Too Many Digital Options Too Confusing

I’m sharing here excerpts of three press releases that found their way into my emailbox this morning to make a point. That point is based on a key principle of user design: don’t make people think. If I have to stop and think, if as a customer I have to compare options and figure out what I want when and how, then I’m likely to think it’s all too complicated and bail. I want to feel confident that I’m getting good value for money instead of feeling milked or manipulated or taken for granted with a better product coming later or confused by too many choices.

Comic Book Website Creates iPad Magazine

To notice here: the majority of potential readers, those who access without an iPad, are left out of back issue access. As Matt Blind posted earlier this year, limiting your audience to just one device is like limiting your audience to the population of only New York and Los Angeles. It may work for some things (like limited-release art films that want to build buzz and award nominations), but it’s not good for the business long-term. In this case, companies that work iPad- and iPhone-only appear to be doing it merely for the press coverage and a perception of hip-ness.

Broken Frontier has launched a new iPad app for The Frontiersman, the world’s first digital comics magazine for mobile devices. The new app features the entire back catalogue of the magazine, with new issues continuing to be released for free on Tuesdays at a bi-weekly pace.

“Since we launched the magazine in early May, lots of people have inquired about the availability of back issues as The Frontiersman’s popularity continues to increase,” Broken Frontier’s Editor in Chief Frederik Hautain says. “As of today, all previous issues are accessible in our new app. Because the magazine was created specifically for mobile readers, we’re only making our back catalogue available there. Comics fans that don’t own an iPad can continue to download a free PDF copy of each new release on BF.”

Currently, there are 8 issues of the magazine available, and the app updates itself whenever a new release becomes available.

I suppose the lesser PDF readers have to use old technology like RSS or remember to look for themselves. I’d say “or download a complete series pack from a torrent site”, but it requires something to be popular to show up in file-sharing lists, and this is the first time I’ve heard of the digital mag. Snarky comment aside, they’re a first-mover in this space, and I imagine they might gain a good amount of mindshare just for being there early and staking out the homestead. It’s free, too, presumably ad-supported, since it’s co-created with an ad agency.

Still, I can’t help thinking that it might have been possible to get across the message that your zine looks best on a handheld without making PDF readers sound like second-class customers.

iTunes First, Print Later

Pocket God #1

To notice here: Usually, we see print first because companies are afraid of offending traditional comic retailers by doing digital early. But here, since the project is based on an app, it’s likely that’s where their core audience already is. But notice the mention of extra content, to convince customers to buy twice.

Based on the best-selling iPhone/iPad app (over 3 million sold), Ape Entertainment now brings Pocket God to comics. Issue 1 won’t arrive in stores until September (with extra content), but it’s available today digitally through iTunes.

Price is $.99 digitally, $3.95 in print, which is a pretty big gap. Makes me wonder about just how extensive that extra content is and what it consists of.

Comics in Print, Online, or on TV?

To notice here: How many different ways are they going to package the same art to sell to Joss Whedon fans? And who’s getting paid and how for reuse of their work?

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted cover
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Buy this DVD

Marvel has licensed its Astonishing X-Men motion comic to Shout! Factory for DVD release on September 28.

Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Eisner Award-winning take on Marvel’s mightiest mutants comes to life through the studio of comics legend Neal Adams […] Remaining true to the heritage of panel-by-panel graphic storytelling, with groundbreaking visuals, sensational soundscapes, and of course, the explosiveness of the Mighty Marvel Universe, the ASTONISHING X-MEN – GIFTED DVD features the first story arc of the ASTONISHING X-MEN 3-part series by Whedon and Cassaday.

Since this DVD is billed as “the first title in the multi-part ASTONISHING X-MEN home entertainment series,” perhaps the other two parts are due later. Bonus features include “a conversation with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams” (neither of whom actually worked on this comic), the trailer for this DVD, the “Rise Up” music video promoting it, a “visual history of the characters” (slideshow? gallery?), “behind-the-scenes with Marvel Knights Animation”, a John Cassaday artists gallery, and more trailers.

Plus, the DVD will have “a unique replica of comic book-style plastic sleeve packaging that bridges the comic book to DVD concept” and will be “priced to own at $14.97″. Well, of course, you don’t want people RENTING the X-Men! That would be too much like a movie!

They call this a “wonderful hybrid” that uses the “latest technology”, but every motion comic I’ve seen looks more like a limited, cost-cutting cartoon. I suppose this DVD release is the equivalent of the trade paperback collection for the motion comic, which was previously available through iTunes starting October 2009.


While I’m often down on digital comics, I will be on a business trip later this month, and I will be happy for them then, although in my case, I’m hoping they’ll be PDF review copies, so I can keep working on the road. Still, as a customer, I’m finding all the formats and options much too confusing to keep straight. On the other hand, it does seem to be spurring creativity in finding more and different and new ways to package content in different formats in the hope of spurring some income.

3 Responses to “Too Many Digital Options Too Confusing”

  1. Thad Says:

    Part of the problem is Apple’s aggressive stance against Flash and middleware. (Short version of my stance: I think Apple’s right for breaking compatibility with Flash, but wrong for telling programmers what languages they’re allowed to program in and API’s they’re allowed to use.)

    That said, you’re right about PDF; it’s a pretty damn universal format — the “P” is, after all, for “portable”. The readers (not just Adobe’s but Apple’s as well) have their share of vulnerabilities, but that’s a separate issue.

    You and I’ve both ranted against DRM at length; no need to rehash it — there’s no damn reason companies should be fiddling with proprietary nonsense in a futile attempt to prevent people from pirating their products; it doesn’t prevent those PDF’s and CBR’s from popping up on torrent sites, it just decreases the number of devices that are actually capable of accessing the legal versions.

    And while Flash has been the de facto standard for embedded website content for the past decade, Apple’s changed that. And, while I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s walled-garden approach, I DO think it’s about time that somebody pointed out Flash is awful and we need an alternative.

  2. James Schee Says:

    I think digital comics are still in a very infant age right now. Luckily when it comes to technology things grow up pretty fast. I think like with most technological items that soon the cream will rise to the top and that’ll eventually become the format.

    I honestly hope it isn’t PDFs though, I’ve just never liked the format for reading comics.

  3. Iron Man: Extremis Is Marvel’s Second Motion Comic DVD Release » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] Shout! Factory have announced the second in their line of motion comic collections on DVD, after Astonishing X-Men (out September 28). Iron Man: Extremis is due out November 30. As described by the press release, […]




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