Robot 6

Manley: Big publishers rule on the iPad (Updated)

DC's iPad app

DC's iPad app

Joey Manley has a provocative post up this week about where the energy is in the digital comics scene. While webcomics are the realm of individual creators making a name for themselves in nontraditional ways, it’s a different story on the iPad and other devices:

On my iPad, the best comics reading experience, bar none, is not from small, scrappy innovators. It’s from the big companies, via Comixology’s apps (the “Comics” one, which includes DC and a lot of other familiar publishers, and the “Marvel” one, which is exactly the same application, but limited in content to Marvel comics only). The deal is this: you buy “issues” of printed comic books, which have been repurposed and re-engineered to be read more easily on the device.

Manley gets right away that these devices are a digital newsstand bringing DC and Marvel comics to a new audience, and he thinks the publishers could be doing a better job of repackaging them, but his main point is that the big, clumsy comics companies of yesteryear are doing the best job of exploiting this new platform. Of course, that’s because they have ComiXology to do the tech work for them; DC and Marvel are really just supplying content, and in this case, it’s mostly content that has already been published in other forms.

In the comments, SLG’s Dan Vado complains that indy comics are getting swept aside:

This is pretty much dead on. Comixology has all but stopped converting SLG titles in favor of, their words, “higher volume” sellers.

UPDATE: ComXology’s David Steinberger responds to Vado and the others in the same comment thread, saying that they remain committed to indie publishers:

To be clear, we’re dedicated to the indie market, and are investing a ton of our resources to make the access to our platform more equitable. We took the opportunities that we created with this platform, and now we’re catching up to being able to continue to get great books from all publishers.

Others complain as well that the small publishers are getting squeezed out, and Ben Adams points out that creators could release their work as PDFs and encourage readers to use a PDF/CBZ reader like ComicZeal to read them on the iPad.

At The Webcomic Overlook, Larry Cruz thinks that DC’s decision to remove Zuda from the web is their vote of confidence in the iPad as the comics platform of the future.

The whole thing put me in mind of Valerie D’Orazio’s post a year or so ago about how the Big Two were going to dominate webcomics, although her scenario was a bit different—she thought the major publishers would hire the creators and set them up on corporate sites that are “authoritative” rather than “amateur” (her terms). A number of creators showed up in the comments to say they didn’t need to suckle from the corporate teat, thank you, and I wrote a rebuttal myself at Digital Strips.

But the iPad turns all that upside down. The difference is simple: Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can get on the web, and if you’re halfway decent and get a bit of knowledge, you can build a following. This is harder now than it was ten years ago, but it’s still quite possible; we have new web phenomena every day. The iPad and other handhelds are different, though; they have gatekeepers, and you buy your content in a single store, rather than picking up bits and pieces via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and e-mails from friends. Everything is more controlled, so it’s not surprising that a few players who really understand the market would dominate the game.

In that context, Adams’s suggestion that creators use the web as a portal to the iPad is an interesting one; the problem with having all your content come through a single corporate gateway is that it tends to be pretty bland and commercialized. I’d love to see some guerilla webcomickers create an underground indy comics scene for the iPad and Android, using ComicZeal to bypass the iTunes store. The problem is the eternal one: Money for freedom, as monetizing a PDF is a lot harder than collecting a check from Apple for your iTunes app. Still, comics people are creative people, and I’m hoping that when I finally spring for an iPad, I’ll be able to read more than repackaged Batman comics on its big, beautiful screen.

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I feel this is the same as all digital/internet stories have been over the last 10 years. All the talk about the net bringing democracy to things like journalism and film making were wrong, it hasn’t made anything more democratic. People still flock to the brands they know.

The iPad runs Kindle (and the iPad Kindle app can handle color and high resolution if the publisher designs the files that way), and Amazon will let you publish pretty much anything. Right now the comics selection is limited (unless you like yaoi), with nothing by Marvel/DC, but publishers will go to where the buyers are (if they have any sense at all).

Try the Kindle edition of, say, American Born Chinese, and if you like it bug the publishers of stuff you like to release said stuff on Kindle.

“I’ll be able to read more than repackaged Batman comics on its big, beautiful screen.”

Especially since the ready made print Batman is already bigger than the Ipad’s “big, beautiful screen” without need of a scanner or other electronic devices.

Sounds like a nice little ruse to make spending $499 on something they likely already have (laptop or computer) worthwhile. “Once I spend $500, I can now read comics!!! YEA!!”

I have no beef with Apple or hatred toward them or the device, but it just slays me to watch people go into justification mode for what is at it’s heart an exercise of self indulgence clotheded in cool technology. “Paying bills on my Ipad is SSSSSOOOOO much more enjoyable than on my laptop.”

The comixology Comics app introduced me to Atomic Robo, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I mentioned this to David Gallaher at HeroesCon and told him I viewed 2010 as a Watershed year for Digital Comics in that we will slow progress until other avenues outside of the three dominant iPhone/iPad publishers open up. – Or other devices come to the table for that matter.

As a cartoonist who has been working toward the inevitable tablet reader for a few years now, I’m kind of surprised by other people’s surprise about the comics which are offered on the iPad; Marvel and DC have an enormous back log of content with an established audience- of course they’re going to lead the market in a “content hungry” new media.

A lot of people are not really seeing this in it’s context.

When large mainstream bookstores started to build “graphic novel” sections in the late 1980’s there was really only a handful of graphic novels to put on the shelves. The manga explosion in American bookstores thrived on that lack of content and, following suit, it didn’t take the major American publishers long to figure out how to re-package their monthly titles with that sales venue in mind. Nowadays, those same graphic novels section are predominated by collected superhero volumes and the growth of independent “stand alone graphic novels”, while much slower, is healthier there because it’s supported by similar material.

The move to comics on the iPad is really quite similar. We’re starting to find a new pathway through which comics might come to new markets and new ways to monetize the system. But the market using this pathway is “content hungry”; virtually everyone downloading a BATMAN comic these days probably has a wish list of about a dozen other comics they’d like to see “right now” on their iPad. Does this make it toy? Possibly. But if so, it’s one with an enormous potential to recapture old interests and then show them something new. And it will take a wealth of familiar and already-completed content to begin to tap that market and determine what they want next.

But that doesn’t mean it shuts out new ideas or new talent. My own work on ULYSSES “SEEN” should, I hope, show that the iPad is a very fertile territory for unique ideas. It is, for now at least, a bit more difficult to build an app than it is to start a webcomic.

For now, but not for too much longer.

ComiXology has shown a firm commitment to staying open to all publishers when they might’ve easily closed the door after landing Marvel and DC. I believe this is because they know that the real changes they’re bringing as a company are as distributors rather than publishers. For now.

Chris Ware once said that the average production to consumption rate for comics is over 1,000:1. In other words, for every second we spend reading a comicbook roughly one thousand seconds have gone into it’s making. And that doesn’t include the printing and shipping.

I think the rate is and will continue to be higher now that we’re moving to the iPad. No small studio of webcomickers can keep up with that kind of consumption rate and, like on the “graphic novel” shelves at the neighborhood Borders Books, we’re going to need collected work from earlier print comics to be re-purposed for this hungry new market if we’re ever going to capture their attention.
-Rob

i use the Comixology Comics app as well as the Marvel app and IDW app on my Iphone. I have paid for content on all 3.

Basically, i look at it as a way to save a bit of money and check out new stuff. i have read tons of indy books on here that i would have never picked up otherwise simply because they have free issues or the issues are only 99 cents.

i use the IDW app because the 3.99 price tag on every one of their books turns me off in the store. Now i can still read the books, but only pay 99 cents or 1.99. The same goes for Marvel. A trade of Infinity Gaunlet would cost me $24.99 retail, but i can get the whole series on the app for $10 (1.99 an issue, issue #1 being free).

the Comixology app has a lot of great indy books, but i have noticed that they are slacking on getting newer issues on there. even bigger indy companies like Dynamite still only have a handful of issues on there.

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