Rich: You've been one of the more digitally conscious publishers, recently announced that you're entering the Apple iBooks market to go along with your other initiatives. What are your successs and failures in digital, and how has experience affected your current output? And how has digital affected your print publishing business?
Ted: Like everyone, our greatest success has been with our iTunes Apps. We've quickly seen strong sales with the books we're selling through iBooks and I suspect that will become the biggest marketplace for digital graphic novels.
We also sold a lot of books through PSP and we're looking forward to them launching the new PSP in 2012.
Our fiscal year recently ended and our digital revenue was up over 100% and our print revenue was up over 20%. I think it's safe to say that digital sales aren't impacting our print business and that both are doing well for us.
Rich: But where do you think you've failed – or not performed to your expectations?
Ted: There have been some devices where our content hasn't performed as well as we'd hoped. The most obvious example is probably the Blackberry. I love my Blackberry and I'll be the last man standing with one but it's not a good device for Apps. It's great for email and I love the physical keyboard but the Blackberry App store can't compete in any way with Apple.
Rich: I feel myself succumbing. IDW has arguably become the industry's premiere publisher of licensed comics (and by arguably, I mean I can hear Nicky Barrucci arguing right now). Has this always been part of your game plan, or is it something you've done to adapt to the marketplace? What are the key business-side differences in publishing licensed books as opposed to company or creator owned?
Ted: There's no arguing it – IDW is the premiere publisher of licensed comics.
Many people forget but licensed comics have been part of our publishing plan from the earliest days of IDW. We launched 30 Days of Night and CSI within six months of each other back in 2002/2003. That first CSI series was drawn by Locke & Key co-creator & artist, Gabriel Rodriguez, who has been with us from the beginning.
The biggest difference between creator-owned comics and licensed comics is, in some cases, licensors don't understand the process of creating a comic book. Chris Ryall, IDW's CCO/Editor-in-Chief, and his editorial team know how to work with licensors better than anyone else in the business.
Rich: Any examples of that lack of understanding?
Ted: Other than video games, I believe comic books create the most amount of content for a licensor to approve. To release a comic on a monthly schedule, we need to produce, on average, a page a day of art. From a licensor's perspective that's a lot of material that needs to be approved — script, pencil art, inked art, colored art, lettering, covers, and final composed book. As I mentioned before, Chris Ryall and IDW's editorial team are the best at helping new comic book licensors learn what's involved in the process and working with the to make sure their requests are met.
Rich: You did indeed mention that. IDW has also become one of the industry's major publishers of high-end comic-related hardcovers, with material such as the Artist's Editions, Craig Yoe's line, and the Library of American Comics line. Can you talk a bit about how this has developed? Response to book market demand?
Ted: We've been a diverse publisher since we started. Our first couple of titles were Ash Wood's first art book, Uno Fanta, and his first solo comic story, Popbot. In fact, before we published 30 Days of Night, we published a Steve Niles prose novel.
So, we've always been interested in publishing a wide range of material in a variety of formats.
In the case of Library of American Comics, I used to work for Dean Mullaney at Eclipse back in the early 90s and after we published our first Dick Tracy collection he contacted me about taking over the design/production for us. That conversation led to Dean creating the Libarary of American Comics. I'm extremely proud to be publishing those books. There hasn't been a single time when we've gotten an advance copy of a LOAC book where I haven't stopped whatever I was doing to start reading it.
With Craig Yoe, he had a relationship with our COO, Greg Goldstein, and they worked out a deal to bring YOE Books to IDW. Like the LOAC books, I'm as much of a fan of these books as I am the publisher of them. Craig has also become a good friend and we're co-editing IDW's upcoming Popeye comic series.
Rich: And what can Scott Dunbier come up with next? Hardcovers bound with the skin of the creator?
Ted: The Artist's Editions are all Scott Dunbier's idea. He had the idea to do them many years ago and he worked with Greg to get the rights for the books we're doing. When we launched with the Rocketeer book, we knew it would take people by surprise and we've quickly reached the point where the demand for these books is amazing. The pre-orders for the Wally Wood Artist's Edition were considerably higher than our estimates. Beyond the money we make from them, the best part of these books is that the original art is often scanned in our office. Being able to see and hold those pages has been one of the highlights of the last year. And there are some books in the works that we haven't announced that are going to make a lot of people happy.
In the case of all those guys, they know how to make great books and I've tried to create an environment where the books can happen in the way they want. More than anything I've learned to get out of the way of smart and talented people.
Rich: How has moving to the front of the Diamond catalog affected IDW? You seem to get all of the duties, but less of the benefits that the other four publishers get with their Diamond relationship. Does this irk you at all?
Ted: Becoming a Premiere publisher has been nothing but good for us. We get the same benefits as the other four publishers – access to Previews covers, front of the catalog placement, a monthly GEM, etc…
As I mentioned before, our publishing revenue is up significantly and I think we can attribute some of that to our Premiere status.
We also just joined Diamond's FOC program which allows retailers to adjust their pre-orders right before a book ships and, so far, all of our adjustments have been positive.
Rich: But it is a different arrangement with Diamond that the other four have though is it not? Don't they have more sway?
Ted: I don't have access to the other four publishers' agreements but we get the same promotional and marketing opportunities as them. I don't know what you mean by 'sway' so I don't know how to answer that question. If you're talking about some kind of 'political' influence at Diamond, I think it makes sense they would pay more attention to the two publishers who regularly account for 70% of their sales. With that said, I've worked closely with Diamond for more than 20 years and have many friends that work there. I've always found them to be completely accessible and fair in the way they approach the publishers they distribute.
Rich: We've seen some issues in the DM recently such as the high-profile failure of the Atomic Comics chain. What do you see the DM looking like in 18-24 months? What changes are necessary at the distribution and retail level?
Ted: The closing of Atomic Comics was disappointing — Mike's a friend and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next — but I don't think it's indicative of the health of the direct market.
DC's relaunch proves there are a lot of people still interested in comics and I think we'll see slow growth over the next couple of years.
I was the keynote speaker at this year's ComicsPRO meeting and one of the things I suggested was that we need to find a way to shift some of the ordering risk from the retailer to the publisher. That didn't seem to find much of an audience there but I still think it's necessary if we're going to see real growth.
Rich: There's an elevated burst of interest in comics right now due to DC's New 52 initiative. How is IDW responding or reacting to that, if at all?
Ted: We didn't change our publishing plans because of DC's relaunch but there's no question we're benefiting from the renewed interest in their titles. Our pre-orders and re-orders are up almost across the board and we're finding ourselves going back to press on titles. We always take a strong inventory position on our books so when an IDW book sells out it's not something that we've manufactured.
Rich: Many people at IDW began their careers or passed through Wildstorm on the way. What's your take on the closure of the Wildstorm brand, the move for the staff into DC Digital and the merging of Wildstirm characters into the DC Universe?
Ted: I was sad to see the WildStorm office close. I met many of my closest friends there and, as you said, there are a handful of former WildStorm employees here at IDW including myself, Robbie Robbins, Scott Dunbier, and Lorelei Bunjes.
Working for Jim Lee and John Nee was an extremely important part of my career and both of those guys have been mentors to me. There would be no IDW without the experience I had at WildStorm.
With that said, I'm pretty focused on what we're doing at IDW so I don't know enough about what they're doing with the WildStorm brand/characters to be able to comment on it.
Rich: IDW has been the champion of the $3.99 price point for the 20-22 page comic for quite some time. When do you expect to move to a standard $4.99 price point for the same thing?
Ted: We've been at $3.99 (with a minimum of 22 pages of story) since we started publishing in 2002. If I raised our prices to $4.99 I'm pretty sure I'd be burned at the stake (or at least in effigy). We won't be raising our prices.
Rich: There have been a few surprise distribution snafus lately when retailers in the UK have suddenly found, on the week it's supposed to ship from Diamond, that licensing rules mean that they're suddenly out of luck. Turtles would be a good example of that. How come such a change occurs so late in the day?
Ted: That's not really a snafu – it's just the reality of publishing licensed comics. Big international entertainment companies often have divisions all over the world that want to license content in their own territories. We never had the rights to sell TMNT in the UK so I'm not sure why the confusion existed.
We are working with the Nick's UK licensing division to get those rights and I hope to have good news to report soon.
Rich: We've had Star Trek Infested. We're getting Legion/Star Trek. Who do you have to kill around here to get Doctor Who/Star Trek?
Ted: That sounds like a great series to me.
Rich: Are you planning on doing anything to make it actually happen?
(Ted Adams declined to answer this question)
Rich: How easy is it for an unknown to walk into IDW with a wonderful comic project, offer it to you, and get it published?
Ted: We probably aren't the place for a complete unknown to get published. It takes a lot of money to bring a new series to market and we're generally looking for titles that have some kind of marketing hook – whether that's an established license or creator.
You can find IDW at the front of Diamond Previews. Where all the other publishers want to be..