Digital distribution is helping Top Cow evolve even further as a comic book publisher

5 min read


I had a friend in the US who once told me that Wednesday was the best day to be a fan of comic books. That’s when the bulk of new releases would arrive, as he’d pop up every afternoon to grab a pile of them that his favourite store sorted and held in reserve. These days? There’s not that much emphasis on going out every week to stock up.

Digital comic books are booming right now, thanks to numerous subscription services being available. Whether its direct from a publisher or via outlets like Comixology, the time to grab what you want without having to ever leave your home and face the blazing light of the star that this planet orbits has never been better.

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There’s a double-edged sword to all of this of course. Comic book piracy has always been a constant thorn in the side of the industry, forcing many a publisher to fight off the scurvy side of fandom so that they can see a return on their comic books. Some publishers hate piracy, whereas others have looked at the how and why of this scene and adapted to it. Top Cow is one of those publishers who has adapted to use digital publishing as another tool to help move comic books around.

“I think online distribution has helped immensely, because it allows people to sample,” Top Cow boss and Postal writer Matt Hawkins explained at FanCon.

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I think that it’s a great way to find things that you like

You’re not going to get a free credit comic from a comic book store usually, you’re going to have to pay for it. We have the Free Comic Book Day annual event, but for the most part you pay for something to try it. That is dangerous, because I think we’ve all bought books or gone to movies and watched things that we didn’t like. When you pay to see a movie and it sucks, it’s a horrible experience and everyone is annoyed with that.

The same with if you buy a book or a comic book and you don’t like it. You feel like you’ve wasted your money and your time. The nice thing about digital and sampling online, is that you have the ability to sample and see if you like it. I think that it’s a great way to find things that you like, and we get millions of downloads a year on our comic books. We have like over a hundred free comics on our website and collectively they get downloaded over a million times a year.

That focus has seen piracy of Top Cow comic books drop over the years, as fans have realised that if they want more comics like Witchblade, Aphrodite IX or the Darkness, then they’re going to need to support the efforts of publishers like Top Cow. “In terms of piracy, I think a lot of what I’ve seen with online comic torrents has kind of gone away,” Hawkins explained.

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If a book is making money, it’s never going to be cancelled

And I think because of Comixology, there are so many alternatives where they’re not expensive and you can buy and read comics digitally, I’ve noticed that the piracy statistics have gone way down. People that are pirating books that aren’t going to buy them anyway? Who cares. It’s not exactly going to influence me one way or the other.

What does happen, is that you’ll get people who pirate comics, who read them online, they’ll become a fan and they’ll want to buy them. People want to support things that they like. They’re willing to spend money on something, especially when they know that if they don’t then it’s going to go away. I can’t tell you how many times people have complained to me about books that got cancelled.

Here’s the magic: If a book is making money, it’s never going to be cancelled. That’s just true. No one cancels a successful thing unless there’s a very rare reason.

That’s entirely fair. Comic book creators deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. Owning a piece of their hard work these days costs less than a cup of coffee. Not only is digital distribution fantastic for this, it also has a knock-on effect of seeing consumers support their favourite titles by actually buying physical versions anyway. After all, you don’t want to get an iPad signed, you want the actual physical labour in front of you autographed by the people who put their blood, sweat, and tears into it.

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Is there a future for digital distribution then? Absolutely. As Top Cow has proven, it can co-exist with the more traditional side of the medium.

Like stuff like this? Then don’t forget to give our interview with Chew writer John Layman a read.

Last Updated: May 4, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Digital is just far more convenient. You can easily pick up a virtual ton of comics across the various bundle sites for a few dollars, which is perfect for someone like me who gets whelmed when walking into an actual comic book shop.

    • Original Heretic

      Whelmed, huh? You’re just making things up now.

      • CGS

        Whelmed, verb – engulf, submerge, or bury

        Literally never heard it actually used in a sentence before though. Ha.

        • Original Heretic

          Cannot be! There is no such word! Trevor made it up!

          *whispering in the corner* crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap

    • gets whelmed, lol.

  • Original Heretic

    Chew, I want that. I want it bad.
    Been far too long since I’ve read some awesome comics. I think the last series I really got into was The Boys, but I haven’t touched that in years. Only ever got to issue 60 (or somewhere round there).

    • Guild

      I think The Boys finished around issue 72 then there were a bunch of miniseries. The Boys was another awesome series Darryn got me into. That and Chew. Both brilliant.

      • Original Heretic

        Okay, reading that, I gotta make a plan to finish The Boys.
        Even before I started reading it, I was already sold on it.
        The writer from Preacher and the artist from Transmet? Of course I was going to read it!

  • CGS

    Well he’s got a point, I have sampled a couple titles from their website for free and it did lead me to buying them new rather than getting the cheapest used copy I could find. Every Top Cow series I like that’s not Witchblade or The Darkness seems to have less than 20 issues, but I enjoy their stuff more than typical superhero comics.

  • Hammersteyn

    Deathstar in the clouds!

  • Andy Lockett

    I miss The Darkness very badly :c

    • When we spoke to Matt he revealed that Top Cow likes to do things in cycles where for a while they will focus on this corner of their universe, then another, then another, etc. And they will soon be swinging things back towards their holy trinity so to speak, with a new Witchblade book being launched later this year. I would assume that along with Witchblade will come both The Darkness and Angelus seeing as they’re so closely related

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