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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Digital Comics for the iPad -- Life in 2013

It's been a while since I last rambled about the state of digital comics and some things have certainly changed.  Comics fans are getting their regular fixes on various smartphones and tablet devices on a number of platforms and The Future of Comics seems more reassuring.

As for me, I'm still downloading away on my trusty iPad 2, which surprisingly hasn't become an outdated antique after two years.  It's currently loaded up with apps from ComiXology, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, IDW Publishing, Dynamite Entertainment, Dark Horse Comics and BOOM! Studios, as well as a considerable backlog of comics waiting to be enjoyed as the opportunity arises.

Sure, newer iPad versions offer the ability to savor HD quality versions of some comics, but based on overall performance and my hopes for a slightly larger screen to be released someday, I haven't been able to justify spending hundreds more for an upgrade.  However, it's nice to know that whenever I finally do break down and get a new tablet, I'll have the option of getting certain comics in HD.

The various comics publisher apps are pretty much business as usual, although there have been a few game-changers along the way.  IDW Publishing finally got with the program and partnered up with ComiXology, leaving Dark Horse as the last major publisher defiantly determined to force readers to use their clunky, slow loading app in order to download their comics.  Yeah, it would be nice to have Dark Horse's comics grouped with all of the other publishers' in ComiXology's file library, and be able to read them on ComiXology's Android phone app.  I'm sure Dark Horse has their reasons, however nonsensical and foolishly territorial they seem to the rest of us.

DC Comics has taken a small step backwards in recent months by cutting back on their glorious "101 Sales" and instead focusing on replicating their efforts to additional platforms like Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iBooks stores.  What used to be prime opportunities to stock up on spotlighted characters and teams once or twice a month now seems to happen just once a season.  They still provide the chance to pick up obscure titles at just $0.99 each, such as the current "Black History Month" sale, but a formerly huge offering one weekend has been chopped up and spread across an entire month.

As a result, Marvel has jumped into the forefront in terms of $0.99 sales, offering twenty or more issues of a spotlighted character or group every Monday and Friday with the occasional Wednesday bonus.  Most of the time, these sales feature titles from the last decade, but once in a while, you can stock up on classic Avengers and X-Men books from the 1960s or titles such as Secret Wars and New Warriors from the 1980s.  Meanwhile, Dark Horse has weekend sales for those who don't care about syncing with ComiXology, IDW offers up an interesting sale about once or twice a month, with the remaining publishers even less frequently.

My digital comics budget has shifted accordingly, with more of it being reallocated from DC to Marvel.  To be fair, DC has stepped up their digital exclusive offerings over the past couple of years, making Smallville Season 11 and the Arrow digital series must-buy titles at just $0.99 every week.  They also offer the first issues of their "New 52" books at just $0.99, a good way to entice fans into trying out a new series.

Free comics are still a bit of a rarity for most publishers, unfortunately.  Marvel still dominates in this area, offering up at least three new issues every Tuesday afternoon in addition to a small assortment of books that are regularly free.  Image maintains a healthy assortment of free titles, but it's been a little while since they were updated.  Dark Horse has about 30 or 35 on their app, but unless you're a big Falling Skies fan or didn't pick up their Free Comic Book Day giveaways, you may only find one or two issues of real interest.

All in all, the digital frontier seems firmly established at this point.  Instead of quickly replacing traditional comic books, digital comics seem to be more of an optional extra as the market figures out how to accommodate them.  Marvel is the first to embrace this, adding more value to their $3.99 paper comics by including a code for a free digital copy with every issue.  Of course, this is essentially a standard $2.99 paper comic packaged with a digital comic at a $0.99 sale price, but it justifies the $3.99 cost more while encouraging the shift towards digital.  The Future will get here eventually, probably whenever DC and Marvel finally make all of their print titles $3.99 and offer digital at as $2.99 alternative, but for now at least, there's room for both print and digital to get along.

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