What eBooks can learn from eComics

Digital publishing is changing the industry, from the author to the reader and everyone in between. The comic book industry is also turning digital. Now, I’ve been reading comic books since I was 8 years old, and I visit my local comic shop every week. Comics are as much a part of my personal reading as traditional prose is, so I’m very happy to see comics embracing new technology. But comics are facing many of the same problems the traditional book publishing world is dealing with, and more. For example, digital comics still have technical issues, with different apps providing different reading experiences with different ways of jumping from panel to panel, and still none of them can figure out how to satisfyingly reproduce a full-page spread.

However, I have also noticed some very positive trends in digital comic publishing.

(For those of you who are unaware of how comics are published: Comics are released every Wednesday. Hundreds of comics are released every week, and comic book stores display the new releases on the walls or on magazine racks. As the comic-book-buyer looks at the new releases, he or she grabs what they like – “pulling” it off the wall. New purchases have been lovingly nicknamed “pulls.” Comics are generally published serially, month to month. So Spider-Man Volume 1 will come out first week in January, and Volume 2 first week in February. Meanwhile, X-Men will come out on the second week of the month, and Captain America on the third, etc.)

I have said for the longest time that I refuse to buy an eReader until I get an ebook bundled with the purchase of a physical copy. (I simply prefer paper, and I don’t see myself buying a digital book and not wanting the physical copy on my bookshelf.) Marvel is going to start doing just that in January with their Ultimate line and several Graphic Novels.

Comixology, the leading digital comic retailer and online comic book resource, is utilizing what they call “digital storefronts,” so that the customers can buy digital comics though their local stores, and so continue to support them. The comics cost the same to the consumer, but the retailer is the specific shop – not Comixology.  Comixology also fully supports physical sales by linking your “pull list” – your picks for the week – with your local comic book shop, so that they hold them for you.

The incorporation of digital editions in the comic book world utilizes and embraces the brick-and-mortar, physical side of things.

I, for one, would like to see the traditional publishing world follow suit.

9 Responses to What eBooks can learn from eComics

  1. RamseyH says:

    It’s great that comics are doing this, but honestly this should have happened YEARS ago. They’re only now embracing the technology because they know it’s that or die. And they still have a long way to go toward making the whole experience user-friendly. Hopefully publishing won’t wait so long.

    • Morris says:

      The history of digital comics is really interesting.

      I remember reading Marvel Digital Comics online way back in…. could it have been 2005?
      It was certainly before anyone had heard of a Kindle.

      And the P2P networks have been loaded with comic scans for years. There are tons of digital comic book applications and programs out there that are really just dressed up .rar and .cbz readers.

      While widespread, official, app based digital comics are still relatively new, comics were digitized a long time ago.

  2. Back in the day I had a pull box at my local comic store. Man, I loved those comics. It’s been a while since I’ve been a monthly reader, but even now I try and stop by Kingdom Comics once or twice a year and pick up a bound collection of an X-Men storyline.

    Great that those comic publishers are embracing the digital age while recognizing that the comic store itself is a big part of that community.

    It makes me wonder, though, what might happen to the collector aspect of the book itself, and the value that holds, if one day the only way to buy a comic is digitally.

  3. Kaitlyne says:

    I love the idea of allowing small shops to sell digital copies. Mom and pop comic book stores are part of the experience, IMO, and I love a solution that allows them to still exist in the digital age.

  4. Sarah says:

    I agree with you about wanting the actual book on my shelf. There’s just something more satisfying about adding a newly completed novel to my collection. I don’t get that satisfaction with an e-book. I’ve been wanting them to bundle, as well.

    It makes so much more sense with comic books though, where the value of the actual book increases over time. With so many first editions of comics sold at auction, etc, how would they ever reproduce that in e-book form? It just wouldn’t be the same.

    I think a cool way to incorporate the two would be to use the QR codes. Put a QR code on the book (comic or traditional) that the cashier can only reveal when you buy it (kind of like the ink tags on clothing), then you can scan the code with your smartphone and add it to your e-collection as well.

  5. Lance Parkin says:

    Traditional comics are lucky that part of the experience is the fetishisation of the object – the going into the comic shop, the collecting, the back issue bins, the rare item, the bargain, the financial speculation.

    What I think the real battle with comics is, and has been for twenty five years now is ‘are comics books or are they magazines?’. DC start the 1980s as magazine publishers with an emphasis on monthly deadlines, trying to get a mass audience, characters and titles. Comics come out and then they go away. DC end the 1980s as book publishers, with an emphasis on creators, story arcs and backlist. Comics became chapters of books that would eventually be collected. Marvel were very slow to adapt to that model, and still aren’t brilliant at it.

    A lot of people at DC and Marvel see themselves as being in the magazine business, still, and e-comics encourage that. Volume and regularity of product, not quality or longevity. Stunt to sell comics this month, another stunt to sell comics next month. Most of the ‘bad’ decisions the comics industry have made make perfect sense if you see comics as ephemeral, monthly items.

    It’s very interesting to speculate about what e-comics will do to the market. Very telling, I think, that DC are coy about exactly how many ecomics they’re actually selling. In the end, the obvious, ‘magazine’ thing to do is put your entire back catalogue online. But that’s not art, that’s just scanning.

    And part of the point of the art of comics is the structure of the page, the decisions involved with panel sizes and relationships. In a world of zooming and panning and viewing single panels, comics are almost a different medium. At the very least, it’s the same level of difference between seeing a movie on a huge screen and seeing it at home on TV. These are different experiences.

    It’s very interesting to me that away from the comics companies, there’s been a huge boom in three panel comics on the internet. That may be one solution – the return of the newspaper strip, a few well-crafted panels every day. Free, supported by advertising, private commissions, merchandising and (for the success stories) book deals and movie rights. Where DC and Marvel fit into that isn’t obvious, yet.

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  8. Melany says:

    My co-op students from our high soochl are creating comics regarding their time at their placements, so if you could add scenes or objects from workplaces like hospitals, dental offices, accounting, architecture, automotive, fashion, just to name a few, that would be helpful. Also, they take the bus and subway, so transportation scenes would be great as well. Thanks

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