If the numbers are to be believed -- and I think they are -- then millions who have never been to a comics shop are suddenly reading comic books.
In July, at San Diego Comic Con, digital-comics distributor comiXology said customers had downloaded 80 million issues over the prior 10 months after needing three years to sell its first 100 million digital issues. Impressed? You should be. Far as I'm concerned, comiXology could be the next IPO multibagger.
Look at the data: At about 8 million downloads per month, comiXology rivals monthly print-edition sales. August saw retailers purchase 6.36 million copies of the top 300 selling comic books, according to figures supplied by The Comics Chronicles.
The difference, of course, is that digital inventory is unlimited. A new issue of The Walking Dead could account for 50% of comiXology's downloads in a given month and we'd be none the wiser. By contrast, comics shops tend to buy most (or even all) of the big-name titles to appeal to local regulars and the occasional walk-in.
You'd think that dynamic would put print at a disadvantage, yet print sales were up about 6% year over year through August. Digital is expanding the market rather than destroying it.
"Digital makes serialization (i.e., reading issue-by-issue) relevant to people that can't get to a comic shop every week," said author John Jackson Miller, also known as the man behind the data at The Comics Chronicles.
I'll go further and say that with so many experiencing the characters in print and digital comics, it's hardly surprising to see Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel adaptations winning the box office while AMC Networks' (NASDAQ:AMCX) take on The Walking Dead wins the TV ratings war. Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) isn't doing so bad, either, thanks to the popularity of Arrow, which returns to the CW network for a second season on Oct. 9.
So is comiXology jockeying for an IPO? "I would love to be significant enough to feel like we could do that," CEO David Steinberger said in an interview. "That would mean that it's working, that the market is getting bigger."
A cagey answer, to be sure, and one that suggests years could pass before comiXology takes its try at becoming the next IPO multibagger. That's probably Foolish considering how fast the market is changing. Just don't expect the impatient investor-cum-fanboy in me to be happy about it.