More troubling, perhaps, is that the Marvel collections are only available on Marvel’s own app, meaning that they’re aimed at an audience that already knows about the books, and is at least somewhat interested in the characters, mythology and fictional worlds of the Marvel Universe.
For more useful digital outreach, we need to look at IDW Publishing, the California-based independent publisher whose output splits between well-known media franchises (Transformers, Star Trek and True Blood all have IDW series) and lesser-known fare such as Locke & Key, The Rocketeer and adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker crime novels.
Earlier this month, IDW announced that it would be offering graphic novels and collected editions through Apple’s iBooks store, starting with titles written by prose writers who may have an established iBooks audience (Books by Anne Rice, James Patterson and World War Z author Max Brooks are amongst the initial releases). As director of ePublishing for IDW, Jeff Webber, explained in the announcement:
“While our various comic storefront apps, such as IDW Comics, TRANSFORMERS Comics or Doctor Who Comics, are extremely popular with experienced comics readers and fans of those brands, having this significant presence in iBooks will help readers discover creators and titles, much the same as browsing in major book retail chains.”
This seems to be the most obvious—and most reasonable—way to hook in a new audience for comics as a medium, and digital comics as a format: Put material that people might want to read in a place where they may already be looking. IDW isn’t the only comic publisher looking at iBooks as an outlet; Top Shelf and manga publisher Viz are already offering material through the store, and others will inevitably join as time goes on.
Digital comics could—and, let’s face it, probably should — be the future of the comic medium, and between DC Comics’ extensively-promoted relaunch and IDW’s iBooks launch this month, seems to offer their best chance at convincing newcomers to try them out. It’s a shame that such promotion comes at a time when the format is still in such a state of flux.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.