Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Longbox Is Coming to Change Your World Forever!

After three years of development and negotiations, Rantz Hoseley made his first official announcements about "Longbox" at HeroesCon. Longbox purports to be an Itunes-style platform where comic book fans can download titles for a nominal fee.

This is very sneaky-important news, because Hoseley is a hair's breadth from changing the way comic books are produced and enjoyed forever. Let's do a little Longbox Q&A, shall we?

What the heck IS Longbox?
Think ITunes for comic books. You go to the Longbox website, and waiting for you is basically an online rack of new comics from a host of companies in a virtual comic shop. You choose which titles and which issues you'd like to try, pay a small fee, and bang - you've got your digital comic book to do with as you choose.

Just how small is that fee, exactly?
Longbox is recommending that publisher's charge 99 cents per issue. But it's a recommendation, not law. Publishers are free to charge what they like for their comics.

There are plans for block and subscription pricing, but no terms or prices have been announced.

So I can download my new books on Wednesday when the floppies come out?
Again, this is completely up to the publishers. It's possible the digital comics will be released simultaneously or even before the print books hit shelves. It's probably more likely that companies will delay their digital distribution in a vain attempt to save the monthly pamphlet.

Which Comic Publishers have signed on with Longbox?

At this point, the only confirmed publishers are BOOM! and Top Cow.

WHAT??? No Marvel? No D.C.?
At the moment, no. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that Hoseley has been developing this project for three years, and has wisely kept very quiet about it until it was ready to materialize. He's strongly hinted that Marvel is basically on board.

When the idea of Longbox was spawned three years ago, none of the publishers would even speak with Hoseley. Now the worm has turned and everyone is in negotiations, trying to determine if Hoseley has an app that will work to bridge comics fully into the 21st Century.

So is Longbox that killer app?

Well, we really only have Hoseley's say in the matter, but the evidence looks good. What he's done is partner with Quicksilver and created a way to convert what publisher's already use in their current printing process (Adobe InDesign and Quark)into Longbox files.

Basically, that means two very important things. 1)Longbox isn't asking anybody to sink extra costs into developing software to integrate. Longbox integrated into them. 2) There's no proprietary software favoring one publisher over another. They can absorb comics equally easily from anybody.

So how do the comics actually look and read with Longbox? Again, we have only Hoseley to vouch for that. But he's a legitimate comic book fan (editor on Tori Amos's "Comic Book Tattoo") and a software designer. He thinks they work pretty darned well, and apparently so do Mark Waid and Mark Silvestri, or they wouldn't have signed on.

Can I download comics to my IPhone?

Not yet you can't. As of this moment, Longbox is compatible with your Mac, PC, or Linux. But there are plans right now to expand Longbox into the Kindle, IPhone, WiiWare, and X-Box Live.

Hoseley has read comics on his big screen TV with his X-Box, and says it's pretty damned awesome. The tech is easy - the tough part is getting them to use Longbox without making users pay extra for the privilege. Hoseley is committed to everybody paying the same price.

Anything Longbox comics can do that floppies can't?

Damn Skippy. Digital comics open up a host of creative possibilities. Early ideas are "behind the scenes" info and commentary from creators, a la extras on your DVDs.

Being that comics creators are some of the most interactive artists on the planet, I think you can count on someday reading an issue of Anna Mercury while listening to a less than sober Warren Ellis explaining why he hates you so much. Let's see your pamphlet do that!

Don't look for motion, comics, though. Hoseley....is not a fan of the motion comics.

Sounds good, but when can I start downloading these comics?

There is no solid launch date yet, but all signs point to Longbox going live some time in 2009. To keep up to date, check out Comic Book Resources. They've decided to partner with CBR to act as a kind of official mouthpiece.

How will this affect the comic book industry?
Of course that depends. If Marvel and DC don't sign on, probably not much at all. If Marvel and DC do partner with Longbox, you can tell the fat lady to pick up the pace singing about the end of the monthly pamphlet.

There is something satisfying about holding a comic in your hands, it's true. But nobody really wants to store the damn things, and nobody is really interested in the speculator market, which is the other main reason to want a physical artifact.

I think that many people will still continue to enjoy comics in book form. And they will use Longbox to make decisions about which stories are special enough to deserve that. In fact, I think it's very likely that Longbox would increase book sales.

Think about it- how many trades would you get sucked into if you could test drive more books? At a dollar per issue or with a subscription, even a limited budget could sample far more comics and develop an informed taste about them.

Your average local comic shop tends not to order much past the Big Two. Longbox will almost certainly offer a more extensive catalog than most shops currently do. And it's all a click away. That means more people seeing more comics, and that really ought to mean more profit for the publishers.

This will also punish a lot of comic book shops. They will be forced to become a hub for buying trades or find some way other than floppies to earn their living. Because that dinosaur is about to breathe its last.

- Ryan

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