Game’s The Same…

Game’s The Same…

Jan 28

“.just got more fierce.”-Slim Charles, The Wire

slimcharles

“Game-changer” is a pretty fucking strong term.

Like, just think of a game. Let’s use Monopoly. Let’s say they revised the rules so that instead of having the most money at the end of the game, you had to own the most properties to win.

THAT is a game changer.

Now let’s say they put Monopoly on your phone. Does that change the game? Now you can play it alone on the shitter. But it’s still Monopoly. (Technically speaking you could always play it alone on the shitter, but it is nigh-impossible to balance the board on your lap. Trust me, I’ve tried.)

iPad

The iPad looks like a potentially neat device. I kinda want one. But it doesn’t change any games, at least not yet.

ESPECIALLY the game of comics, which is one specific area where the interwebs have been enflamed with the kind of loose rhetoric that only geeks with an internet connection can conjure. The way it reads out there, it’s like Steve Jobs himself is gonna come by your local comic shop and board up the windows. Tomorrow.

First of all, and this is kinda obvious so forgive me for saying it, the Direct Market is a massive beast. Even in its anemic current state, it’s a big show. Comics in printed form period is even more gigantic. While there are some leading-edge publishers who are supporting truly awesome digital initiatives via the iPhone (IDW, Image, Boom), neither DC nor Marvel has thrown their weight in behind the iPad, or hell, digital comics period. Except for that slightly crappy website Marvel made.

(Which leaves aside the fact that to my mind, the Direct Market as it’s known has been dead for a long time to the savvy and business-minded comic shop owner, but that’s a whole separate post. In fact, I already wrote it.)

But let’s say there’s some miracle year for the iPad and all the publishers trip over themselves to get their books onto the device, and in 365 days, we’re able to log onto our Jesusputers and download current issues of major comics to read electronically.

There’s still a pretty significant price barrier at a $499 entry level, even though that’s lower than I think anyone expected. On top of that, you’re not getting free comics for $499, you still have to pay to read them. And that ephemeral barrier cited by so many fans, that you will buy the comic but not HAVE A COMIC TO FILE IN A LONGBOX AND CRADLE AS YOU DIE, will still exist.

So will a significant pile of fans be more willing to pay $499 one time plus, let’s say, another couple hundred a year on digital comics files, when they could just keep doing what they’re doing and buy comics at a store like their nerd ancestors? Maybe, but not right away, and not at $499. I think the magic price for an iPad or any tablet is more like $199 or $299, and until it drops to that level, it’s not going to be a cultural phenomenon.

I would say we are at LEAST five to seven years away from the iPad having a significant impact on the publishing industry. The window for comics may be smaller but that’s only because it’s a smaller part of that industry. That’s not “game changing.” That’s “don’t torch your LCS and buy an iPad anytime soon, cause you’re still gonna buy comics if you still wanna read comics.”

I think the game of comics WILL change. It is changing as I type this. I am excited about digital comics, the iPad, and basically anything Steve Jobs decides to push out his miracle anus. But let’s all take a deep breath and smell the musky romance of ink on pulp, because that scent ain’t going anywhere soon.

***

Let’s get bigger in the picture cause I’m rambling now, so why stop?

Will the iPad change ANY games? I agree with my pal Dan Wiencek who sees the big picture for the iPad as primarily in the realm of education. Apple already has relationships and a track record in the education world, and the appeal for both students and publishers of moving to an all-digital DRM-protected format is too great. Freshmen can carry their entire syllabus in their backpack, and publishers can rest easy that the used bookstores that cannibalize their products will soon be closing their doors for the last time. So it’s a consumer device with a really strong eye toward dominating a potentially lucrative and consistent revenue stream; if the iPad becomes a standard issue device at major universities who will rely on Apple’s cachet and easy-to-use UI and sales system to basically replace their bookstores, that’s a lotta green.

I’m honestly most excited for what the iPad means for everyone but Apple. If this device is any kind of success, and come on we all know it will be because it’s Apple and there’s still enough disposable geek income in this tragic economy to guarantee pretty big initial sales, then the netbook space will be joined by a tablet space, and maybe even suffocated by it. There’s already an HP tablet device coming, but what about a hardware shop like Asus, which has made a big dent in the netbook space with some amazingly competitive pricing? How long will it take for enough other companies to jump on the bandwagon that a tablet gets to be as economical and mundane as an mp3 player is today? And how much will THAT change the game, especially if Apple sees where the real money is at and builds out their iBooks application just like they’ve built out iTunes, optimized for their own ecosystem but not dependant on it?

The tech geek in me lusts for an iPad but the sensible daddy wearing slightly-worn loafers really aches for the day when Asus or a like-minded company cranks out a more open and affordable device, even if it has less memory on board, or doesn’t come with the miracle UI that Apple has developed. Especially if it can leverage iBooks alongside Kindle and whoever else enters the eBook space as the hardware market for this type of device grows.

(Did you know the iPad has no USB ports? Doesn’t that seem slightly insane?)

I love Apple but with a device like this it’s hard not to look at the closed nature of the computing and be a little disappointed. It’s one thing to make that sacrifice on a phone which is doubling as a small portable computer; when you’re buying an actual small portable computer, you expect to be able to do what you want with it, as long as no crimes are committed. Unfortunately, Apple’s got their iPhone OS and apps ecosystem firmly entrenched in the iPad to the point where you wonder how you’d even really use it for anything close to actual productive work. Can I make a word processing doc? Can I save it to a jump drive easily? And even if I can (I think iWork is Apple’s answer to those questions), I am absolutely required to do it using the software Apple thinks I should be using. Adam Pash at Lifehacker says all that far more eloquently than I can.

So…iPad. It sounds like a tampon, ha ha. It will probably make a splash and push some boundaries and maybe even incite a revolution. But the real revolution will begin in a few years when Apple’s innovation has the potential to spr
ead and become a key part of a new reality that may or may not involve Apple’s closed software universe. 

9 comments

  1. The place where the iPad could be a great tool is healthcare. I mean, functionally, so could the iPhone, but the screen layout/support for iWork /legit-sized touch keyboard are players here. EMR is still this revolutionary thing in most hospitals, and it’s a change that some places are fighting based on time constraints more than anything else. Why? Because to chart on an EMR, they have to wheel a laptop cart around or stop what they’re doing to walk out to the nurse’s station or a PC on the other side of the patient room to do so. They are tethered in a work environment where being tethered is antithetical to the work being done. Not that paper charts were easier. But now a device like this is lightweight enough and functional enough that it can be an amazing tool for accessing and updating charts and communicating across departmental barriers.

  2. Steven Sanders

    I’ll definitely agree that the iPad has a wealth of flaws, most easily wrapped up in the fact that it’s basically an oversized iPhone/iPod touch. Uses the same OS, with all of its associated problems. (and strengths)

    That said, while I definitely don’t see the LCS going away tomorrow, I have a hunch that the real market for digital comics isn’t the extant market. The current market is one that, like you described, is used to comics as precious objects to be squirreled away. Prior to the 90’s collectors boom, comics were disposable entertainment on newsprint. At $3-4 a pop on nice paper (usually), not so much anymore. (I’m generalizing, granted)

    A lot of people, assuming the tablet market grows as anticipated, will have tablets for reasons other than novels or comics. It’s that market that digital comics can make big inroads to. At $.99 a pop, with some marketing to raise awareness that hey, comics exist and are still good, if comics as a medium are capable of still attracting a large audience, digital will remove any current barriers (LCS ghettoization, mostly) and comics will live or die on its own merits, and no one can blame a niche marketplace anymore, because anyone who can afford a cellphone will likely be able to soon afford a tablet and then get easy access to digital comics.

    All of that said, I agree nothing will change overnight. If this is a game changer, it won’t be just the iPad, and it won’t be a swift, radical transformation.

  3. An addendum: I was talking to someone last night who asked me if I thought the iPad could save newspapers. My response, and its as true for comics as it is for newspapers, is that only newspapers can save newspapers. IE, it’s never the hardware that changes the game. It’s the software.

    You want to monetize a newspaper? You build an app like the NYT has (and let’s not even get into how that presages the death of the web and the eventual rise of a splintered and app-driven internet, because that’s something that I am not even prepared to conceive of mentally) and you put a pricetag on it. You sell subs through the Kindle or the Nook. You cook up an ad-supported model for its site that isn’t invasive as fuck and is intelligently laid out. You pursue B2B partnerships on the front office side of things. The same things stand true for profitable digital comics.

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