Technology: Contemplating the iPad

Yesterday, the iPad was unleashed on the universe. Early estimates are that Apple sold about 700,000 of them on Day 1, making it an enormous hit; by comparison, Apple sold about 500,000 iPhones on that device’s first day out of the gate. Estimations are that between now and December, Apple will move about seven million iPads worldwide.

I’m still on the fence with the iPad; I can see what direction Apple is trying to push tablet-based computing; I see exactly how the device sits in that center field between smartphones and laptops. Yes, version 1 of the device is just a big iPod Touch (which I would own if it had a video camera sensor built into it like the iPod Nano does; a feature decision that continues to baffle me).  Yes, version 1 of the device has its limitations (no multitasking, no camera, etc.). But I think I see where Apple is going with this.

Still, I’ve waited for that “killer app,” a use for the iPad that would be enough to sell me on the device. This comic book app by IDW, a similar app for Marvel Comics, and almost certainly a similar app from DC Comics at some point in the future, are pretty tempting.

IDW has a five-minute demo of its app on YouTube.

If you read a lot of comics, this sort of delivery method could save you enough money on your per-issue comic buys that the iPad could pay for itself. Most comics cost around $3.99 an issue if you buy them in a comic store now; it seems as if the price point for ecomics is settling in at about $2 an issue. That’s what IDW intends to charge, and the stories on Marvel’s app indicate that as its price point as well.

Even if you buy two comics a week, the $2 you save by going digital over buying the issues from a comic shop means the iPad pays for itself in about two years. That wouldn’t be difficult; back when I was a serious comic collector in high school and my first year or two of college, on average I probably dropped around $50 a week in the comic store and another $50-100 each month buying stuff through the mail.

I can see two sides of the coin on how this sort of application might affect traditional comic shops (I love comic book stores; I visited them relatively frequently even when I wasn’t collecting books). One, having digital distribution could hurt brick-and-mortar stores, particularly when it comes to back-issue sales. Why drive to a store and hunt through boxes for a particular issue of a book when you can just download it? However, I can see the flip-side of this, with digital availability being a tremendous asset to collectors. I used to regularly buy two copies of comics, one for my “collection” and one to read. Now, books can be purchased, bagged-and-boarded and put into storage, and the electronic version of the issue could be that supplemental “reading copy” purchase. In this model, I can see the electronic versions being more damaging to the trade paperback collections than to single-issue sales.

For me, I could see the iPad and a collection of comic-buying apps being my source for on-time single-issue reading. I live in a very small town, and while we have a comic book store in town it’s really small and the selection of books is extremely limited. Rather than hoping I got there in time to get one of the four copies of whatever book I want to pick up that they ordered, I can just get it with the iPad.

Buying comics this way would allow me to read books as they came out, rather than waiting between six months and a year for a trade paperback collection to come out, and then, due to where I live, having to get that trade on-line somewhere as it almost certainly wouldn’t be available for me to just go to a store and buy locally.

I can also see this having the same sort of impact on how I’d consume comics as iTunes has had on my music buying. I buy significantly more music through iTunes than I bought on CDs, because it’s so easy and the store is so easy to browse. I can see myself making numerous “sure, I’ll check that out” purchases, particularly at $2 an issue.

In that scenario, everybody wins; I consume more material, Apple gets more money from me and the publisher of whatever books I check out get more money from me. Right now, none of those three things are happening; with only a very small comic store available locally, I’m not consuming very much, and nobody is getting any money from me. This sort of electronic distribution model through an attractive hardware platform can be a game-changer there.

Sure, the same or similar functionality is already available for “normal” computers; Marvel, for instance, offers web-based access to an archive of approximately 5,000 comics on a subscription basis for about $60 a year at their Digital Comics site. I haven’t been interested in pursuing this sort of option for reading digital comics, but the form factor of the iPad might finally make electronic delivery a compelling option for pursuing comic book content.

Are comic books the “killer app” that’ll sell me an iPad? I don’t know yet; it’s a compelling application, but I’m not sure it’s enough on its own to get me to buy into the hardware. However, while there may not be one single “I must have this” application for the iPad that’ll be the sell/no sell, enough of these very compelling options could add up to be enough to push me over the “buy/don’t buy” threshhold.

As an aside, my birthday is in 10 days and iPads will be available at retail on the 12th. I’m just saying…

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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3 Responses

  1. John Regehr says:

    This is cool Andy, I hadn’t heard about it. I ordered an iPad, not sure when it is going to show up; don’t have any particular reason for needing it, I just figured as an embedded systems professor I should own some of the latest toys (I’m generally not a big gadget person and use the lamest possible cell phone).

    These days when I buy comics, it’s in the largest possible trade paperback at the largest possible online discount. As a totally random example I just looked at the different formats that Walking Dead is available in at Amazon and one of them comes in at less than $1 per issue:

    Of course the digital comics thing (which I also hadn’t seen!) is much cheaper than $1/issue. Anyway…

  2. I’ve looked into that The Walking Dead series quite a bit; not enough to take the plunge and buy any of them, but I read up on it a bit after stumbling across the amazing 48-issues-each hardcover compendia on eBay. Those look great just as examples of “beautiful books” — heavy covers, slipcases, etc., that I’m almost tempted to buy them because of how they’re bound with no regard for the content. Then I read that the comic is actually compelling and good… I’ll look into this series eventually, I’m sure.

  3. Heh – I put a watch on the first volume of the 48-issue hardcover-with-a-slipcase Walking Dead compendium on eBay yesterday; it ended up selling for $317, for a once-read copy. The second volume with issues 49-through-whatever-48-times-two-is (96) can be had for less than $70 shipped. Looks like that softcover version for $32 at will be the way to go. 🙂

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