Like most comics publishers, Archie Comics, home to America’s favorite fictional redheaded teenager, has historically focused its distribution on newsstand sales and the comics specialty market. But in 2010, Archie switched its bookstore distribution to Random House Publisher Services, and the world of Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead changed. Since 2010, sales of book-format Archie comics have grown 410% and e-book sales are up over 1,000%. “We’re steadily increasing and diversifying the books we publish. Getting involved with Random House was the key,” said Jon Goldwater, CEO of Archie Comics. He adds, “We have opportunities in the book market we didn’t have before. There was a demand for our product and [Random House] helped show us where we should be focusing our efforts, targeting places we didn’t focus on in the past.”
To get into the book market, Archie revamped its approach, adding more book formats such as trade paperbacks, and also children’s book formats, said Harold Buchholz, senior v-p of publishing, who joined Archie as head of its book division in 2010. Archie published 11 book titles that year and by 2012 it published 33 titles. This year the house will release about 40 titles and it expects to release 50 in 2014.
“When I joined Archie, we decided to take the characters to new places,” said Goldwater. “We wanted to see if we could make them live in today’s world.” The result was Archie: The Married Life, an ongoing series that imagines what would happen if Archie were to marry Veronica or Betty (in alternating imaginary episodes) and live in a contemporary naturalistic world. It’s a series Buchholz called the “second-bestselling Archie-character graphic novel series.” Archie’s bestselling series is The Best of Archie 1 (2011) and The Best of Archie 2 (2012), both 400-page full-color paperbacks collecting work across Archie’s 70-year history. The two volumes combined have nearly 300,000 copies in circulation after 11 printings, and the Best of Archie 3 is coming in fall 2013. Also set for this fall is The Art of Archie Covers, an art book.
More immediate releases include Archie Meets Glee, which collects the eponymous comic book series (the first issue sold out) and Archie 1000 Page Comics Digest, both set for June. Just out is Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Magic Within, a four-book print series by Tania Del Rio, drawn in manga style. Originally released in digital, the print series began in March with The Magic Within, and Archie will also release Sabrina series books in June, September, and December. “The series sold very well as a black-and-white digital release,” Buchholz said, “so we decided to publish it in print.”
The increase in book titles (and revenue) has led to an increase in staff at Archie, with the Mamaroneck, NY.-based publisher jumping from 20 employees in 2010 to 31 this year. Archie has also started producing some of its books in-house, like The Art of Betty and Veronica, co-edited by Victor Gorelick, Archie Comics’ editor-in-chief, along with comics archivist and designer Craig Yoe. “We do some in-house and some with partners,” Goldwater said. “It’s all about demand,” he added, emphasizing that Archie books are seeing “seeing steady growth in print and digital. They both feed off of each other. It’s a win-win.”