The Ipad and what it means for comics
Apple officially announced their tablet device today, the Ipad. Newsarama has a good write up on the technical specs of the device. This has of course lead to all sorts of chatter about what this means for comics. The common reaction has been that this will be the game changer and that comic shop owners should be quaking in their boots. It is wishful thinking but the truth is the Ipad is a dud for comics. The device is a bit of a mashup of the Ipod and Iphone, just with a large screen. It has the same limitations as Apple’s other devices. Those limitations are why this will not have any real impact on the comic industry for the foreseeable future.
There are two key problems. First is that Apple will not allow Adobe’s Flash to run on their devices, which is a problem Iphone users have had. The reason for this is that Flash would give other companies a back door to circumvent Apple’s store and policies. This leads into the second problem and that is Apple wants complete control over what is sold on their devices. Publishers have to deal with Apple directly and meet Apple’s standards if they want to sell their product on a Apple device. So far Apple has been pretty picky about what it will allow in it stores, meaning comics of questionable content would likely be not aloud to be sold through Apple’s system.
No Flash support creates larger problems because so many things run on Flash. It means things like Marvel’s digital subscription service, Zuda, Sigikki, and other Flash based comic readers will not work on the Ipad. It also means many streaming video sites will not work as well. For example, while you will be able to watch Youtube videos on a Ipad you will not be able to watch any of the shows on Hulu. Thanks to these and other limitations is actually going to be easier to read pirated comics, which are simple image based scans, on the Ipad then it will be the official releases. Those are just the big problems. It does not cover the issue of if the public will be willing to by these things in any noticeable quantity or the practicality issues in using them.
Now this is not to say the Ipad or any other ereader is worthless. The positive is that it will be something in addition to print comics, but it will not replace them for the time being. This is a potential cost effective new revenue stream and that is good for any business. The limitations will not effect webcomics since they are just images viewed in a browser. It may well help webcomics get a leg up on main stream comics in the digital sense, as it will be faster and easer to open something in the web browser then going through the trouble of downloading a App from the Apple’s store and then buying a comic through that.
Veneta Rogers over at Newsarama has a nice look as to why Marvel is taking a cautious approach to the news of the Ipad. It basically comes down the the things I mentioned already. Marvel is making the smart move. There is nothing for the comic industry to gain by jumping head first into this. If anything is gives them more reason to develop a delayed releases to digital. Essentially they will profit more by having new comics in print in shops first and later releasing them to be sold through digital services like Comixology, Iverse, GrapichLy, and so on. Whatever Marvel does will also set the standard for the comics industry in general since as much of the industry rides on what Marvel does and how well they do. The more I look at all this the more I believe the Ipad and other devices will only help stabilize the world of print comics for now. It may change in the future but by then the comics industry will have had time to plan for it unlike the traditional book industry and other media.
I don’t see it being the same instant dud for comics that you see it as — part of the announcement was the introduction of their online ebook store, which gives all publishers another distribution venue. They may have Flash-based websites for their current products, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t also deliver via Apple’s format. And if the transactions for that store are as simple and effortless as iTunes (and I don’t see why they wouldn’t be), this seems like a great opportunity for content producers.
Creating a third-party reader app strikes me as redundant and unnecessarily obtrusive when Apple has developed this specifically to function as a high-end e-reader.
And I don’t really get the idea that Marvel has nothing to gain. Of course they have something to gain. They have a lot to gain, and virtually nothing to lose! It’s not as if the slight tinkering of digital image files to fit Apple’s format is labor or resource intensive. For next to no effort, they can immediately open up a completely new revenue stream. Waiting just ensures that somebody else will do it first.
Well to be clear I mean dud in the sense that it will not be the big “game changer” for comics that it is being lauded as in many comics circles. I don’t mean to sound like I’m down on the thing in general. I just don’t see it being anything more then something in addition to the current system (which is not to say the current system is great, especially with Marvel’s over pricing).
The announced Apple ebook store will be for the text based books with the publishers Apple has deals with. No comics publisher has any deal with Apple directly right now. So at launch it will be the Itunes App stores like comixology, graphiLy, iverse, etc that will be the only way to get comics on the Ipad. Basically it is what you can already get on the Ipod and Iphone, just with a higher resolution (or the Ipod size if the App makers don’t get around to converting the size).
I meant Marvel has nothing to gain jumping all in to digital right now, as in having the releases come out in digital at the same time as print. Comics do not have the problems the rest of the print industry does. Even in a major recession year comics saw almost no change from the past couple years. Basically they stand to gain more money right now sticking with the print model. The book industry is facing this problem with the Kindle pushing the $9.99 price point for best sellers (which is too low for the book industry to run the same profit line as print) that damages their print sales. The book industry has little choice by to conform to digital, but comics do have the choice.
It really is better for Marvel to leave the digitized versions of their books to 3rd party groups because it will save them from having to develop the programing in house which they have little experience at (their Flash based digital service is crap). The 3rd party will get them on all platforms (phones, xbox, psp, ereaders, etc) which is safer then gambling on just one or two devices exclusively, and the programing will be left to those who understand the systems in a sense like a comic shop understands its costumer base for the towns and cities they reside in.
Something to watch really closely is Apple’s use of the ePub file format. Unlike with the Kindle, which uses Amazon-only file formats, ePub transfers from one device to another. From the publisher’s perspective, this makes the iPad attractive because creating an e-book for it is the same as creating an e-book for another system. In other words, it could be the mp3 of digital books. And the development of the mp3 was a key to digital music taking off.
Here’s what needs to happen in order for comics to be viewed at their best on any sort of eBook reader — the comics have to be adapted into a form, or template, that is more compatible with the reader than the traditional printed form. These days, part of my job as a nonfiction book editor involves having to adapt print books to eBook form — and, believe me, there are many, many differences between laying out content for print AND laying out content for eBooks. The trick is laying out the content so that it’s easy for readers to view on an eBook readers. Unless and until a comics publisher is willing to make the same sorts of layout changes, eComics are going to remain at the low end of popularity.
While it may not be the instant game changer, the interest is definitely there from the publishers. Dark Horse has been launching some of their more popular titles in an iPhone specific format. They are seemingly cutting the stories up panel by panel and then giving away the first issue for free. Successive issues are sold at a small cost. It’s not a stretch to think that publishers will try different approaches. While the bulk of subscribers may stick with monthly print comics (for now), there could still be something in it to attract new readers who do invest in the technology?
I don’t see the exclusion of Flash as a big deal. It’s clunky to load up, and on a 3G connection it would be painful. HTML 5 is the better way to go.
The problem with Flash is a large chunk of comics related things rely on that right now like Zuda and Dark Horse’s digital anthology on mypsace. I would love to see Flash be done away with as it really is garbage, but sadly it’s often the garbage of choice when it comes to comics content at this stage. It does look like Adobe is addressing this as they are working on ways to convert Flash based media for the Ipad. So theoretically the problem will be fixed at some point in the future, but I think it may be too late by then. Then again it really depends on the how the general public reacts. It doesn’t matter how practical the tech is in the end it really just matters if people buy it and Apple are certainly good as selling their products.