DC Entertainment is announcing two new technologies today that should give readers more opportunity to interact with their digital comics. The company is also sharing some numbers about the growth that it’s seeing on the digital side.
Co-Publisher Jim Lee told me that the new features are “the next evolutionary step in our digital publishing program.” There’s DC², which adds dynamic layers to a panel. Readers can swipe through multiple elements (like word balloons) and images within a single panel, giving the writer and artist an opportunity to pack more story and content into a given space and, in Lee’s words, “explore and bend the rules of traditional storytelling.”
Then there’s DC² Multiverse, which allows readers to shape the story of the comic. When the concept was first described to me, my mind immediately went to the Choose Your Own Adventure books that I read as a kid, but that’s not quite right — it sounds like it’s more about exploring the characters and subplots that you’re interested in. For example, Lee said that at one point in the Batman: Arkham Origins comic, Batman and Catwoman are standing back-to-back in a fight, and the reader can choose which character that they want to follow for the next section of the story. At another point, you can choose which weapons you want the heroes to equip themselves with. (You can see what it looks like when a reader chooses between two different plotlines in the screenshots below.)
DC says that with DC² Multiverse, “one chapter of a digital comic has dozens of possible story outcomes.” Lee acknowledged that “there’s certainly a lot more work that goes in to create a Multiverse comic than a regular one,” which could be particularly challenging on the schedule of a monthly comic book, but he said, “the trick is all in the advance planning” — making sure the comic has enough lead time and that the writer and artist are smart about how they shape their storylines and utilize different pieces of art.
The company will start by showcasing each technology in a single digital-first title — Batman ’66 (based on the 1960s TV show) for DC², and the aforementioned Arkham Origins (based on the Arkham Asylum game franchise) for DC² Multiverse. Lee said the company is trying to be careful in how it uses these new features.
“We don’t want to innovate purely for the sake of innovation,” Lee said. “We waited to have the right [intellectual property] to pair with the right technology.”
Lee said these particular titles have a chance to reach more mass-market readers since they’re tied to a TV show and a video game. Plus, DC has more leeway to be experimental, since these aren’t the core, in-continuity Batman comics.
DC is hoping to study how readers interact with the additional content and use the data to figure out “what readers want,” and then presumably start integrating it into other titles. DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson said that DC’s digital business is currently “this interesting combination of a rapidly established, meaningful business, while still being experimental.”
How rapidly has the business grown? Nelson said, “For all intents and purposes, we were not in the business three years ago.” Then it started releasing its backlist digitally, and it made a big digital push in 2011, at the same time as it revamped its publishing line with the New 52 initiative. Now the company says 1 million digital comics are being downloaded across all of DC’s distribution platforms each month. It saw its biggest one-day digital sales with Batman Inc. #8 (which got a lot of coverage for its major character death) by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, which sold more than 10,000 digital copies on its first day of release.
DC also says the digital business grew 125 percent in 2012 versus 2011 — and it isn’t cannibalizing print sales, which were up by double digits.