Qualitative Interviews to Comics publishers in Europe – EUDICOM EU partnership

E- Comics: Changing publishers’ mindset to move from irrelevant sales to a growth digital strategy

During the initial months of the project, more than 30 qualitative interviews have been conducted by the consortium partners about the digital comics market in Europe.

11 countries have been covered by the partners and included comics publishers of different sizes and both having and not having a digital distribution catalogue. The publishers interviewed were also very diverse regarding the types of comics (manga, BD, superhero comics, …) as well as in terms of the language (focus on local comics vs international comics for a specific market) in which they publish.

The qualitative interviews complement the quantitative research that was carried out in the first part of the project highlighting the market differences and the various dynamics in e-comics in Europe.

The goals of the interviews were:

  • To get a snapshot of European comics publishers’ pick on digital comics in Europe
  • To better understand where comics publishers stand towards future digital developments
  • To understand the challenges of distributing digitally
  • To clarify the needs of publishers in their digital strategy
  • To understand the possible role of digital into their sales strategy 
  • To feel the interest and appetite of the comics publishers towards e-comics.

As already seen in the quantitative research, comics culture is very different depending on the countries and the interest in digital differs also a lot, based on the maturity of the general digital offer in the country.

But having said that, many topics/issues are common to most of the publishers in all the countries covered and in the first place:

  • Digital share of comics sales is very low – mostly around 1% or less
  • There is a lack of specialized digital platforms dedicated to comics

Main obstacles accounting for low sales are:

  • Lack of rights available /negotiated for digital distribution
  • Pricing too high due to the absence of discount strategies on digital compared to print (and in a few countries, due to digital books still being applied a higher VAT rate than print ones)
  • No focus on digital as the target audience consists (or is perceived to consist) mainly of comics collectors, who largely prefer print
  • Lack of a real catalogue offer (qualitative and quantitative) in digital
  • Very little knowledge about the necessary technology to be efficient on digital
  • Very few platform opportunities outside the global giants
  • Threat of more piracy
  • Inability to obtain a license for foreign offer in publishers’ local language catalogue, due to the lack of properly secured local e-book platforms
  • Doubts about the value of the current reading options on digital devices
  • The actual demand from customers seems low
  • Only series work in digital

Bottom line: no real digital strategy has been developed by a generation of comics publishers that are not yet digital natives.

Going deeper on the interest for digital distribution, it appears that:

  • Most interviewees think digital will grow with the digital native generation
  • They would be happy to develop digital distribution if they could find a way to make it work with print
  • They have some experience in digital marketing but usually quite limited and relying on scarce resources (very few community managers)
  • The profile of the target audiences for digital is unclear, as they present various experiences: older audience Vs Millennials

To go digital, publishers need some support to help them unlock the potential of e comics.

Some experiences indicate possible ways forward:

  • For one publisher, the digital formats are reaching 16% of the print sales
  • “Digital first“ strategies are developing with some interesting impact
  • Subscription models are offering a real alternative to print (“Read digital, collect physical”)
  • “Chapter by chapter” sales and “Pay as you read” and Freemium models are being tested
  • Work on metadata allows better digital opportunities (“Easier to find, easier to store”)
  • Some publishers have a 100% digital catalogue on top of print, which presents a huge potential
  • Manga style comics appear to be the best bet for digital in terms of target audience, style and device compatibility.
  • The Webtoon model is relatively unknown even though it is recognized with a strong potential and also a threat, if only Korean platforms fill the market in Europe
  • Some publishers are developing European style webtoons as a growth driver

Learning from real examples across Europe is the key to open eyes on digital and change the publishers’ mindset towards e-comics.

Conclusions

For European comics publishers to move into digital, they need support to develop their digital strategy and in particular the articulation between print and digital. They need investment to build their digital catalogue and finance impactful marketing campaigns. They need to explore new business models that are compatible with the print sales but bring forward the digital catalogues, that are expected to grow in the future thanks to the digital native generations. This means a new experience of reading comics needs to be created with efficient devices and platforms offering access to these audiences at the right price.

The pandemic has shown the potential of e-commerce in terms of technology, access, search and use on device. Comics publishers need to integrate digital in their overall strategy and learn from experience to avoid mistakes and increase sales to reach the new generations of comic readers worldwide.

A word from the comics publishers : BHP Comics

A word from the comics publishers : Les Humanoïdes Associés

A word from the comics publishers : Norma Editorial

A word from the comics publishers : Astiberri Ediciones

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