In another measure of the growth in popularity of digital comics generally and Comixology in particular, Jeff DiBartolomeo, former senior v-p, consumer tech at HBO and a cofounder of HBO Go, the popular HBO content-viewing app, has left the company to join the digital comics distributor and marketplace as chief technology officer.
Asked, somewhat incredulously, why he was leaving his post as a senior executive at a cable powerhouse for the comics world, DiBartolomeo laughed and said, “I was at HBO for more than 10 years and I started asking myself, ‘Is this going to be a lifelong job or is there something else I needed?’ ” DiBartolomeo added, “My next move needed to be to a place that is innovating in its space in the same ways we innovated at HBO.” He pointed out that watching Comixology’s growth over the last two years has been “energizing.” The digital comics distributor launched in 2007 with fewer than 100 digital titles; it now offers more than 40,000 comics titles, including a fast-growing international business. Comixology marked its 100 millionth download in late 2012, after five years in business, and the company expects to hit 180 million less than a year later.
DiBartolomeo said other companies had asked him “to recreate what we did at HBO Go, but I didn’t want to work for followers.” He said, “My background was perfect for Comixology. I began at HBO Go when it was a startup that started with a brainstorming session between three guys with a whiteboard.” He also emphasized that “HBO Go is a multiplatform distributor of content for mobile, Xbox, TV, and other platforms, and Comixology is much the same. It’s a different medium, but it’s also about how to give the consumer infinite possibilities for consuming media.”
His job as CTO is to “keep driving innovation in reading and shopping for comics and to improve the usefulness of the experience.” In addition, he’s responsible for “scaling up the platform domestically and internationally. My job is also to make sure the technology team itself is scalable. We’re moving from a startup mode to a new phase of explosive growth at Comixology.”
Another of DiBartolomeo’s mandates is to upgrade Comixology Submit, the distributor’s hybrid self-publishing program. Under the program, anyone can submit a digital comic, and, if it meets Comixology’s quality standards, the company will convert the comic to its format and distribute it globally, splitting revenue 50/50 with the author. The service has been overwhelmed by demand and converting the files is a labor-intensive process. DiBartolomeo said, “How do you keep up with demand and nurture the platform? I will be helping to improve the authoring tools, streamline the process, and turn around the time factor.”
DiBartolomeo said his background is in computer science and software engineering. “But when you’re with a startup you wear many hats. When I started out [pre-HBO], I was writing code some days and on other days meeting with clients. But I’m less hands-on now. I’m really the go-between guy, translating the tech side for marketing, business, and [Comixology cofounder] David Steinberger,” he said. Comixology is also preparing for iOS 7, the upgrade to Apple’s mobile device operating system, which is coming in the fall; DiBartolomeo said, “It’s an exciting new platform.” .
DiBartolomeo admitted that while he liked comics as a teenager, “I was never a hardcore comics fan.” However, he said, he is a big fan of Stephen King’s novels, and he discovered Marvel’s comics adaptation of King’s Dark Tower series on Comixology. “It’s pulling me in,” he noted.
“I’m coming to Comixology from a different perspective than David Steinberger, who is a real hardcore comics guy,” DiBartolomeo said. “I think I bring a different set of eyes and vantage point to our brainstorming sessions.”