Graphicly Expands to Apple’s Newsstand, Brings Subscriptions To Your iPad
Effective today, Graphicly is bringing a portion of its digital comics library to Apple's Newsstand, a service that launched this week with the release of iOS 5 that brings newspapers, magazines, and more directly to your iPad. You can subscribe to titles and have them automatically delivered to your iPad when they're released. The launch titles include The Walking Dead, Savage Dragon, Irredeemable, Invincible, Morning Glories, and Near Death. On top of that, The Walking Dead arrives on the Nook Color and the Amazon App Store today, with the first volume available for $8.99 and volumes two through fourteen at $9.99. After the jump, I've got some thoughts on the Newsstand aspect of the deal, a quick interview with Graphicly CEO Micah Baldwin on the subject, and the full press release.
The Newsstand Roster
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen
Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Kruase
Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley
Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma
Near Death by Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini.
It's interesting to look at how digital comics have evolved. Apple's iOS products -- just the iPhone and iPod Touch originally -- became the default digital comics readers due to Apple's enormous market penetration and the fact that the App Store made getting comics onto mobile devices simple. Apple had the largest audience, and they had an audience that was trained to spend money in the App Store. It just made sense to put your products where people are likely to buy it, and Apple's absurdly good sense of design meant that it was good for consumers, too.
A couple years ago, digital comics were a reality, but not exactly a going concern. They were a novelty, something that wasn't quite ready for prime time. Panel-by-panel viewing solved the problem of how you read a full-size comic on the (comparatively tiny) iPhone screen. With the advent of the iPad, though, things changed. Reading digital comics became a comfortable, if not natural, experience. The resolution is high enough for a faithful reproduction comics art, and the aspect ratio isn't too far off from a comic book's ratio. A panel-by-panel view isn't necessary, either, so the storytelling on a comic's page is preserved. The iPad isn't perfect, of course, but it's such a good comics reader that its flaws aren't even remotely deal-breakers.
Digital comics have been inching into reality in fits and spurts. Smaller publishers signed on first, mid-tier publishers followed, and then Marvel and DC entered the digital comics game. Both of the Big Two have done things that run counter to common sense or are outright exploitative--Marvel's high prices and recently revoked platform exclusivity, DC's insistence that the New 52 release at a different time of day than every other comic ever and the lack of day-and-date titles from Vertigo--but they've both come very close to getting it right, too. We're almost into a world where digital comics are just as normal and easy to get as regular comics. Almost, but not quite.
Graphicly's announcement is about as straightforward as you can get. "We've got digital comics available on this new service." What's interesting is how this very straightforward announcement is another burst of evolution for digital comics, and a very welcome one at that. It solves two major problems with digital comics. 1) How do you find digital comics? and 2) How do you make getting digital comics as easy as possible?
The beauty of the internet is that it makes being lazy a viable lifestyle choice. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. The internet is wonderful. Every day I get offers to buy new clothes, books, music, magazines, and video games, and all of it can be delivered straight to my door with minimal effort on my part. In the worst case scenario, I forget the little three digit number on the back of my credit card and have to walk across the room to get my wallet. I have an entire world at my fingertips.
This is true of digital comics too, but with a few caveats. For the most part, I can't just get online and search for a (legal) digital comic. If I want to read a digital comic on my iOS device, I have to have a digital comics reader already. If you get on iTunes right now and search for, say, Static Shock because you saw Marc Bernardin's interview on BET.com and the idea of a teenaged black superhero interests you, you're going to have trouble. You'll find season one of the television show, a few podcasts about the character, and several unrelated music albums. The only relevant items in iTunes right now are the vaguely named Comics and DC Comics apps. If you download either of those, you can search for Static Shock, because it likely isn't on the front page, and then you can purchase an issue. By this point, though, the impulse purchase is gone. Most of us use the internet to find the easiest route to things. Finding digital comics takes several steps.
Graphicly's adoption of the Newsstand fixes that problem. If you want to read the New York Times on your iPad, you search for New York Times and it appears. If you want to read The Walking Dead, and odds are high that a lot of people will once the TV show starts up again, you can simply type in its name and whoomp, there it is. This makes Graphicly's move one of the most interesting and necessary things to happen to digital comics since the iPad. But there's one more benefit I want to get into.
Okay, hypothetical Static Shock reader. You've found the digital comics reader, you've downloaded a couple of issues, and you've decided that you like the book. What next? Well, now you have to remember which week of the month the book comes out so that you can buy it again. One downside of the internet is that there is something interesting coming out all the time, so it can be tough to remember when you need to get what. Newsletters or other types of mailing lists, schedules, and reminders can fix that problem quite easily. The problem is that precious few digital comics distributors actually utilize anything like that. Digital comics come out when they come out, and a significant portion of each week's releases are a surprise. So good luck, buddy, and I hope you liked the series enough to remember when to buy it.
The Newsstand solves that problem, too. Subscribing to a book on the Newsstand works more or less exactly like a subscription in real life. You order something and it is delivered to you. In the case of the Newsstand, it's automatically downloaded to your device. It downloads in the background, so it'll be ready to read whenever you open up the app. The only difference is that you pay when it's delivered, instead of ahead of time.
I think that the twin benefits of Graphicly on the Newsstand--searchable titles and automatic delivery--are a much-needed step forward in the world of digital comics. Digital comics are about convenience, and that means that getting them should be as easy as possible. These two aspects of the Newsstand fill two huge holes in the digital comics experience, and I think point the way toward what digital comics will eventually become.
Back in the days of the newsstand in grocery stores or gas stations, comics were racked like anything else. They weren't locked off in a separate area of the store or a pop-up shop away from where people go to spend money. They were right where kids could see them while their parents bought a newspaper. Graphicly is clearly looking to use Apple's Newsstand in the same way. They're treating digital comics like normal periodicals, and that gives digital comics a chance to be seen by people who would otherwise never find them.
There are a couple of interesting aspects of Graphicly's new initiative. Right now, Graphicly is essentially a comic shop. They stock comics, and if you're buying from them, you may say something like "I'm going to go to Graphicly.com to buy some comics," just like you would say "I'm going to go to Isotope to buy some comics." With this shift to the Newsstand, Graphicly becomes less of a comic shop and more of a distributor. From the consumer point of view, you aren't buying from them any more than you'd buy a movie directly from MGM. It puts the comic and the creators first, which is always a good thing.
The other aspect I like is that just three of the launch six are cape comics. I love superheroes, don't get me wrong, but a digital comics industry that's full of tights and fights is not a healthy digital comics industry. Showing people that comics are more than capes is going to be vital, and I feel like Graphicly's putting a good foot forward here. There are a variety of stories for a few different target audiences here. I'd like a little more diversity in content--these are all essentially adventure comics, when you get right down to it--but this is a good start. Hopefully we'll see some romance, slice of life, art comix, literary, or autobio stuff soon.
I'm very much in favor of this move, but a few things still need to be said. This is still an initiative with a fairly small launch roster. Six titles isn't a lot, but we'll presumably see more as companies see how viable being on the Newsstand is and as Graphicly's competitors try to get in on the action. This isn't a magic fix for digital comics that will save the comics industry, either. There is a ton of potential here, but the prices and content must both be on point for people to latch onto the product. No one's going to subscribe to anything for long if they don't think they're getting their money's worth, so the publishers and creators must make sure that they're doing everything they can to put their best foot forward.
Finally, with the exception of The Walking Dead, there's not a lot of crossover appeal just yet. That's no knock on the other books, obviously--it's just that precious few people are going to be searching for Near Death without a good reason to do so. It's going to take a combination of books with appeal out of the Direct Market (meaning comics that have been made into movies, pretty much) for this to take hold with the general public, as well as a certain amount of outreach from Graphicly, the publishers, fans, and the press. If you build it, they will come, but only if they've heard about it.
Overall, though, I'm pleased. I've been asking for a regular schedule, searchable index, and subscriptions for digital comics for months now, and Graphicly managed to start the process of knocking them out in one fell swoop. I wasn't expecting the solution to be such a lo-fi idea as old-fashioned subscriptions transplanted to a high-tech device, but if it works, it works. From where I'm sitting, this looks like it works. I'm praying for a rapid expansion.
ComicsAlliance: Graphicly's adoption of Apple's Newsstand is an interesting move, in part because it fulfills some popular requests for digital comics--most notably searchable titles and an actual subscription. Can you talk through your reasoning for shifting into Newsstand distribution? What specific benefits does it bring to the digital comics experience that you felt needed to be represented? I guess put a bit differently--why Newsstand, why now?
Micah Baldwin: Our main goal is to help our publishers and creators connect with the largest and widest audience as possible. While making comics available via a marketplace app is great in providing a one stop place to shop for many different comics, there's still a certain barrier of entry there as users need to find a marketplace app, install that, then search within the app to find the comics they want to read.
Also, a marketplace app is all about supporting the brand of the marketplace owner versus the publishers and creators themselves. Part of our decision to focus on the Newsstand is based on our decision to develop a platform to support publishers and creators and their brands, as seen with our Facebook app.
We think its a great opportunity to connect an audience already looking for things to read with the titles of great comics directly, eliminating the need for the marketplace app in the middle. Additionally, with the millions of iPad users out there who will be using the Newsstand for the first time now that iOS5 has been released increases the potential audience for comics that are available there.
CA: How thorough will the Newsstand selection be? We've seen publishers like Marvel release different books through different distributors at different times. Will the Newsstand feature all of Graphicly's catalog, a significant portion, or just specific titles?
MB: To start, we're launching with 6 titles on the Newsstand. From Image Comics: The Walking Dead, Invincible, Savage Dragon, Morning Glories and Near Death. From BOOM! Studios: Irredeemable.
We'll be working with our publishers to bring even more titles to the Newsstand after this initial launch.
CA: Will collections of stories be offered via the Newsstand, as well?
MB: We could release collections on the Newsstand (for example, The Walking Dead comes with the ability to purchase the previous trade paperbacks), but probably only in the case of past material to catch readers up. The nature of the Newsstand is based on regular, periodic releases, like monthly issue releases. To have collections available on the Newsstand would mean that the title wouldn't update as regularly as the time between collection releases is usually many months, sometimes years. So, the Newsstand is really designed for issues and that's what we'll be focusing on.
CA: Does this mean we'll see a schedule for digital comics? For example, will the Newsstand deliver a certain comic on the third Wednesday of each month, every month, deadlines depending?
MB: For users who subscribe to a title via the Newsstand,they will get the newest, latest issue when it's released by the publisher, through Graphicly. So in the case of Image Comics, with same day as print digital releases, the next issue will be available on the Newsstand the same Wednesday as when the issue is available in comic book stores and on Graphicly.
CA: Will past Graphicly purchases sync to the Newsstand, or will the two aspects of Graphicly's service stand apart for now?
MB: Currently past purchases do not sync between the Newsstand and Graphicly, but it's very high on our list of updates/improvements to roll out and we plan to make them available soon.
CA: What's the price point for Newsstand subscriptions? Will there be a range?
MB: The price point for issues are the same as they are on Graphicly, as defined by the publishers. So an issue that's available on Graphicly for $1.99 is also $1.99 in the Newsstand. There is no price difference across the products.
CA: How are you selecting books to be rolled out first? Are you going for the most recent series first, or working through a mix of classic archival material and fresh new comics? Is there anything coming down the pipeline that you can't wait to see on the Newsstand?
MB: Due to the periodical nature of the Newsstand, we're focused on titles that are ongoing series, with a monthly/regular issue release schedule. Since the Newsstand is subscription based, it doesn't really lend itself to classic and archival material. Those titles will be available on Graphicly as well as mentioned earlier, we're looking at ways to expose those collections to wider audiences via other opportunities.
As for what's coming down the pipeline, there are tons of great ongoing series from the Publishers that we work with such as Image Comics, Archie, IDW, BOOM! and many more that we look forward to bringing to the Newsstand.
CA: What's the most important aspect of the digital comics experience for you? Price, portability? Something else?
MB: It's probably a combination of both and plus availability. Being able to get the comics you want to read, when you want to read them, where you want to read them at a price that's reasonable. That seems to be the magic formula. The past 2 years have been an interesting journey to get there, but it seems as if we're making progress with every step and the Newsstand is definitely another step in the right direction for fans of monthly issues. We're constantly looking and assessing opportunities across all platforms, iOS, Android (which includes the Amazon and Barnes and Noble Nook platforms) and seeing how we can stick to our mission of connecting readers with great stories from amazing creators and publishers in an easy manner.
The Press Release
Graphicly Announces Support for iOS 5; Brings Leading Digital Comic Titles to Newsstand
The Walking Dead, Invincible, Irredeemable and More Now Available on Newsstand
• The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard from Image Comics
• Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen, from Image Comics
• Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Kruase from BOOM! Studios
• Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley from Image Comics
• Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma from Image Comics
• Near Death by Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini from Image Comics