If the iPod changed the music industry, what will the iPad do to the comics industry?
At the Grammys this past Sunday evening, Neil Portnow, the Academy President and CEO, delivered some interesting and important words. Before the amassed crowd of celebrities, recording artists, and self-important rich people, Neil said words that hit this comic lover right in the bread basket.
“Now, what if someone told you they really appreciated your work but didn’t think they should have to pay you for it anymore. What would you do? How would you pay your bills, support your family? How would you survive?
This evening, you’ve seen performances by the most successful artists today. And you know about their generosity and giving back. But standing right behind them are thousands of unknown and up-and-coming music makers who face the question of survival every day. In the coming decade, unless they can make a living at their craft, the quality and creativity of the music will be at risk.
Well tonight, we’re all fans and music lovers who want to ensure that the future of music is a bright one. New technologies will bring music whenever and wherever you want it.”
The “up-and-coming” musicians he speaks of… the thousands upon thousands of twenty and thirty somethings working night after night in dingy clubs playing for measly covers? It got me thinking… are are they any different than the twenty and thirty somethings slaving over their computers and drawing boards, putting out small press and indie comics? Nope. And just as the indie bands’ survival is questioned based on the continuing movement to an all digital format… so too we must ask about the future of our medium.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Comic books are a specialty medium. The big boys like Marvel and DC are backed by big corporations, being fueled by multi-million dollar summer blockbusters, Saturday morning cartoon shows, and merchandising deals that keep the chinese children working 60 hour work weeks. And all this is topped by an actual comic book distribution system that leaves little ground for small publishers to stand on. Artist alleys at the local cons are the closest indie creators get to distribution of their wares, unless they can move thousands of books via pre-orders in ‘Previews’. And unless you last name rhymes with ‘Mirkman’… fat chance that’s happening. Suffice to say, the little guy has long had the deck stacked against them when it came to getting their books out to fans.
The solution? The digital age harkens! All this time, whilst we pumped our iPods full of our tunage, we’d been without a hip and trendy device with which to enjoy our clobberin’ codices of four-colored combat! The iPod screen? Tiny! The iPhone/iPod Touch? Minuscule. The Kindle? Bigger yes, but available only in “indie palate” Black and White. And just as all hope is lost… Steve Jobs comes back down from the mountain, with his newest gadget… the iPad (and yeah, we covered this pretty darn well). So, with the iPad large and ‘purty’ enough to showcase our graphic media, what does the future hold?
As we know, Marvel presently offers a subscription service. 5 bucks a month gains you access to a web only portal to enjoy some 5000+ books from the House of Ideas. DC, Image, and the other larger presses have yet to move towards the digital format, but how far off can we be, when the iPad hits shelves faster than Taylor Swift changes fresh-faced boyfriends? Nay sayers (ok, my roomate, Kyle Gnepper of Unshaven Comics) are quick to say that digital comics don’t offer the same satisfaction as the printed page. But digital only version of media (see iTunes for example) tend to be a more cost effective solution to the physical product. Digital distribution also eliminated the middle man (hence the lessened cost)… but in this case, would that lead to your local comic shop having to board up?
Let us also consider the publishers themselves. Why print a title that’s failing to sell well on the shelves, when you could simply produce it as online only content? Could comics see revenue streams from online advertisers in digital comics? If developers can block against piracy (via authentication on iTunes, for example) will comic books be sold as single unit downloads, or podcast style paid-subscriptions? And for the small publisher, will it make more sense to digitally distribute your new book on the iPad, or will it be worth it to use the smaller press print-on-demand services that are slowly popping up? The future it would seem, is open to speculation.
So, let’s open the floor up to you folks out there. How interested are you in digital comics for portable tablet devices? If there are those out there who don’t buy paper comics, would digital comics be more desirable to read? What distribution would work best for you… subscriptions or single issue downloads? And would you opt to stay on paper books, to support your local comic shop? And what of the creators out there? Is there any opinion about seeing your work never hit the fibers of paper… only the glint of pixelated screens? Consider this an ongoing discussion.