Comics on the iPad

The iPad, as rumored, looks like it could be a great device for reading comics. But having a computer in the right size and form factor is only part of the battle. Someone has to develop an app for reading comics and negotiate deals with the publishers. Here, then, is my unsolicited advice to would-be digital comics providers.

  1. Use a standard format, if possible. Give us or ePub files so that they can be useful in other apps and easily backed up.
  2. Don’t try anything too fancy with flashy panel zooms. Just give us the full page and let us pinch and pan around using the iPad’s native gestures. And please, no animated motion comics.
  3. If held portrait, the iPad should give one page at a time. Landscape, we should see two pages at once, for double-page spreads.
  4. Offer individual issues for sale, and offer subscriptions to titles. I should be able to buy, say, just Green Lantern 50, or subscribe to it and be notified & charged whenever a new issue comes out.
  5. Ideally, if I have all my subscriptions set up, all I have to do is launch the app and start reading. It will automatically download and sync any new books.
  6. Charge whatever you want, as long as it’s cheaper than the print editions, and provide a discount for subscriptions. A comic that’s $3.99 in print needn’t be 99¢, but it shouldn’t be $3.75.
  7. Let me download any book I’ve purchased from any machine I log in from. If my iPad breaks, I shouldn’t have to worry about losing all my comics. File management should basically not exist, the app should just appear to have all of my comics on it. Maybe it really has only the unread and recent issues in local memory, but it downloads older books without me noticing.
  8. Publishers: don’t make your own app. No one wants to have to buy a DC app and a Marvel app and a Dark Horse app and an Image app.
  9. But avoid signing exclusive deals with a particular provider, unless, after a time, a true market leader in iPad apps emerges and it makes sense for everyone to use that one.

Right now, in order to buy a monthly comic, one has to go out and find a comic book store and make a special trip once a month. Generally this means that the only people reading comics are serious fans who read 10, 20, or 30 titles a month. Digital distribution combined with a handy device means that casual readers can dip in. Kids who can’t get their parents to drive them to a comic book store could use an iPad to read just Amazing Spider-Man with their allowance. Joss Whedon fans could read Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season Eight, even if they have no interest in reading anything else. (Though by all means, suggest they read his Astonishing X-Men, and from there Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, his current Batman & Robin, etc.) There’s a huge difference, and thus opportunity, between someone having to go out and find a store vs. them already holding on in their hands. Whoever makes the most comprehensive, least flashy comic reader app will get my vote.