How Is Graphic.Ly Doing? How About Longbox? A Survey of Digital Comic Distributors

With all the hoo-hah over both Marvel and DC having same-day digital comic releases available, both through their Comixology apps, I found myself wondering about the other two major digital comic players.

Comixology is clearly winning so far. They carry all the major publishers and many minor ones, plus they’re the most widely available. Not only do they cover the iPhone and iPad, they provide a web viewer (in beta) to allow easy computer access to one’s library of purchased/downloaded digital comics in their proprietary format. They also have a certain amount of retail integration, directing potential customers to their local shop, which makes the existing stores happier. But what of or Longbox?

Longbox Digital

Actually, it’s kind of premature to call Longbox a major player, since they don’t fully exist yet. The software is in public beta. There’s no word on which publishers they will carry. Based on my recollection, they helped start the idea of the digital comics industry, but they’ve been badly lapped by their competitors. By the time they do release — expect to hear more news at this year’s San Diego Con, later this month — will anyone still care?

For the basics planned for the app, you can read this interview with Rantz Hoseley, product creator, from last year. I think Longbox made what publishers see as a big mistake: first targeting Mac and PC desktops, when the hot digital comic market is handhelds, especially the iPad and iPhone. That’s because people on handhelds are willing to pay for content, while people on the web or desktops don’t. So publishers are eager to open up a potential revenue stream, although they won’t risk the old familiar sales outlets.

Longbox also is somewhat format-agnostic, like the original iTunes, allowing you to import CBR/CBZ files regardless of source, which is another strike against them in the minds of content providers. Fans, on the other hand, will love having only one app to store and organize their digital comics — if any publishers sign on to provide content through the system. All of these systems have proprietary formats (even Longbox), making it difficult to maintain a consolidated comic-reading library on only one computer program.

In short, lots of great ideas, if they happen, but it may be too late., on the other hand, is quite honest about running late. They’ve released an Adobe Air-based app, and their Windows 7- and iPhone-specific versions are in beta. They’ve also announced plans for iPad and Android (yay!) versions. Unfortunately, their selection is much more limited than Comixology, although they do feature Top Cow, Boom!, Archie, and some iPhone-only Marvel comics.

They’ve acquired community site iFanboy, just as Comixology has blogs and podcasts. (That acquisition was after iFanboy ran this glowing Longblox article last year.) They’re also looking for developers to join the company, which might help the delay problem.

What sets them apart is their “telling it like it is” attitude. For instance, from one of their recent promotional emails:

We will get very close to 700 comics in the system, and we will launch an iphone app, as with most of our stuff when its new, it kinda stinks. But we have an update under review, and we are waiting on publishers to approve another 100-130 books, including Marvel. Remember you can download your current collection to the app for free, an iPad app (I’m pretty excited about it…let me know if you want to be a tester), and our Win7 app. We are a little behind everyone else, but given what Ive seen our developers doing, I think we will close the gap technologically. Add that to the partnerships we are putting in place, and there should be some fun announcements there too.

It’s refreshing to see someone admit they’re behind and that their betas aren’t perfect. Instead of promising potential customers the moon, they’re purposefully downplaying expectations so what they do provide may read more as a pleasant surprise.

Yet More

And then there’s the iPhone/iPad-only Panelfly, which has much the same comics as everyone else offers. I think it’s smart for publishers not to force customers into a particular comic reader, but that means a company with an early lead in signing up the most desirable periodical publishers will have quite the advantage in attracting users. iVerse is even more limited in being iPhone-only, out of the platforms we’ve discussed, but they do provide PlayStation access, which is reportedly surprisingly successful.

The NPR blog sums things up by calling this the new Digital Age of comics, noting that the game has changed but no one quite knows exactly how yet.

20 Responses to “How Is Graphic.Ly Doing? How About Longbox? A Survey of Digital Comic Distributors”

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  3. Torsten Adair Says:

    And then there’s OverDrive, which sells and manages digital downloads for some 9,000 libraries worldwide. Since April 2010, they’ve been offering select Marvel comics (single issues) and Tokyopop GNs in Adobe DRM EPUB format.

    They have a lot of different reader apps, so they might be the front-runners right now in terms of flexibility.

    They’re also in talks with another comics publisher, plus they already work with the major publishers like Hachette and Random House.

    The digital age of downloadable comics probably began with Byron Preiss’ ibooks (not the Apple version). The Queens Public Library actually offers copies of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy GN and Ray Bradbury Chronicles from 2002.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Wow, it fascinates me how many companies there are trying to make a business of digital books. I’d never heard of OverDrive before, nor Zinio, which Tokyopop is also using. This strikes me as something that will need to shake out to avoid user confusion before mainstream acceptance and adoption.

  5. James Schee Says:

    Are there any comics on Amazon’s Kindle (which you can also get as an ap for Iphone/pad) or whatever Barnes & Nobles reader is called?

  6. Johanna Says:

    Yes, but — according to Publishers Weekly, the reading experience is not very enjoyable. On the Kindle, comics “look dim and small; word balloons are often difficult to read even when enlarged.” More recently, one artist is having problems because the format requires shrinking images. Not to mention it’s only black and white.

  7. Julie Says:

    “I think Longbox made what publishers see as a big mistake: first targeting Mac and PC desktops, when the hot digital comic market is handhelds, especially the iPad and iPhone. That’s because people on handhelds are willing to pay for content, while people on the web or desktops don’t.”

    I’ve heard, through scuttlebutt, that sales of Kindle books went up dramatically when Amazon offered the Kindle app for PCs (they also offer one for Macs). Handheld owners may be more willing to pay, but there are more computer owners and not everyone who is willing to pay has a handheld.

    The Kindle apps for non-Kindle hardware are quite good for comics if the files are properly designed; the software can handle higher-resolution files and full color that the Kindle itself can’t. Of course, there’s an art to getting files to compress to within the maximum size without losing necessary detail.

    I’ve been fairly pleased with reading manga on the Kindle for Mac application, although there are things it could do better, like zoom (which they swear is coming soon) and tracking page numbers.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Excellent point about how much more widespread desktops/laptops are. I should have been clearer in what I meant by mentioning that in reference to Longbox — handhelds are the hot new thing right now, so apps for those will get you attention/visibility, regardless of actual numbers.

    Thanks very much for providing some actual experience with Kindle comics.

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  10. Weldon Says:

    Just a note to clarify, the iVerse Comics App is available on the iPhone, iPod Touch, AND the iPad. And it has been on the iPad since the day of launch.
    iVerse powers the Archie Comics App and all of the IDW Apps (including their dedicated Transformers, Star Trek, & GI Joe apps).

  11. Johanna Says:

    I was misled by their About Us page, which says “iVerse Comics is a digital comic company that produces digital long form comic books for the iPhone and iPod Touch.” Do they have an iPad-specific version, or are they just reusing their iPhone app, do you know?

  12. NeoStar9X Says:

    I had no idea that iVerse were making their versions avaliable through the PlayStation Network store. Just went to their site and saw the logo.

    While hand helds are a good starting place for comics the screen have been to small. I started with the iPad Touch when iVerse first came out. Honestly it was the deciding factor (not only but the one that finally pushed it into the buy pile) for getting an iPod Touch but in then end podcast became my media of choice for it. That still surprises me. Viewing comics on the PSP had been more enjoyable not only due to the larger screen but also because they’ve been edited for the screen. I’ve been glad others have decided to do the same thing. I remember when comixology came out and you had to zoom in and out to view the comic. I stuck with iVerse during that time because while very slow with getting titles out it was a more enjoyable experience.

    However I do feel I’ll be picking up more titles for Longbox and Graphic.Ly once they are fully up and running. Being in IT I have access to computers all day and seeing an entire page on the screen is more enjoyable then looking down at a hand held. I might feel differently if I had an iPad but I have no desire to buy one and most certainly not to simply view comics.

    Counting out the PC market I do think isn’t a good idea. The very fact that pirating is so large shows people can and will read comics on a computer screen. Just how people had no problem downloading music on the computer, even just to listen to it there. Then there is porn industry on the internet as well as regular movie and tv show streaming. Provide a legal means and at a decent price and show it won’t close down in a month and there will be customers.

    However the largest deciding factor if digital comics really succeed in the end I think will be how current the content is.

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  14. Peter Schmeiser Says:

    I have been trying all of these out, but continually find myself coming back to Comixology, and even dumping the publisher-specific apps in favor of the all-in-one. I like the reader’s style, the panel to panel zoom/read feature, and the interface is really simple. As a long time iFanboy listener I have been anxious to see what came up with, but was kinda underwhelmed a bit. I like the ideas behind it, but it might be too late for that app.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I still haven’t jumped into digital comics, but I can see that learning one app and sticking with it sounds more efficient than having to figure out several.

  16. Peter Schmeiser Says:

    @Johanna IDW has gone as far as to splinter out all their hot titles (GI Joe, Transformers…) into separate apps, but I’m an all-in-one type of person, and Comixology is delivering that.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Given how I understand the app store to work, I think they have to have separate names so they’ll show up when those terms are searched for. But it’s not the best choice, I agree.

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