Holding on to Digital


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Now that Marvel’s arrived on the iPhone, what can small press do to hold on to its presence?

Okay, 2009 is in the history books so I thought I’d go over the recent developments in what has been the biggest successful venture for me this year - getting my comics on the iPhone.

In a year during which the direct market was closing itself even further to small press comics and I couldn’t even get my Adrenaline tpb distributed to stores, the iPhone platform arrived just in time. It created a way to reach not only the readers who could no longer find our comics in stores, but those who might not ever have gone into a comic book shop in the first place.

I consider myself lucky to have joined comiXology* this past year. David Steinberger, its creator, came up to my table this past summer at the San Diego Comic-Con. He explained to me the new comics reading app he created, Comics by comiXology**. I had already tried getting some of my comics on the iPhone with very little success. Turns out, I was with the wrong company.

Since joining comiXology*, I’ve been able to make all my comics available with very little trouble and their Comics app** has become by far the most popular comic store app, having been in the top 25 apps in the app store since their release in July and currently at #7.

I don’t know if I’d call that a booming market, but the numbers are there and projections look good. It’s certainly enough to give small press a gleaming ray of hope. But that’s not all. This market’s potential has recently enticed Marvel Comics to the party (sorry U.S. only for now).

They arrived unannounced. One morning I woke up to find my iPod touch giving me a push notification that Captain America #1 was now available for download through my comiXology App. I opened it, half expecting to be greeted by an image of Cap punching out Hitler. But alas, it was the 2001 relaunch by Brubacker and Epting. And it wasn’t just Captain America - there were a number of different titles available, and they’ve been growing each week since.

So for those of us in small press who had been enjoying a room of our own during the few months that these apps were getting off the ground, that time had past. The question, though, is whether Marvel’s arrival to the iPhone game a good thing or bad thing for smaller publishers.

My take on it is that in the long run, it will be a good thing if 3 things happen:

1. The media and attention that Marvel brings with it needs to not only bring in new readers, but those new readers need to stick around long enough to be willing to try out new titles.

There is evidence that this is happening. When Marvel showed up in October, it gave Comics by comiXology a big boost in downloads. But if you look at today’s top in App downloads, Marvel is represented, of course, but not dominating. Robert Kirman’s books, most notably Walking Dead, are often in there, and at one point (after Marvel’s arrival) the small press company Th3rd World Studios had 3 of the top 10 spots with its title The Stuff of Legend.


2. These digital platforms like Comics by comiXology need to maintain a level of equality. Because of the advantages of nearly unlimited space and organizational capabilities, there’s no reason to impose a hierarchy between publishers. I suppose there was an excuse for this in the distributors’ catalog and on retailers’ shelves because their space could be easily taken over by large crossovers and multiple spin-off titles.

But with digital, there’s no reason for a large company to be more prominent than a smaller one, even if there are 20,000 comics in one publisher’s section and only 1 in the other. They still should be listed equally as publishers.

3. And most importantly, creators and small publishers need to continue to lead the way in experimenting with new comics that take advantage of the new platforms and ways to read comics. Of course an interesting story blended with appealing artwork is still the priority, but we need to keep in mind how people are reading these comics, help them enjoy the reading experience, and make them want to come back for more.

In next week’s column, I’ll get into this last topic some more, profiling some of the indie comics that have been created with such a way that their digital platform delivers and displays them to their best advantage.

I’ll see you then.


Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2010 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com

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  • Anthony_Z

    Anthony_Z Jan 11, 2010 at 10:37pm

    For me, part of the charm of comixology is also the price point of digital comics. In Australia it would cost around the $7 mark for say, a $3.50 Image title. I can get that same book on comixology for $2 Australian. It's encouraging me to grab small press titles which otherwise might be too expensive for me to justify spending the money on when I'm in my LCS.

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