Scribd’s February rollout of a new subscription plan for comics yielded impressive results, according to statistics revealed exclusively to Publisher’s Weekly. The new service—which offers access to a library of 10,000 comics titles for an $8.99 monthly fee—garnered more than 570 million media impressions, compared to 176 million media impressions for the November roll-out of their audiobook service.

“The launch was explosive for us, with the biggest response and fastest adoption we've ever seen,” Scribd CTO and co-founder Jared Friedman told PW. “It really speaks to the comics fanbase as an incredibly passionate group of people.”

Although a direct comparison with the audiobook launch isn’t possible because of some technical issues of the roll-out, comics definitely won out in social media popularity—“It was the biggest day of social engagement we’ve ever had,” said Lyndsey Besser, Scribd’s pr manager.

Scribd’s comics service launched with titles from publishers including Marvel, IDW, Top Shelf, Dynamite and Valiant. The line-up includes both backlist graphic novels and runs of individual comics series, including some of Marvel’s most popular characters—Captain America, Wolverine and Thor. Graphic novels available include classics by Alan Moore and Darwyn Cooke and Rep. John Lewis’s March.

Digital comics have become a rapidly growing distribution model for both periodical comics and graphic novels, but statistics on downloads and readership have been hard to come by. While Scribd’s statistics don’t offer hard numbers, they do give a snapshot of who is reading what, and how the audience for comics crosses over with Scribd’s existing ebooks audience. Since launching in 2007, Scribd has become one of the leading subscription services for e-books, with over 1 million titles.

One of the biggest goals for the launch was curation. “We wanted readers to have an easy way in,” said Friedman, “and make it friendly for readers who are not hardcore comics fans and may not know where to start.”

To that end, Scbird hired respected cartoonist and comics journalist Shaenon K. Garrity to help organize the comics library, breaking it down into genres and featured collections—women cartoonists and comics autobiographies. “Shaenon was a rock star and went through thousands of comics and created over a hundred curated collections,” said Friedman. These have enabled new readers to navigate the sometimes daunting world of comics numbering and to find books that may appeal to individual tastes, helping Scribd get data on which genres appeal to what kind of readers.

Among the findings from the service’s first month of operation:

  • Avengers: Red Zone is the top individual comic
  • Valiant’s Harbinger is the most popular series
  • One user spent 131 hours in their first month, reading 216 comics, including almost the entire Witchblade series.
  • 73% of comic readers also read eBooks
  • More than 157 countries were represented among subscribers.
  • Brazil was the non-US country where comics were most popular, with users 42% more likely to read a comic compared to ebooks.
  • Other countries with comics readers: New Caledonia, Rwanda, Malta, Bonaire, Curaçao, Botswana, Sint Maarten, Guyana, Seychelles, Isle of Man, Faroe Islands, and even the Vatican.

Unsurprisingly, superheroes are the most popular genre, followed by fantasy, SF and horror (counted as one category) and then, perhaps in more of a surprise, YA, followed by general fiction, which probably benefitted from a large existing Scribd userbase of e-book readers who could easily crossover. “That’s one reason why comics publisher were eager to work with us, because it’s a way to get new fans and work with new audiences,” said Friedman.

Scribd’s numbers also back up recent demographic studies of convention attendees and Facebook users that show that the audience for comics is no longer a boy’s club. While superheroes are more popular among male readers, the gender gap is a “moderate one.” Comics with a female lead are 1.5 times as likely to be read by women, and humor and YA are more popular with woman than superheroes. The audience for manga is more female than male overall.

“This fits with the overall trend of comics readership getting broader. The marketplace is really expanding,” said Friedman.

The most popular e-book genre among comics readers is SF, followed by humor. Friedman said this is probably because of the emphasis on discoverability. Scribd’s internal recommendation system doesn’t segregate comics and e-books, so someone reading a humor book could find comics among the suggested titles and vice versa.

Scribd’s comics library is growing, with more publishers and titles to be added, but jumping into the comics field has been a great experience, said Friedman. “Comics publishers understand how to speak to consumer and how to represent their brands. They’ve been enormously helpful with every aspect of the launch and how to get the inside track to reach their fanbase.”