Editorial: iPads Wont Sell Comics; Comics Will Sell iPads

This is a guest editorial from Micah Baldwin, CEO of Graphic.ly, the parent company of iFanboy. Micah's views do not necessarily reflect those of iFanboy, and I've always wanted to write a sentence like that.

As the hype around the release of the iPad grows to a deafening roar, there grows a similarly loud hope among the comic community that the iPad will "save" the comic industry.

It won’t.

The tablet form factor is compelling because it much more closely matches the reading experience and size of the standard comic book. It’s reasonable to believe that much like the Kindle with books, the ease of carrying dozens of comic books will create a resurgence in the purchase of comic books.

It won’t. Well, not as much as one might imagine.

While the form factor of the iPad is closer to the size of an actual comic book, and the screen is beautiful, it really doesn't add much to the experience of reading a comic book.

As we all know, there are two sides to the comic book experience: the art and the storytelling; and the sharing and discussion.

There is nothing different in reading a comic book on a iPad (other than the cool factor) than there is in reading a print copy. Nothing. In fact, any digital reader that provides just a page to page reading experience adds nothing to the experience of reading a comic.

Is that bad? Not at all. For many in the comic book community, there is a desire to just recreate the print experience digitally. For example, in Andy Ihnatko's review of the Marvel iPad app (built by my friends at Comixology) he writes "I am indeed one of those old-schoolers who favors simple one-page-at-a-time viewing. I’ve been put off by the phony razzle-dazzle of motion comics and many other digital comics readers."

But, in order for the iPad and other tablets to "save" the comic industry, they cannot just recreate the print experience. They must create an entirely new experience that leverages the format and the capabilities of digital to draw in new fans and enthusiasts.

The iPad won’t "save" the comic industry, creators will. Creators that are brave enough and creative enough to push the boundaries of what we believe a comic should be. Imagine the interactivity that digital provides. Imagine the ability to engage and interact with creators, characters or story lines while reading the comic.

Could a comic have unique story lines based on reader preferences? Yes. It’s easily done in the digital space.

Helping the creators will be our community. Comics are not read in a vacuum. One does not read a comic and put it away to never speak of it again. We talk about them, we share our thoughts on the story and the art. In droves, we attend comic cons, and in the tens of thousands we join online communities like iFanboy. Imagine the ability to not only experience a story in a completely new way, but also engage with that story and the people reading it, potentially in real time?

Cory Doctrow on BoingBoing writes that for digital comics to be successful they must NOT take the  "joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites." I couldn't agree more. Comics were made to share. New comic readers are born when someone shares the experience, not when they see a movie or buy a book. Digital can provide an easy platform for a shared experience.

I haven't bought an iPad yet. I will since I am an Apple fanboy. I will probably also buy an HP tablet and a DELL one (if they come out with it). I will see how creators take these new form factors and exploit them to tell their stories and share their art in ways that I cannot imagine.

The iPad will not sell comics. The iPad will not "save" the comic industry.

Creators will. We, the community, will. And I’m excited to be there when it happens.


  1. Maybe it’s because i’m young and I still love the hunt of back issues and reading the trades and single issues but i’ve got
    no interest in the iPad and especially comics on the ipad. It seems like reading comic
    on the computer or watching a motion comic…yea it’s an interesting gimmick but at the end of the day I want a single issue in my hand.

  2. I think as long as we have the current format of $3-4 single issues for 22 pages with 10 pages of ads we’ll never "save" the comic industry. But that’s one half of the problem.

    The other problem is shaking the idea that comics are for boys and nerdy men. 

  3. This is what I’ve saying everywhere. For digital comics to be successful, they have to be designed for the digital medium. I will again implore everyone to check out "pirated" reedits of Old Man Logan(google it). Specifically, the first three issues are the only truly digital comics I’ve seen.

  4. "Print is dead." —  Egon Spengler 

  5. Also, the idea of spending $500 just to spend more money to buy my comics seems ridiculous.

  6. @fnord

    True. So why stick to the limitations imposed by a dead medium? 

  7. The current distribution model is a shrinking market. Paper copies at $3.99 and an aging audience are killing the market.

    Digital distribution potentially opens it up to a world wide market not controlled by dark dingy back alley LCS’s.

    I agree that straight scans of the comics is just the bare minimum that they can do, but there is so much more that digital comics could do other than just save you storage space and portability.

    Image having the ability to take a page of a comic and drill down the layers to the original pencils or the inked version or the original script to better see the process. Digital would also allow for motion or sound effects or maybe a creators commentary on the issue. There are lots of ways to add special features to a digital comic that would distinguish it from the straight pirated scan of the issues.

  8. The space issue is glossed over too casually here. There is no discernible difference between listening to music on a CD or cassette than listening to it on an iPod — creatively, they are exactly the same. But you can carry tens of thousands of songs on your ipod, and the interface for finding individual songs or artists or albums is simple, as opposed to digging through a shelf full of music. Many people don’t want shelves full of comics, just like they don’t want a shelf full of CDs. 

    No, the iPad itself will not bring in new readers, but it will allow the industry to reach readers that otherwise wouldn’t sacrifice space in their apartments or houses for boxes and boxes of comics. 

  9. Micah Baldwin, 

    to tell you the truth, i’m proberly never going to read a post from the CEO of graphic.ly



  10. I’m always hesitant when I hear that ____ will save _____. That sort of statement smacks of hyberbole. However, I think this editorial is ignoring some of the key advantages of digital comics – convenience and cost. As I get older and have grown my family, it becomes increasingly difficult to have longboxes of paper issues stacked up all over the place. Having digital comics that I can store on a nice compact little reader solves that problem for me. 

    The cost savings are also a very real advantage of digital comics. $1.99 for a digital issue may seem steep, but for myself that could be a significant savings over time.  Each week I buy on average 6 issues, between $3-4 each. So over the course of the year I’m picking up ~312 issues. If they were all available digitally for $2 each, I’d be saving somewhere between $300-$600 annually.  That’s not chump change. (Of course, I’d probably end up just doubling up on the number of issues I buy, putting more dollars in the pockets of creators and publishers.)

    Convenience and cost may not be as sexy as motion effects or other new digital capabilities, but they are real and compelling differences that could help grow/sustain comic readership.

  11. BRA-f@cking-vo Mr. Baldwin!


    the  Tiki

  12. I agree with the title of the this post, but I don’t entirely agree with the content.  


    As far as the title goes, I bought an IPad partially because I wanted to carry around books and comics to read easilly.   I go to my LCS every week and spend a bunch of money on books, however I don’t like carrying my books around with me.  An Ipad gives me a chance to do that easilly.  On that note, I’m NOT going to re-buy the books I have just paid $4 an issue for so I get them from "other" sources to load onto my IPad.  So for me I won’t buy much that I don’t already own (except for a few cases where I just want to try something new that I didn’t buy/couldn’t find in my LCS).

    I was originally going to disagree with the idea that creators need to do something new, but after thinking about what I just wrote in the previous paragraph I guess I’m wrong.  The reason why I won’t buy comics on my IPad is that I already own the physical book, but if the creators DID do something new  then I might be willing to spend more money on an Ipad version.  If they do, will I still want to buy my physical copy though?

    Eventually I’m sure I’ll just stop buying physical books and move into buying digital only.  I guess time will tell.

  13. I’d love to see digital comics have some kind of extras, more then you could put in a printed book. Maybe like an audio commentary by the creative team. We’ve listened to a number of creators talk on various podcast to know some of them can be very lively and entertaining. So perhaps when you turn the page, at the bottom there can be a small audio button, you press that and you start hearing Bendis or JRJR talk about what brought on the idea on the page, perhaps look at this or that. Perhaps at the end of issues have small youtube videos of the artist drawing some pages. I don’t know, but little things that can only be done digitally. 

  14. And for the record, I don’t NEED those to go over to digital, I’d just like to see those things.

  15. When people cite the upfront cost of the iPad (or any other reader/tablet) as @mikeandzod21 did, I shake my head.

    The price of the reader I eventually buy really makes no difference to me in the long run. I’m old and thusly have realized that things eventually pay for themselves. Looking for long term value, as opposed to cheapness, is one of the things that comes with age, along with sagging bodies and white hair.

    An upfront cost doesn’t mean I’m never going to have a savings in my comics. Conversely it doesn’t mean I will either. The numbers speak for themselves though:

    If I spend an average $25.00 a week on comic books, I spend $1300 a year total on paper. I spend upwards of 4.25 and 4.75 an issue now on each book, assuming for a moment that comic books will cost half as much on a digital platform, the iPad pays for itself in about 12 months.

    From that point on I save either half my money or double the number of books I buy. Either way I win.

    Maybe *I’m* the one looking at it wrongly?

  16. @edward – I appreciate the civility of your comment. Im curious as to why. Thank you.

    @jurassicalien – exactly! or what about commentary from Christopher Nolan about what elements he used in the movies? That would be rad. Or the ability to remove the color and see the pencils beneath? Thats the kinda stuff that I am stoked to one day see.  

    I always find price point to be an interesting debate. We let the publishers and creators set the pricing of their books, and will help them do so via sales data, etc. Just like we give publishers and creators full control of where their content is viewed (ipad/ipod/iphone or desktop or both, for example).

    Most publishers make around (if everything falls in the right place) about $0.60 – $0.70 per book. With digital, at a $1.99 price point and a itunes-esque revenue split of 70/30, a publisher could make ~$1.40. Meaning creators can make more. So digital does bring the real value of getting more creators more money in their pockets, which should be positive.

    If digital doesnt bring new ways to enjoy the content (beyond motion comics, which I personally am luke warm on) and engage with the content (social features, creator involvement), then the benefit of a tablet has to be portability and reduced cost. Im hoping we benefit from all four: ease to carry, lower cost per book, new and exciting content and interesting ways to engage. 

  17. My iPad is a hell of a lot more things than a comic reader. If that was its only function, it certainly wouldn’t be worth the scratch.  Such is not the case. It’s a computer that does lots of things.

  18. Interesting post.  I generally agree.  Demand drives everything and content is king.  I don’t think the industry is going to magically change into a choose your own adventure (or video game style) storytelling method, it will just distribute its traditional output differently.

  19. One of things that I heard about through a world balloon interview, was Ben Templesmith’s idea of a commentary track for comic books in the digital format.  What a brilliant idea, now for me as a relatively  comic newbie hearing a creator explain why he did things or maybe explain the newbie dreaded continuity so we know where it all fits in sounds amazing.  Maybe you can do a pop up video type effect on these comics that explain things as well or how about sound effects heard through a headphone jack when you focus in on the specific cell in the comic.  We know that motion comics take away from the overall experience of reading the book, as it plays out like a movie instead of actually taking the time to read and enjoy the art of the work itself.  So, why not try to do some things that we can experience outside of the visual senses to make it an enriching experience.  The thing that this piece of technology could spread comics is an accurate one, but like the author stated I think it will only be if we extend what a comic means outside the typical boundries of the nine cell layout.   

  20. I think the iPad can be a great way to create a bunch of new readers. The Marvel App is one of the top rated apps on the ipad app store and I think a lot of non-comic readers will download the app on a whim and read their free comic that comes with it and be tempted to buy more comics. Most people such as my self don’t have a comic book store near them and will never discover comics unless a friend introduces them to comics. The iPad can be a great way for people to discover comics as long as the comic reading apps are featured and rated high.

  21. Another question is what about pre-existing collections? I have 35 longboxes. If I were to, say, buy an ipad, a) how much of my collection is even available or will be made available as a digital file, and b) will I have to double dip on them? Even at a reduced price point of something like $1.99 that still means if I want Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run on an iPad I will have paid about $5 an issue for a 30 plus issue run. At the end of the day, it still seems like a novelty for me. I have the Iverse app for my iPhone, but very seldom do I use it. I’m more inclined to grab a single issue off my stack of books than I am to open up the app. Of course I’m also one of those people who gets a perverse thrill out of backissue diving, especially these last few weeks.

  22. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @mike – No one HAS TO double dip on anything. You don’t have to choose one form factor and shun all others. 

  23. Each comics app should have a built in message board.  So I’m reading Amazing Spidey, and get to an "oh snap!" panel, I can select it, bring up a menu, go to the message board, and have the title filled in like "Amazing Spider #700, Page 7, Panel 3", and it has a picture of the panel.  When I’m done posting my message, it takes me right back to where I’m reading.

    That would be something only digital readers could do easily, and it could improve the community and sharing and discussion.

  24. And I’m still waiting for an app that let’s me buy comics, and download free comics from the web (like Josh’s Boston and Career Move), and sync or load saved digital comics in PDF or CBR form from my PC (like all the Heroes comics NBC released that I have…you know, from back when Heroes didn’t suck).  Any app that can do those three will get my dollar, as soon as the iPad is released here in Canada. =(

  25. Why are people so hung up on subscribing issues on the digital front? The whole idea of issues is so tied to the print medium. People should also realize we aren’t the target audience for the Marvel App. We are already buying issues, and as far as the price goes, trades online are still cheaper. There are quite a few business reasons right now that make it unfeasible for new issues to appear in the app. And in the end, you still have to turn your tablet for a spread, making the whole experience cumbersome.



    I think you are missing the point. I own a 3gs, so the wooshy wooshy fast apps do not impress me. The only value I see is as a comics reader and the price of entry is quite steep.

  26. @muddi900: Because until (when… if… hopefully) the comic market goes entirely to a trade format there will still be issues coming out and people want to read them digitally. A lot of people. I talked to a ton of them at Wonder Con.

  27. @muddi900 – Why isn’t it OK for me to just like it? If it’s not for you fine, but you’ve been on a weeks long crusade to convince people they don’t like it either.  I bought one. I was OK with the price, and I like it.  Sometimes that’s enough.

  28. @muddi900: While the wooshy wooshy apps may not impress you, there are things that the iPad can do that you can not do on your iPhone and I would say really wouldn’t want to do on your iPhone.  I would hate to try and type and document on an iPhone or use any of the "office" type products they are releasing.  I also think that if you limit yourself to just viewing it as a comic reader your kind of missing the boat on what a tablet PC is supposed to be.  While Apple is not the best at allowing all things on to their system, they know that if the audience demands it it will get there eventually.  For me, I think of it as the elimination of a portable DVD player as the HD Netflix streaming and downloadable content from iTunes makes it near not necessary.  The comics and the reader are an added bonus.  I can not wait to see the applications that a tablet PC could have in the classroom as a future teacher.    So don’t limit it to a giant iPhone think what it can do outside of the box instead of focusing on the negative side of things. 

  29. @ HBD – I hope I’m not violating any nondisclosure agreements or anything (if so, please delete this post), but Graphic.ly lets you add comments to the actual pages of comics that other readers can see (if they want to).  You can have that discussion right there on the page, rather than in a forum if you’d like.  Part of the community aspect that makes comics so much fun is built right into the application.

  30. Great article. I just gained a tremendous amount of respect for this guy. He’s a realist who knows what’s up.

    Kind of ironic that the article right after this on iFanboy mentions iPad sales and then insinuates that this means more comic buyers.

    Because, I mean, it’s not like putting mp3s on iTunes suddenly made music buyers out of people who didn’t buy much music anyway.

    Digital comics on the iPad (or anywhere else) should be looked at for what they are: another tool with which to read comics. If it’s a tool that works for someone, then great. But I can put mp3s on my cellphone if I want–but I don’t–because I don’t want to experience that medium that way.

    As far as the reading experience goes, I think the iPad IS somewhat different than reading an actual comic, though. There are positives and negatives. A positive is that printed comics are annoying to read if the pages are glossy and you’re in certain types of GLARING lighting situations. On the other hand, you’re not going to be able to read an iPad outside or in the sun all that well. The weight of the iPad is also many times the weight of a single issue comic–and that could be a problem. On the other hand, the weight of the iPad is less than the weight of a hardcover or a thick trade–so that’s a good thing.

    There’s gives and takes. There is no cure-all solution. Everybody just has to work out what makes the most sense for them. Although to spend hundreds of dollars for an iPad, all in the interest of saving a buck or two per issue, doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me. But that’s just me. The one refrain I keep going back to, however, is how digital comics could single-handedly kill 90% of comic shops within a few years, especially in this economy. I hope that doesn’t happen.

  31. My issues with buying an iPad for digital comics are about DRM. No one has figured this out. How do I know that if I buy it one day, Marvel won’t decide to take it away the next?

    I assume you have an account with the app so it knows which comics you bought if your iPad died. (Yes, Apple products do die.)

    As for what’s going to save comics is widening the audience. And I don’t know if an app for one of the major companies on a (so far) popular, but new technology is really a feasible "save." 

  32. I have to agree with the headline.

    If I had not already made a commitment to digital media, I probably would be going for a new laptop instead of an Ipad. I wont get both. I see this Ipad as a brand new type of device, and not a replacement for any particular one.Why it is not an out and out replacement for my laptop is the app and gaming aspect. Whenever I do any of that stuff, a full blown computer is what I will use (PC Games, Database apps, Etc.). Up until now, my laptop has been a cumbersome way to read digital comics. It is worth the money to me to be able to lay on my back and read what I want on a screen. 

    The Ipad will also be my "go to device" for my "holding pattern" activities during my life. At the Doctor’s office, DMV, or any place where I have to "wait", the Ipad will be what I use. Previously it has been a combination of my Ipod and my phone. Also. While it would be nice to have net connectivity everywhere, what I will buy will be the straight storage models with just the WiFi capabilities. My provider has enough hot spots to make this do-able. You see that there is already a need for a dual role device that does it all? Give me an Iphone that clicks in to a cradle on a "reader screen" device, and, for me, you have reached Nirvana. This way I could pay for just ONE data/phone plan, and I would be all set.

  33. People are buying Marvel Comics on their iPhones and iPod Touch.  iPad is still rare, isn’t it?

  34. I can also see people looking at their Ipad, and after a week saying "Now what ELSE can I do with this?". I can see that prompting them to perhaps stumble on some comic that might look interesting to them. At least I hope so.

  35. "Could a comic have unique story lines based on reader preferences? Yes. It’s easily done in the digital space." 

    They’ve stolen this idea from Tom Hanks in Big!  Plus Ron, think of the continuity problem if everyone had their own story ending!

    I haven’t seen an ipad in real life yet but I like the idea and they look good.  My one personal issue would be that I end up killing my eyes looking at computer terminals all day anyway so I don’t think I’d personally use it for my monthly comics (plus I like comics from a tactile point of view).  I can see why it would work for a lot of people to get their comics in this way though and I’d probably use it for comics I just want to try and don’t normally get.  If it brings something different to the medium in the long-run then cool, but there’ll probably still be comics in existence in the way we know and love as well.

  36. I got a chance to chat with Micah a bit during the Tiki Tour this weekend (believe it or not). Really nice guy, and he touches on something here that we both talked about.

    The iPad offers another format, as he says. And when I look a MY buying and reading habits, I see two distinct advantages to the digital format. The first is the inherently obvious to anyone with more than a dozen longboxes — it’s VERY nice to be able to get rid of TONS and TONS of paper that’s filling up spare rooms and garages and storage units.

    The second, and this is more to the point, is that a screen offers you a limitless canvas.The iPad puts that canvas in your hand. The iPad offers new layers and new ways to INTERACT with the media at your fingertips. And the smartest creators are already thinking toward this new paradigm. The way you construct comics can now change dramatically, while still better mimicking a classic reading experience for the user.

    For me, that’s huge. HUGE. I cannot wait to see the next generation of content created for devices like this one.

  37. Er, and not to sound too much like an Apple fanboy: I’m not saying ONLY the iPad provides this, but thus far, it seems the furthest down the path. In the end, I think the choice of device will be up to you — but I think that the form factor of a tablet/reader device is probably the best best for this brave new world of comics reading that I’m imagining. 😉

  38. I like that RickStardust said it wasn’t for him, but he could understand why it might work for other people.

    See?!  It’s not either/or. Sheesh.

  39. I bought one pretty much soley as an e-reader for big boy books and comics. All the other stuff it does is secondary to me. I don’t like having giant piles of physical objects around me, and this device–though there are/will be others that accomplish the same thing–is going to help me achieve my ultimate goal of minimalism in the home. It is cool that you can watch movies on it and surf the net, all that, and I’m sure I’ll be using it for those things, too.

     I do wish the digital comics prices were more in line with the music prices, especially for older books. Maybe that’s not a realistic expectation, but even if the companies were making, say, 10 cents on the sale of a single $.99 issue, it’s a lot easier to drop a buck on impulse than it is $2, so I’d think sales quantity would make up for the lower profit margin. Don’t get me wrong, $2 is still better than $3 or $4, but it’s not, in my mind, the magic price that $.99 is.

    @KickAss: Apple’s reporting that they sold over 300,000 on the 1st weekend, so, no it’s not rare. I’d venture a guess that at least half that number are getting the 3g version when it becomes available, plus they’re going to be selling like hotcakes for a while.

  40. @MisterShaw – Amen.  My goals of a minimalist lifestyle have long ago been squashed by comic long boxes.

  41. Being able to get Comics on the iPad is awesome, but I can’t be guaranteed that I’ll get them in New Zealand…. also there’s the fact that the iPad has yet to be released or have been given a release date yet.

     In saying that thou, the ‘SketchBook Pro’ App by Autodesk Inc. really makes me want to get an iPad, I’ve been needing a new Wacom for a while now, and this would REALLY fill that void….. kinda….. maybe

  42. Comics aside (I for one love the idea of the iPad as an ebook reader despite the worlds worst name) I think I’m going to wait because I really think the fact this thing can only run one application at a time and can’t use flash is a deal breaker and may kill this thing.  I bet you more than one person was surprised they couldn’t use Youtube on their iPad.

  43. You totally can use YouTube on the iPad. And the Flash thing: I keep hearing people say it’s a deal-killer for them, and I don’t get it. Flash on websites, generally speaking, only serves to slow things down and annoy me. With video streaming, HTML 5 is the new hotness because it’s less clunky than Flash, and most of the major streaming sites are moving in that direction. And a lot of bigger sites, like CNN, NBC, some others, already have HTML 5 versions of their sites for iPad users, and others will undoubtedly be following.

  44. Oh, there was a link on that comment. Those don’t show up on the iPhone version of the site. And now I look silly.

  45. @josh

    Well, I am sorry if I ever gave you that impression. No, there is nothing wrong with people enjoying it. You see more uses for it, I do not!

    @hawkboy & @connor

    It works even better than that. Most embeded videos work just like regulqar embeded videos, does not switch to the youtube app. I am waiting for this feature for my iphone.

  46. @mistershaw
    actually all this business has forced adobe to clean up their act. I can see a future where flash and html5 standards coexist.

  47. @conor Thats good news thanks dude!