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notebook 26jan10

The inevitable pre-release post about the Apple Tablet, or iSlate or iPad or whatever they end up calling it. I’ve mostly been holding fire until I see what the damn thing actually is, but a couple of thoughts:

* The CALL OF DUTY iPhone game app — which is free — is a 22MB download. 3G speeds are good here, I had it in no time. Literally, I called it in over the air, noticed it starting to download, and then, bang, it was loaded. A .cbz Comic Book Reader file is usually around 15MB. I could yank that down at, say, Whispernet-type delivery time.

* Here’s a thing: the Kindle has a per-page filesize cap. 64K. Comics on the Kindle are a fascinating challenge. In broad terms, the Kindle can’t do comics unless they’re black and white and the linework can survive being smashed down to 64K per Kindle-page. (Which doesn’t have to be the same as comics-page, you can still break the whole thing down into a string of individual panels, but:)

* I’ve seen several iPhone-adapted comics, and didn’t like them too much. Unless a comic is written in a very specific way, calling comics out panel-by-panel clips out important informational strata like page design and page breaks. I mean, a baby’s still a baby after it goes through a process like that, but I think you’d still like it better if it came with the arms and legs it originally possessed. Obviously, a tablet is going to fix that, and you’re going to get pages in something similar to their intended scale.

* It’s going to be all about the price, and to a slightly lesser extent about the data plan. Over here in the benighted UK, the best iPhone data plan available to me came with a cap of 1GB/month. That breaks down to, what, 30 meg a day? I imagine I’d get a concerned phonecall from my telecom provider if I was ripping 30 meg out of the air on a daily basis.

* Years ago, I said that I thought an iTunes for comics would be an interesting idea. And then there was Longbox, a still largely-unveiled ’iTunes for comics’ solution. There are strong rumours that Longbox may arrive preloaded on the Apple Moses Tablet. I have my doubts about that, but: the intent has always been that Longbox would be able to read .cbz files.

* Two .cbz files a day would tap out my data plan.

* If Longbox or something similar is preloaded? And the device isn’t too costly, and the local bandwidth is good and the data plan is all-you-can-eat? I wouldn’t want to be a comics store in San Francisco, know what I mean?

* In Britain, a six-hundred-dollar item is inevitably, criminally, a six-hundred-pound item. When it comes to tech, with the related import taxes and other bullshit, you’re always looking at a dollar-pound parity. It’d be funny if Britain was the last bastion of the print comics market because no-one in this recessionary hole could afford the new magic from over the water.

(as ever, this is Notebook: not fully baked, not even close)

Published in comics talk notebook


  1. I agree on all these points. As someone who has adapted a comic to the iPhone (Rich Johnston’s Watchmensch book), even the slickest reader isn’t so good about reflecting the sense of the pages, and the screen is too small to include a UI that would be as enjoyable as the Longbox reader.

    I don’t think that this device spells the end of the comics store at all, though. I think it will get comics into the hands of people who wouldn’t set foot in a comics store, and the economics of offering back catalog reprints digitally is much more favorable than printing them, so I’m hoping to see a lot more archival material that won’t be reprinted any time soon. It could create a new revenue stream for publishers, and actually get people back into the shops to buy their favorites on paper.

    The thing that keeps me from buying comics in the store isn’t my shiny laptop and iPhone, it’s this idea that I have to read fucking Previews two months in advance and beg a shop owner to order something I want because they would only order one copy of Planetary otherwise. If we had to order our groceries that way, there’d be no American obesity problem. Give me a supermarket of old and new comics, make it insanely easy to buy them on a whim and price them like the impulse buy they are, and you’ll get a lot more money out of me.

    As far as this goes, though, the shape and features of the tablet device itself aren’t nearly as important as revamping the iTunes store to properly handle printed content. Right now, whether it’s a medical dictionary, a comic, or trashy fiction, it’s all categorized as ‘Books.’ They’ll need an iTunes 10 that elegantly folds more types of content into the store, as the old music-oriented interface is kind of crufty.

    The gaming industry has found that the iPhone is a real cash cow — people with iPhones on average spend a lot more per year on those 99 cent games than people with Nintendo DS consoles spend on those $20 cartridges. So, you’ll likely get a lot more money out of me that way. And, if you want to keep the stores alive, sell collectable iTunes cards with comic art, bundle paper comics with their ebook counterparts, etc. Market to us, for Christ’s sake, quit expecting us to do all the work. The current comic book store ecosystem needs to get as efficient at getting us content as the consumer is at finding it via illegal channels. This kind of device could help a lot, and smart stores will become iTunes affiliates and link to the e-content on their web pages.

  2. >>>I imagine I’d get a concerned phonecall from my telecom provider if I was ripping 30 meg out of the air on a daily basis.

    Do I dare mention the horror of syncing by cable with iTunes? Yes, I know, a PITA.

    Mike (not me) above brings up the marketing angle. This is why I think the entire iTunes/App Store house of cards will fail and Apple already knows that. Try arguing with techies about how publishers would be interested in doing more than “spray and pray” at the App Store and you get bloody Comments such as the ones in my post here:

  3. Jeremy Jeremy

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t get too excited about the whole tablet concept. I have yet to see any specs that indicate the table/slate/whatever it’s called will be able to do anything you can’t already do with a laptop (other than the touchscreen, which I honestly thing is a less convenient input method than a keyboard/mouse). And given that you can get a decent laptop for less than the tablet’s rumored price ($700-800), I don’t really see anyone other than early adopters jumping on this one.

  4. Fred Davis Fred Davis

    The thing about the limitations of the iphone and kindle are that they don’t really work with adaptions of comics, but require comics to be made specifically to fit the format – the kindle less so, which is why it not being likely to exist in 5 years time isn’t that sad a thing, but the idea of there being this never-realised-potential-comic-format which would have been adapted to the special needs of the iPhone’s little screen, in the same fashion as the infinite canvas school of webcomic layouts is adapted to the potential of computer screens and the internet, that in a hundred years will only be remembered by media studies wonks due to th iTab makes me feel… not sad exactly, what’s that emotion between “melancholy” and “trapped wind”? That’s what I feel.

    Of course possibly this raises the question of what other never realised styles of media have already been obsoleted by progress? was there a short lived Compact Disk-centric school of short films that were designed to fit perfectly on CDs that DVDs murdered with a coathanger? Maybe sign language or subtitle utilising pre-sound cinema with full dialogue that talkies ended before they could ever come to pass?

    …or not.

  5. Warren Ellis Warren Ellis

    CDVs are, as far as I know, still going strong in parts of Asia. I used to go up to Chinatown in London and buy them by the armload.

  6. Fred Davis Fred Davis

    I had forgotten CDVs – my introduction to fansubbed anime movies was when I was little, and my Nan used to take me down to walthamstow market with her to pick up some more mills and boons for herself, she’d usually pick up a few anime tapes and during her later years those weird little plastic-pocket clad CDV bootlegs for me to watch.

    I was thinking more in terms of short films with pacing and film quality designed with the file size limitations of CDs in mind rather than just “films on CDs” et al – stuff where the style of the creative work only makes sense in the context of the media it’s sold on or experienced through.

  7. Really, I think Apple should release an SDK for the App store itself and turn it into a platform that other parties can build retail stores around, whether through a mobile app, a web site, or whatever. As it is, the selection of content in many areas is quite deep and complete, but discoverability is horrible. What the iTunes store doesn’t really excel at is merchandising, this is a gap that third-party speciality sites could really build a business around.

    An affiliate site that wraps editorial content and discoverability around all the comics content on iTunes, for example, could be very successful. Movies and TV content would certainly benefit from an approach like this. Imagine a more curatorial approach where all the short films and indie features are highlighted.

    A lot of the flaws in the iTunes store lead directly back to the content owners, who still think that enforcing artificial scarcity of their content is a good idea. Release windows are a deadly anachronism: by the time a great number of lower-profile movies are actually available for rental or sale or on disk, consumer interest has gone elsewhere. Worldwide day-and-date release on all media is happening already, it’s just being implemented by pirates. Consumers are frightfully efficient at getting the things they want to see, but they don’t always care if they pay for it if the content owners are playing hard-to-get.

    I’ve been surprised that the iTunes Store is doing as well as it is, but it does seem to have achieved a critical mass that other digital content stores including Amazon’s haven’t managed to figure out.

  8. ComicZeal does comics on the iPhone pretty reasonably well. Rather than download the .cbz files directly from the internet to your phone (and killing your data plan), you download them onto your actual computer, run them through a converter, and then run another little gizmo called iPhone Explorer to upload the resulting files to the phone.

    The resolution is good enough that you can zoom the picture out to the width of the page, so you only have to scroll down while reading. Works best with manga (smaller pages) but western comics are still readable so long as they’re not, say, Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, or anything else with ultradense art and tiny lettering.

    Now, imagine that shifted over to a tablet, so that single problem of screen size is gone? Yeah, I’m drooling just a little.

  9. VCDs are still all over China, usually packed full of television shows or cartoons or music videos, and they usually sell for about about half the price of a DVD-5. I’m not so familiar with CDVs (these?), but am intrigued.

  10. Robot Comics do (mainly) good comic adaptations for Android (and iThings), mainly free too.
    Side note: I got my Nexus One directly from Google, under £400 delivered a couple of days later.

  11. michael aubert michael aubert

    I’m trying and it will probably be awful even after it’s released. iPhone comic reading is soooo bad. trying to read the version of old man logan that uncovered one panel at a time was an horrendous experience. Marvel’s flash-based reader makes me want to punch the screen. I hate the pseudo comic book video of astonishing x-men or spider-woman. I’m never going to send money to iTunes no matter what the tablet ends up looking like.

    .cbz/cbr does everything I need or could ever want. don’t add anything, don’t remove anything. I can choose the hardware for myself, from a home 24″ screen that pivots to the very mobile eeepc.

    but can somebody just please let me freaking pay for the books I want to read already!

  12. Comics on the computer are all fine and good, but I strongly prefer the actual physical item, as I do with books. The colors don’t come out quite as nicely on the computer screen as they do on actual paper. There’s nothing like the smell of a new comic, I’m serious. I love reading Freakangels online for free, but it’s way more exciting and satisfying to hold the damn thing in my hand. I refuse to read comics on my iPhone because it’s just too damn small and it would be like trying to pet a kitten shoved into a small plastic transparent cube. It’s kinda cute but a little horrifying and hard to enjoy. There would have to be a pretty attractive digital alternative to get me to switch. Also, two of my friends own two different comics stores and I would feel like a traitor if I stopped helping them survive.

  13. Rey Rey

    Color e ink that is vibrant and quick to refresh can’t get here soon enough.

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