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Comic-Con: iPads are mainstream, but there's still digital drama

Jason Snell | July 31, 2014
I've been reading comics on and off since I was a kid, and I went to college in San Diego, yet I never attended San Diego Comic-Con International until the release of the iPad. I was drawn by the impact that device would have on the comics industry, and sure enough, over the past five years there's been massive change.

I've been reading comics on and off since I was a kid, and I went to college in San Diego, yet I never attended San Diego Comic-Con International until the release of the iPad. I was drawn by the impact that device would have on the comics industry, and sure enough, over the past five years there's been massive change.

But the story that drew me to my first Comic-Con is, it seems to me, drawing to an end. The industry freak-outs about how digital comics were going to destroy printed comics and comic shops? They're gone, by and large. (This doesn't mean that the industry isn't changing- — just this week a venerable retailer announced it probably wouldn't return to the show.) The shouting is over and digital comics are just another part of the landscape.

Comic-Con's calendar used to be populated with panels about the state of digital comics versus printed comics, and what the future would bring. This year it was a nonissue. The most interesting iPad-related session I saw featured Kristy and Brian Miller of Hi-Fi Colour Design demonstrating how you can draw, ink, and paint comics at full quality, entirely using iPad apps such as Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro, Adobe Ideas, and Savage Interactive's Procreate.

Turns out iPad isn't just great for reading comics, it's great for making them too.

Comixology controversy

This isn't to say there aren't some hot tech topics in the comics industry. Leading digital-comic retailer Comixology had more or less its same booth as in previous years, located at the back of the main trade-show floor. You'd never know from looking at it just what's happened in the last few months.

First, Comixology was bought by Amazon in April. Then a few weeks later, it summarily abandoned Apple's in-app purchasing system, forcing iOS users to the Web to buy comics.

Comixology's CEO David Steinberger, with whom I've met at every Comic-Con I've attended, understands the controversy, though he generally declines to comment on it. There are more Kindle Fire tablets in the company's booth, and both Steinberger and his PR chief had new Fire Phones to show off.

In fact, Steinberger is now also in charge of Amazon's digital-comics business, though he's got nothing to announce on that front. Given Comixology's relationships with publishers and its superior reading technology, one would assume that Amazon's digital-comics store would be getting a major upgrade in the future.

It seems unlikely that the iOS Comixology app will ever regain in-app purchases unless Apple changes its rules and allows Amazon to charge customers using its own account system. (On Android and Kindle, in-app purchases continue to work, though Android users must add items to a cart and then check out, rather than instantly purchasing individual items.)

 

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