Monday, January 25, 2010

What the apple tablet means to a long time comic book reader.

Myriad people have commented on the apple tablet and how it could impact comic books as we know it today. Unfortunately, they tend to focus on the effect it will have on attracting new readers. Whereas this is important, I'm more interested in what it means to someone, like myself, who already reads a ton of comic books, both in single issues and collected editions. The apple tablet has the potential to affect the comic book medium in a drastic way.

1. Distribution. Distribution has always been a issue with the printed medium. Whether it is a paperboy delivering your newspaper to your driveway every morning, or if one has to go to a specialty shop every Wednesday to get a decent selection of content. In the comic book world, comic books are pretty much distributed by a single entity: Diamond Comics Distributers Inc. A monopoly is never good for innovation and price, and such is the case with comic books. Distribution could be completely opened up to each individual publisher, virtually leveling the playing field. For once, content could live and die by it's merit and marketing prowess.

2. Price. Over the past twenty years, the price of a comic book from a major publisher has increased 400% to 500%, way outpacing inflation. Like a lot of comic book readers, I would purchase more content if the prices were lower. With lower printing and distribution costs, publishers could potentially lower prices. Also, it would allow smaller publishers to set prices lower to compete or to get consumers to try their products.

3. Cost. Directly related to price, cost of production would potentially go way down. Most comic books have their post production done on a computer, anyway, so the material is already on the proper platform. Also, a single comic book page is about the same size as an apple tablet screen is purported to be, so very little digital manipulation would be required. No printing costs and no distribution costs is a win-win for everyone. Obviously, some material would make its way to print editions. Penny Arcade is a good example of a webcomic that has printed editions for those consumers who prefer to have a hard copy of the material.

Although the future looks bright, there are some potential dark spots. Unless Apple is planning on having a book store similar to their music store, the consumer is going to be left to choose from competing apps with a potentially endless variety of formats. Also, as a sufferer of eyestrain, a tablet computer with a backlit screen does not have the same appeal as an e-reader with digital paper. Experts tend to agree that staring at real paper is much less harmful to your eyes compared to staring at a computer screen for the same amount of time. Digital paper, the kind found on e-readers, is supposed to be much less stressful for your eyes. Lastly, and this one is a bit nit-picky, moving all my existing books and comic books is nowhere near as simple as importing all my CD's to my Ipod. Ideally, it would be preferable to have all my content in one place without the need to repurchase the material in a digital format.

All told, the next few days will, hopefully, shed some light on the subject and we'll be one step closer to the data crystal, holding the sum of all human knowledge, that fits in the palm of my hand. Oh yeah, and my flying car. Still waiting for that, as well.

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