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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.

When I asked Steinberger about whether the change in relationship between Comixology and Apple would cool off the company's iOS development, he responded that it absolutely wouldn't. "We have some fantastic iOS developers," he said, and Comixology doesn't intend to lose them. Of course, Comixology is also still responsible for the development of Marvel and DC's digital-comics apps, and those still offer in-app purchases of comics.

Even if you get over the need to go to a web browser to buy comics on iOS — honestly, I was already buying most of my comics via the Web even before the big Apple-Comixology breakup — the removal of purchasing has scarred Comixology's existing app. The app's centerpiece, which featured new comics, is gone, and nothing has really replaced it. New purchases from the Web don't download automatically and aren't displayed front and center. Large collections are hard to organize. Even aside from the in-app purchase issue, there's plenty of room for improvement on the Comixology front.

Steinberger acknowledged the criticisms and said Comixology was "acutely aware" that there needed to be improvement, especially in organizing comics. One would hope that team of excellent iOS developers is hard at work addressing many of these concerns — but there was no news on an app update, at least not at Comic-Con.

I still read comics in Comixology every week. But I have to wonder just how hard iOS comics sales have been hit by the removal of in-app purchases. After the show was over, over beers with some friends, I heard several of them say that their Comixology purchases had dropped way off after the change.

The distinguished competition

Meanwhile, Comixology's changes leave an opening for the competition. During Comic-Con, Apple promoted comic-themed apps on the App Store, and while Comixology was conspicuously omitted, Madefire was prominently displayed.

Though Madefire recently added support for standard print comics, its stock and trade is dynamic comics. Its web-based tools are designed to let comic creators add cinematic flourishes to their storytelling, using motion and audio to create works that simply couldn't exist on paper.

At Comic-Con Madefire announced an update to its iOS app and the release of its brand-new Android version. The service is also tied in with the deviantArt community of artists, who have full access to Madefire's tools and can publish their creations directly back to deviantArt.

When I asked Madefire CTO Eugene Walden about the company's new support for standard print comics, he emphasized that Madefire's focus remains on dynamic media, but that adding print comics to the catalog allowed artists and publishers to offer a more complete set of products.


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