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Will iPad lead fans back to printed comic books?

by Matthew Price Published: April 26, 2010
Marvel Comics' iPad app.
Marvel Comics' iPad app.

Iron Man, Spider-Man and the X-Men have become movie stars in the past decade, but their original home was comic books. While comics showed growth in the direct-sales market of comic shops and in the bookstore market of the past decade, some question if comics will change as more media becomes available digitally.

With Apple’s iPad device being showcased as a next generation of print, what does that mean to people who still make their living with print, in particular, Oklahoma’s comic book retailers?

“In a way, the progression towards digitized comics is an inevitable one,” said Rob Vollmar of the

Rob Vollmar (drawn by Pablo G. Callejo)
Rob Vollmar (drawn by Pablo G. Callejo)

Atomik Pop comic book store in Norman. But, he doesn’t think that sounds a death knell for printed comics and those who sell them.

The publishers at the 2010 ComicsPRO members’ meeting of retailers in Memphis, Tenn., reiterated their support for the direct market of comic book sales. Most expressed the hope that digital comics will work primarily to reach readers outside the direct-market system and a desire to point digital readers back to the direct market.

Chris Staros of publisher Top Shelf said some print fans will switch to digital comics, but some fans will be introduced through digital and migrate to print.

While every publisher represented aimed to increase its digital presence, each stated that it was doing so with the hope of also increasing its print market. Keynote speaker Robert Kirkman said “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible,” two books that he writes, have been available on the iPhone for seven months, and sales in print have gone up in the same period.

“I don’t think that we’re in a position where we’re going to start losing the (print) readers that we do have,” Kirkman said.

David Steinberger, president of ComiXology, which has an online app selling digital comics for the iPhone and iPad, says he hopes digital will help push new customers to print.

“We have the retailer finder in the iPad, and we hope to have more and more innovative ways to move readers from digital to print in every new version of the app,” he said.

Buck Berlin of New World Comics
Buck Berlin of New World Comics

Buck Berlin, of New World Comics in Oklahoma City, said while the retailers will be cut out of that initial digital sale, it is retailers’ responsibility to find ways to draw new readers into stores.

“It’s good for getting comics into the hands of people who normally wouldn’t read them,” he said. “It’s up to us to find a way to deal with it.”

Vollmar pointed out that the problem of piracy in comics, as that in the music industry, means that thousands of comics are already changing hands digitally — and illegally — without making the publishers a dime.

Marvel Comics’ app for the iPad ranked among the top apps in the opening weeks of the iPad’s availability, which is good for the visibility of Marvel. But will that positioning translate into sales?

“The question that we’re going to have to answer in the years to come is how much of that business is new business, and how much is siphoning off the print product,” Vollmar said.

- by Matthew Price
From the Outlook 2010 section of The Oklahoman

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by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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