Marvel’s Spider-Man Widens His Web in Russia: Eksmo-AST Buys Into Comics

In Feature Articles by Eugene Gerden

Some 10 publishers in Russia have licenses to produce Marvel-branded content, but the comics publisher Kofilmo is counting on the size of Eksmo-AST to help it vanquish all foes.

Spider-Man speaks Russian: Marvel content from the St. Petersburg-based Komilfo, acquired by Eksmo-AST

By Eugene Gerden

Kofilmo To Increase Titles, Print Runs

Russia’s largest publishing corporation Eksmo-AST is expanding into the comics sector, taking a 90-percent stake in Komilfo, one of Russia’s leading comic book publishers and licenses content from Marvel, among others.

As reported by Kommersant, Komilfo, a St Petersburg graphic-content publisher, becomes an imprint of Eksmo’s “Editorial No. 1” portfolio, which publishes classics, poetry, and contemporary Russian and foreign prose.

Under the terms of the deal, the remaining 10 percent stake is to remain under the control of Mikhail Bogdanov, a prominent Russian businessman who founded Komilfo and will continue as the company’s chief.

In response to a request for comment, Bogdanov says, “Under the ownership of Eksmo-AST, Komilfo plans to increase its number of titles and print runs by at least 30 percent in two years. The deal will not generally affect the activities of the company” in St. Petersburg.

For Eksmo-AST’s part, a spokesman said the acquisition of Komilfo should allow the company to significantly expand its audience and diversify its lists.

Marvel Brands in Russia

Banking on Scale in a Niche
“Even Mickey Mouse was forced to leave the market. Hardcover comics—which were launched in the market by Egmont and some other Russian publishers—didn’t succeed.”Lev Elin, Egmont

Komilfo was established in 2007, and its brands include not only Marvel’s Deadpool, Spider-Man and Iron Man, but also Star Wars, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Rick and Morty  which charted among Russia’s top sellers in January.

Commenting on the deal Oleg Novikov, head of Eksmo-AST, tells Publishing Perspectives that the comics segment of the Russian market is seeing steady growth and has begun attracting more interest from the wider industry.

He says that one factor in favor of the acquisition was Bogdonov’s strong team of market analysts and executives who should complement the work of Eksmo-AST.

Roman Kotkov, editor-in-chief of the publishing house Bubble, concurs with Novikov’s assessment and points to Kofilmo’s large audience among schoolchildren and young readers.

Kotkov says that the Marvel license is among Komilfo’s key assets and that having the resources of the much larger Eksmo-AST will allow it to deploy those rights aggressively to strengthen its position in the country’s comics marketplace—despite the fact that Marvel content licenses are held by as many as 10 publishers in Russia. Even if the famous brands have over-saturated parts of the market, Eksmo-AST’s sheer scale should give Komilfo traction.

The Batman brand and more in Russia

‘Even Mickey Mouse Was Forced To Leave the Market’
“In countries like Russia in which the comic book market isn’t developed, projects sold in limited runs with high margins have been the most profitable so far.”Lev Elin, Egmont

As it happens, however, Eksmo-AST has indirectly explored the comics sector before.

At the end of last year, the MyBook service, which is part of LitResa Russian aggregator of ebooks that’s partly owned by Eksmo-AST—announced its own plans to enter the comics market through an online retail site, SplashPage, specializing in comics sales.

According to LitRes chief Sergei Anuriev, comics are a dependably growing trend in Russia, one that publishers can use to reach a large, new audience. E-formats, he says, are an advantage because they open channels to digitally connected, younger consumers.

“In the US,” Anuriev says, “digital comics already account for some 20 percent of comics sold. Marvel’s app on Google Play, for example, has been installed by 10 to 15 million users.” In general, he says he hopes that in three to five years, SplashPage will generate some 5 percent of LitRes’ overall profits.

Nevertheless, Egmont co-owner Lev Elin says that moving into the comics space is challenging, not least because the it’s still a relatively small subset of the market. Many past attempts have foundered, he says.

“Even Mickey Mouse was forced to leave the market,” Elin says. “Hardcover comics which were launched in the market by Egmont and some other Russian publishers in the past didn’t succeed.

“In countries like Russia in which the comic book market isn’t developed, projects sold in limited runs with high margins have been the most profitable so far.”

Marvel’s Daredevil by Mark Waid in a Russian edition

More of Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of Russia’s Eksmo-AST is here. And more of our stories on the Russian publishing market is here.

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering global book publishing and bookselling industry.