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What a difference a year makes! A year ago today, the iPad not only didn’t exist, it hadn’t been officially announced yet. People read comics on their iPhones and iPod Touches, but the screens were too small for a good experience (and therefore, no one wanted to spend much money on them). The iPad changed all that, with a big, full-color screen that is just a tad smaller than a standard comics page (and a tad larger than a standard manga page), and publishers started taking digital comics seriously. The distribution was already in place, thanks to the iPhone—comiXology, iVerse, Panelfly—and now the publishers not only jumped on board with those platforms but also started developing their own apps.
The digital comics scene is still developing, but the iPad was the game changer. For many people, it was the first time that they could comfortably read comics on a handheld screen. Now, it’s just a question of marketing—this year, publishers will grapple with bringing comics to a wider audience, outside the existing readership, and balancing the digital marketplace with the established brick-and-mortar retail structure.
Here, then, is a look back at our digital year.
The Register is a UK newspaper that that makes tech and business news a lot less boring by cloaking it in cheeky slang. An item that popped up today, iPad media apps: Stealthed hobbits thwart Google’s flaming Eye, caught my attention because it relates to the changing landscape of comics.
The point of the article is that iPad and iPhone apps are not accessible to Google and other internet search engines. This may not seem like a big deal, but in January, Apple will unveil the Mac Apps Store, and more and more content will be walled off in separate applications. I already use comiXology’s web app and the Mac version of the Kindle reader, so a Mac app is only a small step away from what I’m doing now.
It’s time for comics publishers and app developers to devote some serious thought to the question of how readers are going to find comics on their mobile devices. Already I have a hard time finding things in the app store, and the lack of a dedicated comics section makes it even worse. Unlike Google’s robust search engine (if I search for “Joseph Smith,” it knows to give me hits for “Joe Smith” as well, and it will ask me if I’m really looking for “Jo Smyth” if there are more hits for that), the iTunes store only responds to a handful of exact keywords.
Apple has released a list of the top apps for iPhone and iPad in its iTunes store, and three of the top five grossing book apps for the iPad are not just comics readers, they are all from comiXology: Marvel Comics, Comics (their multi-publisher reader), and DC Comics. This reflects not just the quality of the iPad as a comics medium for comics but also the large numbers of comics that must be selling through those apps (the apps themselves are free). The top grosser in the book category is The Elements, a visual exploration of the periodic table, which probably doesn’t have a lot of mass appeal but sells for $13.99, and the number five app is The Cat in the Hat, which does have a lot of appeal and sells for $3.99. That three comics apps can match that tells me that people are buying a lot of comics through them.
The pattern is the same for the rest of the top ten book apps—all but the comics apps are single-book apps (as opposed to an e-reader like Stanza), and none are free: Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, a Toy Story read-along, and two more Dr. Seuss books.
The Marvel and DC apps are number three and six, respectively, on the list of most downloaded free apps.
So, I broke down yesterday and bought an iPad. (I got the 32 G, Wi-Fi only version, for those who care about such things.) It’s a toy, but it’s a very nice toy. The question is, will it be a good workhorse?
So far so good. I’m a good tester for products like this, as I am not particularly good with technology, and I find that moving things to multiple platforms is often more trouble than it’s worth. The guy set the iPad up for me right in the store—got the battery charged, showed me how to use it, and made sure I installed iBooks right away. I doubt I’ll ever use iBooks, because I couldn’t find any free books, but whatever, it doesn’t take up much space. With a quick sync, I had the iPad versions of several comics readers that I already had on my iPod Touch: Comics by comiXology, Comics + from iVerse, some Dark Horse stand-alone books. Somehow the Viz Manga reader appeared as well, although I don’t remember signing up. Downloads were swift and easy. When I went home, I added the iPad to my Kindle account and moved some books over there.
Interestingly, the iPod comics I already own are readable on the iPad but in the smaller iPod format, so while I haven’t gained anything, I haven’t lost anything either.
With DC Comics revealing its digital strategy yesterday, all of the major players now have some sort of digital comics plan, allowing folks who have an Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.), a PlayStation Portable or even just access to the web to read at least some of their comics in a digital format.
I’ve had an iPhone for a while now, and I’ve downloaded free comic apps from distributors like comiXology, Panelfly and iVerse. I’ve used them to download free samples of comics they were offering (sampling Jersey Gods on the iPhone, for example, led to me purchasing the trades). But I never actually bought comics on it. And there’s a big difference between downloading something because it’s free, and actually becoming a paying customer and spending real money on it.
So what held me back? Part of it was because of what was available — most of the material I would have been interested in downloading I already owned in print, and I couldn’t justify buying it again. And part of it was that I just didn’t enjoy the experience of reading a comic on my iPhone as much as I did a print comic, mostly because of the size restrictions. The app developers, of course, tried to make it easy to adjust, offering zoom features and panel-to-panel scrolling, but there’s just something about not seeing the whole page of a comic at a time, versus just seeing each panel, that was the hump I couldn’t get over. I need the forest, and I need the trees.
Over the last couple of days BOOM! Studios has made two announcements related to digital distribution of their titles. Yesterday they launched their own iPad/iPhone application with some help from comiXology, and today they announced they plan to make their entire catalog of BOOM! Studios titles available via comiXology, iVerse, Graphic.ly and Panelfly.
I spoke with Chip Mosher, BOOM!’s director of marketing, about their digital plans, timing of releases, the customer base for their digital comics and more.
JK: Let’s talk timing, as that’s been a popular topic of late. How long will it take new BOOM! titles to reach the digital apps, compared to when books hit retail stores?
Chip: BOOM! really sees the digital comics market as its own animal. We were one of the first companies to have comics on the iPhone with iVerse back when they launched and have been watching the market place for a couple of years now. Having a consistent release schedule is important for that market segment, and what we are seeing is that the people who are reading digital comics are far and away removed from the rhythms of the direct market. A ton of what the release schedule depends on has to do with administrative things that are out of our control. Currently we have no plans on doing anything earlier than 30 days.
Following up on their announcement yesterday that they’d launched their own application for the iPad and iPhone, BOOM! Studios announced today via press release that they plan to make their entire back-catalog of BOOM! Studios titles available through several digital distributors by the end of the summer.
Per the release, comiXology, iVerse, Graphic.ly and Panelfly will offer BOOM!’s “frontlist and backlist for digital download spanning the mobile, portable and desktop space, including the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, laptop and desktop computers.” All BOOM! Studios single-issue digital comics are priced at $1.99 with the first half of each series’ first issue available to download for free from all four vendors.
Check out the complete press release after the jump, and check back shortly for my interview with Chip Mosher, BOOM!’s marketing director, about their digital strategy, release schedules and more.
“We’d all been waiting for Apple to announce the iPad, and once the specifics were finally known, our team began putting together our plans for the device the same day,” said iVerse Media founder and CEO Michael Murphey in a press release. “It’s been a long 60 or so days, but I’m incredibly proud of our team, and I think people are really going to love the application.”
Murphey said that they expect the iVerse Comics application to be available on the iPad when it is released this Saturday. Through the application, users can download comics from Marvel, Image, IDW, BOOM! and many other publishers.
‘If people are going to be able to access this on the iPad from day one no matter what, we really needed to make sure we put our best face forward,” Murphey said. “So we had to build a completely new application from scratch, then marry that to our existing app. The end result gives the user the best possible experience on whatever device they’re using.”
Per the press release, long time users of iVerse Comics will have the ability to download new, high resolution, iPad files of their previously purchased comics for no additional cost. They’ve also added a “zoom” feature for both the iPhone and iPad versions of the app, while the iPad version will alos include preview images. They plan to add preview images to the iPhone in the coming weeks.
Check out a video preview of the iPad app after the jump …
It’s been awhile since Sony announced their digital comics reader for the PlayStation Portable, or PSP. The reader, apparently, is already available as a part of a firmware update, and last week Pete Stott, one of the designers of the reader, posted more information on the European PlayStation blog.
“You’re maybe thinking, ‘How’s that going to work on the PSP’s beautiful, yet compact, screen?’” Stott said. “Well we think we’ve solved that with AutoFlow! With AutoFlow all you have to do is hit one button and the camera will float over the page to the next panel, panning and zooming automatically. We also let you move around manually if you want to get up close and personal with your comic.”
Stott also said that joining Marvel, IDW and iVerse (whose content will include comics from Archie, Image and many of the other companies they release content for on the iPhone) on the PSPS will be Disney, Insomnia, Titan and 2000AD. This means PSP owners will be able to purchase titles featuring Wallace & Gromit, Judge Dredd, Archie, Mickey Mouse, Transformers and Spider-Man, among many other characters.
Sony has also launched a website where they plan to list the entire catalog of comics once they officially launch and where you can download a sample Transformers comic to see how it will work. If you’re a PSP owner and you’ve checked out the reader, let us know what you think in the comments section.
Digital comics | Kiel Phegley talks to Ira Rubenstein, Marvel’s executive vice president of digital media, about their partnerships with comiXology, iVerse, ScrollMotion and Panelfly. comiXology, meanwhile, has added another Marvel title to their catalog this week — Civil War.
Digital comics | Don Reisinger over at CNET reviews several comics applications for the iPhone, including comiXology, Clickwheel, iVerse Comics and Comic Envi.
It looks like as of midnight Eastern time all three sites posted updates and added Marvel to their libraries. Here’s a breakdown of what each app is offering:
Amazing Spider-Man #1-25
Amazing Spider-Man #519-523
Astonishing X-Men #1-24
Invincible Iron Man #1-16
X-Men: Age Of Apocalypse #1-6
Astonishing X-Men #1–24
Captain America #1–30
Marvel Zombies #1–5
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse #1–6
Amazing Spider-Man #519–524
Astonishing X-Men #1–12
Captain America #1–7
Invincible Iron Man #1–6
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse #1–6
iVerse and comiXology are offering Marvel’s comics for $1.99. Panelfly has them for $.99 each for the first few issues, then $1.99 for later ones.
Update: CBR’s Kiel Phegley is working on a piece for the main site now, and sent me this tidbit … per Marvel, there’s a fourth partner as well, ScrollMotion. There’s no mention of it on their site yet, however. ScrollMotion has published a large number of books for the iPhone, including titles by Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer, among many others. If you do a search in iTunes for ScollMotion or Iceberg Reader, you can find all the books they’ve released.
Also, Marvel has posted more information on their website.
Apple told iPhone application developers yesterday that they can now sell content through free iPhone applications. Previously any application that offered stuff for sale, such as the comics applications developed by companies like iVerse and comiXology, couldn’t be offered for free in iTunes, per Apple’s policy.
“Apple makes us charge $0.99 for our app,” comiXology CEO David Steinberger told me last week. “We’d give it away if we could, but it’s against their rules to give away an app that then ‘up-sells’ users to buying content within the app. That presents us with the challenge of getting people to purchase the app.”
With this change, both comiXology and iVerse began offering their applications for free.
“This afternoon Apple dropped a bombshell on developers – Applications with In-App-Purchase can now be FREE,” iVerse wrote on their blog yesterday. “This is a phenomenal move on Apple’s part that allows us to finally offer our digital comics store with no entry price. Sure, we’ve been able to offer over 35 free comics (which we will still continue to offer), but to no longer HAVE to charge $0.99 for the App allows us to open the experience up to anyone who wants to give it a try.”
I thought that I might be writing about reading comics on Apple’s revolutionary new tablet, a much-rumored expanded version of the iPod, by now, but their September meeting came and went with no news on that front. So I’m still reading on my iPod Touch, which has the virtues of clarity and portability and the vice of tininess.
Even with the small screen, though, my iPod is evolving. Back in the Stone Age (six months ago), each comic or section of a comic was a single app, which led to a lot of little icons cluttering up the screen. Now a reader can use a single app such as comiXology’s Comics app, iVerse, or Panelfly, to buy, download, and organize comics, which is a more elegant solution. ComiXology has just released a free version of its app, which allows readers access to all the free comics in its app store, and it also has a Lite version that is 12+, as opposed to 17+, presumably for younger readers.
I assume the hidden hand of Apple has something to do with the fact that these apps have similar design and functionality: You pick your function from a navigation strip across the bottom, with icons for the store, featured items, etc., and you move from a list of comics to catalog listings by tapping and swiping, just as with other apps.
These apps solve a glaring problem, which is that there is no obvious way to find comics in the iTunes store. Continue Reading »
Earlier this week Sony answered a question that Chris Mautner had asked earlier this year when they announced a new Digital Comics service that’s coming to the PlayStation Portable in December.
They also announced partnerships with Marvel Comics and IDW, which means they’ll offer everything from Spider-Man to Star Trek on the PSP. If I’m not mistaken, this is Marvel’s first major foray into portable digital comics besides the Spider Woman motion comic that came out this week on iTunes and the N project they were involved in with Stephen King.
Sony is also working with iVerse Media, who have steadily been making deals with various companies and creators to bring their comics to the iPhone for the past nine months (and in fact, they just passed one million downloads for the iPhone and are expanding onto Google’s Android platform as well).
While the press release from Sony highlighted iVerse bringing titles by Archie and Image, I checked in with them to see if there was a list yet of everything they’d be doing on the PSP.
“We’ll have a more comprehensive list of everything that is coming to the PSP closer to the launch of the platform, but most of the titles and publishers we currently release on the iPhone will be available on the PSP,” said Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse Media. “There will be quite a few titles on the platform.”
iVerse has published iPhone applications for comics from Archie, BOOM!, Ape Entertainment, IDW, Red 5 Comics, Dabel Brothers, Ardden Entertainment and Image Comics, among others. So it’ll be interesting to see what makes the jump.
I personally don’t have a PSP, and I don’t know if this is enough to make me want to go buy one. I would, however, love it if this service was available on the PlayStation 3. Having a comic on a portable device for airports or planes is nice, but having a comic available on my flat screen would be even nicer.
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced a new digital reader for their PlayStation Portable device today at gamescom in Cologne, Germany, which will allow PSP users to download comic books and other media to read on the device. The Digital Comics service will include titles from Marvel, Archie Comics and Image Comics.
Per a story posted on Marvel.com, “The digital reader for PSPTM will offer content from Marvel that includes Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four (and so many others!) whilst other content will include graphic novels, comics from a variety of local publishers and the latest underground sensations. More and more titles will arrive on PlayStation Store with monthly content updates, offering a huge choice of quality titles at your fingertips, allowing you to take your favorite comic characters with you on the move.”
The new reader and Digital Comics service will be available in December. Sony made a number of other announcements as well, which include a cheaper PlayStation 3 and a PlayStation Video store, so be sure to click on the first link to read all about them.
Update: After the jump you’ll find the official press release from Sony for the Digital Comics initiative. It will include titles from Marvel and IDW, as well as material that iVerse has licensed, which includes Archie Comics and some Image titles like Proof.