Interview with Eric Reynolds

April 25, 2014 | By Juliette Coirier

Eric Reynolds is Assistant Publisher for Fantagraphics, a comic books publishing house in Seattle. Fantagraphics Books has been a leading proponent of comics as a legitimate form of art and literature since it began publishing the critical trade magazine The Comics Journal in 1976. It now has an international reputation, both for its publications in print and digital format. As one of the major publisher of comic books in the USA, Fantagraphics is partly distributed by ComiXology, which has just been acquired by Amazon.


Why did you choose to develop digital collections in addition to the printed comics, and how did you develop them?

We did so, frankly, because not doing so would be irresponsible in the 21st century. It took over a year of exploring some of our options and narrowing them down to a plan that we thought was the most efficient way to dip our toes into that market. It’s grown somewhat organically from there. But not every comic book is being published both in print and digital format.

How do you deal with the digital matter in your acquisition of the rights contracts, with France and other foreign countries?

It’s just yet another thing to negotiate in regard to a contract. Obviously, for any book we are licensing from abroad, if we want to publish a print edition, we would also like to obtain the digital rights, as well.

What strategies do you use to promote your comic books? Do you also conduct digital sales with libraries?

That’s a difficult question to answer in a short amount of time. Every book is different but it all invariably includes a combination of outreach to media and an outreach to consumers, via a variety of promotional and marketing methods, digital and analog. We have a promotions and marketing staff that works on every book we publish. Regarding libraries, honestly, we are not doing many digital sales, as of yet.

Why did you - as an independent publisher and part of the top 5 most influential publishers in the history of comics - choose to be distributed by ComiXology?

They approached us first, and we went back and forth over the course of a year before we finally agreed to nonexclusively distribute select titles through them. The reasons are fairly straightforward: for better and for worse, they are by far the dominant seller of digital comics and provided us instant access to that marketplace. They’re very good at what they do.

What do you think about Amazon’s acquisition of ComiXology? Do you think it will change something for Fantagraphics? Do you think, as David Steinberger (ComiXology’s co-founder and CEO) said it in an interview to CBR News, that Amazon “really gets comics”?

In the short-term, I don’t anticipate many changes, if any. I don’t think it will have an appreciable effect on Fantagraphics any time soon. That said, philosophically, of course I have my concerns about yet another step towards the consolidation of the comics industry into the hands of fewer and fewer corporate entities. There’s no doubt that Amazon would like to consolidate digital comics into the Kindle’s hold on the e-book market, and there are long term concerns about how Amazon’s digital goals affect their dedication to selling print. But I’m not going to tell you the sky is falling, until it is. The fact is, I don’t anticipate any noticeable change for some time, if any.

Your publishing house emphasizes on the quality, audacity and singular visions of your comics and authors/designers. In your opinion, will a company as mainstream as Amazon help the printing and broadcasting of emerging and independent comic book artists?

I think that you’d have to be a bit naïve to think that Amazon has a genuine interest or mission in helping the careers of emerging artists. Not many billion-dollar corporations do, and Amazon’s corporate history as a philanthropic institution doesn’t inspire a lot of faith on that front. But that’s not to say that emerging artists won’t be able to benefit from the services that Amazon offers, and that it can’t be a win-win for both parties. If you’re asking me whether I think Amazon has a benevolent interest in Art for Art’s sake, I would say no, but I would also add that I think that Amazon’s goals and those of a small publisher or an emerging artist are not inherently mutually exclusive. The simple fact is, Amazon in many ways has been very beneficial for Fantagraphics Books over the years, in regard to reaching consumers who in years past would have had to live in a fairly urban area to even find our books in a brick and mortar store. If we were a couple, our relationship status on Facebook would be, “It’s complicated.”

How do you see the future of your company regarding digital books?

Print will always come first for us, I believe. We are paper people at heart. But digital will increasingly have a place and continue to grow as a revenue stream.

Interview by Juliette Coirier, Book Department Intern, Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

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