Can iPhone Comic Viewing Apps Bring In New Readers?
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not a huge collector of comics. Sure, I have a small stash of ElfQuest comics somewhere in storage, and a handful of graphic novels, but I have never been a comic shop regular. It’s not that I don’t like comics when I read them, it’s just that I never got into the habit of going to a comic shop every week. In fact, until the past eight to ten years or so, the majority of my comic shop experiences involved getting sneered at by total strangers who thought I didn’t belong there. Things have gotten much better since comics have gone mainstream with major motion pictures and the like, but I still feel a little apprehensive about entering a shop. Sort of the way someone inexperienced with fine wine feels the first time they go to an upscale wine shop. I know I am not the only person who experiences this comic shop anxiety.
This, along with my iPhone obsession (sadly, I am not yet an iPad owner), makes me the perfect candidate for comic reading apps. I can browse titles, check out reviews online, make a purchase, and read the material without ever having to set foot in a shop. However, when I first began looking for a comic reading app, I was a little overwhelmed by all of the choices available. I decided I should take it upon myself to do a little research, but to pare down the possibilities, I first set some parameters for selecting reading apps. Since I didn’t know whether I would like the format, I decided that I would only download and try free applications. I generally follow this rule when downloading any applications I haven’t already tried, as there isn’t a refund if you don’t like what you get. Secondly, I decided that any reader which required me to download comics to my computer and transfer them to my phone in a different file format (ie. apps that convert different files into a readable comic) would be way too much work for the casual comics reader. Therefore, only applications where I could download and read the comic right there made any sense.
Once I had downloaded the applications, I spent some time happily hunting for comics to read on my iPhone, so the first function I had the opportunity to test was maneuverability. This was when i noticed that Marvel and ComiXology’s readers had the same format as each other, and IDW had the same format as iVerse. I found the Marvel/ComiXology format to be counter-intuitive and clunky. I was able to find books I wanted to view, but it wasn’t easy, and browsing was slow-going. While it seemed like the ComiXology reader had a large number of titles and publishers available, which was good, the amount of time it took for the app to finish loading all of the possibilities was maddening, especially when the page would auto-scroll back up every few seconds as more things loaded. I found the searching format for iVerse and IDW to make much more sense, and was able to quickly find and download the comics I wanted from those readers. I was only able to download one comic from the Marvel app before getting stuck on a loop of “cannot reach server” and then i was prompted to go create a username and password (I assume because the second comic I wanted to download may have been rated for a certain age group). I’m not keen on having to sign up for things through my phone. Most people aren’t.
Once I had downloaded comics, I noticed the difference in how my comics were presented. The Marvel app actually differed a little from ComiXology on this one. I was hoping for a nice, clean listing so that I could view what I had at a glance. Marvel had way too much unnecessary information, such as a button to buy a print copy of the comic (why, when I have just gotten the digital version?). ComiXology’s reader had a much cleaner view of downloaded comics, and a color-scheme that is much easier on the eyes than the harsh contrast of Marvel’s application. Still, these two had nothing on the awesome shelf view feature of the IDW and iVerse apps. While list view was also available, being able to view my comics on a virtual shelf was far more appealing. I could browse and select in the same manner I would if I had physical copies at home. The list view is also extremely clean, and is alphabetized to boot. I do like iVerse’s background better, since it is a solid slate blue instead of a wallpapered logo, but they are functionally equal for viewing what you’ve downloaded.
So, I finally had my digital comics. Time to read! Both Marvel and ComiXology’s apps had a goofy and somewhat condescending mini-comic to teach you how to turn the pages and view the book. They mention briefly that this can be changed in the settings, but the default manner is extremely limiting. If you have ever seen a wide-screen film and then gone home and watched the pan-and-scan version, that it what the default reader settings are like. They pan from piece to piece – not usually showing you an entire panel, but just a portion, then expanding to the rest of the panel when you touch to continue. This disrupts the natural flow of reading a comic, and you actually have to find the settings (and wait for them to load) to select the option of seeing the full page all at once. I did not like this format. Alternately, the IDW and iVerse readers show you the covers (including alternates) and the full pages. You have the option of zooming in or out and scrolling around by touch in the vertical position, or turning your iPhone (or iPod Touch, or iPad) horizontally for an actually, non-panned panel-to-panel view. It’s pretty awesome!
I did do some looking around on message boards and forums to see what other people were saying about these apps, and it seemed pretty clear to me that there are a variety of opinions out there where comic reading applications are concerned, but as someone who previously did not read comics regularly because the trip to the shop wasn’t always convenient or welcoming, I have to say that I am pleased as punch to be able to download comics directly to my iPhone for reading! I am glad to have found two applications that are intuitive and well-organized, and I plan to keep the iVerse reader as my primary and probably drop the others. I can definitely see how this kind of accessibility has the potential to bring in new readers, since there are still people who love comics but don’t want to go into a comic shop for whatever reason. Well, all of you closet geeks, soccer moms, and super-busy people – you can finally have your comics and read them, too.