What Can Publishers Learn from Digital Comic Books?
The emergence of digital books has been anything but easy for publishers. That's especially true in the trade market, where traditional sales channels have been upended by changes in consumer behavior and publishers have struggled to realize the early promise of the ebook as a rich new digital canvas.
In many ways, non-trade books, such as textbooks, have more effectively acclimated to the digital form. Although initially the complex layout and design of certain nonfiction genres made them problematic on reflowable content-reading devices, the advent of interactive tablets made such titles natural candidates for interactive, rich media publishing. Really, the education sector is leading the way in the use of "content chunking," adaptive content, and interactive publishing.
As publishers continue to test the potential for interactive ebooks, investigating what other sects are doing may offer clues on how to thrive in the digital era. One underexplored publishing segment is comic books, graphic novels, and manga, or CGM for short. The visually rich, often non-linear nature of the form suggests an interactive, game-like approach is well suited to tablets and smartphones. The emergence of responsive design and HTML-based standards like EPUB 3 is expected to empower CGM publishers—and should serve as an example for others with complex content. We interviewed a number of CGM publishers and advocates to discover how they are adapting to digital, and to see what lessons they might offer others.
Although they are clearly embracing mobile, larger CGM publishers had less to say publicly than their smaller counterparts. DC Entertainment (Time Warner) and Marvel Worldwide (Disney) have an impressive tablet-smartphone approach, using the comiXology cloud distribution platform and an elegant viewing methodology for small-screen devices. On tablets, comiXology titles are full-color facsimiles of the printed page, with various letterboxing and scaling options, plus email and social media sharing functionality. On smartphones, each swipe takes the reader to the next logical panel, with a smooth zoom to the best available width or height. Full-page panels can use auto-zoom to successive areas of interest, or the reader may manually pinch-zoom to see more detail.
John Parsons (firstname.lastname@example.org), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.