A Dedicated e-Reader for Comics?

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage

I love my Amazon Kindle. Of course I am a book addict, so I get a lot of use out of it. In fact before I bought it, I did the math, and realized that the money I would save between time, delivery, and cost would mean my Kindle would pay for itself within a year.

Now when it comes to comics, it's easy to imagine a device that will be the comic equivalent of the Kindle (which already does some manga). Relatively inexpensive, a nice display, simple but effective functionality, and easy downloads. It's easy to imagine because we've seen similar devices and similar software already.

Yes, it's easy to imagine. However, I think were going to be left with imagining. Because a dedicated E–comic device is simply unlikely, unworkable, and impractical.

Why do I, a dedicated technophile and geek, say this? I say this, simply, because I don't see it working. The future of E–comics is going to be software on multiple devices, not a dedicated device.

It's important for us to keep this in mind. Those of us who love comics, who worker hope to work in comics, and hope to work in media need to stay on top of technical trends. That means keeping track of what is likely and what is unlikely.

Lex Luthor is driven to madness when he realizes he'll be reading comics on his iPad instead of a dedicated device. He's really into Angry Birds.

That dedicated comic reading device? That is very, very unlikely. 

Here's why:

First of all, creating a dedicated reader for books was easy. Reading books involves a simple flow of information that is very, very easy to program. We've been reading text off of devices for years. Comics, on the other hand can have very exotic and unusual flows of information–we've all seen some kind of imaginative layout it would be very hard to program in a display, because it is so unusual. The classic nine-panel flow isn't with us very much. So, programming a device to handle comics flow would be very difficult–unless of course the device was big enough to display an entire comic page, in that case we have a form factor issue.

Try to imagine developing a standard comics–flow format for a device. Exactly. Not happening.

Secondly, one would need a color screen. No regular display screen is doable, but it also has the disadvantages of a regular screen–the lighting, the eyestrain, and the challenges of reading in different lighting conditions. An e-ink screen, such as a color version of the Kindle, would be nice - and at this stage very costly. Let's be honest, people aren't willing to pay so much for device to read comics. Especially when they can read them on many other devices via software. You need color - and great color - to get any benefit of a device. There are already plenty out there – tablets, phones, laptops, etc.

Third, as mentioned in my first point, there is the form factor. What is the best form factor for a dedicated comics reading device? I don't know, and I don't think anyone else knows either. Something as big as a regular comic book may sound nice but that's could have portability issues. Something smaller may sound ideal, but then one has the flow issue mentioned earlier. With no real sure way to work out how comics should be displayed, and many variable forms of storytelling within comics, an ideal form factor is hard to determine.

Computo is sad as he realizes dedicated Comics Readers won't be available in the 30th century.

Me, I don't know if I want to comic book size device to read my comics on. That's bordering on being something the size of a laptop. And just for comics? I don't think so.

Fourth, there is finding an audience for the device. Everybody reads books. The Kindle device is something that anybody would probably get some use out of. But comics' readership is a bit of an odd demographic - we've certainly seen that many comic companies and publishers are trying to figure out how to serve their audiences, and how to survive. I sincerely doubt that there is enough of a market of a dedicated comic reading device for someone to produce a profit and succeed long-term.

I suspect that any expansion of the comics reading market is going to come from more and more casual readers, those brought in by related multimedia properties, and readers brought in by more diverse comic sources, such as manga. Though I suspect people reading comics and comics related materials is going to expand I don't think these people's readerships will be dedicated enough to warrant someone creating a dedicated E-comics device.

So that's my conclusion. Sorry, no dedicated E–comics device. Sure it would be cool, but I don't think it's financially, artistically, or culturally feasible.

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