Would an Apple tablet boost digital comics?

There has been rumors for several months (if not years) that Apple, Inc will release a tablet computer. While the rumor swirls, Chicago Sun-Times technology writer Andy Ihnatko points to certain “evidences” that the rumor might be true and that such a tablet would be a boon for digital comics.

Someone certainly has to. Digital distribution of comics is nearly nonexistent. Comics publishers have made attempts to move into this market, but with the same floundering lack of thought and cohesion that marked the music industry’s digital initiatives back in 2002. Individual labels had each come up with their own half-baked, useless, and mutually-incompatible systems for selling digital music, which only benefited the far more sophisticated, unified, and practical systems for downloading music illegally.

So Apple did the humane thing. Just like the British (back in the glory days), they declared the music industry a society in chaos incapable of self-rule: they annexed the digital music industry and founded the iTunes Store.

11 thoughts on “Would an Apple tablet boost digital comics?

  1. I love that this post follows one that talks about the free fall of circulation for newspapers.

    The only thing I don’t want to see disappear is the “free model” of distribution. Without advertisers paying the freight comic strip artists will not have a viable option for getting their content to market and making a living from it.

    I was intrigued by the “1000 true fans” concept presented by Howard Taylor at the Success in Comics Seminar, but as a viable business model for everyone…I’m not convinced yet.

    BTW if your interested in the future of digital media platforms check out this link to Universal Display’s web site. They produce OLED’s They are currently developing many useful technologies one which includes a digital “newspaper” that can be rolled like paper. They call it FOLED, Flexible OLED’s.

    FYI I don’t have any connection to the company It’s just REALLY cool.


  2. I’m not sure this will do for digital comics what Itunes did for digital music.

    The music industry stepped in regards to digital music because they were tired of sites like Napster giving it away for free. So they came up with a good system.

    As far as digital comics go. Big companies like Marvel and DC are just breaking into the digital comics field. It is basically in its infancy.

    Any other comic on the web, you can pretty much find for free. So besides the mainstream publishers trying to setup a pricing setup for digital comics, who does this benefit?

  3. You’d be hard-pressed to find a music-industry expert–and I’ve talked to execs, agents and musicians–who thinks iTunes has saved the music biz. According to a recent piece in the New York Times, record biz revenues are down to 50% of 1990 levels and show no sign of improving. Probably the biggest reason is that the biz has regressed financially from album-oriented sales, where you had to buy a 14-track CD to get the one or two songs you really wanted, to singles. The MP3 is the new 45. People buy à la carte now…and there are still lots of pirates. (Although, to be fair to digital downloaders, I remember spending entire weekends “pirating” (taping) records by my dormmates in college.)

    The trouble with Howard Taylor’s argument for his 1000 true fans model is that no one model works for more than one cartoonist. Every career is different; every career changes throughout a lifetime, buffeted by changes in tastes and technology.

    Personally, I think the Tablet will be super awesome and cool and can’t wait to get one. But I don’t see how a different gadget will solve the problem that currently exists–no one knows how to monetize digital comics. Whether you read them on a fat old desktop computer or a sleek new Tablet, that won’t change.

    The solution is going to have to be media and advertising based. The delivery device doesn’t make a difference.

    The Big Problem, of course, is that neither advertisers nor media giants give a damn about cartoonists getting paid. As long as they’re willing to work for little or nothing, cartoonists will get screwed. And that won’t change until they get organized–which, I admit, is really really hard to imagine happening.

  4. “The delivery device doesnâ??t make a difference.”

    Disagree. You’ve asserted that newsprint is superior to digital because it’s portable. Now we’re seeing an avalanche of portable devices for digital that includes phones, e-readers, netbooks, and now the Apple tablet and the inevitable copycats. Portability solves a major delivery issue that can’t help but improve distribution. But yeah, the payment model still needs work.

  5. Look. It’s more than all of this…there are three ingredients to any revolution. Look at the Penny Dreadfuls in 1800s London and the comic book in 1930s America as examples. I’m teaching a sequential arts class here at SCAD in Savannah GA (scad.edu) this term and have been doing a lot of research.

    The elements are technology (got it with desktop publishing and now Internet distribution), burgeoning content (boy, do we have that) and societal need. Oops. There’s the missing element. People don’t have a NEED yet. I think it’s coming, but it’s not here yet.

    With the Dreadfuls, they filled the commuter’s time (cheaply) on the railroad platform; with comics, they filled a need during the depression and WWII of a society knocked off its feet. And the tipping point models NEVER work until everyone is included.

    We need to pay attention to what people want. There is SO MUCH media today and so many companies trying to serve it up…but when and where and to whom?

    Online? A tablet? Not until people below the poverty have access will you have the kind of numbers of readers necessary to make an industry-wide change.

  6. “Not until people below the poverty have access will you have the kind of numbers of readers necessary to make an industry-wide change.”

    A number of years ago, I stumbled across this news piece from the moment when radio went from a nerd hobby to a mass medium. Sarnoff recognized what Michael notes above, and he managed to institute a system that worked. (It should be noted that the BBC managed to make the other system work, and rather well.)

    Here’s what the good general had to say:

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