It is coming. And nothing will be the same. At least for bloggers, who will not be able to speculate endlessly about Apple’s expected announcement of an iTablet-like device on Wednesday. The device — a larger, even more readable version of the existing iPhone technology — is expected to have huge ramifications for the print industry — Apple has supposedly already had talks with major publishers and periodicals, including HarperCollins:

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket… or perhaps on a tablet. It appears HarperCollins isn’t the only publishing company being associated with Apple’s upcoming tablet. A BusinessWeek report says that McGraw-Hill and Hachette Book Group are in talks with Apple to bring an assortment of textbooks and trade publications to the tablet in digital format. The availability of educational material could make the tablet a shoo-in for the education market.

John Wiley & Sons titles may also make an appearance as well. “We have had ongoing conversations with Apple about their interest in including educational content,” Peter Balis, director of digital content at Wiley, told BusinessWeek. “We will continue to support their efforts in whatever iteration it takes next week.”

Gizmodo has been following major media canoodling with the Tapplet for a while:

According to the Times (the LA one), the Times (the NY one) has been working on a tablet app in recent weeks. Also: Condé Nast basically admitted to the same in a press release. Familiar? Sure. But intriguing!

In September, we reported through two sources at the paper that the NYT had been approached by Apple to develop content of some sort for the tablet. As the paper of record, they’re the obvious choice for an inaugural app demo—remember the the wave of iPhone commercials, where the floating hands navigate to the NYT homepage?—and they already have tablet-appropriate software available for download. In that sense, the LAT report is just more corroboration; of the NYT’s involvement with Apple; of the tablet’s penchant for the written word; and obviously, of the tablet’s mere existence.

While the tablet could spell salvation for books and print, it may be problematic for some of the existing iPhone distributors, as one tech site points out:

# # Scrollmotion, the biggest current book contributor to the App Store, isn’t part of this deal and Apple is dealing directly with the publishers who are already signed up with Scrollmotion. The deals would cut Scrollmotion out of the loop or as one exec put it: “The smaller outfits are going to get screwed”. We’ve reached out to Scrollmotion for comment and will report back anything we hear. # Apple was looking for content to bring to the event — perhaps one example — but doesn’t expect to have large libraries of material in their book store until “mid 2010 at the very earliest”

How will this affect LongBox, Graphic.ly, comiXology, and other existing digital distributors? Big question. Also, the rumored price is $900, more than a Kindle and a Nook and an iPod touch put together — at that kind of price point, you aren’t going to see everyone on the subway fiddling with theirs any time soon.

It’s nearly certain that comics are going to be part of the initial launch promotion — with the Mayhem iTunes team-up, and Steve Ballmer’s graphic.ly shout out, comics content already has a high profile with the new devices. Will it be an agreement with one of the players we mentioned above? Or finally after all the years of speculation, is iTunes going to be the iTunes of comics????

Jim Shelley has a round-up of industry speculation at Bleeding Cool. Some more to think about as we wait for the Day That Media Was Saved.


  1. I think a $900 price tag will limit whatever effect this thing might have on the print media biz (comics included). Not that I claim any special knowledge.

  2. Okay… the price point may inhibit the general public.

    However, remember the lines for the original Apple iphone? This will probably be the same, to a lesser degree. It will sell. It’s sexy, it does things the iphone does, but better, and it will be an accessory.

    Once the islate hits and proves the concept, everyone else will race to play catch up. Tablets will become ubiquitous, just as touch screen keyless cell phones are common now. Meanwhile, everyone will be racing to provide content for tablets, and just as videotape companies pilfered catalogs for ANY movie during the early VHS boom, so too will lots of web content be repackaged for tablets.

    And for those outside NYC who think it’s crazy to take a laptop on a subway… I see it all the time, even in the Bronx. A tablet? No big deal.

    Here’s a prototype from Apple:

  3. “It is coming. And nothing will be the same.”

    Isn’t this the same thing Marvel and DC have been promising us for years?

  4. The price of the device will eventually come down.

    For the comic industry, I think the key will be the price point for a new comic. If I could pay $0.99 for a new (or even a month old) comic at iTunes, I might never buy a floppy pamphlet again, and I would certainly buy a lot more titles than I currently am. Surely comic book companies would make money at a $1 per issue if they did not have to incur printing costs, wouldn’t they? It would be the death knell of the direct market though, I would have to think.

  5. As Torsten notes the actual device itself is unimportant as it’s market-share will be neither here nor there because of price. What is important is the swift move by competitors to replicate the experience on cheaper equipment.

  6. I’m torn because I’d like to live tweet my opinions during the event for people who follow my blog and such, but on the flipside, y’know, live tweeting still seems sort of – I don’t know – MySpace 2010…

  7. Any media you can buy via iTunes is playable on any PC or Mac with the software itself being free, and as long as we’re talking about comics that aren’t designed with accelerometer or multi-touch mandatory interaction, there’s no reason to think Apple selling (non-motion) comics would be any different. I certainly hope there isn’t a swift move by anyone to compete on device-specific content.

  8. That said, a file format that supports independently developed players, encourages retail competition and empowers direct publisher and creator sales would be nice. :)

  9. For all those saying the price will prohibit the iTablet from taking off, remember that this is what everybody everywhere said about the iPod at the time. Pretty safe to say in hindsight that those predictions turned out to be entirely wrong.

    Admittedly, this is an entirely different economic environment than the one that launched the iPod, but the economy wasn’t all rosy and happy and peaches and cream for everyone in the days after 9/11 when the iPod was first launched.

  10. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it’s very unlikely you’ll ever see new comics from any major company for $1.00 on any regular, non-promotional basis. Creative is by far the largest expense in DC/Marvel comics, not printing or distribution.

    I’m also skeptical about the tablet, just because I don’t really see what ELSE it will do, besides display comics, better than other devices already on the market. I have a feeling the distribution of books & comics through iTunes, or however it works, might end up being the more important component of this announcement. But Apple has definitely surprised me before, and if this thing looks, feels, and works well enough, who knows?

  11. Um, I know this whole tablet thing is supposed to be big news but is it troubling to think that the great Apple is so willing to throw the small ebook developers under the bus. Aren’t they the ones who worked hard to put the ebooks out there to make the iTunes App store what it is today? If I was a app developer, I would really think twice about developing for the iPhone now especially since Apple is just going to steal your business right from under your nose. GREAT! I guess Microsoft doesn’t seem like such a bad guy now.

    Long live GOOGLE!!

  12. What Mr. Moore says. Everyone in tech & gadgets blogs seems to be twisting their hands in greed nowadays, planning the tons and tons of things they will be able to do with this thing.

    Now, if it is indeed a tablet as the ones already in the market -ie a netbook without physical keyboard- I don’t see its killer function. eBook/eComic reader? Have these people tried to read on a screen for long periods of time? It gets extremely tiring. I’ll wait for a color Kindle or something like that.As a netbook substitute, I can see it working, but not being a real game changer: the MacOsX/iPhone bag of tricks would make it a very pleasant computer experience, sure, but nothing new; nothing to spend 2-3 times what you would spend in a netbook. As a movie player… what’s so special about tablets? I’ve been playing movies/games in my laptop in long bus rides forever and it’s great entertainment, but frankly, I wouldn’t pay that cash for a portable player, since when I’m at home I still prefer to watch my old, 18-inch tv at two step distance.

    Now, Apple might surpries us with something completely new which makes tons of sense, either vastly improving an existing machine or merging several ones into one does-it-all-does-it-better, or really producing an ultracheap, sexy and light tablet-to-end-all-tablets. In any of those cases I will gladly eat my words and start saving money. But for every tremendous success Apple has had in the past… well, they are still trying to make a significative dent in Wintel dominance in the PC market they basically created. So, I hope they do have something worthwhile prepared, but I’m expecting something just for the tech-savy, design-oriented, rich people.

  13. Creative is by far the largest expense in DC/Marvel comics, not printing or distribution.

    That might have to change, if the comics companies want the readership to expand significantly. Back on January 7, Julie commented:

    But that’s not really how “prose publishers” work, especially for new authors. The advance is not intended to be a “living wage”; it’s an advance payment on the estimated royalties, based on the book’s expected sales. For a genre novel, such as science fiction or fantasy, the advance will almost certainly not be enough to live on while writing the next book (the average advance for a newer SF/F author is about $5-10K, even less for a first novel). Unless you are already famous for some other reason, or are Stephenie Meyer, making a living off of prose fiction generally requires building up a backlist of books that have steady sales, and thus bring in a steady stream of royalties. While you are building up that backlist, you need a day job, or a fat saving account.

    Page rates and up-front payment are a legacy of comic’s history as work for hire. As more traditional book publishers get into graphic novels, it’s not likely that they will embrace the idea.

    What is the price point at which too many people will find the 23 pages of story paper comic book too expensive to buy? A price of $3.99 isn’t far from it. I wouldn’t pay $4.99 for any 23-POS comic book.

    What would be a fair price for a new digital 23-POS comic book? The marginal cost of the unit is practically zero, of course. The creators deserve to be compensated for their efforts, but producing artwork isn’t intrinsically superior to producing prose, music, or other forms of entertainment. Comic book publishers will want to keep producing monthly serials for the sake of their cash flow, but individual customers won’t want to pay “n” for the sake of the publisher’s business model.

    The date at which the 23-POS paper comic book or minor variations on it becomes economically obsolete is in the foreseeable future.


  14. Can’t wait to test out the drawing apps on this. Maybe it can replace the Cintiq as well. Although what kind of case cover will this tablet require?

  15. Longboxes will be much lighter. Bye, bye comic book store. Bye, bye old book bins.

    Print resolution is much sharper on paper than it will be on screen, but I doubt most people will care.

  16. Wait, are you saying that the Apple Tablet debut has to include a comics app because — Microsoft’s last-minute last-ditch attempt at creating a crappy tablet included a comics app demo?

    Do you really think Apple is busy chasing Microsoft’s tail here?

    I suppose there’s a chance that you’ll see a comic reader up on stage tomorrow. But it’s not a given. Comics are a small industry with smaller profit margins. We, as comics fans, would LOVE to see comics get a better distribution platform. Apple, as publishing fans, need to concentrate on magazines and newspapers and items with higher circulations that Marvel/DC books that have two or three books that can barely hit 100,000 on the best of months. Most are probably closer to 20,000, and that’s the Top Sellers.

    Comics will adopt the Tablet. But I’m not so sure that the Tablet gives a damn about comics just yet.

  17. I think some people are being extremely short-sighted here—this isn’t a platform for just books and comics. Apple is in talk w/ TV networks and filmmakers, too. Games can be played on this thing. Newspapers and magazines will now have a new way to reach readers. The potentials are endless.

    And if someone develops a drawing/sketching app for it, all the better!

    Apple’s product may not end up being the be all/end all, but I’m willing to bet something close to it will be, and it will revolutionize print and motion media the way the iPod revolutionized the music industry.

  18. Think using the app store to sell subscriptions to periodicals and you’ll see one of the many reasons this is a game changer. To understand the iSlate’s potential you have to see it as the premiere delivery device for app store and iTunes content.

  19. Stuart Moore said: “it’s very unlikely you’ll ever see new comics from any major company for $1.00 on any regular, non-promotional basis. Creative is by far the largest expense in DC/Marvel comics, not printing or distribution.”

    If e-comics wind up with circulations comparable to the current pitiful sales at Marvel and DC, you’re probably right. But if there are, say 500,000 customers for the electronic editions of the latest Spider-man or Batman, then the cost analysis changes. If the Majors are smart, they will do their best to offer new comics at FAR less than the current sticker-shocking price of $2.95. Because Joe Average ain’t gonna go for that.

  20. “Creative is by far the largest expense in DC/Marvel comics, not printing or distribution.”

    Adding up average penciler, writer, inker and letterer comes to about 18k for the average mainstream superhero book, $20k at the outside.

    Your standard retailer/distribution/creator split is 40/20/40, Marvel most likely has a better deal then that, but let’s just go with that for now.

    Thor sells about 75k a month at $4 a pop. That’s $300k.

    -40% for the retailer. ($120k)
    -20% for the Distributor($60k)
    Marvel’s take for a single issue of Thor = approx. $120,000

    I’d venture a guess that Marvel has a higher expense in the creation of that product then the 1/6 that goes to the creative team.

    I’d picture the tablet releases as supplementary to the printed versions, at least for the immediate future at a cost of zilch. The only reason they would charge more then a buck for a digital version is because they’re Marvel and they can command it, not because it’s so expensive to create.

  21. Cheese, a sound analysis, but most mainstream comics sell WAY less than 75,000. WE’d need JJM to tell us the median sales (I don’t have the maths) but it’s half that.

  22. AH-HAH! I got the 75k from your very own website!


    25. THOR
    11/07 Thor #4 – 106,541
    11/08 —
    12/08 Thor #12 – 73,784 ( -6.2%)
    01/09 —
    02/09 Thor #600 – 96,718 (+31.1%)
    03/09 —
    04/09 Thor #601 – 82,742 (-14.5%)
    05/09 —
    06/09 Thor #602 – 69,568 (-15.3%)
    07/09 —
    08/09 —
    09/09 Thor #603 – 65,265 ( -6.2%)
    10/09 —
    11/09 Finale – 53,566 (-17.9%)
    6 mnth ( — )
    1 year ( — )
    2 year (-49.7%)

    Which come to an average of 73.5k a month, I rounded up for conversation’s sake.

  23. Yes but Thor is #25 out of 300 titles. It is far from the median which I think is more meaningful here.

  24. Another thing to consider, Cheese, is that Marvel also gets ADVERTISING DOLLARS.
    If half of the book is filled with ads. Say only 10 ads per comic…at around $1,000/full page ad….that’s an extra $10k/book.

    From talking to writers at Marvel…I know they average about $150/page.
    I can’t speak for other artists…but in 2001 I made $700/page for my run on Spider-Man.

    I figure with colorists and letterers and such (plus factor in overhead for editors and whatnot) you could round up the per page rate to $1,000?

    So each book would cost $22k to produce.

    Hope that helps.

  25. I will agree to $22k.

    And yeah, for any book selling less then 50k, that $22k becomes substantial.

    I don’t think Marvel will charge 2 bucks because it’s what they need to charge to make a profit, but rather they will charge 2 bucks because they can. Which hey, more power to them.

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