Will the iPad reinvigorate comic books?

Media companies, including comic book makers, love Apple's I-Pad. But can it really help superhero companies?

By Jamie Dlugosch Apr 6, 2010 9:41AM

There's always a bit of hype when Apple releases a new product, so how's this:


When Spider-Man and Iron Man need help, they call on Steve Jobs.


BusinessWeek reports today that comic powerhouse Marvel and a few smaller names are either out with or soon to release iPad applications that will make it easy to buy and read comics on the hot new device. DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman, is officially just looking for the moment.



The hope is that the big, bright screen on the iPad will make colorful panels more fun to look at, and might even reverse a long decline in comic sales.


Apple's (AAPL) Jobs, of course, has predicted the device will be a game changer. For companies like these two -- and parents Disney (DIS) and Time Warner (TWX) -- it will be.


Considering that Apple sold 300,000 units of the device over a weekend, with many stores closed for Easter, the iPad is certainly making a splash.


Media companies are rooting for the iPad’s success. For years, print publications have been in decline due to the Internet and the ability to easily access information for free via computer. They'd love Apple's help in charging for content, in the way music and video is sold for iPods.


For comics, which rely on bright colors and big panels, the potential for the iPad is huge.


Usually, though, it would be hard to invest in such a trend. Marvel is now a small slice of Disney, while DC Comics is owned by Time Warner. Either could double sales and barely move their parent companies' bottom lines.


But in this case, I think both Disney and Time Warner will benefit greatly if the iPad spawns a comic craze. Why?


Both Disney and Time Warner rely on content for success. Developing popular characters and audiences at the comic book level can lead to hit movies, then soundtracks, then TV spinoffs. Disney’s recent purchase of Marvel was based entirely on this fact.


But how do you get new readers to comic books?


With an iPad, I can now purchase a comic to read while sitting at the airport waiting for a plane. How about on a car trip? Imagine being able to download the latest comic and handing the iPad to the kids in the back seat.


For casual fans, that means no more tracking down issues at a bookstore, or hanging with fans at the shrinking number of comic bookstores. It's easy to geek out -- and looking at the box office for films like "Iron Man," there's a little geek inside a lot of us.


So this isn't just another way to sell a book for a couple of bucks. It's a way to build a multi-platform audience for years to come. Marvel is onboard, and DC will have to follow suit. And Disney and Time Warner shares will be higher as a result.


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