Comixology Builds One-Stop Shop for Comics Publishers, Retailers, and Fans

7/5/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Comixology’s small staff of 24 comic-book freaks are working around the clock these days, preparing for one of the biggest changes their industry has ever seen: On Aug. 31, mega-publisher DC Comics will begin releasing its titles digitally and in paper form on the same day. Until now, there’s been a lag of at least a couple of weeks, giving retailers plenty of time to profit off the traditional, paperback comic books that fans love. The transition to digital, says Comixology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger, has left retailers “by turn scared and anxious—and very interested.”

Ever since it was founded in 2007, Comixology has been catering to all the stakeholders in the small but passionate world of comic books: the publishers, the retailers, and of course, the collectors. The rise of digital has been particularly hard for the retailers, who for decades have relied on comic-books nuts filling their stores every Wednesday to snap up the latest editions of Spiderman or Walking Dead, Steinberger says. To ease the path to digital, Comixology has been rolling out a host of services for retailers—including, most recently, a digital storefront. The service allows retailers to have websites powered by Comixology, where they can sell comic books and pull in affiliate revenues.

The movement of the comic-book industry to digital may be a hard adjustment for retailers, but it’s been a boon to Comixology. The company has secured the rights to digitize comics from all the major publishers, including the dominant players, DC and Marvel. Comixology now derives most of its revenues from selling digital comics online and via apps it has developed for smart phones and tablet computers.

Steinberger is himself a comics nut, having collected more than 7,000 comic books as a teenager in the 1980s. He originally trained as a classical musician—he earned advanced degrees in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard—but ultimately decided that entrepreneurship would be more suited to his creative personality.

A phone discussion with his parents in 2006 inadvertently led Steinberger to dream up a business plan. “My parents called to say ‘Come and get your comics out of our basement. We don’t want to store them anymore,’” recalls Steinberger, who at the time was studying to get his MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He picked the books up, dumped them in a storage unit in Manhattan, and promised his wife he would sell them.

But when Steinberger looked for a way to catalog his collection, he came up empty. So he started to develop an application for cataloging and appraising comic books. Then he called up his friend and fellow comic-book collector John Roberts, who was an expert in software development. Turns out Roberts was in the process of … Next Page »

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