The growing array of comics available for iPhones got a Hulk-sized addition last week when Marvel Comics, the leading US comics publisher, announced deals with four iPhone applications. Comics both recent and classic are now available for download from Comixology, iVerse and Panelfly. Scrollmotion, another leading app for iPhones that distributes books, will also have Marvel Comics available. Download prices are mostly $1.99 an issues; however Panelfly is offering a $.99 introductory price for some titles.
While virtually every other comics publisher has announced comics available for iPhones this year, Marvel's line-up—including the complete award winning 24-issue run of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday—includes some of the most successful print comics yet offered for iPhone.
Marvel's executive v-p of digital media, Ira Rubenstein said Marvel had been looking at the iPhone platform for a year—but they are already no stranger to digital distribution. Marvel has its own Digital Comics Unlimited program where subscribers can view over 7000 Marvel comics online; earlier this year the publisher announced a deal to make comics available on with Sony's PSP which should be rolling out before the end of the year.
In choosing a variety of iPhone distributors, Rubenstein said Marvel was concerned about the user experience and security. "Each one has a slightly different experience. We reviewed each potential partner to make sure there was a good consumer experience." The content was chosen by Marvel publisher Dan Buckley, with an eye for both contemporary hits—Ed Brubaker's Captain America run—and classic material—the first 25 issues of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko..
In addition to this existing material, Marvel is already producing original content, both for their DCU program and iTunes. The latter includes a Spider-Woman motion comic (a limited animation version of a comic) that was a bestseller on iTunes; Rubenstein expects motion comics to be an important part of Marvel's digital program.
While it's too early to tell what kind of material will succeed on iPhone for Marvel, Rubenstein said consumers who download comics aren't that different from the ones who go into stores on Wednesday. "Consumers like good stories and good characters. I don't think it's that big a difference."
Tentative moves into digital distribution by comics publishers have become a stampede as the year has progressed, but concern still exists over how it will affect brick and mortar comics shops. While Rubenstein stresses that digital is an addition to printed comics, not a replacement, he says it will be a long time—if ever—before Marvel's digital comics are available day and date with their print counterparts. And digital is bringing an advantage, he says. "What we're seeing at our DCU service is people are actually discovering characters they didn't know about and buying the comics. It's a form of outreach."