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I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been a huge fan of electronic books and digital content for years. I bought one of the first e-readers commercially available, and used it until the batteries were unable to hold a charge any longer.  The black- and -white interface of the e-readers of yesterday and today are perfect for reading books, but for comics — not so good.

Beyond the color issue, what else do e-reader creators, comic book publishers, and retailers need to do to make the transition to digital comics a success?  I’ve got a few thoughts on that one.

E_Ink_Color_Prototype_Dog_1005_MD.jpg1.  Color e-readers
E Ink, the company behind the technology currently in use in the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, has been working on color E Ink since 2005.  While the resolution and size is improving, we haven’t seen an electronic book that is a 8.5-inches x 11-inches yet.  I don’t mind black -and -white comics, but color is so much better — especially when companies like such as Marvel have invested a great deal in the coloring process to make its pages pop.

2.  Thin and flexible
I carry a 15-inch laptop around with me every day.  While I love my Macbook MacBook Pro, it’s still thick, and bulky and heavy.  Digital comics will be most successful (as will electronic magazines and newspapers) when electronic books are thin and flexible, allowing users to cart their collections anywhere.

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The big drawback to the thin -and -flexible argument is it means a huge reduction in the amount of storage space available for all those ones and zeroes.  I prefer the highest resolution in my digital images, so I can get zoom in to see the fantastic detail in the art.  That leads to large file sizes, and with the large number of comic books readers pick up each year, where will they save those tens of thousands of titles they will eventually accumulate?

3.  Dump the DRM and put it anywhere

The answer is letting users put their content anywhere.  If comic readers are expected to make the switch to digital, there needs to be some thought put into where these digital issues are going to be stored. I’ve always hated loathed restrictive digital rights management applications that cripple the users, and prevents them from enjoying their purchased content whenever and where ever they want.  If I’m on using my laptop, I should be able to read my digital comic book there, and when it is time to hop in the car and drive five hours across the state, I should be able to continue to read my issue or trade paperback on my electronic book — or my iPhone, or my BlackBerry, or my Holophoner.

iTunes and Amazon have taken big steps in offering music listeners the opportunity to purchase DRM free music.  Removing the DRM and actively allowing users to move content to any device is what will ultimately sway the reader into giving the digital comic a chance.

4.  Price structure
That and the pricing structure. With so many artists going digitally to inking and coloring their content, most of today’s comics are already in an electronic form.  It costs nothing (or next to nothing) for the editor to approval approve the final changes, and click Export to PDF (or other format), which can then be uploaded to the electronic comic book distribution service.  Because there is no printing involved, the cost per issue should drop dramatically.  Digital comic books could see us return us to the day of $1.00 comics.  I know I’m dreaming on the pricing structure, as because corporations are going to try and get as much money as they can from the end user.

5.  The local comic retailer
All this talk of digital comics is potentially great for the comic reader, but where does that leave the mom -and -pop comic book shop?  Actually iIt sets them up to continue to make a profit and continue to thrive.  There are a couple of ways this could happen;:

  • electronic kiosks in stores
    This would allow consumers to come to the store, hook up their portable devices, make a purchase and the store gets a percentage of the profit.
  • Trade Paperbacks
    Make only single issues available in the electronic form, while keeping trade paperbacks in print. With so many titles being written for the trade, this creates a market for those who want to wait.
  • Collectible print copies
    Instead of a 100,000 print run, reduce the print run to 3,000 per issue and make them collectibles.  Those that who really want the tactile feeling of comics, or wish to continue to collect their precious copies for obsessive/ compulsive reasons, can pay a premium for the limited issues.

In addition to the print copies, the publisher should also include a code where the reader can download the electronic version for free.  This is a win/win for the reader, the publisher, and the retailer.

As more companies begin to dip their toes into the digital comics waters, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed,; by taking these five suggestions into consideration, the transition from print atoms to electrons will be an seamless and enjoyable one for all.

The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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11 Comments

  1. Gaumer
    February 12, 2009 at 1:33 pm — Reply

    I hate the idea of only being able to get digital comics.

    I guess I’m old fashioned but I like holding the book in my hand. I like reading a 15 year old book and seeing the old ads and the smell and the imperfections that I made.

    I know it’s going this way, though, and I will adapt when I have to. But this WILL impact comic shops because publishers don’t care now. They’re not going to have kiosks at LCS the books will downloadable from the internet.

    But I’m an old man set in my ways. Now I have to go chase some kids out of my yard :)

  2. crood
    February 12, 2009 at 2:10 pm — Reply

    I’ve always felt that comics won’t be successful digitally, without some change in the page format. I don’t think many people will want to scroll, zoom in and out, or pan-and-scan too much. Two page splashes will be gone. I tend to think going panel by panel will be preferable to page by page.

    I think some of your comic shop solutions are a bit backward thinking. Why drive to a comic shop and plug into a kiosk when you have a high speed internet connection? The reader of the future will most likely have wireless built in.

    What’s the stimulus for buying the trade, when you already have the content in a more portable form that’s actually less fragile than the trade?

    The price point on such a limited run would probably not make it worthwhile. Keep in mind that noone’s reducing the local shop’s rent, insurance, and utilities.

    • February 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm — Reply

      Crood: I’m only making suggestions that might be feasible for the shop owner. Likely kiosks will be the last resort. Those who want the feel of a comic book, instead of the digital version are the ones that will go for the trade. Why do some people buy single issues over trades, or people that only buy the trade and not the single. There will still be a pretty solid market for print comics, and the trade looks to be that magical area where a compromise will occur.

      The LCS will have to adapt in the process, and this is only the first phase outline. I won’t be able to purchase my merchandise via iTunes or my electronic book, so there will still be a place for the comic book store for years to come.

  3. February 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm — Reply

    I find myself warming to the idea of digital comics more and more everyday. A year ago, I would’ve scoffed at the idea of reading my comics on a digital device, but with the economy being what it is, $1.00 comics are sounding pretty good.

  4. morpheus11
    February 12, 2009 at 2:45 pm — Reply

    I agree with crood that digital comics will seriously hurt LCS owners, but it won’t be any worse than those stores that sell DVDs and CDs. There will always be people like Gaumer, with all due respect, that won’t want a dgital copy. And if there was a way for me to have both but only having to pay for the paper copy, then I would still support my LCS.

    I think there can be a happy coexistance between digital and paper comics. I have read a couple of comics puchased through iTunes on my iTouch and it isn’t all that bad, but there is just something about sitting in bed reading a piece of paper. Of course, for me, it will always come down to price. That is why I haven’t bought a music CD since 1995.

  5. Gaumer
    February 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm — Reply

    When it comes to digital comics, I don’t think there IS a feasible way for a shop owner to stay in business.

    I can only speak for myself, but I would not wait for a trade because it would be spoiled for me by the time it came out and if issues were solely sold digitally i would make the jump because I would have to to enjoy the book. If I’m not buying trades from the shop and only buying it straight from the publisher via download, my shop goes away or goes strictly gaming and just dies slower.

    And yes, I know I could avoid review sites until the trade came out, but that’s 6-8 months for an average series and I couldn’t stay away from MS that long at a time :)

  6. February 12, 2009 at 9:28 pm — Reply

    I like the way it is now. New issues of Amazing Spiderman come to my local comic shop. I got 540 previous issues on the DVD-ROM which is in my laptop right now actually. Digital comic collections are great for all those old back issues, but when it comes to next month’s issue, I still would rather just go to the shop and grab the paper copy.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if publishers want to sell back issues in digital form for a dollar a piece, that would be awesome, but they should not make the digital copy until the trade comes out as well.

    Breaks down like this:
    1. Issue #whatever comes out.
    2. Trade paperback of that arc and the digital copy of that complete arc come out simultaneosly later on.

    Now that just makes more sense.

  7. February 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm — Reply

    TECH
    The “Plastic” as shown on youtube will debut soon in Europe and it is lightweight, flexible, and wireless. You can choose to download, or simply sink up and read the comic. The first version will be black & white but I’m sure a color screen isn’t far behind.

    I’d like to see “previews” be free to sink up and read (and possibly even download).

    FORMAT
    I agree with the above statements. The way pages are laid out today won’t work for comics consumed through a fully digital interface but I think those are easy changes to make. Some kind of panel by panel, again as described above, makes the most sense to me.

    Maybe the two page spread will die. How about the simple animation to replace it? The entire book doesn’t have to be animated, just the spread.

    COMIC SHOPS
    Maybe it will put an end to the comic book shops. Every business/industry has a life cycle and the “comic shop” is no different. If they are to end, then they will. Of course, comic shops could all open online “carts” instead…

  8. February 16, 2009 at 8:09 am — Reply

    Audiobooks have not killed the traditional bookstore
    Amazon has not killed the traditional bookstore
    e-books have not killed the traditional bookstore
    So why is everyone convinced e-comics will kill the traditional comic book store?

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