So far your main option for buying and reading comics on the iPad as been the Comixology app, and its suite of publisher-specific spinoffs (Marvel, DC, BOOM! Studios, Image Comics, etc.) As Warren Ellis pointed out yesterday, there’s a new challenger out — something we definitely need, competition is good — in the form of Graphic.ly.
Just like Comixology, there’s a desktop component to it — currently a Windows-only app, but with a web-powered version to come — but what’s more interesting to me is the iPad version (there’s an iPhone version too, with Windows 7 and Android versions coming). Also like Comixology, that app acts as both a store — where you can buy comics at similar prices ($2 an issue), with a few free samples available — and a reader.
Graphic.ly does things a bit differently than Comixology, with one of these resulting in a major improvement. Although Comixology lets you read a comics page-by-page, the mode that seems to wow most people — and it is enjoyable to use — is the panel-to-panel reading style, where touching the “forward” part of the screen zooms into to the next panel, filling up the screen with the image, and therefore increasing the readability of the text (it can occasionally be too small when you try reading page-by-page).
What Graphic.ly does different is that although it still moves from panel to panel, instead of only showing the current panel, it fades out the rest of the page as it zooms in, but you can still clearly see where you are in the page, and how the current panel relates to the others around it. But the most impressive feat is that, from what I’ve seen, even when you are zoomed in, the image and text remain crisp. The biggest turnoff for me using Comixology is that a lot of panels end up looking very low-res when zoomed in, and to me it ruins the reading experience.
But Graphic.ly isn’t perfect. As Warren mentioned, there are currently issues with the payment system (at least for the desktop version, I didn’t try purchasing anything on the iPad). Prices are also the same as what we’re seeing on Comixology, and I think this needs to change — I’m fairly certain that you’ll sell a ton more comics if you sell issues at $1 or less. I also think a subscription system could work — imagine paying something like $5-10 a month to Graphic.ly (or Comixology), which would give you access to everything in their collection.
The other thing I’d like to see is less reliance on just dealing with the big (and not so big) publishers, by allowing indie creators to sell their books directly. That would be a real game changer, and would open the space for non-mainstream titles from up-and-coming creators, just like the iTunes App Store opened up the retail space for one-man or small teams of developers.