It was announced Friday morning three iPhone app makers, Comixology, iVerse, and Panelfly, had worked out a deal with Marvel Comics to bring a very small part of the Marvel catalogue to the iPhone. While getting comics into the hands of readers is a good thing, it remains to be seen how popular or effective the iPhone outlet will be for Marvel.
Per MacWorld, “The Marvel comics available initially from Comixology are Joss Whedon’s 24-issue run on Astonishing X-Men, Robert Kirkman’s five-issue Marvel Zombies miniseries, Ed Brubaker’s first 30 issues of Captain America, and two other X-Men-related books, X-23 and X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, each six issues long.” As you can see, while app users have a decent selection of quality issues to choose from, none of these are new releases.
Comixology and iVerse are selling each issue for $2, and Panelfly, at least initially, is selling them for $1 each. That’s less than the cost of the physical comics, but, to me, seems like a lot for a comic that can be read on only one device with a small screen relative to the size of a comic book. Plus, iPhones historically do not have great battery life.
I can see this being successful for Marvel if three things happen: 1) they offer new, or at least, newer material. Selling digital versions of comics that aren’t brand new but are also new enough to obtain reasonably easily from brick and mortar or online comic shops seems like a dead end. At least Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited offers classic collections from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, at flat fee. 2) they offer original comics that are worth paying for, like their recent motion comics that have been well received. A lot of the original comics available on Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited are NOT worth even $1 or $2 a piece. 3) they offer the comics on something larger than an iPhone, i.e. a tablet closer to the size of comic book. Of course, Marvel doesn’t make iPhones or tablets, so they are going to have to wait for the long-prophesied iTablet to appear. 4) they offer digital comics on platforms other than the iPhone. Sure, iPhones are king of the hill, but they aren’t the only girl in town, especially if Apple doesn’t make a tablet and gets beaten to the punch by other manufacturers. Similar to number 3, Marvel isn’t making the iPhone apps, so they are at the mercy of Windows, Linux and Android app makers, but I’d wager a developer would be willing to create a comic book app for another platform if they knew they could get Marvel comics on it.
One final thought: you have to wonder what comic book store owners think of this announcement. Marvel is the best selling brand of comics in comic book shops, and now those already struggling shops are competing with the iPhone. If this takes off for Marvel, will that put those stores further in the hole, or will it make customers want the physical comics even more? We shall see.