Comic books now available on cell phones

Comic books now available on cell phones

By DAVID TWIDDY AP Business Writer
Article Launched: 09/06/2007 12:08:05 PM PDT
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Artist Steven Sanders holds a cell phone next to his computer screen at… (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Sean Demory
realized a long-held dream of becoming a published comic book writer
when "Thunder Road," a post-apocalyptic adventure he developed with
artist Steven Sanders, was released.

"I’ve been plugging away and
pitching things for 15-20 years," Demory said. "This is the first one
that landed in fertile soil."

But don’t look for the tales of
Merritt and his buddies on the shelves of a comic book store or even
the Internet. "Thunder Road" is the first comic book released in the
U.S. exclusively on a cell phone, part of a lineup of mobile comic
books offered by Kansas City-based uClick.

"It opens up a
market that wouldn’t necessarily be seen as a traditional comic
market," Demory said of the launch last month.

Several
companies are experimenting with putting printed material on mobile
phones, including publisher HarperCollins’ announcement this summer it
would begin putting excerpts of new books on Apple Inc.’s iPhones.

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Artist Steven Sanders works in his office in Kansas City, Mo.,Wednesday,… (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

 

 

Mobile
comic books are still in their infancy in the U.S.—uClick says it’s
grown to about 55,000 readers a month in the first year of offering its
GoComics service.

But it touches on two strengthening trends:
Comic book creators looking to leap to the digital arena, where
production and distribution are cheap, and the demand by wireless
providers for data-rich applications to drive future revenues.

"Obviously comics have a pretty large following," said David Oberholzer, associate director of content programming for
Verizon Wireless, which offers GoComics along with competitors AT&T
Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. "You want to mimic what’s out there
already and have that on your deck."

For $4.49 a month on Verizon,
or $3.99 a month for AT&T and Sprint, subscribers can view nearly a
dozen different traditional comic books. There’s also a separate
subscription service for Japanese comics called manga.

The
comic books range from well-known names like "Bone" and "Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles," to up-and-coming books, such as crime noirish "Umbra"
and Hindu folklore-inspired "Devi." The comics site adds new chapters
or issues for each title every week.

Jeff Webber, vice
president of product development for uClick, the digital arm of
newspaper feature distributor Universal Press Syndicate, declined to
provide revenue figures, saying some of the 55,000 monthly readers
include people using free trials.

But he said the company,
which already lets people view comic strips on their wireless devices,
is pleased with the comic book feature’s growth and may allow users
this fall not only to subscribe but buy whole issues over the phone.

"We know there’s a lot of interest out there and we’re trying to find the best way to serve the customer," Webber said.

Mobile
comics have been a cellular mainstay for years in manga-crazy Japan,
where some titles already begin life on cell phones before going to
print.

Stu Levy, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based
TokyoPop, one of the leading U.S. publishers of manga, said the
domestic market is still way behind Japan. But he said he could see
comics being released in the U.S. on mobile phones before coming out in
print regularly in the next few years.

Levy, whose company
provides most of GoComics’ manga titles, said his company already is
experimenting with adding animation and other cinematic touches to
manga stories and tying in manga-themed games, ring tones, wallpaper
and other content.

"I think that we’re all still in the
experimental stage," Levy said. "But I think with video and with
technology that will allow the experience on the cell phone to become
more engaging and more involved, we’ll be able to touch more customers
in a number of areas."

The GoComics reader displays each comic
book a panel at a time, reformatted from the printed versions with
larger typeface in word balloons, although some comics are harder to
read than others. The phone’s buttons advance each frame, allowing the
reader to scroll across larger pictures.

Sanders, who did the
art for "Thunder Road" as well as Image Comics’ "Five Fists of
Science," said the smaller screen does pose some challenges as space is
at a premium. But he said the single panels also allow creators to
better control how their audience reads the story, preventing them from
ruining surprises by glancing at the next page.

He said he was
initially attracted to the project because he believes digital
publishing is a faster and cheaper way to get to market.

"I
think the future of comics itself lies in digital format," he said,
noting that the 10-cent comics of yesteryear have been replaced by $3
and $4 books. "It’s lost that bang for the buck that you used to have
as a cheap form of entertainment. There’s not a lot of incentive for
people who aren’t already heavily invested in or used to reading comics
to go out and buy them."

Wireless companies are still undecided
on the future of mobile publishing as small screens and short battery
lives make online reading a chore.

But Charles Golvin, a
wireless analyst for Forrester Research, said comic books could be
different because they’re what he called "quick hit content," like ring
tones and wallpaper.

"There are plenty of niches," he said. "My
sense is that in the long term, as displays get better and networks get
better and there’s a better experience for all sorts of content, I
think the comic book stuff makes a little bit more sense to me."

On the Net:

GoComics: http://www.gocomics.com

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