Friday, January 29, 2010

Apple's iPad: The Game Changer?

Apple iPadHear any big, geeky news lately?

Remember when Brian Bendis said the Internet would "crack in half" over the surprises in Marvel's House of M mini-series? Well, finally, that prediction has come true.

Yesterday, (either good or evil, depending on your view of things) overlord Steve Jobs unveiled the much anticipated Apple tablet. Er, I mean, iPad. And, just in case Apple was worried about others not giving this new piece of technology the proper amount of hype, Apple itself is calling the iPad a "magical and revolutionary" product.

And I guess, if you think about the world just five years ago...the iPad is pretty revolutionary. If you think of the world 20 years ago, the iPad is pretty magical. Whenever I use my iPhone (which is pretty much three-quarters of always), I can't help but think that making a flying car would be simpler than figuring out how to make the phone work.

It's incredible that the technology exists for such a device, and I think the iPad is Step One in taking the smart phone and the laptop to a whole new level. Between smart phones (not sure if that's one word, or two, actually) and paper-thin laptops and touch screen capabilities, the stuff that's out there makes most of the tech in the Batcave anachronistic in comparison.
Detective ComicsAnd, I have to say. I'm pretty excited by the announcement, and I want one. Now.

For you see, I've converted to the Cult of Mac over the past year or so, and while the transition was a slow one, I'm glad I've made the switch. I have a Mac Air laptop and an iPhone, and I love them both as if they were my children. Meanwhile, my clunky little Dell PC sitting on my desk at home manages to annoy me every day of my life.

So, yeah, when Apple unveils the new shiny, I'm usually pretty jazzed.

And the iPad is definitely new and shiny. There are a few questions I have about the product, and I really need to research it (and possibly wait until the first wave is out and an updated OS ships by next year) before taking the plunge.

That, and my inclination to believe that all machinery is inherently evil will add at least a month or two to my waiting time. What can I say...I've seen Terminator one too many times.
Superman ComputerAnyworlddomination, I want to eliminate my desktop PC completely, if I can, and I think the iPad might just push me in that direction. Like I said, I need to read up on the device, and I need to have a hands-on run of it in-store when it ships.

But for now, there's nothing but speculation and pointless reviews online about a product we won't actually see until March, and I'd like to chime in. I don't have much else to do today, and I like jumping on bandwagons, so I figured this would be a fun, easy post.

Then I started to really think about the potential ramifications that the release of the iPad might have on the comics industry, and I realized that whole "easy" part will have to be thrown out the window.

But I'll get to that in a minute.

I think the iPad will do a couple of things, and their impact will be felt immediately. First, digital readers are going to get punched in the face. Kindle and nook do not offer full color on their screens, so right off the bat the iPad has a major advantage when it comes to downloading magazines and newspapers directly onto the device.

Second, since almost every promotional image I've seen of the iPad has featured the front page of the New York Times to show what it can do, I'd say the potential for newspapers is great.

Third, netbooks are going to start looking a lot like laser discs. For just about a hundred bucks more than the average netbook out there, one can buy an iPad and use it for a great many things that are not at all possible on a netbook.

To me, those are the most obvious effects this new reader/netbook/phone/word processor/video player/iTunes-enabled device will have. The less obvious affects will come into play in the comics industry--and I don't think Apple really cares about the comics industry all that much.

There's been a lot of talk on comics podcasts and Web sites about how the reader will change comics, since its screen is perfect comics-reading size and it provides incredibly high quality images.

Personally, I am amazingly conflicted when it comes to this subject. I don't like digital readers, but I get them. I understand the need/want for them, and I completely agree with many of the arguments for devices like Kindle and nook.

They save space and the downloads cost less than the physical book.

Still, I'm a paper man. It (was) my business for the better part of the last four years, and I was a victim of the shift to digital. The publishing industry as a whole is at a crossroads--mostly because people in the industry were at the very same crossroads five or six years ago, but simply didn't want to face the facts.

I love actually owning, and holding, and reading books. And I hope that generations to come won't be robbed of the experience a reader has with a novel or a comic book. There's something special and warm and fuzzy about re-reading a dog-earred copy of one's favorite book, and to lose that feeling would be tragic.

All this, of course, is not to mention the impact that might be had on brick-and-mortar comics shops.
Midtown Comics
[Photo:, Secret Lives of Comic Store Employees]

But the future is knocking on the present's door, and it's time for the publishing industry (comics, especially) to get up off the couch and see who's there.

So, to make sure I get to all of my points on this thing, here's a list of questions I have about the effects this new reader might have on comics.

1. Will all the publishers create product for the device?
2. If and when publishers fall in line, what will their price point be for single issues? For collected editions?
3. How will this affect indy comics?
4. What about Diamond?
5. And, seriously, what about comics shops???
6. How about the collector's market? How will shrinking production numbers of actual paper product affect collectibility?

Those are the biggest questions I have about the iPad and comics. Obviously, I don't know the answers to all of them, but I have an opinion on each. So, okay, let's take these one at a time.

1. Will all the publishers create product for the device?

While DC is staying mum on the subject for the moment, Marvel is not. According to comments made by a Marvel executive yesterday...they will not be rushing into production of iBook-enabled product. Check out the following interview, from Newsarama, then come on back.

Don't let Marvel fool you, folks.

I think it's safe to say that every comics retailer in America shuddered yesterday when Steve Jobs was demonstrating the iPad. And Marvel knows they need to assuage the fears of retailers. Now, I've heard some very good arguments on podcasts about how Marvel and DC should embrace this new media, and if they don't, it'll mean sure death in the market.

And I think Marvel and DC both know that. But, since the device isn't even street ready for 60 days, I think the two biggest comics companies are playing it cool for the time being.

I'd bet the house that there is going to be product from both companies on the reader very soon. Personally, I think the only question will be if they have both single issues and collected editions up for sale.

Which leads me to...

2. If and when publishers fall in line, what will their price point be for single issues? For collected editions?

Here's the rub. Price point is the one, key issue that will either make or break the iPad as a viable comics reader. A single issue, one time download (not a PDF that can be saved forever on the device) simply cannot cost more than $1.00. If the price point creeps any higher than that...what's the point? If the floppies sell for $1.00 a download, the upside for readers is enormous.

Think about it. The same stories, for cheaper, and without the hassle of storage.

But if the downloads go for the same price as a floppy, then I don't see the point in not buying the physical product.

3. How will this affect indy comics?

This is the comics contingent with the most to gain from the iPad, I think. A while back, Diamond (the comics industry's biggest, and really, only, distributor) announced that, for a book to be included in their catalogue, it must sell a certain number of copies.

This new mandate led to many indy comics creators and self publishers pulling out of store distribution. Why? Because they simply couldn't sustain the numbers that Diamond was demanding.

This was a huge blow to indy comics, and many, many talented people were left scratching their heads as to how to get their product out to others. Because digital readers make printing physical copies wholly unnecessary (and therefore eliminate a huge portion of the overhead for making comics), the iPad may be just the thing to boost indy comics sales again.

4. What about Diamond?

As much as I'd like to say, "what goes around, comes around," in this instance I really can't. Diamond is big and lumbering, and I think they'll live without the inclusion of the indy books. So small press creators shouldn't run through the streets of Maryland throwing I told ya so's at Diamond's offices.

What Diamond can't sustain, however, is if the Big Boys head to the digital aisle in full force.

If comics go mostly (or even partially) digital for good, then Diamond has a major problem on its hands. Sure, they'll still sell hardcovers and statues and toys, but, if the industry paradigm shifts too far, where exactly will they be selling this stuff to?

5. And, seriously, what about comics shops???

Ah, yes. For any who feel that digital comics distribution is a victimless crime, may I turn your attention to your local comics shop and the nice folks who run it? What in the world are they going to do if comics go digital?

Can they sell digital product in their stores? Can record shops sell digital music in theirs? Yeah. I see Bad Things on the horizon for comics shops.


6. How about the collector's market? How will shrinking production numbers of actual paper product affect collectibility?

Marvel and DC comics sell in the tens of thousands. Not a huge number, but high enough so that modern issues are virtually worthless. There's plenty of supply to meet demand. However, think about what could happen if there are many, many fewer physical, paper comic books being produced.

Take the following as an example.

Let's say that Marvel moves 60,000 units of New Avengers digitally for a dollar, and only manages to sell 10,000 actual books, priced at $3.99. What, then, would that do to the collector's market?

In this example, five, ten years down the road, there will be a tiny number of paper comics available to the secondary market. Many fewer copies of these comics will be in existence than even some of the rare Silver Age titles that today go for exorbitant prices.

Will the paper products be worth more? And will comics shops be able to survive dealing only in the back issue market?

Jeez. I dunno.

I do know that many stores are ordering many fewer copies of floppies and trades and statues and, well, pretty much everything, as the market currently stands today. Digital comics in a hip and cool distribution method mean that new readers--in stores, I mean--will be non existent.

New readers, in general, will most certainly go up. People download stupid, useless Apps to their iPods because they're "cool." They'll do the same with comics, I guarantee you that.

So, in conclusion (since I'm getting dizzy), I'll leave you with this. The comics industry may have finally found a way to introduce new readers--new, younger readers--to their characters. Actually, they didn't find it--it kinda just dropped in their lap.

But how will they react? Will DC run from the new technology? Will companies like IDW and Dark Horse lead the revolution? Will the small press become the Next Big Thing? Will digital comics on the iPad change absolutely everything, or will you and I still spend our Wednesday afternoons hanging out at the counter of our favorite comics shop?

We'll see.

For now, I'm interested in your take on the matter. Because Thanos knows I've been talking for WAY too long.


Scott said...

I have to disagree with respect to netbooks.

Netbooks have a number of advantages: they can run Windows, which means instant access to a huge library of programs. They have USB ports and memory card slots, which means access to external storage and the ability to transfer pictures from cameras. The USB ports also allow you to plug in various peripherals, such as a full-size keyboard, a web camera, a mouse, a CD drive -- anything you would use with a PC.

The biggest dealbreaker with the iPad for me is that it's essentially a large iPod Touch. I don't even like the iPod Touch.. What's worse is that it's the same cost as a netbook, but slower, with fewer programs, and a complete inability to multitask. After that is the fact that there's no tactile keyboard; I can type almost 110 wpm regularly and there's no way I'd be able to do anything close to that tapping on glass. Even just tapping out things on my iPod Touch made my fingertips hurt.

The Kindle is actually probably better for newspapers; they don't really need color and the Kindle has a much, much longer battery life than the iPad.

Frankly, if I were going to spend money on a touch-sensitive slate computer, I'd rather have a slate with Wacom technology; not only would I be able to use my fingers on it the same was as an iPad, but I could also use a pen with real levels of sensitivity to do artwork and photo retouching. Sure, it would be more expensive than the low-end iPad, but on the other hand, it would be a real computer.

But while I don't think the iPad will damage the netbook market, I do think it will be a great platform for things that you don't usually see on netbooks. Comics, like you said, will be great on the iPad. Books may or may not work out, depending on pricing and marketing; the Kindle is much more attractive with its long battery life, though the lack of a backlight for ePaper is a major dealbreaker for me.

Games would also be neat for the iPad; it's large enough that you could conceivably play some video games with a friend, perhaps using iPhones/iPod Touches as peripheral controllers. Ditto on board games. Imagine being able to save games of Settlers of Catan to resume in other places?

I wouldn't be surprised if Apple started putting in support for Apple TV too, so you could just watch stuff on your iPad directly from an Apple TV unit. They love to make all of their stuff work smoothly together.

One thing that does disappoint me about the iPad is their book display interface; they stole it from a third-party developer that they've awarded in the past. It's a pretty brazen move and definitely beneath them. On top of that, I always favored Cover Flow over any type of bookshelf facsimile display...

If I had money to blow, an iPad would be neat, but for now, I'm more than satisfied with "just" a laptop.

AJG said...

The whole USB question is one that I'm not sure of, either. That said, I'm looking for something in addition to my laptop, so the iPad might be just the thing.

Honestly, I have my laptop for work and I have a fairly strict no Internet policy with it. It's of course Internet enabled, and I do use it sometimes to check mail, post here, and things like that, but I use it basically as an extremely portable word processor, and just recently, as a video editor.

Expensive? Sure. Worth every penny? Absolutely. Because I use it for such a limited number of tasks, I hope to not have to replace it for many years. Not much that needs upgrading, you know?

Also, I did see that Apple will be offering a full size keyboard to go along with the iPad, and it'll be in the $60-$70 range. Still, that takes away from the portability of the device, so I don't see too many people using it regularly.

The more I'm thinking about it for me, I'm really liking the idea of the iPad. The comics-reading interface will be a big thing in my case.

So will the price of comics on the reader.

At the low end, I'd be looking at somewhere in $550 range for the iPad.

Let's say I buy 50 comics a month (At the moment I don't, but hopefully I will be, soon). Of those 50 books, if I read half of them online for cheaper, even say, 50% cheaper, the iPad pays for itself (in theory).

25 books at, say $3.50, comes to $87.50. Cut that in half (though I'm willing to bet that many of the available comics will be around $1.00, but let's go high with this) and you get a savings of $43.75 a month.

In a year, I'd save on comics the amount I'd spend on the iPad.

The question for me then becomes, do I want to drop half my books? I love my LCS and I hate the idea of taking away that much business.

Again, I think I just need to sit down with the reader and see if it's a good fit.

However you look at it, though, it's going to be incredibly interesting to see how the publishing world responds--especially comics.

And, yeah, Apple TV would rule.