Why Newsstand is the future for digital comics

Apple's NewssatdnThis week saw the release of Apple’s new iOS5 operating system for iPad and iPhone. You might have missed it as it got somewhat lost amongst the tragic news of Steve Jobs passing and the internet backlash against the iPhone 4S, but it is probably the most exciting thing that will happen to digital publishing this year.

At it’s centre is the brand new app/service known as Newsstand. This is designed as Apple’s storefront for digital magazines and allows publishers to upload content without having to rely on creating a bespoke app as well as allowing them to sell digital subscriptions to those products without having to rely on customers updating their apps each time they want a new issue. As well as being a major move for the slowly dying print publishing industry it also offers a dynamic and visual storefront for magazines to be browsed and downloaded. Those of us used to downloading our comics from Comixology apps are already familliar with this idea (especially with the upgrades to Comics 2.0 which were a direct move to compete with Newsstand)  and just as traditional print magazine companies are rushing to get their titles on to newsstand, it may only be a matter of time before the big comic publishers end up there too. Image have already played their hand launching titles like Walking Dead and Savage Dragon on there, as well as titles like Mark Waid’s Irredeemable thanks to their connections with the guys at Graphicly. Although they have their own apps, the potential access to digital subscriptions means that comics may soon be following in the footsteps of Wired, GQ and Vogue by taking over Newsstand.

But can this model work for comics? After all, magazine have a strict 4 weekly cycle and we have all experienced the frustration of waiting for long periods between titles as a result of late shipping. In fact Comixology CEO David Steinberger was quick to tweet that comics wouldn’t and couldn’t work on this model.

 “Apple Newsstand subscriptions charge every month, whether or not the comic ships. Comics ship late. So, no comiXology newsstand yet.”

But is this just excuses from and for the comics industry inability to hit deadlines? You don’t see the editor or art director of Wired using this excuse! Surely as a business it goes against the basic notion of supplying a demand if they can’t stick to this and the supply the customer with what they want? Sure we want our comics to be the best they can be, but we also what them in a timely manner in order to follow the stories we are investing in. Perhaps stricter monthly deadlines to accommodate this new subscription model would enable wayward creatives like Brian Bendis or Bryan Hitch to stick closer to their deadlines and in doing so keep their titles on schedule. Would it not in fact reward wrtiers like Dan Slott or artists like John Romita Jr who stick to the ‘old school Marvel’ way of doing things and seem to produce their work without constantly slipping deadlines. Or reward those young talents who are coming through who can produce work to this stricter schedule.

Surely the days of the creatives choosing the deadlines is a hangover from the self-indulgent 90s and publishers and distributors alike would benefit more from set numbers of issues available per calendar year than they are by the current fluctuating totals. I am sure the creatives will rally against this, but with self publishing on the iPad so common place (just ask Alan Moore and his LXG release) and self-published imprints like Icon or Millarworld thriving,  perhaps Newsstand will allow the big boys of Marvel and DC to move away from the era of big name writers’ and artists’ work delaying entire story arcs by running late and will return us to a more traditional model of tightly written, punctual stories by writers who’s work are kept tighter by the restrictions of regular deadlines. Kirby and Lee never had that luxury after all.

With Newsstand the chance is there to reach a whole new generation of tablet savvy readers, we’ll just have to wait and see who grabs the brass ring first.