The crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has become a significant player in the comics world; last year, Publishers Weekly calculated that if it was a publisher, it would be the second largest publisher of graphic novels.
Actually, Kickstarter is more like a retailer than a publisher, a place where people put up their money and get a comic in return. There are several differences between Kickstarter and a comics shop or bookstore, though. One is there is no middleman; the customer usually deals directly with the creator. The other is that the transaction is not instantaneous: The creator collects the payments, uses them to complete the project, and then sends out the comics. It’s a bit like being in a farm co-op, where you pay up front and get a share of the crops at harvest time.
Since most comics Kickstarter campaigns include a digital comic as one of the premiums, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at digital comics within the Kickstarter environment.
Right now, there are two digital comics marketplaces: Comics apps such as comiXology, Comics Plus, and Dark Horse, which cater to serious comics fans and specialize in single-issue comics that are priced at 99 cents to $3.99 for a 32-page comic (with probably 26-28 pages of story), and e-book platforms such as Kindle and Nook, which reach a more general readership and sell digital graphic novels for $7.99 and up. There is some crossover (comics apps sell bundles and graphic novels, Kindle and Nook sell single issues), but that’s where the bulk of the audience is for each of them.
There are 120 comics projects on Kickstarter as I write this, and I took a look at the top 30 that appeared on the “Most Popular” page to see how digital comics are treated. Of that 30, 26 offered digital comics as rewards.
A few things jumped out at me.
Digital comics are relatively expensive on Kickstarter: The average price of a digital comic in that group was $9, but the most common price was $10 (one very high price and a few lower ones skewed the numbers). Only two were priced under $5.
Except when they are free: You can’t get a digital comic by itself for free, but 18 of the 30 campaigns offered a print/digital bundle and only two charged more for that than for the print comic alone.
Digital is still cheaper than print: This just seems like common sense, but digital comics storefronts usually charge the full print price for new digital comics, and print books are often cheaper than Kindle editions on Amazon. On Kickstarter, though, a higher pledge is invariably required for a print copy than a digital copy.
Prices don’t vary much with page count: On Kickstarter, you can get a 32-page single-issue comic or a 200-page graphic novel for $10. People seem to stick fairly close to the standard price no matter how long their project is, and the lower-priced comics were not any shorter than the $10 ones; in fact, the best digital deal on Kickstarter this week may be Dan Kim’s award-winning manga NNN, which is 235 pages long and available for as little as $1. There did seem to be more of a correlation between price and length with regard to print books.
And by digital comics, we mean downloadables. In fact, several of the Kickstarter campaigns I looked at were offering collected editions of webcomics that are already available online for free. The vast majority of the digital comics are PDFs, and all but one of the 26 specified that it was a download (there was one that said “e-book,” which could mean something different). Presumably, all of these are DRM-free. This is a huge difference from the other two comics marketplaces, in which digital comics are available only within a particular environment, be it the comiXology, iTunes, or Kindle ecosystem.
This makes sense because sales on Kickstarter are mostly one-time transactions; although creators do return to Kickstarter, they don’t build the sort of relationship one has with comiXology or Amazon. Kickstarter itself doesn’t provide a platform for digital comics, so every creator is on their own.
If using comiXology is like going to a comics shop and shopping in the Kindle store is like going to a bookstore, buying comics on Kickstarter is like going to a craft fair or an artist’s studio. The creators make their pitch directly to the customers, everything has a handmade feel to it, and prices are higher than in mass-market venues. The comics in this case are only a part of the reward—the supporter also has the satisfaction of helping the creator and getting something you can’t find in stores, and those factors may justify the premium price.