Weâ€™re roughly thirty days away from the launch of Appleâ€™s much-talked-about iPad.Â While the device looks like a flattened iPod, its potential to revolutionize the way we consume media is staggering.Â 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.Â While other e-books only have black-and-white displays, the iPadâ€™s color screen could radically change the way we read and access comics.
Iâ€™ve talked before about digital comics and how an effective electronic color reader could change the way we access and enjoy comic books.Â But is the iPad that device?
I live at least 150 miles from the nearest comic book shop.Â 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.Â For that reason, I rely on the post office to get my weekly stash of four-color goodness.Â Of course when there is a holiday, delay in shipping, or general muck-up by someone who doesnâ€™t get to the post office on time, I generally get my comics two days later.Â Recently, I didnâ€™t receive the weekâ€™s comics until the Monday following release.Â Moving physical media around is a big hassle for distributors, publishers, and comic book readers.Â 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.Â No longer will distance, or lack of knowledge of where to find a comic book store be a barrier to entry.Â 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 donâ€™t have to flock to the comic book store and hope the owner ordered enough copies of Obama and Spidey are Friends.Â Instead, they log on and download the brand new issue without any wait whatsoever. Â 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 shouldnâ€™t make reading an electronic book any more difficult than reading the printed page.Â 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.Â How many comics?Â 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.Â 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.Â 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), thereâ€™s still more than enough space to hold more than 3,000 individual issues.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â However, weâ€™ve already seen some unique success stories of companiesÂ releasing comics for less than a dollar.Â One such comic even appeared in a recent iPod commercial.Â That particular comic has rough circulation of 11,000 downloads per issue.Â 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.Â 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.Â Publishers are only going to print the number of comics that they think they can sell.Â If the issue doesnâ€™t sell out, no more copies are going to be printed.Â 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.Â In an electronic environment, there are no additional costs associated with making more issues available.Â 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.Â 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 wonâ€™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.Â 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.Â Marvel is owned by Disney, which owns Pixar Animation Studios, which was owned by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.Â 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.Â When the iPad arrives, it wouldnâ€™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 weâ€™ll hear more about that soon.Â Trust me, someone is going to give, and it isnâ€™t going to be Apple.
With more than 37 million iPods and iPhones sold, itâ€™s a good bet that the iPad will sell in the millions as well.Â 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, thatâ€™s potentially 1 million people ready to download comics.Â If you were a big publisher, would you rather those 1 million people go off and buy the current issue of IDW Publishingâ€™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 doesnâ€™t do anything half-assed.Â They either go all-out or not at all, and if Steve Jobs says the iPad is the most important thing heâ€™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?Â What about those who Â want to buy paper instead of electrons?Â And what about the collectability factor?Â These are all good questions, and ones Iâ€™ll answer in the next installment.