Tag Archive for digital distribution

I Want My Comics To Do This

Check out this Sports Illustrated example of what a magazine could look like on a tablet computer like the rumored Apple tablet/Slate/iPad/├╝bergadget:

I would love to have a platform like this to work with comics. Not necessarily as a replacement for floppies, but imagine the extras you can pack in to a graphic novel, comics anthology, or even a complete set (or subset) of a given publisher’s weekly comics. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Animated sequences or alternate paths/endings (think Choose Your Own Adventure)
  • Swipe-through pin-up galleries (with more pin-ups)
  • Bring back the letters page with more complete fan-generated content like videos
  • Bonus content such as creator profiles with video and/or audio & photos
  • Bonus story content like character profiles, references to previous issues, histories, games, etc.
  • Behind-the-scenes content such as pencils, inks, and other “process” features
  • Dynamic layout control (think different ways to lead a reader’s eye through the story)
  • Zoomable panels/pages for “hidden” content, such as clues, gags, or Easter eggs
  • Moveable POVs and changing perspectives within a panel (including using this as a method to lead the reader through the story)
  • Word balloon and caption toggling (instant silent comic, whether for the story or to savor the artwork)
  • Grabbing pages, panels, splashes, etc., as screensavers and wallpapers for the reader device or other devices owned by the reader
  • Premium editions that might be ad-free, or feature separate bonus content

Whatever the final content included, the key is the publishers and creators are no longer limited to page counts and printing costs, and in many cases, margins won’t be sacrificed to distributors and to shipping costs. Instead, more of the start-up money goes where it belongs: into content creation. Under the traditional publishing model, the creators get a small slice of the pie, which is a shame given the content they create is what generates the sales in the first place.

As for distributing this new content, there are plenty of options. Guys like Robot Comics are already doing exciting things on the small-screen digital market, but a “full-size”, dedicated e-reader opens up many more possibilities. Content subscriptions could be pushed out just as magazines and newspapers are with the Kindle. Intermediaries like iVerse and comiXology can handle indirect distribution, and larger publishers can probably host items directly (not to mention make use of the iPhone App Store, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble’s online store).

Where does that leave comic shops, you ask? I hear you, I’d hate to see my favorite shops like Amazing Fantasy, Graham Crackers, Darktower, and Comix Connection take a nosedive, too.

For starters, they’ve got a while before they have to sweat because print’s probably not going anywhere any time soon. Despite the success of the Kindle and the sudden proliferation of e-readers, we’re not seeing any decrease in the appearance of print books, are we? Digital distribution may finally have put a dent in music CD sales, but we’re certainly not seeing empty CD racks at Best Buy and Borders. Retailers still sell the hell out of DVDs, and while most games are available digitally, we’re not seeing the game shops in a panic yet. There’s also no reason the shops couldn’t help distribute the digital content, just like Barnes & Nobel plans to do with the Nook at its brick & mortar stores.

Even if digital distribution did put a major dent in the print sales, there’s still going to be a niche market for print (think of all the people still seeking out 8 tracks, and the recent resurgence in vinyl interest). Purists will pay a premium for print, and this is where your signed, limited editions come in. Include color plates, hand-written material, and so on, and you’ve got a product fans will seek. An increase in margin would help offset the loss in volume, and still bring people in for the rest of the stuff.

Which brings us to the next item: merchandising. Fans are going to need a place to pick up t-shirts, action figures, and other tchotchkes the content tends to generate.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the cultural connection. The best comic shops have a reason for people to show up there and talk comics, including signings and special events like 24 Hour Comics Day. They host gaming tournaments, or they play host to podcasters and media folks like Darktower hosts the Around Comics guys. The cooler publishers and creators will play it smart, using comic shops to host launch parties and similar celebrations, simultaneously pleasing their fans and supporting the shops.

Is it all that easy? Hell, I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here, but it would be a shame to have these shiny new toys and still see publishers just handing us the same static content and 22-page story fragments.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Creators Breaking Tradition

I think Nine Inch Nails is a perfect example of what can be done when creators break the traditional distribution models.

When their contract with their label ended, they went digital, offering both physical CDs and MP3 downloads unencumbered by DRM and copy protection schemes. Now you can download their latest album for free (in multiple formats!), they take advantage of online tools, they designed their own iPhone app, created virtual reality games for their fans, and yet they’re still turning a profit.

Here’s a great quote from the iPhone app article:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think music should be free,” Reznor says. “But the climate is such that it’s impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we’ve tried to do has been from the point of view of, ‘What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?’ Now let’s work back from that. Let’s find a way for that to make sense and monetize it.”

Reznor knows the music is his bread and butter, that if he doesn’t turn a profit somehow he couldn’t afford to keep pushing out music like he does. Yet he understands that the digital market and the Interent completely changes things. How is it the distributors — the record labels, the publishers, the movie studios — are having so much trouble figuring this out? The music, books and movies — the creators’ properties — are their bread and butter, yet they guard the end product more jealously than the creators themselves.

Sure, Metallica sued Napster. The creators don’t all get it. Iron Maiden, on the other hand, encourage their fans to record their shows and share the recordings with as many of their friends as they can. Iron Maiden knows it’s all about earning mindshare, about earning those ears and eyeballs, to build success. Radiohead played with a digital distribution model as well, and despite mixed results, they saw 1.2 million downloads and the physical CD still debuted at number one on US and UK charts.

In the publishing world, I again mention Cory Doctorow. It blows me away that he can give away all of his books for free in every digital format you can imagine, yet his sales are still strong enough that Tor Books is willing to publish his work in hardcover. This runs counterintuitive to most publishers’ ways of thinking where it’s assumed that if someone can get a book for free, it will be detrimental to sales. Instead, it appears that the increased mindshare actually results in more word of mouth and, in turn, more sales (or at least downloads don’t negatively affect profit).

I recently learned Wil Wheaton’s latest book is available through Lulu, a print on demand service, in both digital and paperback formats. While POD and self publishing have been acceptable in the comics realm for some time, it’s generally frowned upon in the prose world. I’m curious to see how his numbers are looking.

The big question, of course, is how these guys are able to pull it off.

Something they all have in common is trust. They’ve built relationships with their fans over a long period of time, and they earned their ears and eyeballs long before they went digital. They already had fans lined up and eager to get their hands on their new creations. (Incidentally, it’s a good example of the 1000 True Fans theory.)

So where does that leave the rest of us?

Good question. These are interesting times to be a creator.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.