Check out this Sports Illustrated example of what a magazine could look like on a tablet computer like the rumored Apple tablet/Slate/iPad/übergadget:
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).
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.