ICv2 recently caught up with Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson. In Part 2, Richardson talks about the company's film projects, including R.I.P.D.; its new motion comics program; its Trolls program; and its digital initiatives. In Part 3, Richardson talked about its Webcomics publishing; whether Kickstarter is going to replace publishers; and plans for 2012, including an update on Frank Miller's projects. In Part 1 of the interview Richardson talked about the current marketplace, the impact of the end of Borders, changes in the manga market, and the last year at Dark Horse.
Let’s talk about movie tie-ins. A year ago we talked about R.I.P.D., which has been in production. What’s the status of that film?
That film is shot. It’s in the $150 million budget area. I was on the set for about a month and it’s a great cast. The movie is really fun—I can't wait until it comes out in June of 2013. A lot of special effects are being done for it. I can't tell you how great Jeff Bridges is or Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Bacon. It's just a lot of fun—really funny. People are really going to enjoy it.
Anything else moving into production?
We’re working on some projects right now. We're working on Tarzan with Warner Bros. and a number of other projects that we’ll be announcing very shortly.
We're really excited about our partnership with Felicia Day. We had been investing in motion comics but trying to do more than you had seen traditionally in motion comics. Felicia came along at the right time to offer us a chance to sort of put a channel on her network. We're developing a whole series of motion comics for that site, so we’ve been working hard on that. The Secret was the first one we did. We could do some experimenting because it was my project, illustrated by Jason Alexander. So the project was mine and I could have permission from the writer to do what I needed to do. I think we've got about 50,000 or more viewers on the first episode now.
You have an extensive merchandise program and one of the intriguing things we saw at Toy Fair was the program you have going with Trolls. It seems to be a seeder program for the property in the same way that you did Domo at a very early stage in its launch in the States. Can you talk about Dark Horse's role in that kind of roll out?
We were looking to expand our products department. Domo’s been an amazing success for us and I think that Big Tent would agree that we were crucial in getting that whole program started. Trolls is a property that everyone knows: everyone had one; I had Trolls when I was a kid. We bought them in those days for different colored hair--they were all flesh colored bodies but different color hair. Everyone I knew had collected Trolls. They’ve been around for a long time.
We had some ideas to put some new life into it, and we’re putting a campaign together and working with the people that own it. I think it's going to be a fun and exciting project for us.
To expand our products department, we have our own characters and our own properties. The Tim Burton program has been very successful. Joss Whedon's projects have been very successful. We're just trying to move out into a wider audience. That's always the key for us is to try to get more recognition for our product lines whether they be comics or product.
About a year ago you launched your digital program. At that time you talked about the promotions you were going to have in your digital initiative to drive consumers to stores. Can you summarize what you've done over this first year in terms of relating your digital program to the brick and mortar retailer?
Quite honestly we’ve run into a few issues because the programs that we've done haven't worked as well as we wished. We created some exclusive material and got less participation than we had hoped for.
How did the exclusive material program work?
We gave codes out to retail stores to drive customers into their stores. They could pick up the exclusive content by going to their participating comic shop. Evidently we didn’t do a good enough job getting the word out, so we’re retooling that.
We're also talking to retailers about it. I just got back from ComicsPro where we talked to a bunch of retailers. I was in all the meetings and we talked in all of them about digital programs, how it affected them, what we could be doing. I gave them my card and asked for suggestions. We'll be working on those suggestions.
One thing I noticed at ComicsPro is that retailers seemed less concerned about digital. The big concern for us when our digital program launched was because of the 99 cent rule [Apple requires all prices to end in .99]. For instance we were going to move our $3.50 comics to $2.99. Some retailers were upset that they'd be selling at a higher price than the digital store, but if we move the $3.50 comics to $3.99 and then the digital customers are angry because they're paying more than the physical copy. Apple has a 99 cent rule so you have to go one way or another. Most retailers understand where we're at. We've delayed the drop in price for 30 days giving retailers the opportunity to sell the book before we drop the price, which is consistent with other publishers.
We have $3.99 comics. We still have a large percentage at $2.99 also. So the $3.99 comics sell at $3.99 for the first month and so do the $3.50s, unless the series is already established, but for all the new series $3.50 is at $3.99 for the first month giving retailers the advantage of the better price. Customers will have the opportunity to buy them cheaper in 30 days.
How do you see your digital program changing over your second year?
We're adding devices and platforms as we move along to our own storefront, and we'll continue to add. We're negotiating with all of the different platforms so we hope to have announcements all through the year.
Digital is here. A lot of people worry about it but it's already here; worrying is not going to stop it. So we're putting a lot of our effort into trying to figure out ways to support the retailers by helping them create community.
We've got more contests lined up, which is fun. I just went to New Hampshire for Jetpack Comics because my marketing department thought it would be fun to put all these Mike Richardson masks out there. You'd think a store in Los Angeles or New York might win because of population, but it was a great store in New Hampshire. You get there by flying to New York, taking a puddle jumper to Portland, Maine and then driving and hour and a half into New Hampshire. I felt like I went from one Portland, which is as far West as you can go, to the other Portland, which is as far East as you can go. I did it myself and I’ll be involved in other things, hopefully programs where I can visit more stores. They had a great turn out and it was great time for that store. So we have great promotions coming in a similar vein.
Click here to go to Part 3.