200908281257There were a couple more iPhone comics announcement in our inbox this morning, bringing the approximate number of iPhone related comics announcements this week to 5,684 or so. Rather than run them all we’ll refer you to ICv2’s brief overview of the field which notes that the number of companies offering comics on iPhones has more than doubled in the past two months. And

It’s been 60 days since we updated our directory of mobile comics content (primarily for the iPhone, see “Mobile Comics Directory—Update #4”), and the number of titles available (most of which include multiple issues) has gone from 105 to 207 in that time. 

Manga writer/editor/NYTimes best selling author Jake Forbes looks at the rush but takes a more critical eye with Four Challenges for Digital Comics to Overcome:

Digital comics, in their present state, are require too much compromise. The market is fragmented, with some being device specific (iPhone and a few Kindle titles) or locked to the publisher’s site (like all of VIZ or Marvel’s offerings). Offerings are still slim, with poor representation of the classics (Sandman, Maus, Bone, Blankets, anything Tezuka, and too many others to list). And as for offering an alternative to buying print comics, digital isn’t even close. At this point, it’s hard to even fathom today’s digital offerings making up a proper “collection.”

Among Forbes’ other observations — webcomics and manga are thus far very underserved on the iPhone.


  1. How much market potential is there for digital comics as time-killers, something to read while waiting for a bus or meeting, while commuting, etc.? They wouldn’t have to be “collectible,” then — any more than songs stored an an iPod are collectibles. They would have to be cheap, though.


  2. Tried reading some comics on my iPhone, though it was terrible. Only seeing one panel at a time kills the reading process; it would be like reading a novel with only one sentence on a page at a time. It really killed any flow the comics have. I’d hate to see any creative panels on one of these apps…god forbid a splash page or something like the last issue of Promethea.

  3. “The market is fragmented,”

    Completely misses the point – if you tap 0.5% of the iphone/itouch (and the touch is just as important as the phone in this conversation) marketplace, you are making serious money. That the market is fragmented is undeinable, it just means that you pick the bit of it that offers the maximum exposure and/or return for your offering. It’s no different from the decisions around direct market/self-publish/POD etc.

    “At this point, it’s hard to even fathom today’s digital offerings making up a proper “collection.”

    Again – misses the point, you buy a digital comic because you want something to read, not because you want to collect something. It’s about the information not the object. When you drop 99p on a digital comic, you simply don’t care about the long term collection (and yes I’m sure there are people here who will say “but I do” – the point is, enough people do).

    Does that mean that we will not get a digital standard? no. Does it mean we *need* a digital standard for people to make money? no.

  4. Oh and I missed this –

    “The answer is just around the corner – tablet PCs. They offer the same slick visuals and touch-screen appeal as the iPhone, only with the ability to display a page at a time.”

    First tablet PCs over the long term will be an awful way to view comics, secondly it makes the mistake of assuming that a comic must replicate the form of paper.

  5. oh and being a three post mental for a minute – he’s also fundamentally asking the wrong question.

    The question is not “how can I get comic readers to try digital platform x/what will get people to adopt digital platform X??”

    it’s “What will get digital platform x users (some of whom might be already comic readers) to read my comics?”

    His four questions are better titled “Four Challenges for Digital Comics to Overcome if they are to appeal to existing paper comic readers who have existing preconceptions of what a comic is, how it should be read and what they should with it afterwards”

    which is not quite as snappy I will grant you…

  6. The question is not “how can I get comic readers to try digital platform x/what will get people to adopt digital platform X??”

    it’s “What will get digital platform x users (some of whom might be already comic readers) to read my comics?”

    Good observation. As long as comics are niche reading materials — The PC platform revolutionized wargaming, more or less — I bought a bunch of SPI wargames in the ’70s and ’80s, and admired them without playing them — but that didn’t result in significantly more people playing wargames.

    And. per Ryan Higgins, I’d never read a comic a panel at a time.

    I was wondering about Forbes’ enthusiasm for the Tablet PC — reportedly, Steve Jobs is focusing on a tablet-type computer at Apple.


  7. Charles,

    You’re projecting a bias I don’t have. I in no way intended to suggest that comics future lies in replicating the print experience — on the contrary, it’s my personal impatience with print publisher’s ability to adopt that prompted me to write on this topic in the first place. A few points of clarification:

    1) re: “Collection” — that doesn’t have to be the digital equivalent of a longbox of bagged and boarded comics. An RSS feed is a collection. A pandora radio station is a collection. Perhaps collection is a poor choice of words, but what I meant is “in the sea of available options, here are the things I care about — they are ‘mine’ in spirit, even if I don’t own a thing.”

    2) re: “Fragmentation” — You’re approaching it from a publisher’s perspective. I was approaching it from a reader’s perspective, and ultimately I think that’s more important. Yes, if you are a publisher, you want to maximize your sales on every available platform. If you are a reader, you probably don’t want to go to iVerse for your IDW comics, Panelfly for your SLG, myspace for your Dark Horse (I guess now that’s dead…), sigikki.com for your seinen manga, the playstation network for your spider-man back issues and your local comics shop for the new issue of Fables. You’d probably rather have access to all of the above on your phone, on your PC or on your PSP.

    2.5) Related to above, a major point of my post that wasn’t mentioned here is that by shifting from a publisher-driven model to a retailer/consumer driven model, digital comics can take advantage of recommendation systems and community tools at the point of purchase. If someone new to comics reads Irredeemable on their iPhone from panelfly and is inspired to find more like it, they’ll have to leave the app and the iphone platform to find out that Waid did Kingdom Come and Captain America, or that readers who like Irredeemable also like The Boys. Disagree if you want, but as a reader, I see that kind of fragmentation as a bad thing.

    3) re: your alternate question, that’s a great question to be asking, but not what I was writing about.

    4) Final point! Re: iPhone as a reading device, portability and instant access are amazing developments in how we get content. The potential to add interaction, sound, motion and social functions are also incredibly exciting. Moving forward, I certainly hope that creators and publishers continue to innovate, and as more comics are develolped with the platform in mind, it will only continue to improve.

  8. Mr. Forbes, your business model seems to require that comics stories be written as short, close-ended pieces. How many comics publishers, aside from Archie Comics, can supply that type of material?


  9. Many of these issues require a particular quantifier: “yet.”

    The digital comics “revolution”, as it were, is in its infancy. Extreme infancy. Right now the issues mentioned above aren’t a big concern to comics publishers, particularly the big two. Give this thing a year or four, and I think most of these problems will work themselves out naturally.

    Right now the major issue as I see it is simply that digital comics don’t have their iPod yet. Once some sort of digital reader becomes a virtual standard (not just for comics, but digital books in general), we’ll be in a much better place to analyze what digital comics need to do.

    I believe Amazon is already working on a color Kindle. That’ll probably be exactly what we need. Prior to the iPod, there were a number of mp3 players on the market, all of which were pretty different from the others, none of which did quite everything a consumer would want. Then the iPod came along and redefined what an mp3 player was, and other companies began making their devices along the same lines. I believe a color Kindle will do the same for the digital reader industry, and digital comics will be geared to run on Kindle and similar devices.

    I hope, anyway.

  10. Synsidar, Hey, no “Mr.”! I”m just an occasional Beat commenter. :P

    Anyway, I’m not sure where you’re reaching that conclusion about content size. What I’m getting at is:

    1) I liked this comic. Now tell me what to read next.
    2) I want access to it NOW, regardless of who publishes it.
    2.5) If it’s serialized, give me the option to subscribe.
    3) I want access to it at home or on the go. What’s an appropriate screen viewing size should be up to me.

    Until all of those wants are satisfied, Digital cannot replace print as a reading platform.

  11. SRS–Everyone reads comics one panel at a time. Just like everyone reads books one sentence at a time (or even one word at a time).

    That said, I have no desire to try to read comics on an iPhone. The screen is just too small. (For the record, I also don’t get the appeal of watching any kind of TV or movie on a screen that small.)

  12. A person might read comics one panel at a time, but he views one page at a time, and forcing a reader to see only one panel on a screen would be more unpleasant, I’d think, than reading large-print books. A person is accustomed to a certain reading speed; for me, it’s about 100 pages of text per hour. Comic books read faster.

    I wouldn’t discount the collector’s mentality when it comes to comic books. There’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes from seeing boxes full of comics that can’t be matched by having files on a hard disk or on another storage device. I have Marvel’s AVENGERS CD, but it’s never occurred to me to get rid of my hundreds of paper copies.

    Simply making comics digital, of course, doesn’t make the content any more appealing to people who aren’t used to reading comics or actively dislike the superhero genre. Decompressed scripting isn’t evolution of content. The only way superhero comics can evolve in terms of content, I think, is to fill out the characters and their backgrounds, writing their stories as SF/fantasy novels. Doing that still wouldn’t give superheroes mass market appeal.