tl;dr: Webcomics as iBooks files look very promising. Readers are excited about the idea, I want to produce more work this way if I can afford it.
Everything below refers to this post.
It’s been a few days since I put my iBooks comic experiment up and it’s been a lot more popular than expected. I’m honestly not sure how many times it’s been downloaded. My own server is reporting almost 8,000 downloads but that doesn’t take into account the first burst which I had hosted on my Dropbox. (It was enough to get the public folder shut off… not sure I was supposed to use it that way. Sorry, Dropbox!)
I think it would be safe to say at least 10,000 people grabbed the file. Not bad for a file created by software which has only been out for a week on a single platform!
The responses so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Since getting covered by a lot of Apple news sites, I’ve gotten a lot of email and comments from people who’d either never heard of me or had forgotten I existed. That’s awesome. What’s also great is the general sentiment of regular readers towards this format: My theory that there is a class of webcomics reader who would prefer to read in large chunks and, even better, would be willing to spend a little money on it seems to be true.
The negatives are mostly logistical. Time and money.
One downside has been bandwidth. I am really spoiled when it comes to bandwidth. My comics are generally 8-10k each. That’s easily about 10% the size of a normal webcomic. (Geek fact: It’s all about how PNG compresses straight horizontal bands of color.) This first monthly collection experiment wound up being about 2.7 megs. Once you factor in the HTML and other graphics that come with each page view on my site, it probably winds up being about the same bandwidth- except I haven’t served any ads or showed a reader any of my merchandise.
The bandwidth downside could be mitigated by selling the monthly books and/or accepting donations for free downloads, but selling via the iBookstore would require me to purchase ISBNs for every issue and submitting the books for review. I don’t like the idea of readers being geographically or economically restricted from downloading my comics, so
The other issue I have is with how iBooks Author formats PDF files. They seem perfectly readable and complete, but are muddled by branding that is not present in the iBooks file. I completely understand why Apple would do this with a free tool, but it’s not acceptable to me as publisher. (What’s funny is you COULD argue that this branding layer is present in the iBooks version… it’s just physical in nature and called an iPad.) I’d most likely wind up laying out my books a second time in Indesign to generate PDFs in order to get the degree of control I require. That’s not a complaint, says the guy who hand-kerns pixel text.
However I progress with this, please know that there will always be DRM-free, easily swappable versions of all Diesel Sweeties electronic books as long as I can do so. While I can understand being a bit more draconian with work meant to be sold as a graphic novel, I feel that to lock down a free-to-air webcomic would go against all the good vibes we try to generate in our field.
It’s safe to say that this experiment is going to continue, somehow. I’d like the next monthly book to be a little more technically sophisticated and will probably try a combination free/paid model to help pay for it. Is this something a small company would sponsor?
I’d also like to seriously investigate using a combination iBooks/PDF strategy to put out a comprehensive, edited, story-sorted, premium version of all my work to date once I hit comic #3,000 next month. I just need to figure out a way to finance a couple hundred hours of work to produce the big book. Three thousand comics is not only a three thousand page book- it’s potentially four to five times that much once you factor in commentary, collected storylines, character arcs and other features. That would freak me out, but I guess I have been doing this almost every day for more than ten years.
Wanna talk about it? Let’s move over to my Google+ page.