverson started MangaBlog to keep track of her daughters¹ reading habits and now covers comics and graphic novels for Comic Book Resources , School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Robot 6, and MTV Geek. She also edits the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. Brigid was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards. Send her an email to firstname.lastname@example.org