Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Can Comics iApps Save Smaller Titles?

I’ve become a Marvel iApp junkie where every week I will load up the Free page and then just wait. It’s a crap shoot to see what comes up but nearly always I have been pleased with the results yielded from my diligence and patience. To be fair, I do this with all of the different ComiXology iApps available; the main one, the DC one, as well as the BOOM! one, but it’s Marvel who are using their App as the smartest marketing tool. Hit the jump to see why the Marvel iApp is the one you really need to keep your eye on.

Giving away free content, even digitally, is a scary prospect I’m sure for any of the publishers. It’s a risk that this free gateway hit will lure the people in for more, and they’ll pay for it next time. I see ice cream stores and bakeries often give away free stuff, but it’s usually in extremely small doses. Rarely do they give away a free cone or cheese roll and expect you to then hand over cash for more. But the digital market is all just a big gamble still, it’s uncharted territory, and so each publisher wants to see if the physics are any different.

I covered the whole Marvel iApp boom when it first launched so I won’t rehash any more of the whole market and I won’t bury the lead any further. I will simply state that Marvel has been using the iApp extremely well as of late. They’ve recently put up a few first issues of titles newly launched and already picked for possible failure. If anyone was going to buy the first issue they probably already did when the titles launched months ago and so giving it away for free now is done so under the hope that buyers will either love it and catch up on the 2-3 floppies that have come out since or they’ll eagerly wait for the trade. Either way, they’ll be dropping their money later if they like the free taste.

If you checked the Marvel iApp last week you should have seen the first issues for Black Widow and Young Allies. The week before they had Hawkeye and Mockingbird and Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine. These are titles that have launched to okay numbers, nothing setting the market alight, but all with creative teams that Marvel backs, if the public might not as strongly. By offering the first doses of these comics, Marvel are opening up the possibility that readers will be hooked up with a title they might love but weren’t sure they could take the plunge with at cost on launch. It’s a bold move and I think a really smart one.

I didn’t buy any of these titles when they came out. I’ll be honest, they all sounded interesting, and I came close on 2 of them but in the end I gave them all a skip due to budgetary reasons. Once free, I pounced on the titles. Why wouldn’t you download a title for free? Well, actually, I have skipped two titles that were on offer for free. One was Marvel Zombies 2, which I already own and knew I did not need (unlike, say, the FF issue where Jonathan Hickman started that I already owned but wanted to have on hand in case I needed to perform a spot conversion on the run), and the other was the first Old Man Logan issue that I simply could not even take, even for free. I read it once, lord let that be enough.

I have read 3 of the previously mentioned titles and I’ll probably pick up the trade on two of them. Black Widow was something I now wish I had bought and I will jump on when Duane Swierczynski comes on board, and reading the debut issue here by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna makes me realise I’ll probably like the arc. I also thought the first issue of Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine was insane quality by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert. It’s a great intro issue, simply fantastic, to be honest, so I’ll dig into the trade at some stage. I would have gotten in on the ground floor but the $3.99 price gouge kept me out, sadly. Hawkeye and Mockingbird was good, enjoyable, but not necessarily something I’ll chase up, and that’s fine with me. As for Young Allies, I’ll get to that issue soon enough. I’m not expecting massive things as it doesn’t sound like it’s for me at all, but I’m sure it’ll be good.

This week, I found 6 new comics available for free download. There's yet another Brubaker Captain America issue, putting the total to 4 free issues from that run so far, and there's also the first issues of Marvels, Venom: Dark Origin, Planet Hulk which are all smart moves to try and lure us in for the trades already available, or the rest of the digital issues available, but the best thing to see this week is the inclusion of the debut issue of the latest incarnation of Atlas. This is a series already cancelled, it didn't go well, so Marvel shows some extremely good will to give us the first issue free so maybe we'll catch up on the floppies and watch it end at issue 5, or perhaps we'll wait for the trade, but either way we'll know if we like the start. Doing it this way isn't goin to save the title, I dare say, but it's still nice, and by offering titles like Black Widow, that hasn't yet been cancelled (and I do sadly say yet), we might be able to pick up some more numbers through this free sample and then who knows what can happen from there? It's certainly worth the attempt.

I cannot applaud Marvel enough for doing this with their iApp. I doubt they’d be losing much money on the deal. People already passed on the issues on offer so dangling this for free months later is only going to lure in people. Sure, it might push away a few curious trade waiters but it seems like Marvel has picked these titles because they actually are good. The titles might not survive so the company is using another reseource to get them past the line. It’s a smart move. And it’s not their first.

So far, since the app launched in April, Marvel has offered over 50 free downloads that I have taken advantage of. Most of these are teaser issues, so it’s the intro of an arc or storyline, but they’re all complete and full issues and I read damn near all of them over time, and I always make sure to ear mark which storylines I will chase up later. And I will, I promise. I even check and usually the random issues offered are the first part of an arc that’s just been made available on the App. It’s a smart investment by Marvel to lure me in on stuff I either wasn’t sure of or I flat out hadn’t heard of yet. I can only imagine how many people they are reaching across the world right now, so that’s good business.

The amount of other comics available on the iApp is pretty impressive and I only hope that Marvel keeps on offering new tastes to lure readers in. I am sure there’d be plenty of readers who will take the free sample, read and enjoy it and then check the rest of the arc out and make some purchases. It’s bound to happen. I know I bought the Matt Fraction Invincible Iron Man Annual through the App because I wanted to see how it went and I was impressed. Sadly, I only have an iPhone but if I had an iPad I would most likely be all over a bunch of titles. They’re cheaper than the shelf price, usually cheaper than the trade, and some of them are being made available quite soon after hitting the shelves.

The Heroic Age mini series One Month To Live is being released in five instalments over five weeks and will be made available on the App a week after each issue hits shelves. That’s pretty smart as it’s cheaper for me on the App and I am interested. I may just put up some cash for this, maybe. See how the budget goes.

I want to see Marvel continue this, they could put up the first issue of Atlas (which was a great choice last week when I wrote this but then Marvel went and did it anyway, nice) for free, or S.W.O.R.D. or anything else they start to stock. It’s good business and I think the other companies can take note of this and follow suit.

The DC iApp is slowly coming along, as it launched a while after the Marvel one did, and it started with heaps of free Batman Black & White content and then sort of plateaued with a bunch of short origin tales. It added a bunch of Zuda first issues, which I liked because I could never get that site to run probably on my computer, and now I see that the first Grant Morrison JLA issue is up for free too. That’s the way to do it, give something decent, but not exactly a money earner on its own, away for free and you’ll lure in the readers and their fat cash.

DC did put out a SDCC Sampler that was 241 pages long and that was pretty damn cool. It had a bunch of premier issues of stuff that was mostly available free on their site already or had been a $1 intro rerelease anyway but the heart was in the thought. They wanted you to try a bunch of different stuff and I think that’s incredibly cool.

I think DC needs to keep up with this and keep up with Marvel. Put up the first issues of a few of the more recent titles, maybe Brightest Day or Paul Cornell’s Action Comics. I’d love to see Nick Spencer’s Jimmy Olsen back up made available here as I’d definitely buy it. Yes, definitely, no hesitation whatsoever. I also wish they’d put the first issue of Final Crisis as I’d love a sample to know whether I could really invest in that trade or not. There’s plenty of room for DC to really use this App to lure in a variety of readers.


I think the iApps are a great way to bring in more people. These single issues aren’t still money generators so why not give them away for free? I can only really see good coming from it and right now I am loving Marvel for their work in this field and I get the feeling that DC are slowly catching up on it all. BOOM! still has room to get in but I’m not sure how hard Image is trying to get in on a piece of this pie. All I really want, though, is for everyone who reads this article to keep their eyes on the Free pages of all these Apps because the free comics do get taken down so you have to strike while the iron is hot. You never know what you might get caught up on and then that title has one more number to keep it from cancellation. So, what sort of experiences have you all had with these iApps so far? Let us know in the comments.

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Ryan said...

Has anyone tried reading comics on the Iphone or Ipod Touch? I was thinking about getting a Touch but the screen is quite small compared to the Ipad. I can't make that plunge to the Ipad yet. Maybe in a year or so. I need a new mp3 player and it would be nice to have the Skype function on the Touch, but I'd love to read some comics on deployments and while traveling. Having all that on one device would be great. Lugging trades in my ruck is tiresome and inconvenient.

Scott said...

Agree 100%. The digital realm is a great place to push struggling new books, for two main reasons. First, it won't have a significant negative impact on retailer sales like a new issue of a high selling title would. Second, any additional revenue and/or exposure that could potentially allow a struggling series to be published for a few more issues is a good thing. It takes time for a series to find its stride and for readers to find it and any extention of its life is positive.

The Gaf said...

Another great post, man!

What would be also smart, would be if they would start to backlog complete titles as they sell out, or as they age-- or if thats not possible, for the many reasons they know that we don't, they should do what most of the new issues from Marvel do- have a one page synopsis of previous issues. Then readers could go through, say the last 10-15 issues, read the synopses, get caught up and jump into the new issue. With all the decompression nowadays, it would help reader to know some history about the title.

Personally, as time goes by, I see digital really taking over the space, and the comics publishers should do 1 of 2 things- print comics super-ultra cheaply, on the wackest paper stock around, and charge next to nothing for them- like ¢99. Or go back to more of a super-premium stock- like the old Baxters, for collectors and charge more. The one thing digital files won't do is satisfy collectors who like the tactile feel and like to trade titles. But with only 300k readers (really? where'd I hear that recently...) in the US, they need to find more ways to branch out...

Matt Duarte said...

Yeah, I noticed this morning that the first issue of Atlas is up for free now. Hope everyone checks it out.

@Ryan: I have an iPod Touch, and I have checked out several of the comics in there. They read pretty well for the most part some have small glitches, where you need to manually zoom in in order to read them. However, I would not recommend getting JUST to read comics, as I think you will be disappointed by the screen size. I would just wait for the next gen iPad, where prices will drop a bit, and the bigger screen size benefits the comics.

Eric Rupe said...

Unfortunately, iComics are just a gimmick at this point, especially on the iPad. The iPad is really just an expensive toy and because of that you aren't going to reach a mass audience and those you do reach will only be interested in the characters that are getting mainstream attention. Until a)tablet computers become more widespread and b)there is a format agnostic format is widely uses, digital comics are only going to be a gimmick.

Plus, there are other problems. One, converting curious readers into ongoing readers. Two, getting people in non-A list characters, Three, will publishers value digital sales anytime soon? If the rumors are true that Marvel canceled Captain Britain MI:13 even though it sold well overseas are true, then I doubt Marvel would care about digital sales.

So, in conclusion, digital comics could possibly be a great to save lower tier titles but not at the current time.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Ryan - I only have an iPhone and it's pretty cool for reading comics. Not perfect but damn fine, not to mention with that I can make calls, have music, and listen to podcasts, it is a pretty fine mini-entertainment device, plus the other apps you can download. If I travelled again I'd take just my phone with comics and books on it because walking around Europe with a few books in the bag is pretty rank most of the time.

@The Gaf - yeah, the top selling titles reach maybe a 100,000 people, so overall in comics I would not be surprised to see half a million max in real readers, which is scary.

@Eric, damn, way to bring things down, man, I'm trying to make this happen by talking about it like it's happening, a trick of the journalistic media, you know? Ha. But both DC and Marvel have said they're paying money to writers and artists for digital sales, though free downloads don't count towards that. However, if you don't think Marvel has a bean counter for how many free issues go out you're crazy. They know exactly what's going on and they have to to guage what's happening in this new medium. Will those numbers then affect sales, possibly doubtful, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a digital release of a new debut sometimes in the future as either free before the second issue lands, or only $1 online and then have them guage the sales of issue 2 just to see if it helps.

I think this is something we need to support as new titles aren't getting any love anywhere else.

Eric Rupe said...

Ryan - I agree that digital comics can do good things for lower tier comics. I completely agree about that but the iPhone/iPad isn't what's going to do it because they represent a niche audience. Sure, it's a rather large niche but still a niche none the less.

Personally, I HUGE booster of digital comics but I haven't bought any because all of the big formats are designed for Apple products that I'm not going to shell out the money for. And I'm sure there a lot of other people out there in similar situations. Digital comics on Apple's stuff is definitely raising awareness, which is very good, but I don't think we will see any kind of real benefits until they move onto other platforms as well.

Anonymous said...

other platforms?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Eric - yeah, I agree that the Apple market is still niche, but so's digital in and of itself. Not everyone has reliable net access, yet, so anything digital will only reach a certain portion, though that portion is still much lerger than the niche of comic readers anyway.

I also think there's yet to be the next step from iPhones/iPads and when it comes we'll be living the dream...maybe.

Anonymous said...

Comixology also has a web reader. It is

It works very well. Comixology is trying to get comics out to as many readers as possible. If you don't want an apple product try it on your lap top. I for one have an iPad and an iPod Touch and love what Comixology is doing. It is also very cool on the web.


Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Sean - when you download a comic on that site where does it save on your computer, and in what kind of format? Are the Marvel and DC apps/content available?

Damn, I really do love ComiXology!

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys - but I have a newbie question. It looks like DC titles are available on Comixology, but not all? Is that right?

Steven said...

The touchscreen tablet format is going to expand at an exponential rate. The Ipad was not the first on the market, just the first to catch the attention of the mainstream. Pretty much every significant tech company out there will be releasing these en masse in the next 12-24 months.

HP has three or four different tablets at stages ranging from being released before the end of the year to barely announced. They are doing a Windows 7 tablet, an Android tablet and a WebOS tablet at the least.

Touch Tablets will be ubiquitous within the next two years.

Matt Duarte said...

In regards to

You CAN see all of the comics offered by Comixology in your computer, with the exception of the Marvel titles. They are not downloaded to your computer (just saved to your account), so you need an internet access to read them. This works both for the free samples and paid comics. It's a bit buggy and slow, since it's still in Beta testing I think.

Anonymous said...

@Ryan K Lindsay tinworks like the iPad versions. It saves to their server. It is in the frormat that they have set up. Not a jpeg or the like. Anything that you buy on. Your iPad is available there and vice versa.

I love ComiXology also. I had the pleasure of working at their booth at C2E2 and got to know a couple of the guys very well. They truly care about comics in all forms and just want to get them out there to everybody.

Their website is still in the Beta phase. But they update it regularly. Marvel has not gone to this yet. I have heard that ComiXology may be making them their own dedicated site soon.


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