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

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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!

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