Been trying to figure out how to get your small, self-published comic on the iPad? An even more diverse and open world of downloadable comics took a step closer to reality as comiXology has announced they will be making their Guided View™ Authoring Program software available to individual publishers. Already in closed alpha tests with Tokyopop, Devil’s Due, Arcana, and a few even smaller publishers, this program will allow indie publishers to download the tool, and prepare their own comics for viewing on a mobile device so that they can be sold on comiXology’s iPhone, iPad and browser-based stores.
As anyone who has read a digital comic on an iPhone knows, “legacy” print comics need to be adapted to the smaller screen — comiXology uses a guided view that moves from panel to panel as you tap the screen.
Once the kinks are worked out, publishers and self-publishers will be eligible for beta testing — people can sign up for it right here. Once approved, publishers can set their own prices (within Apple’s guidelines) for their books.
According to comiXology CEO David Steinberger, the move came partly as a response to industry demand – they get four or five submissions a day from publishers wanting to be carried on their store — and also as a means to get more diverse product on their store.
“We started with only indie people and creators,” he told The Beat. “In the beginning we were just this odd website tracking print comics.” Hard to remember now, but when they rolled out their first iPhone app in July 2009, they were a complete unknown, and although they had approached the Big Two, the Big Two weren’t interested. Small presses and indie comics made up the bulk of their first digital offerings.
Now of course, comiXology is one of the go-to apps for digital comics – it’s the only company that offers both Marvel and DC, Steinberger points out “We’ve gone from launching 80 comics the week of May 1st to 204 this week.” In the process, some of the small publishers who were there in the beginning haven’t gotten as much attention.
The program is now in Alpha testing with Tokyopop, Devil’s Due, Arcana Comics and Scott Amundson, creator of Barbarian. Comics will be subject to comiXology’s approval for professional standards – from there, comics will need to be submitted to Apple as well. Comics that can’t be sold via iTunes due to content issues will, however be available from comiXology’s browser-based store, and all purchases will sync to devices. So, for instance, as with DC’s just announced browser store, if you purchase THE INVISIBLES or TRANSMET – unavailable via iTunes due to the adult content – they will become available in your iPad when you sync.
The Guided View™ technology is patent pending, and Steinberger is only mildly concerned that making it more widely available will lead to copycats. “I’m a little worried about the proprietary nature, but it is patent pending technology and we think it’s protectable and, frankly, it was more important to get this off the ground. If anyone technically minded wanted to figure how we made Guided View, they probably could already. Everybody has their own methods of getting comics on mobile devices.”
In the early days of comiXology -– just 18 months ago -– Steinberger says methods were not quite as slick. “In the beginning we did all this stuff in Photoshop with handmade scripts by the seat of our pants selecting panels. Now we have a full application for doing this.”
Getting the technology out to publishers also allows them to handle the pace of their own conversion. “Tokyopop is obviously not really a small publisher, but they are a company that wants to get a lot of comics ready real fast,” said Steinberger.
The danger in all of this, of course, is that comiXology is going to become a sub-Diamond -– although Steinberger doesn’t foresee problems in approving material, we think that might be just a little too upbeat. “We want professional work but we see a lot of professional work that hasn’t been picked up by people we work with. It’s like going through Artist’s Alley at a show.”
Although someone somewhere will squawk about not being approved, hopefully the bottom line will be many more opportunities to get more diverse material available on the digital paying field. And as the surprise success of ATOMIC ROBO has shown -– it’s consistently been one of the top sellers in iPhone comics, and the creators have moved on to Marvel as a result of their heightened visibility -– just what is going to go the farthest on the digital frontier isn’t always a given.
Getting the beta testing is part of a bigger goal for comiXology, says Steinberger. “By early 2011 we hope to have a whole self-service program going.”
As long as we had Steinberger on the blower, we asked him a few more questions about the whole digital revolution.
Q: Are the different apps (iVerse, Graphic.ly and so on) in danger of getting into a format war as VHS and Betamax did?
A: I’m not sure. We don’t offer downloadable comics yet. I don’t think this generation views content the same as previous generations especially as comics people are moving away from very heavy management of their files. I don’t mean there isn’t a demand for it. But it doesn’t seem to be that way with our consumers. We have between 4 and 6 apps in the top 20 apps so it’s pretty clear the consumers are appreciating how we are doing it.
Q: Do you see the browser-based market (as with DC’s online store) getting to be a bigger part of the market?
A: It’s early in the browser market. I don’t think we did enough of a job of getting attention for the store on our site [comiXology had has a browser based store for a long time, but no one really noticed until now.] As monitor quality is improving, I think the two-page spread is becoming a great way to read comics.
Q: What’s the big trend for 2011?
A: This coming year is going to be all about platforms…We’re getting into Android tablets, Chrome tablets, the Blackberry playbook, I can’t imagine Hewlett-Packard isn’t doing some thing. Android is a real market because of the amount of devices. It has its own troubles, store wise, with their return policy, but it looks like it’s going to have pretty good-sized app store. So much is happening – there’s the color Nook, which is based on Android, and who knows what Amazon is doing. It’s going to be a huge platform and device year.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.