We’re roughly thirty days away from the launch of Apple’s much-talked-about iPad.  While the device looks like a flattened iPod, its potential to revolutionize the way we consume media is staggering.  One of the more interesting aspects of the iPad is the ability to read comic books at nearly the same size as the printed version.  While other e-books only have black-and-white displays, the iPad’s color screen could radically change the way we read and access comics.

I’ve talked before about digital comics and how an effective electronic color reader could change the way we access and enjoy comic books.  But is the iPad that device?

I live at least 150 miles from the nearest comic book shop.  While you may think it is a long trek across town to your shop, the distance and time commitment to get to my local shop is prohibitive.  For that reason, I rely on the post office to get my weekly stash of four-color goodness.  Of course when there is a holiday, delay in shipping, or general muck-up by someone who doesn’t get to the post office on time, I generally get my comics two days later.  Recently, I didn’t receive the week’s comics until the Monday following release.  Moving physical media around is a big hassle for distributors, publishers, and comic book readers.  With electronically distributed comics, readers can access them when and where they want.

There are already numerous comic book reader applications on the market including Panelfly, Comixology, iVerse, Comic Book Lover, Comic Zeal, and the still somewhat elusive LongBox Digital Comics App, and the number of companies that offer their wares as individual downloads is astounding. The huge advantage? All comic book reading public has to do isl simply download their desired app, purchase their electronic comics, and then they can begin reading right away.  No longer will distance, or lack of knowledge of where to find a comic book store be a barrier to entry.  Someone sitting in a movie theater getting ready to watch Iron Man 2 could easily access a virtual comic book store, find an issue of Iron Man, download it and read it for entertainment instead of sitting through those dreadful pre-movie commercials.

Or more realistically, on the day a huge comic book story hits the mainstream media, readers don’t have to flock to the comic book store and hope the owner ordered enough copies of Obama and Spidey are Friends.  Instead, they log on and download the brand new issue without any wait whatsoever.  Instant access alone is going to totally change the way current and new readers will enjoy the medium.

BETTER THAN THE COMPETITION

Unlike the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader that rely on black-and-white e-ink for displays, the iPad has a full color screen, delivering 132-pixels per inch of action-packed stories. At 9.7 inches diagonally, the screen of the iPad is very close to the size of a print issue, which shouldn’t make reading an electronic book any more difficult than reading the printed page.  And, since the high-end iPad has 64GB of storage space, hundreds of comic books can be stored on the device to be accessed at any time.  How many comics?  When we receive our electronic review copies of titles from publishers, the average size is 10MB for a single issue, and 50MB for a trade.  With 90 apps, roughly 6200 songs, 5 full-length movies, 12 television shows, and 20 or so music videos, I still have 30GB of storage before my iPod Touch is fully loaded.  Since the iPod and iPad have the same hard drives (32GB and 64GB versions, but come on, the 64GB is the way to go here), there’s still more than enough space to hold more than 3,000 individual issues.  And since files can be backed up (especially those downloaded via iTunes), I can push older issues from my iPad to a backup drive and continue to download new issues.

Hopefully the cost barrier will allow readers to purchase more comics than ever before.  When the average app and song sells for 99 cents, readers can buy four times the number of comics than they did before, without overly increasing their spending limits.  There is that nagging cost issue of the iPad to be dealt with, though. With the iPad running between $499 and $829, asking comic book readers to swallow that cost is asking a lot.  However, with the lower potential cost of a comic book, fans who routinely buy 10 comics a week will soon discover they can still buy those 10 comics per week, and use the savings to purchase the iPad in as little as five months. The iPad practically pays for itself!

And of course the more comics that people can buy, the more content companies can generate, which means more publishers can hire writers, artists, and editors, thus creating new jobs and new titles for all to enjoy.

Naysayers are quick to point out that no publisher in its right mind would allow a comic book to be sold for 99 cents.  However, we’ve already seen some unique success stories of companies  releasing comics for less than a dollar.  One such comic even appeared in a recent iPod commercial.  That particular comic has rough circulation of 11,000 downloads per issue.  While we’re not privy to the actual costs associated with paying the writers, artists, and printing and delivery, a bit of research into the cost averages puts the publisher’s profit after expenses at $3,450 per issue.  Compare this to the 16,000 direct market sales of the first six issues of this same comic, and the publisher only ends up making a profit of $657 per issue.

One has to keep in mind that the “Long Tail” effect works very well in the electronic market, and not so much in the print world.  Publishers are only going to print the number of comics that they think they can sell.  If the issue doesn’t sell out, no more copies are going to be printed.  If that means a single issue has a print run of 8,000 copies, there will never be more than 8,000 copies circulating around the world.  In an electronic environment, there are no additional costs associated with making more issues available.  The issues are unlimited. This means people can go back and buy the first issue of XYZ Comic Cavalcade two years after the release, at no expense to the publisher.  In other words, the scalability factor in electronic distribution meansit will cost the publisher the same amount of money to distribute one issue as it will one million issues. This also means readers won’t have to spend hours combing through a back issue bin in order to catch up on a story line — simply point, click, download, and read.

IF YOU’RE SO SMART WHERE ARE MARVEL AND DC?

The biggest holdup with the iPad dominating the digital comics evolution is lack of available titles.  In the beginning, readers may find the pickings rather slim, but if Marvel and DC make the commitment to distribute their issues digitally, it will give naysayers a chance to check out the digital comic reading experience on the iPad, possibly proving itself to be the killer app that converts the masses.

For Marvel at least, the migration to the iPad may be more of a command from above than an internal publisher decision.  Marvel is owned by Disney, which owns Pixar Animation Studios, which was owned by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  Because of the Pixar sale, Jobs now sits on the board of Disney, and has used his influence to promote the iPod, iTunes and Apple TV. For instance, when Apple announced video on the web, Disney was there with Pixar content. When movies were made available via the iTunes store, Disney was there to support the Apple initiative.  When the iPad arrives, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Marvel step forward with an offering that rivals what is currently available through the current Marvel Digital Comics Universe.

Of course there is still that issue of Flash that needs to be overcome, but we’ll hear more about that soon.  Trust me, someone is going to give, and it isn’t going to be Apple.

With more than 37 million iPods and iPhones sold, it’s a good bet that the iPad will sell in the millions as well.  If we play the numbers game once more and assume that 10 million iPads will sell in the first year, and of those, 10 percent will be sold to comics fans, that’s potentially 1 million people ready to download comics.  If you were a big publisher, would you rather those 1 million people go off and buy the current issue of IDW Publishing’s Transformers, or would you rather those 1 million people buy a copy of Batman or Iron Man?

SO LET’S REVIEW

  • Ease of access
  • iPad’s color blows e-ink readers out of the water
  • The iPad pays for itself in the comic book sales savings
  • Easily carry thousands of comics in your backpack
  • Cheaper costs lead to better sales
  • iPad in the hands of millions of readers

Apple doesn’t do anything half-assed.  They either go all-out or not at all, and if Steve Jobs says the iPad is the most important thing he’s ever done, publishers will jump on board (even if grudgingly at first), and reap the rewards of the electronic comic book world.

Sure, these are all great ideas, but what about the local comic shop?  What about those who  want to buy paper instead of electrons?  And what about the collectability factor?  These are all good questions, and ones I’ll answer in the next installment.

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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19 Comments

  1. March 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm — Reply

    This device, or one like it, certainly has the potential to bring me back into the monthly comics fold. I love my iPhone and see myself in the market for a laptop in a year or two. The iPad is now on my radar as a potential replacement for my laptop as I use my laptop mostly for web browsing, and email. If I could also use it to read comics that could put it over the top when decision time arrives.

    That being said, I’ve downloaded Panelfly and some free comics for my iPhone. On that small screen it’s not a particularly pleasant experience, but I can see massive potential for a comic page-sized screen.

    I’ve also seen Marvel titles for sale through that app for $1.99. If that is how they are going to price their digital comics count me out. $.99/$1.00 is the maximum threshold for me on this (for a standard monthly 22pg book). I’d obviously pay more for a trade/OGN.

    Pricing is what made me put down monthly comics in the first place and $2.25 was essentially my breaking point a few years back. There’s no way I will pay close to that same price for a non-physical copy. I would also hope for some kind of subscription model, say 12 issues for $10 as an incentive for buying a years worth of issues in advance. What I’m saying is that price of the individual issues is THE issue for me on digital comics, and will make or break my decision.

  2. hermit
    March 1, 2010 at 6:20 pm — Reply

    500$ for the 16gb ipad, no frickin’ way.

    i could so many more comics with that money and would not be limited by the whim of the electronic distributors.

    • March 1, 2010 at 6:33 pm — Reply

      Check the article again. $499 for 32GB, there’s a huge difference…

      • hermit
        March 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm — Reply

        that’s better, but 500$ is still a lot of money.

        and it will never replace the joy of going to the store and picking up the new releases and talking to the clerks.

        but i must admit, it’s getting there.

  3. J Michael T
    March 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm — Reply

    Great article Schleicher. I look forward to the next installment. You got me thinking …

  4. eric
    March 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm — Reply

    It is something to think about but I am electronically behind in the times. I dont have an ipod. I am thinking about it. My cell phone technology is at least close to 10 years old. I got rid of my cable. I hate the cable company. Give me a few years and maybe I will get an Ipad, but not gonna be first in line. I still enjoy going to the store, but I completely understand the point of having to drive such a long distance and how the ease would be there. There will always be a comic book store, but the paper copies are going to become fewer and fewer.

  5. Hiro
    March 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm — Reply

    i concur with bruce

  6. steviecool
    March 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm — Reply

    As a society we’re getting more and more vested in home entertainment, and no longer having to hunt for items.
    Movies became DVD’s became video on demand.
    Music stores became downloads became Rhapsodies.
    Still waiting on girls became free pr0n became robot women, but you get the picture…

    I see it going this way, but without Marvel and DC entering the game at a reasonable point, it won’t be worth it.
    I’ve found Marvel’s first attempt to be lackluster with its incomplete libraries. Get some complete runs, and then interest will pick up…

  7. March 1, 2010 at 9:58 pm — Reply

    Will it?

    Nope.

    Is it a good first step?

    We’re certainly getting somewhere…

  8. Darksbane
    March 2, 2010 at 9:35 am — Reply

    This is not going to be the savior of comics. I’ve been reading comics on a 12.1 inch convertable tablet PC for 7 or 8 months now. It is very awesome I admit, but the only thing the ipad has on that tablet PC of mine is a better battery life and it is lighter. The things it lacks though are major and enough to make me wait to see what HP will offer in its tablet before I consider purchasing.

  9. Steve
    March 2, 2010 at 9:49 am — Reply

    Electronic media wil never,ever,ever replace picking up a comic from your local vendor. Feeling the pages in your hand,the smell of the ink.Taking them home or to your friends to share .That is what its all about! I personally dont think an Ipad/Pod device will ever be able to duplicate that.

  10. Jacin B
    March 2, 2010 at 11:40 am — Reply

    Why would this suddenly open up a digital market when laptop computers have failed to?

    Think about it: The iPad is basically a laptop with extraordinarily limited functionality. All of the same arguments that you made about why the iPad will make this a bold new world for comics publishers can be made about laptops, too, as a laptop can do everything that the iPad does, and do it better, as well as doing about eleventy bajillion more things.

    Then, you consider how widely laptops are already distributed as opposed to a new device with limited marketbase and appeal. While Apple hopes that a couple million people will buy the iPad, millions upon millions upon millions of people already have laptops.

    And that’s only if you limit your argument to portability and the coolness factor of being able to haul a bunch of comics around with you on a sleek device. One also needs to consider that even the people who don’t have laptops could use the same software a laptop uses to download and read comics on a plain ol’ desktop PC (and it wouldn’t have to be a new snazzy one to do it, an old junker would suffice) which would open up the digital comic market to, literally, billions of people around the world.

    And, yet, despite all of this, there’s been no major shift in the market toward digital publishing. Every week, people still show up at the comic store to pick up their weekly pull lists or browse the new titles out that week.

    Color me skeptical that the iPad is going to change that.

    • Davor
      March 3, 2010 at 3:04 am — Reply

      I would agree with this comment. I aready have a laptop, nice, tiny, with great screen. Why would I need to duplicate it with limited version of it? Because of kinda coolness? No way. iPad hopes it will revolutionize reading experience. But this experience already exists on countless laptops. Why would someone need to buy iPad only to read his/her dose of newspapers/comics/whatever? I think solution (if we suppose it will be digital one) will be to offer digital content (thus comics too) on several different platforms. One is iPad, another one is website reader for ordinary laptops, that’s for sure. Because iTunes didn’t required such a relatively huge investment only to be able to listen downloaded music.

      Another important issue. People don’t want to pay for information on Net. Many researches showed that people (especially young ones) are absolutely not ready to pay for reading digital content. Period. Even Eric Schmidt from Google is sceptical about micropayment system they are developing for publishers.

  11. Vistapa
    March 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm — Reply

    The thing that actually may cause some shift in the market it’s not only the hardware it’s th Apple bussines model on iTunes, when i bougth my first iPod 1 gen the AppStore wasn’t there so that thing spend almost 2 years in it’s box but when i finally discover all the Apps and content aviable after upgrade from Os 1 to Os 3 that fell in love with my iPod and just after a month went and buyme a 3gs iPhone. My point is if marvel or DC can jump in the iTunes bussines model and i can get my comics the minute they are aviable (for me the nearest comic shop it’s 6 hours away) that Will not only make them more money it can also mean more exposure to the younger generation.
    I’ll keep saying: dirty cheap paper copies (no more glossy paper and hologram covers), current digital international releases and prestige format for the hardcovers. Same content, 3 diferent ways to sell it. Plus think of the collector value of a copy if we go this way

  12. J Michael T
    March 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm — Reply

    Great points all, but I would not discount Apple’s ability to create a neeed for a product that is neither “new” nor “revolutionary” but which maximizes existing functionality to the point where it makes sense to the buying public. Look at the iPhone. Cell phones existed before the iPhone. PDAs existed before the iPhone. Organizers existed before it. Nintendo DS and others existed before it. Pen and paper existed before it. The list goes on… Windows Mobile, smartphones, email readers, portable Internet browsers, etc. All of these things existed before the iPhone came along. But Apple found a way to replace all of these with one very well designed, user-friendly and “cool” gadget which does the job of all of these other items… and does it well (which is key).

    Magazines, comic books, e-readers, laptops, netbooks, web browsers, DVD players, portable movie players … All of these exist today. Apple is following the iPhone business model by offering a product which may allow the user to combine all of this functionality into one gadget. This may not be for everyone. But they are not going to sell this to everyone. They want to sell it to someone who instead of buying five gadgets they would have bought anyway… will now have this as an option.

    Add to this the fact that the media companies are watching their print media die, and they are desperate to find a business model that will allow them to take the best of their print media but somehow incorporate what we (the public) like about the web… and guess what… it makes sense to them to look at this as a viable business model to follow.

    Record album sales vanished when the pay-per-song business model took over the industry. At the end of the day, the consuming public will buy what they feel gives them the most bang for their buck. Why pay $15-20 for a CD with 12 songs in it when I can spend maybe $3 for the 3 songs that I really wanted and spend the rest on 9 other songs I really want?

    I am a parent of two. Do I prefer to pay $30 for a Nintendo DS game or $0.99 for an iPhone app? Will a parent spend $6 for a comic book or say $2 for the electronic copy? Comic books are frankly out of reach of most of its target audience anyway. And sadly it’s future looks bleak. My question is “why not”?

    • Jacin B
      March 2, 2010 at 4:57 pm — Reply

      “Magazines, comic books, e-readers, laptops, netbooks, web browsers, DVD players, portable movie players … All of these exist today. Apple is following the iPhone business model by offering a product which may allow the user to combine all of this functionality into one gadget. This may not be for everyone. But they are not going to sell this to everyone. They want to sell it to someone who instead of buying five gadgets they would have bought anyway… will now have this as an option.”

      That’s where I disagree. Laptops and netbooks already do all of those things that you listed here and they do it cheaper.

      Rather than combining a bunch of things people tend to have anyway — a phone, an organizer, a handheld game system, etc. — like the iPhone did, the iPad takes something that people are likely to have anyway — a laptop — and takes away a lot of its functionality (word processing, etc.) and a lot of its storage capacity (my laptop can store 320GB and my wife’s netbook has 160GB of storage compared to the best iPad’s 64GB) and attempts to repackage it and charge more for it (my wife’s netbook cost less than half what a 32GB iPad is slated to cost).

      And, as to the iTunes argument, we need to remember that iTunes was a music industry response to Napster and bitTorrent and other file-sharing clients. That’s what caused record sales to drop as the music industry was haplessly behind on the digital front and, despite RIAA’s best efforts to stop piracy, their sales have never returned to what they had been (and I still know people who haven’t paid for music since the ’90s).

      (And many of those same piracy places already make available every comic released every week, if you know where to look. Making every comic digital to begin with will only make their jobs easier because they’ll no longer have to scan every issue and turn it into a .pdf or other similar file format before distribution.)

      • J Michael T
        March 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm — Reply

        But to my point… you owned a laptop and gave up some of that functionality, computing power, storage capacity and expandability to buy a netbook because the netbook fit your needs for less money. I was looking at eReaders over Xmas but held off until prices came down. Now suddenly I’m looking at potentially one device which will function as a book reader… and an Internet browser … and a movie screen for my Netflix downloads when I travel … and a TV screen for my Slingbox & TiVo when I travel … and a display screen for my business presentations … and an email reader … and replace the netbook and charger that I have to carry now when I travel … and a magazine reader for the magazines that accumulate in my house … and potentially much more. Now all of a sudden it looks like a very functional replacement for things I need and use.

        I have an iPhone because I needed a cell phone, a laptop, an organizer, a PDA, and pen and paper (and more) to do everything I now do on my iPhone. And I can do more with it than I ever could with those… and the app store is giving me the ability to do things with my phone I didn’t even think about when I bought it … for an average of $0.99 a pop.

        The iTunes store just celebrated selling its ten billionth song download. Ten billion. Yes, piracy still exists. And yet iTunes sold ten billion legal copies of songs. In seven years. And keeps going and growing. Why? Because the buying public loves the concept. Everyone hates Wal-Mart (right, Schleicher?). Yet it has been shown time and again that even the biggest supporter/enemy of the Walmart idea ends up shopping at Walmart. Because at the end of the day, the average consumer goes where they get the most for their money.

        Don’t confuse me with an Apple fanboy. Why are SUV’s so popular? After all, they are gas-guzzling behemoths driven by folks who have no business driving anything bigger than a Mini ;-) but guess what? One car fills the need of a family sedan, a minivan and a pickup truck all in one. Same idea, different execution.

        Of course there are exceptions. Those are referred to as ‘niche markets’ for a reason. “You” (as in a general buyer) may not want an iPhone. But AT&T just reported 3.1 Million iPhone activations in the last three months of 2009.

        It’s hard to argue with those numbers.

        And guess what? At the end of the day, I read Major Spoilers, and I still buy the printed copy of the books I “want” to own even when I don’t have to if I don’t want to. It’s like listening to FM radio. I listen to music for “free”. But when I want a song, I download it from iTunes even though I get it for free elsewhere. Funny how that works. Apple has built a market based on this concept and has been able to sell ten billion songs this way.

  13. Crash
    March 2, 2010 at 10:25 pm — Reply

    Electronic media will not replace print yet. There is still way too many bugs and quarks with electronic media. Also who wants to loose hundreds of comics if their machine ever breaks? If I lost even one of my longboxes I would cry.

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