ICv2 caught up with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley to talk about the company's launch of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, its new subscription Website offering thousands of key Marvel issues for a monthly subscription fee (see 'Marvel Launches Subscription Site'), to find out more about the service, its goals, and the potential impacts of the new site on the comic market. 


What is Marvel's goal in rolling out Marvel Digital?

Our primary goal is to generate awareness and trial of our product with new consumers, and then use this experience to increase the consumer base for our printed product.


How were the titles for the roll-out selected?

Choosing the titles was a fairly arduous process involving editorial, special projects, marketing, online and sales.  Ultimately what we wanted to offer people was a broad spectrum of our publishing library that could satisfy almost anybody who visited the site.  That is why we have a mix and new and old, superhero and non-superhero and new reader books. 


We also wanted to let people know that we have a ton of great stories that just don't involve Spider-Man, Hulk and Wolverine.  We wanted them to experience Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Agents of Atlas, Nextwave and Runaways.


Can you cite some non-porn examples of successful subscription sites for entertainment content?

Yahoo Music and Rhapsody come to mind.  MLB, NBA, NHL and the CBS-run College Sports TV all have successful subscription offerings featuring live streaming/archived content and popular team-based fan clubs. Disney just spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the children's subscription-based site, Club Penguin. Real.com has had the long-running SuperPass mix of entertainment. Two of the most trafficked entertainment sites out there, WWE.com and IGN.com, have ongoing subscription products. I could list more but then they would have to give me a commission. 


What is the target audience for Marvel Digital?

Our primary target is to intercept the large pool of Marvel fans who primarily interact with our properties via our movies and videogames.  The vast majority of these fans, especially young boys, do not have an opportunity to casually pick up a comic in a retail environment that is part of their every day lifestyle.  Yes, we have vastly improved our convenience store distribution, but that reach does not compare with the reach and trial opportunity that the Internet provides with kids and gamers.


Our attitude is let's go out and find these consumers who are fans of the movies and videogames and show them how cool comics are.  I honestly believe a good deal of these people will go 'Wow! I never new how good these stories are or how great these books look.'  After that experience many of them will come looking for the full offering of the product, and there is nobody better at offering the full line of product than our hobby retail community.


As a more specific aspect of that question, what kind of Marvel customers do you expect to become customers of Marvel Digital -- existing heavy customers, casual customers, new customers?

It will be a mix of all of the above.


How will you acquire customers for Marvel Digital?

It will involve search engine marketing, affiliate network marketing, e-mail communications, mass market licensee communications and Marvel.com.


More narrowly, what's your customer acquisition plan for the young reader material, and how will you overcome the fact that kids don't have credit cards?

We are at present exploring a couple different approaches to marketing this product specifically to kids and young readers.  We can discuss this in the next couple of months.


What is the expected impact of Marvel Digital on sales of comics and graphic novels and why?

I believe that this can only increase sales and our fan base.  This initiative is all about making it easier for folks to experience our stories.


Do you expect Marvel Digital to have any impact on illegal file-sharing of scans?

Yes, I believe it will help with reducing illegal file sharing because we will be providing a reader experience that is superior to the pirated files.  We are not naive enough to believe that it will stop all together, but we felt we needed to serve the needs of the consumers desiring our product online legally before we began to deal with the theft of the Marvel IP.


The sharing of lists is one community function.  Do you see Marvel Digital as potentially a major community site, or as primarily a delivery vehicle for content?

We see the opportunity for Marvel Digital to fulfill both functions.


The release says that Marvel will add '20 additional titles' each week.  Is that issues, or runs of issues?

The 20 additional titles are issues, not runs of issues.


How many issues does Marvel expect to have available in one year? 

3,500 plus.


And in five years? 

If you do the math, you would have us somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000.


What will the shortest time lag be between print and online editions?

Six months.  Some examples would be Civil War: Fallen Son #1 which shipped in April and Incredible Hulk #93 that shipped in late March. However, there will be exceptions when we see a marketing opportunity to use a newer book to create buzz and drive people into stores for the monthly series or collected editions.


What issues of the recent, current favorites and young reader series will be available at launch?

There will be a good assortment of recent and current favorites available but some of the more notable include Astonishing X-Men #1 - 8 by Joss Whedon, John Cassaday and Laura Martin; House of M #1 - 4 by Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, and Frank D'Armata; and Runaways (Volume 1) 1 - 6 by Brian K. Vaughn, Adrian Alphona, David Newbold, Craig Yeung, and Christina Strain. As for young readers we will have a bevy of Marvel Adventures titles available on the site at launch.


Do you plan to put up all new issues of the titles that are on the 'Current Favorites' or 'Young Reader Series' lists? 

No, we do not plan on putting up the new issues of 'Current Favorites' nor do we plan on keeping complete runs of top selling trades like Astonishing X-Men up on the site for prolonged periods of time.  As we discussed earlier, the 'Current' books will be at least six months old except in the instances in which we are looking to generate interest in the TPB or HC that shipped at approximately the same time. 


We will most likely be more aggressive with the availability of the 'Young Reader' books because we will want to encourage trial of comic books with this age group.


What were the aesthetic goals in re-coloring or re-digitizing some works?

Clarity.  We want the works to be as easy to read as possible.


What are some examples of titles for which this was done?

We re-colored some older Amazing Spider-Man issues for this specific purpose.


Are there any plans to put non-comic material (e.g., movie clips) on the subscription site?