Friday, January 15, 2010

Are Paper Comics like 8 Track Tapes?

8 Track TapesA recent discussion on the iTablet had me at odds wth a friend. I proposed that the iTablet is going to be the final nail in the coffin for paper comics with digital comics commercially surplanting paper comics by 2015. My friend however suggested that it would probably take a lot longer than that for paper comics to give up the ghost, if in fact they ever did.

To determine who might be right, we proceeded to compare the lifespans of different media.

The first one I mentioned was how Cassettes killed 8 Track Tapes. Developed in 1964, 8 Track Tapes needed only two years to become successful in America. By 1966, Ford Motor Company was installing them in their cars and people could buy home players.

However this success was shortlived, as cassette tapes and the Sony Walkman made them irrelevant. By the time the first CD's started to arrive in 1982, the 8 Track was well on its way out. The last 8 track tape was Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits in 1988.

It's hard to get a real gauge on when the 8 Track tape started to die. Wikipedia marks the first commercially usuable cassette tape as appearing around 1971. So using that as a milestone, we could say 8 tracks lasted 17 years after a superior format appeared.

BetaThe next one we thought of was VCR vs DVDs. VCR Tapes were around for quite some time in the 60's and early 70's, but they really didn't make a commercial impact until Japanese companies began improving and mass producing the Video players in the early 1980's. What killed VCR tapes were DVDs, which were invented in 1995. Once introduced, their smaller size, greater video quality and special features quickly displaced VCR.

In the early 2000s, DVD gradually overtook VHS as the most popular consumer format for playback of prerecorded video ~wikipedia

So while we don't have an exact date, for the sake of arguement, let's extend early 2000's to as far as 1995 - then you could say DVDs killed VCR tapes 10 years after their introduction.

BluRayThe next format to look at would be BluRay vs DVD. The first consumer ready Blu Ray appeared in 2003, with the finalized format appearing in 2004. As of now, DVD sales are plummetting and Blu Ray sales are growing. Pundits are speculating that Blu Ray sales will overtake DVD sales by 2012.

So if that pans out, and one subtracts the unfortunately long HD DVD/Blu Ray Format wars which ended in 2008, we can say that Blu Ray will overtake DVD in 6 years!

So, if we examine the pattern, we see one thing in common. The time it takes for one format to overtake another is shrinking once a truly superior format has been established.

Whether Digital Comics on the iTablet will be that format remains to be seen, but if it is, I am betting paper comics won't last much past 5 years.

Have a great weekend,

- Jim


Walter Ostlie said...

I just got an ipod touch and downloaded comixology's reader. I like it a lot and don't really mind the small screen. Though the itablet would be much better, I don't know about lugging that around though. Though I really liked the microsoft courier tablet. Kind of like a portable sketchbook. I think it would be a good idea for marvel/dc/etc to mimic what bluray is doing with free digital copies. So say I buy a comic off the rack, it has a code that lets me download a free digital copy to my iphone,itablet also. Free first issue digital copies like comixology does is also a good idea. It has made me buy some comics I wouldn't have bothered with.

cash_gorman said...

Not sure I agree. One, Blueray and HD require special tvs. So, unless you are willing to plop money down for both a tv AND video player AND new movies... I think it will be longer to phase out, just as b/w tvs lingered for a long time after color ones came along. Another key phrase is that dvd's are prefered for "pre-recorded" shows, to tape a tv show you are watching, you either need a vcr and videotape or specialized cable/satellite features.

And, I just don't see digital replacing paper comics just yet. Because, how many people are paying for digital comics? I read free digital comics and even as little as I spend on paper comics these days, it still is tons more than the few times I've plopped money down for comics on a computer disc and there it was golden-age comics, where buying paper versions would cost me hundreds and thousands.

It's one of the things when talking about the internet and newspapers and how digital/online newspapers are killing the paper copy. The problem being, the newspapers don't make near enough money online to cover the costs of hiring editors, reporters, photographers, etc. ALmost all newspapers have online presence and all of them are laying off staff right and left. If it was a matter of just cutting back the print side and push the online paper, you wouldn't be seeing it. Online and digital is great, but most people expect it to be like network tv: free. When the newspapers die, most of the online news sources are going with them. It will be the same for comics. The paper may die and there may be digital ones left behind, but it's going to be overall less content and variety, not more. Least not for a while.

Jim Shelley said...

@Walter - I think your experience with the free first issues from ComiXology is akin to mine. I've tried out and bought more comics on my iPod touch than I have paper comic versions of late. One of the key attactions for me is the ability to get comics when I have time, at any time of the day. I can get a few comics at night, then have them available to read during the week, with me at any time.

I also agree with you about the size issue of an iTablet. Lugging around an iPod is easy, because it fits in my pocket. An iTablet doesn't really have that advantage.

Jim Shelley said...

@Cash, I'm gonna try to respond to each of your points in separately before I have to take over baby sitting duties. Let's see how far I get...

Good point about the blu ray/dvd difference (needing a new tv.) Another detriment to blu ray's success will also be the rise of streaming media players. A lot of new tvs come Netflix streaming ready - which is cheap AND has HD options.

Jim Shelley said...

@Cash - I don't think it's fair to use the Not too many people (I know) are really reading digital comics now as that is the same sort of arguement we got about MP3s when only the Jukebox Nomad existed. It wasn't until the Apple iPod and iTunes showed up that the Atomic family really got into mp3s. If (BIG IF HERE) the iTablet is cheap enough to find its way into as many hands as the iPod Touch and iPhone have, AND an easy system for downloading readable content emerges, then I think we will see a huge rise in people reading comics digitally.

Jim Shelley said...

@Cash - on point three (about internet users expecting things to be free) I would say it's less of an expectation but more of a constant option. IE - I don't necessary *expect* mp3s to be free anymore, but it doesn't matter because Pandora serves a similar purpose for all intents. If Hulu starts charging, so what - there will be a zillion other things to watch for free.

So, yeah, the real problem isn't that DC and Marvel might completely abandon paper in place of digital, but rather their audience might find content that is just as compelling online in their iTablet screen for free.

John on the Sunset Coast said...

Re: 8 track Tape- The popular use of this medium covered about 10 years until the late 1970s. I worked for two companies which used 8 track in most of their home stereos. While not a terrific sound product it was convenient for both home and auto. during those years it was far superior to cassettes, which had poor sound quality until the widespread use of Dolby(tm) improved tape fidelity. Cassettes then were a reasonable and convenient listening medium. They also had direct rewind capability not found in cartridges. Too, it was easier to home record on cassettes; 8 track was nearly impossible to record on without dividing a song onto separate programs, or having long silent gaps until the next program. As a result, recording capability was a sell up feature, seldom used after purchase.
Vinyl LPs outsold both 8 track and cassette, but was finally done in by CDs. There is still manufactured high end LPs for those who perceive records to give a warmer audio experience.


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