DriveThruComics, a sister site of DriveThruRPG, the most successful downloadable RPG site, launched this week.  The business model derives revenue by selling PDFs of comics to consumers via download.  Prices are set at $1.99 for most comics, and around 30% off for most graphic novels. 


Comics are made available via download at a variety of times relative to street date, from slightly before to considerably after. 


Publishers signed up for the launch include Dabel Brothers Productions, Shi, About Comics, Arcana, Archaia, NBM, UDON, Heroic Publishing, and Kenzer and Company, plus a number of others, including some publishers of adult material.  Publishers expected to make content available soon include Antarctic, Heavy Metal, and Markosia.  Around 250 products are available on the site now.  In response to our inquiry, spokesperson Ned Coker said that he expects DBPro titles to continue to be made available now that they're being published by Marvel.


The DriveThru sites, which include three fiction sites (DriveThruSciFi, DriveThruFantasy, and DriveThruHorror) in addition to DriveThruComics and DriveThruRPG are owned by Publisher Services, Inc., a company that shares some ownership with game publisher White Wolf Publishing.  In addition to operating the DriveThru sites, PSI also distributes games, books, and graphic fiction to the book and hobby trade. 


DriveThruRPG has become a significant source of revenue for some RPG publishers, who are hampered by the decline in the number of game stores that stock broad lines of RPGs.  Coker said that DriveThruRPG believes that 11% of RPG sales are now made via downloads, with their site the leading source.  Asked for the source of the 11% number, he said it comes from reports from some publishers that share their download sales as a percentage of their total.  It sounds high to us, but its inarguable that downloads make up a significant and growing percentage of RPG sales. 


DriveThruRPG offers games from major publishers, including those from related company White Wolf and D&D powerhouse Wizards of the Coast, which offers a small selection of titles via the site. 


The dynamic is somewhat different in comics, because there has been no analogous decline in the number of stores selling comics.  But the amount of pirated comic scans available through filesharing sites indicates that there's a sizable population that's willing to read comics onscreen.   


We asked Coker if they had any information that answers the question of whether downloads take sales from physical products, or sell to readers that otherwise wouldn't buy.  It sounds like they don't know.  'It's hard to track that sort of statistic,' he said, 'but we have found that several customers do purchase both the digital and phiscal copies of our eBooks, specifically on the RPG side of things.  Time will tell with DTComics, but we have every reason to believe that people will be encountering hundreds of titles they otherwise wouldn't had they not arrived at our site -- mainly because some are out of print and others might not be available at their local comic store.'


We're aware of one ad-supported comic download site (Wowio, see 'Digital Comics a Growing Comic-Con Presence'), numerous ad-supported Webcomic sites, and at least one site that sells manhwa online (Netcomics, see '40,000 Manhwa Titles On the Web').  Publishers are also making some or all of some books available on their own sites as marketing tools. 


There are also several companies making comics available via cellphones and other portable devices. 


As we've noted in connection with anime downloads, which are proliferating at a rapid pace (see 'Google Video Offers Anime'), whether retailers think downloads are additive or diminutive to physical product sales, they're going to be part of the landscape to an increasing degree.  Retailers are going to have to use them to their benefit when they can and compete with them when they can't.