As booksellers look toward electronic reading devices as a wave of the future, the new technology could make paper comics a thing of the past.With the release this month of the Kindle 2, the second generation of Amazon's electronic reading device, the ever-changing face of the publishing industry is bracing for yet another makeover. But the rumor that Apple will enter the market soon is seen by some comic book publishers as a threat to the future of paper comics. "[Comic books are] a business that is very low margin and very low print run, so if 10 percent of the readers migrate to an e-device, that is going to throw off the economics for 60 percent of the books that are published in this country, and that's probably a low guess," said John Cunningham, DC Comics VP, Advertising. "So it doesn't have to become everybody in the room raising their hands having one to have that have a long-term impact on how the business goes." Cunningham made the comment at New York Comic Con during a panel about "Selling Good Graphic Novels in a Bad Economy." While the discussion focused mainly on today's economic landscape, publishers soon turned their attention toward future opportunities for publishers to distribute their comic books electronically. While many comic book publishers are exploring current opportunities on the internet -- including motion comics, online subscription services and webcomics -- the evolution of electronic reading devices may provide a greater long-term impact on the future of paper comics than the traditional computer. Advertising Age recently reported on the topic, stating that while sales of paper-based graphic novels are up, industry analysts "cast a wary eye at electronic reading devices." And early reviews of Amazon's new Kindle 2 indicate the technology has taken another step forward. As tech guru and journalist Andy Ihnatko says in today's Chicago Sun-Times review of the product, "the Kindle 2 truly nudges the platform forward" is a "viable product." While the black and white Kindle doesn't currently provide a platform for color comic books, Cunningham said it's only a matter of time until Apple offers their own iTunes-supported reading device for electronic books -- and this time it will have the digital color capabilities of the iPod. "Amazon has been able to pretty much have their way with Sony, playing along with them on the e-books side by essentially emulating Apple's model. I have the software and the hardware combined, I'm going to deliver somebody else's IP right to my hardware through a software thing, and you can have it. Done," Cunningham said. "Do you think Apple's going to let Amazon have hegemony over that method of delivery, over that level of content? If they can deliver hi-def movies on a little iPod, do you think they're not going to very quickly figure out how to make color, non-movable images appear on a screen?" Cunningham said. "If, as the rumor is going around now that one of Apple's big innovations they're looking for in fall '09 is a seven-by-nine iPod Touch, which is essentially Kindle sized, that's going to happen faster than it's going to happen sooner." Cunningham warned that not only will a larger iPod Touch provide a potential for comics to be viewed electronically, but there's a greater chance that comic book readers would adapt to the technology because they're already attracted to high-tech devices. "Our core readership is very edge-oriented, they are opinion-makers, they are leaders, and they're going to be the first people that gravitate," he said.
Check back with Newsarama tomorrow as we further explore the future of electronic reading devices, talk to experts about the product's viability and impact on comic books, and find out whether the rumors of Apple's entrance into the market have any merit.Related:New York Comic Con 2009 Coverage Index Marvel Comics Announces 5 Exclusive Online Titles