So Rich Stevens turned 35 a few weeks back and celebrated by sharing gifts with you, the members of the world that are not Rich Stevens. These included special pricing on merch and free shipping, but also an ebook for free download containing a whole mess¹ of his comics.
Then earlier this week, he shifted tactics, making a second ebook of comics, this time specifically for the iPad, utilizing the brand-new iBooks Author app, again for free. Free turned out to be a critical distinction, as charging for it would open up the can o’ worms that is Apple’s iBooks Author EULA which would require a large cut of revenue to Apple as well as their permission to distribute it through their store. He may well be the first person out of the gate with a release produced via iBooks Author; certainly anybody that got their hands on the tool day-of-release is still waiting for Apple’s approval to sell content.
Rich Stevens don’t got time to screw around waiting for corporate approvals — guy gets an idea Monday, experiment launches Tuesday, Thursday he writes up his impressions.
Some 10,000+ downloads later, his most important conclusion may be that a significant number of readers out there would love to have a delivered-in-chunks, read-at-once model for their webcomics. Sifting through RSS feeds, remembering to hit sites, making time to read one of each of X number of strips per day², relying on bandwidth or signal at the time — for a large number of people (and probably growing as tablet use spikes upward) will find a bursty delivery, followed by the opportunity to read ten or fifteen minutes worth on the train, waiting for an appointment, or over lunch (wherever you happen to bef … I think the iPad part of this is key) to be an optimal experience.
This first delivery dropped a month’s worth of strips, leading to an easy magazine metaphor; should Apple find some way to have a rolling approval for this kind of distribution (instead of requiring pre-approval for each “issue”), and likely if they can permit creators to keep more of the fruits of their labor (30% is somewhere between usury and science fiction), this could be the first iteration of that Next Big Thing that forward-looking webcomickers have their eyes on³.
There will be further experiments and refinements — Stevens knows that fast turnaround and incremental improvements reach a good final state much faster and cheaper than trying to get to 100% on the first go — which process requires input. One key question (from my perspective as a non-iPad owner) would be how to adapt this model away from a single platform; I don’t have an answer and wouldn’t expect Stevens to have one yet either, considering the entire thing is about three days old. But if you have thoughts on the matter, the discussion is taking place on Google+. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.
¹ One of the more obscure English measurements.
² For me, X ranges as high as 75 or 80 and as low as mid-30s, depending on the day.
³ In my opinion, one of the most useful things that Scott Kurtz has done via his occasional participation in print vs web shitfights is to very publicly never lose sight of the fact that webcomics as we now know there are a transitional mode of distribution. There will be a next thing, whether it’s some form of e-magazine, or the only slightly hyperbolic direct-to-brain HyperComics that get thrown around from time to time.
Not permitting webcomickers to fall into the trap of print comickers who don’t see a way to adapt is crucially helpful; just living with an understanding that business model and technological change are a given gives the current (and more likely, the next) generation of comics creators a better chance at not being left behind by those changes than some of their predecessors have proved to be.