Hints and whispers staring Wednesday night, and confirmations yesterday have culminated in the actual announcement of Marvel's iPad/iPhone app.
The app will launch with 500 stories (issues?) from various points in Marvel's catalog, with some as recent as Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four run, as well as Astonishing X-Men, which has been available on other digital services for some time, and presumably more archive material. Including Hickman's work is a certainly a step closer to getting new comics on the device, but they don't seem ready to cannibalize their issue market just yet.
The app itself is free, and available from the iTunes app store. Single comics, and I assume they mean issues, will be priced at $1.99, and the catalog will be expanding weekly. For the time being, Marvel will be offering certain #1 issues for free download, including New Avengers, Captain America, Invincible Iron Man, Thor, and the all ages friendly Super Hero Squad.
So unlike the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, which is a subscription model, and requires an active web connection, this app features downloads, that are a proprietary format, only readable in this reader, obvisouly eschewing a universal file format that would make something like an mp3 possible for comics. It's a strategy we saw with the music industry, with negative results, but then Marvel has a lot more footing in comics than any single music entity did. While I think it would be better for the whole industry to adopt a single marketplace and file format style, this was mostly expected.
I see no problem with the $1.99 price point. Would I like them cheaper? Of course, but since new comics cost $3.99, I can't argue with a 50% price reduction. Granted, it will be interesting to see what the average consumer actually does with this option. Until Marvel offers new comics on the same day as comic shop release, I think we'll be seeing a lot of resistance from vocal people on the internet. The real story will be to see how it expands, but I can guarantee you that if this is successful, we'll be closer to getting new comics than not. The used and back issue market isn't really an apt comparison, because this is the publisher itself, which has no need to mark down archive material when it's as valuable as ever to someone who wants to read it. They've also got to keep in mind the direct market who would be none too happy with direct competition at a 50% discount. But then, they're so dependent on Marvel, for the most part, that they might have no choice.
On the other hand, Marvel has also licensed a lot of this material out to other companies, so there will be some overlap. Will the material available on Marvel's app be different than the material on Panelfly? Is this the ComiXology app, or will they have a seperate one, and will that include Marvel material? It's also important to remember that there are plenty of other successful and profitable comic book companies out there other than Marvel. IDW has their own app, and opening that varied content up to a larger audience can only help them. There's no rule stating that Marvel will necessarily stay the big dog forever, as impossible as the notion may sound now.
As far as the device goes, the iPad might seem like the only game in town now, but it won't be forever, and the price will drop, and then we'll see what happens. It could remain dominant and ubiquitous, like the iPod before it though, and stay the main game in town.
There are a lot of questions to be answered, and we're entering a very exciting time in the development of the comic industry. The good news is, if you like paper, don't worry, that's not changing for now. I don't understand why the fans of paper would be against others having more format options, but I've seen it. If you don't like it, don't buy it, and do what you've always done.
For another prespective, you can check out BoingBoing's review of the Marvel iPad app. Hint: they still don't like DRM. Big surprise.