A Comixology State of Mind


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I think we’ve reached the point where we can all agree that putting comics on the iPhone is not big news anymore. Not that this has stopped the press releases from coming in, or in the case of Tyrese Gibson, claiming in a recent interview that his new comic Mayhem is “the first ever digital comic book [on iTunes] in the history of comic books.”

But for the rest of us who’ve been more aware of the progression of digital and phone comics for quite a while now (I think it’ll be a year next month from when my comic first went up on the iPhone), the question is no longer whether this technological advancement is possible, but whether or not it with ever be accepted as a viable way for people to buy and read comics on a consistent basis. And by this I don’t mean the only way, but a way.

And this is an issue that I’m concerned with both as a publisher and a fan. There’s no question that this would be a great way for me to sell my comics and make them available to a larger audience, but as a long time reader myself, I’ve maintained a healthy amount of skepticism to making the switch to digital.

However, just recently I’ve taken two big steps towards the digital age. I’ve joined up with a new platform for the iPhone, the Comixology Comics application, and, almost in celebration of this, I’ve bought myself an iPod touch so that I can finally read some of these comics.

What I like about the Comixology app is that it understands that the biggest challenge to winning people over is to change their mind set about what it means to read comics on their phone. It’s not just a neat thing to try, but a great way to get their comic fix. It does this by providing one application to be downloaded onto the iPhone or iPod touch rather than the original method where each individual comic was it’s own application. Then once a person has the app, it’s much easier to organize, browse, and download all the comics available on it.

The Comixology app is very much a combination of a digital store and a personal comic organizer. Since I’ve gotten the app on my iPod, I’ve found it easy to both search for new comics as well as organize the ones I have by title, creator, publisher, or rating, all done automatically by the touch of a button.

The only real hurdle of having everything contained in one application is that it makes it a little more difficult to get new users on board. And by this, I do me a “little” more difficult, but when it comes to getting people to try new things, sometimes it doesn’t take much.

As an example, in the past if I were talking with someone who had an iPhone, I used to just be able to take their phone and in about 30 seconds I could have my comic downloaded on it just like that; no cost to them or any need to join any comic service.

Now, it’s a little more complicated. A new user would need to purchase the Comixology Comics App at 99 cents, not a big cost but still a decision. They would then need to create a login name and password and provide an email. They don’t have to provide financial information because all transactions are done through iTunes, and presumably they already have an account there. All in all, this isn’t much but it’s a few more steps that make it more difficult to convince a new reader to try a comic on their phone.

But like I said, this is going to be a hurdle that needs to be crossed anyway. As much as I like the idea of exposing new people who have iPhones to comics they wouldn’t have read otherwise, it still comes down to the decision of whether this is something they want to do on a regular basis. And if so, the one singular application is the best way to go about it.

The other great thing about the app is that it provides a number of free comics on it (66 at the time of this writing), usually first issues or previews. This is a perfect way to try out new titles that you might not have ever read or even heard about. Additionally, if the free first issue isn’t enough, it’s still a very small investment to try another issue or two, usually 99 cents each.

What I’ve been doing is trying out pretty much everything that’s free. Then, if I like a series and it’s only about 3 or 4 issues, I’ll get the full set for my phone, sometimes costing me less than $3 for a full graphic novel length story, like Smoke by Alex de Campi and Igor Kordey.

If the series is longer than say 5 issues, I’d just prefer to go get the trade as reading on paper makes for a nicer experience, and easier on the eyes for those extended reads. But that’s just me. I could see different people adopting different preferences, coming up with different situations for when it’s best to read a comic on the iPhone, as a printed comic, or in trade.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that there are other comic applications that work basically the same, I haven’t found any that have as good of a comic selection as Comixology, but they’re out there. Also, one area where I think this needs to grow is to be available on more wireless devices than just the iPhone and iPod touch. Apple certainly knows what they’re doing when it comes to creating a positive user experience, but I think it would be best for the market if other devices were able to work their way in.

Either way, this is a trend that warrants continued observation and discussion. I’ll be sure to keep you informed on my experiences here.


Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2009 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com

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