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Graphic Details: The iPad Cometh


That sound you heard recently was the iPad landing in America and thousands of bookstores and comic book shops across the country closing and locking their doors for the last time. That’s what happened – right? The world changed overnight and everyone is reading all their books, magazines, comics and newspapers on a digital devices.

So, wait – that didn’t happen? I can still walk into a bookstore and pick up a chunk of dead tree and enjoy a good read? Cool. The world of publishing is changing – just not as fast as everyone thinks.

The biggest change is that for the first time in publishing history consumers are being asked to invest in an expensive piece of hardware to allow them to read a book. Yes, audio books require either a cassette or CD player, but those were devices that most people already owned. To read an e-book you need a new device to view the books. Reading a book on a computer just doesn’t cut it. A book is easily portable so the device also needs to be portable.

The iPod made music incredibly portable, thousands of songs on one little device. It made what was not easily portable…portable. So what is the purpose of the e-reader when you have always been able to carry a book around with you? Matt Lauer was given a demonstration of the Sony e-Reader on a recent Today Show, it was described to him as a “portable reading device” and he asked “Isn’t a book portable?” Why yes, it is, Matt. Its purpose is to allow you to carry around hundreds of books. But, I can only read one book at a time, so do I really need to carry around hundreds of books? Can e-Readers save trees? Yes, so why aren’t the makers of these devices marketing them as “green machines”? Buy a Kindle – Save a Tree! Can it core a apple? Sorry, I was channeling Ralph Kramden for a second. They are even stressing how portable it is in the TV commercials, where they show a young mom on the beach reading an e-reader. All I could think of was, what if sand gets in that thing? I don’t think that about my paperbacks.

These devices are expensive! I need to spend how much money on equipment to read a book? Why don’t I just buy the damn book? Does the e-reader improve the reading experience? Well, not with a traditional prose title, it doesn’t. The words are the words, so the experience is not so different than reading a physical book. Reading a book, for me, is a tactile experience; the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink, the weight of it in your hands. I guess I could give that up; after all, I gave up vinyl years ago, but still in a way miss the feel of the different covers and reading the liner notes. But I think I’d miss the physical book even more.

I would also miss putting that book I just read up on the shelf. I am strangely comforted by having books around me. I feel somewhat disturbed when I walk into someone’s house for the first time and see that they have no books on display. I like looking at other people’s books; I feel it helps me get to know them a little better. You know what I mean? You’re browsing their book shelf and you see a copy of Glenn Beck’s book and realize it could be an interesting conversation at dinner. If they have an e-reader, what am I going to do? Pick it up and scroll through their books? I feel like that’s an invasion of privacy. I don’t do that with someone else’s iPad either. But, I will look through a record or CD collection in a heartbeat.

So what are the reasons for buying an e-reader? Well, even though I was excited by the idea of an e-reader, I didn’t feel the visceral need to run out and buy one like I felt with the iPod. I remember seeing the commercial and thinking, “I NEED to have one of those things!” I felt the same with the VCR and the DVD players. I remember seeing what may have been the first e-reader back in the early 1990s – it was called the Sony Dataman. Even then while I loved the idea of the Dataman, I didn’t see the need to buy one. Glad I didn’t, it bombed and was quickly removed from the shelves.

There is the immediacy of downloading a book. It’s certainly an advantage when you’re standing in an airport book shop and you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you get bored with one book, you can easily find another one. But you certainly can’t load your e-book reader up with all those books you’ve been meaning to read – like you are able to do with the iPod. That made the iPod an even cooler investment – I could load my entire music library on this little thing. I’m certainly not about to scan books and put them on my e-reader.

What will the iPad mean to all of this? Well, as we all know it’s in color and it’s not just an e-book reader, it’s a multimedia player. That may be worth the money – movies, music, internet, books all on one device. It’s a big iPhone that doesn’t make calls. But it is better for viewing comics than any other e-reader out there. You know, I downloaded a few comics on my iPhone and out of force of habit after I read them I bagged and boarded my phone. I couldn’t find the damn thing for a week. Will these devices kill the comic collector marker – or make the comic more collectible?

I think that there are a lot of people who just want a book or the comic or the magazine and don’t really care about a digital version. I also think that publishers aren’t doing enough to incentivize people enough to drop a couple hundred bucks for one of these things. Right now they are very elitist devices. They have to get cheaper. A guy buying $100 worth of comics a month is not necessarily going to spend several hundred dollars in order to buy comics from a limited list of comic book publishers who currently offer a good digital comic. I think the iPad has the potential to bring new or lapsed readers in to comics and graphic novels, the way book stores found new readers for the medium. Someone who owns the iPad might be surfing around the bookstore and see some Iron Man comics and think, “I loved the movie and I haven’t read a comic in years, I’ll spend a couple of bucks on a comic.”

This is why I think that digital distribution for comics and graphic novels are potentially a bigger growth market than digital is for other categories. While graphic novel distribution has grown and it’s easier to find a graphic novel, not so for the comic book. Outside the direct market shops and bookstore chains they are almost impossible to find. It is even harder to find one that isn’t a super-hero book or an Archie comic. Printed books will survive; comic book shops and bookstores will survive for many years to come. But publishers need to be more creative in using the digital book to drive people to the printed book and vice versa.

So, I agree with a comic book industry executive who, during our discussion of the business over drinks recently said, “The iPad is the new newsstand.” In its day, the newsstand serviced millions and millions of readers. It fueled the fire of reading. Adding another avenue that will get books into the hands of people and turning them into readers.

  1. While its impact on regular comics is yet to be determined, I think the iPad will be enormously beneficial for webcomics*.

    Less cumbersome than a laptop — and the iPhone screen is just too small to read them comfortably. But the Smash pages are the perfect size for the iPad** (they fit the screen exactly), and I’m sure a great many other webcomics look terrific on it, too.

    * – By “webcomics,” I’m referring specifically to continuing-narrative series, rather than strips, which are already popular and a fine size to read on an iPhone. Narrative webcomics have had a tougher go thus far [insert attention span commentary here]. But the iPad is a comfortable portable device that seems ideal for reading a narrative webcomic in large chunks.

    ** – I should point out that the comic pages for Smash are the exact dimensions of the Zuda layout — but, of course, Flash won’t run on an iPad, so no Zuda for you. Which is a huge shame.

  2. It is going to change a lot of things…and quickly.

    the device is useful for many other things…especially with the 3g coverage. And yes, comics look and read great on them.

    I will be happy when the big guys figure out how to involve creators in their profits.

    What I am loving is that anyone anywhere can download a comic…all over the world. I Dont fight the tech…I make it work for me.

  3. I don’t have an iPad… yet. But there is an old phrase that says that what one generation sees as a luxury the next sees as necessity. Both cell phones and broadband internet connectivity (hell, the internet in general) were considered luxuries just a decade ago.

    Yeah, you and I may be comforted by the feel of paper, but you know who isn’t? Students. College students may shell out thousands of dollars for textbooks every semester, and high school students are messing up their backs by lugging around 20-30 pounds of textbooks every day. Imagine having all of your textbooks immediately accessible at all times in a format that is constantly updated to reflect the most recent information available, and all in a package that ways less than five pounds AND has all your favorite music AND games.

    That’s where this revolution is going to start: in the schools. Once the younger generation embraces a technology, it’s locked into the culture. It’s been that way in the US for at least since the end of the Civil War.

    And you’re saying someone who spends $100 on comic books each month isn’t the kind of person who probably already has at least one video game system valued at that much, and wouldn’t drop $500 (eventually) on an evolving technology which would let him read comics AND play games? They don’t even need to be new comics. I’m spending more on Essentials and Showcases than I am on new comics anyway. I would LOVE to take a break at work and read Power Man and Iron Fist from the beginning without worrying about what I’m doing to its CGC value.

    I doubt very seriously that I’m going to get an iPad before the price is cut at least in half. But if the iPod is any indication, that should happen in about 4-5 years. And by then there should be enough backlog content available from publishers, both traditional and comics, that getting access to that content through the iPad will seem like a steal.

    (I am long winded, and this post reads snarkier than I intend it, but you get my meaning.)

  4. I got an iPad. I loaded up the comics apps. I see no new stuff that I can really buy for it. I have not been buying Siege, but though I would try it out. Not there.

    Comics on the iPad are worthless until they have same day release digital as well as in stores. Until then, I will keep buying or waiting for trades.

  5. More and more I’m seeing that if people love it on their I Pad, they’ll want to buy it in print. I’m looking into putting Moonlight Art Magazine on the I Pad right now, but we’ll still offer it in soft and hard cover for people who want it on their book shelf. I’m excited about it all, not that the whole “kill print” movement is dieing down. Good read Rich.

  6. Jimmy – thank you. From you sir that is high praise indeed.
    Mr. Wesley
    Do not worry about being snarky – it’s my middle name. But you make my point – yeah I think comic fans might very well buy a multimedia device – but not something that is just an e-reader. As for the gaming aspect of it – sure if I could play Modern Warfare and read a comic on the same device that would rock. But I do still think that owning the physical book is still a big deal to the fans and will be for some time to come. The digital comic seems to be more of a casual read than the physical book. And you’re talking to the guy who owns all the DC Archives!

  7. how long did it take automobiles to replace the horse and buggy as the main mode of transportation for the majority of people in the usa? change may be slow but it does happen and in the case of the ipad vs. paper, it’s only a matter of time before a majority of people are using ipads (or some kind of electronic device) over paper books, comics, newspapers, etc. how much time, i have no idea. this doesn’t mean that reading on paper will disappear completely, but i think we’re gonna see less and less of it as the years wear on. and mr.wesley is correct, it will be the younger generations that will be pushing this technology forward.

  8. Consumers are not yet being asked to invest in an expensive piece of hardware to allow them to read a book. We are not at the point where I was in 1990 when I could no longer get the albums I wanted on vinyl yet I did not own a CD player (and consequently ended up with a number of great albums on crappy cassette tapes which I regret to this day). Printed books are still going to be available for a while.

    Printed periodicals are doomed though, including the single issue comic book. Printing and distribution costs are going to force the switch faster than consumer adoption of the device itself. Periodicals in digital form may enjoy a renaissance as they become more readily accessible and profitable.

    But consumers aren’t adopting the iPad because it’s an e-reader, they’re adopting it because it does a pile of things and also the Joneses next door have two already.

    When they come out with a waterproof iPad for bathtub reading, then books might truly be doomed.

    Oh and since I’m plowing through Ken Follett’s weighty World Without End at the moment I would argue that books are not all portable. I don’t bother to haul this brick with me on the bus.

  9. I think a lot of attention has been given to the iPad as the saviour of books and comics, but as a result are blinded to its potential for innovation.

    To me, it’s a bit like two cavemen sitting in a cave that just had a new stove installed. Caveman A looks over to Caveman B and says “Dang, B, if use that burner to light our sticks we can make a fire in no time!” So instead of enjoying a fine sabertooth flambe, they end up yet again gnawing on burnt brontosaurus tail.

    Media fits its container. The dimensional limitations that apply to books and comics are needlessly being transplanted onto the new handheld devices, where they are no longer necessarily relevant. I’m excited about the new forms of media that are going to result from these new technologies, and I think we’re going to see a lot of it in the coming months and years-

  10. I think the price point will eventually come down quite a bit for these type of Tablet Slate devices (not from Apple, cuz damn if they don’t love to charge a lot for their shiny) but from similar devices running Android. I’ve seen several articles on Engadget to suggest $200 Tablets are on the horizon.

    Eventually, tablets are going to be so cheap they are given away free with a 2 year contract for cell phone service (like netbooks are now.)

    Meanwhile – paper ain’t gonna get cheaper.

    Curious why DC still doesn’t have any of it’s catalog available on the iPad yet…

    And thank you Rich for an interesting article that reminds me I need to sell my DC Archives while they are still worth something! ;)

  11. The Internet has been readily available since 1994. (That’s when Mosaic launched, and AOL opened a gateway to Usenet.) While newspapers have been trying to figure out this new medium ever since, I do not see a marginilaztion of paper.

    Anyone who works in an office knows that computers increase paper demand. As a bookseller, I see the explosion of Print On Demand books as being driven by the Internet and technology.

    How soon before I can go to Marvel’s DCU, search their entire library, edit a collection of a specific criteria (say, all stories mentioning Nebraska), print off one copy in any size or format, and have it mailed to me? Or Marvel offers their own POD editions, titles which might not justify a 10,000 print run.

    How soon before a reader can walk into a store and order a reprint? How long does it take you to drive to the bookstore? It’s happening now in Boston, and elsewhere. Maybe not with graphic novels, but soon.

    Collectors know that the present day dimensions of a comic book are a result of cost cutting to preserve the ten-cent price point. What if publishers adopted a black-and-white print edition measuring 6×9? Want color? Wait two months for the digital edition, or buy the trade collection.

    Circa 1985, Moon Knight and Ka-Zar were available only in the Direct Market because money would be lost via newsstand distribution. How soon before we see Digital Market exclusives for the same reasons? (And how likely, given the lower costs and profit, will these titles be used as a proving ground for new talent?)

    Exciting times. I’ll wait a few years, let the technology sort itself out, let the publishers figure it out.

  12. Speaking as someone who has not yet found a way to buy books that I don’t like, who has three storage rooms for the books and magazines and comics that don’t fit in my apartment, I love my Kindle. I first downloaded the free app for my iPhone, and it meant I could read in the subway without making my bag heavier.

    Now, it’s the way I like to read books when I travel. Instead of packing four or five separate volumes (in case I get insomnia and don’t know what to read next), I have one small appliance with dozens of choices downloaded, and others just a click away.

    iPad? Yeah, when they get the bugs out.

  13. Everyone is wondering about books, but I think they will be the last thing to make the switch to digital.
    It’s the disposable media- magazines, newspapers- that will lead the charge. Why deal with stacks of old newspapers and Entertainment Weekly’s when you can get it much more efficiently on an iPad?
    It doesn’t look very attractive to today’s comics fans because we would never consider a comic book to be disposable. That’s probaly why the general reaction throughout fandom has been “Meh.”
    As mentioned before, the iPad has the potential to bring in new readers. So it’s on us- the creators- to produce something good enough to hook non-fans if we want to hop aboard the digital express to the future.

  14. Interesting observations about the portability issue.

    One concern is that the iPad doesn’t actually grow the market, and it just shifts current reader dollars.

  15. Once comics go mostly digital, will they look different? I think they will evolve.

    The number of pages in an issue will no longer need to be, say, 32 pages. Could be 33 pages, or 44. Or 12 pages, since there is no printing or folding or stitching.

    Will “pages” still be pages? Or animated freeform dissolving graphics. Maybe audio!

    Comics can become more like slide shows, or even a series of overlapping splash pages.

    Each big panel will be filled with colour detail. Richer colour combinations will be possible with the elimination of the limits of 4 colour process printing technology.

    We will subscribe to a comic as we do to a podcast. The new issue, instead of arriving by truck and being available at the store on Wednesday, will download itself to our devices on Sunday afternoon, or Thursday at midnight.

    You’ll be permitted to make one backup copy of the DRM comic, but you will need to be registered with the “publisher” and give them access to your backup device.

    And as it is now with Kindle online books, the publisher will stay linked to your copy, recording data on how long you looked at that splash page of Powergirl. And how many times you read the issue, what time of day it was.

    And if there are typos in the word balloons, or contentious drawings, the publisher might download a corrected copy directly to your devices at any time.

    Paper printed copies of comics will eventually be just printouts of the frames of the digital version. You’ll do those yourself at the local comic kiosk, in the shopping mall. Or at home with your laserprinter.

    The evolution is coming.

  16. Al, those are called webcomics. They’ve been around for a decade. And we’re still killing trees, sometimes to collect said webcomics.

    So yeah, Ipad’s revolution is pretty minor for comics

  17. I’ll be very happy the day I never have to touch a piece of paper ever again. I do all my reading on a digital screen, my office is practically paperless, and I don’t seem to get much paper mail anymore.

    I really changed my attitude to paper once I got a Kindle. It’s such a wonderful device. It’s not backlit, so it’s easy to read w/o fatigue, it can be held easily with one hand, and shopping for books on it is a breeze.

    The Economist had an article a few weeks ago suggesting a cool approach to paper. Their goal is to make the magazine a gateway to their digital presence. The magazine will still have articles similar to what they have now, but if you want to read more, go to their digital domain.

  18. Actually 2 decades now that I think about it. Anyhoo, I don’t imagine we’ll see any really big digital pushes until it’s proven itself financially, and even then, physical comics aren’t going away for the reasons laid out in the article.

    Online content isn’t as viable as real world content yet- the only people making money off of it are the people selling the devices like Ipad, so that’s why the frame it all as revolutionary.

  19. I think the death of comics and books is too premature – the dearth might be another matter. I enjoyed comics and books so much that I opened a store years ago, but I saw some of the magic disappear as comics looked more mass produced than ever, losing the passion of the writer and illustrator that put them together for enjoyment in the first place. Now the pricing has knocked out those who actually found pleasure, leaving the collector wannabes, jacking up the price of any possible chance of capturing our youth. The iPad is giving another opportunity to go beyond the no-story glossies, to a truly interactive iComic, that gets the reader involved in the story, because of the writing and the beautiful art, and interactive links to continue the process – will comics and books disappear – probably, but not because of the iPad or any gadget of it’s kind – it will be a more self-inflicted wound, but that’s been going on for decades (including the actions of the dealers, the shows, and the distributors with this value collectible mentality squeezing the last bit of joy out of an amazing iconic culture, that through it’s own dearth, is leading to it’s death! And I will admit I downloaded a couple comics on my ipad – and I haven’t purchased a comic in years – there is hope!

  20. Good write up. My only quibble…

    “Yes, audio books require either a cassette or CD player, but those were devices that most people already owned.”

    Actually Audio Books have not *required* cassette or disk for many years via popular sites such as, Audible.com, et. As an avid audio book listener, who does not own an iPod / iPad, I can testify that playing them on a computer (which is a staple in most homes) is just a click of a mouse.

    But I’m splitting hairs of course, because the guts of the article is about changing technology — which I understand Johnson’s point. I just thought the “cassettes” phrase was reaching back a bit much. Hahah!

  21. My response to Jimmie’s comment below about me saying people needed cassette players etc for audio book. I was trying to put it into the context of when audio books were first launched you did need a device to listen to them. Same for digital book – in order to enjoy them you need the device. And you still need something to allow you to listen to the audio book – a computer or an iPd or some other MP3 device.

    My only quibble…

    “Yes, audio books require either a cassette or CD player, but those were devices that most people already owned.”

    “Actually Audio Books have not *required* cassette or disk for many years via popular sites such as, Audible.com, et”

  22. The number of pages in an issue will no longer need to be, say, 32 pages. Could be 33 pages, or 44. Or 12 pages, since there is no printing or folding or stitching.

    The number of pages in a single “issue” will still be limited by the artist’s speed. Cash flow has been cited as one of the major reasons Marvel continues to produce monthly comics instead of producing OGNs. Combine those two factors; the result is a change in format and some change in prices, but not a substantial change in the amount of content per unit.

    Perhaps decompressed storytelling in superhero stories is related to the format — it’s routinely referred to as “writing for the trades” — and there would be no reason to write decompressed stories if publication was purely digital. I’d welcome the demise of decompression.


  23. I do have an iPad, and I also create comics. I really agree that the iPhone just isn’t for comics. It breaks down the experience too much, at least for me.

    Even though a typical comic page is a little smaller on the iPad than in a printed book, it does look great. There has to be a way to capitalize on the device.

    Having said that, the close system that Apple wants to reside in isn’t really the best place for us to be. They are gatekeeping content and taking 30% of revenues from your app. That’s a *huge* bite. Sure e-books are cheaper for us to create but still – I don’t want to give Apple that chunk.

    But a web app for the tablet, that may be the place for us. You bypass all of Apple’s silliness (and in my view, some of their emerging evil-ness) and you still get to be on their device. Even better, you get to be on all the other tablets that are going to be flooding the market this year.

    Don’t forget that the Droid phone just outsold the iPhone for the first time. Apple has a jump in the tablet arena, but not like they did on the phone. And people are becoming wary of some of Apple’s tactics now. They aren’t going to be the only game in town.

    It’s going to be interesting, but it’s definitely an opportunity for us, and we need to go forth and grab it.

  24. If all yuo are going to use your iPad for is reading, it seems pretty expensive. Fortunately it does have a lot of other things on it. You can even blog from it.

    As for comics, I haven’t really found any on the iPad that I want to read. But it’s great for books. Especially if your physical shelves are already stuffed. that said, neither iBooks nor Kindle has a truly deep selection of books for sale in my experience.

  25. As a “child of the silver age” the appeal that digital holds for me is control over magnification and the convenience of buying comics while drinking a gin & grapefruit and sitting on my couch. Of course I’m happy to don the necessary comics reading eyewear for a magnificent specimen (behold Boilerplate!), but I sure would fancy one of them fancy iPads, a ton of comics and the time to read them.

  26. What will grow through the tablet device is readers’ exposure to graphic storytelling. Mainstream fiction readers who would never think to visit a comic book store will discover the joys of reading a story told in panel illustrations and bubble text. The hardcore will continue to covet the physical comic “book” but that is a small market compared to the millions and millions who have yet to be converted to experiencing narrative through comic storytelling conventions. And why worry about the ‘big guys figuring out how to bring creators in on profits’ when digital publishing levels the playing field between creators and publishers? It’s Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman and the next Frank Miller and the next Neil Gaiman who will draw readers to their stories, not a logo that reads Marvel or DC. Well, maybe the hardcore will still feel some allure for those imprints (and nostalgia for their library characters), but it seems to me it will be the original storyteller and artist who will rule this new land if they are willing to go it on their own and create content that connects directly with the reader.

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