Digital comics catching up to print
The popularization of tablets and an economic downturn have given digital comics a chance to thrive.
Wed, Jul 03 2013 at 10:58 AM
Comics must go digital in order to extend their reach beyond a niche market, and their transition is almost complete. On July 1, comiXology, the world's largest digital comics distributor, announced the arrival of subscriptions and bundles — a necessity for monthly readers or newcomers who want to catch up.
ComiXology is only one of many digital comics distributors, but it is by far the most varied and successful. In addition to carrying titles from superhero powerhouses Marvel and DC (including DC's more adult-oriented Vertigo label), comiXology has courted many small and indie publishers, including "Walking Dead" publisher IDW.
Subscriptions and bundles are relevant to a wider audience than just the hardcore comics crowd. Comics are monthly, serial affairs — which means that if you start on one and want to know the full story, you'll need to pick it up every month until the arc is complete. Allowing users to subscribe eliminates the hassle of checking the online store every week — especially since comics often get delayed or pushed ahead.
Bundles are important as well, especially for neophytes. Many comics have long histories — the continuity that "Captain America" started building in the 1940s is still relevant today, for example. Picking up a whole story arc at a discount is a cohesive way to ease into comics — especially since many comic-book movies are based on classic arcs.
At first, digital comics were a tough sell because the concept of reading them on a computer generally lacked the charm and portability of a paper volume. Sellers like comiXology had tiny, inconsistent selections, and comic-book shops were still plentiful.
The rise of the smartphone and tablet, coupled with the e-book boom and the global recession that forced many comic stores to close, has given digital comics a unique chance to thrive. As comic-book stores closed their doors, readers turned to their mobile devices for their monthly fix.
For those who have never bought a digital comic, the process is comparable to buying an e-book. You'll need a device on which to read it. A computer will work just fine, although you may miss the feeling of holding a comic book in your hands. Create an account, and buy whatever comics you want to read.
A large tablet is the best substitute for paper comics, although even a 10-inch tablet does not quite capture the 12-inch diagonal most comics have. Smartphone readers are not entirely out of luck: comiXology lets users pinch to zoom in and out at will. A semianimated mode enlarges single panels to fit the whole screen, and scrolls through them like pages in a book. [Who Killed the E-Reader?]
Print comics are not going anywhere just yet, of course, especially because digital comics have had some trouble recreating the tight-knit atmosphere of comic-book shops and conventions, which also act as social hubs. Still, these environments can often feel as hostile to newcomers as they are familiar to fans.
Along with an iOS app upgrade that adds "fit-to-width" and "show two pages" functionalities, comiXology has added 14 major French comic publishers and French-language support for the app.
Subscriptions work for any comic, and comiXology has debuted 17 discounted bundles for fans of all stripes, including Marvel's "Infinity Gauntlet Trilogy" (the likely inspiration for the next "Avengers" film), a sampler of Joe Hill horror comics from IDW, and punk/sci-fi odyssey "Love and Rockets" from Fantagraphics.
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