Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Philips READUS E-Reader Scroll Prototype - Gizmodo

Courtesy of Gizmodo, the Philips READUS E-Reader Scroll Prototype, a hand-held device with a screen that rolls out like a piece of paper, for that tactile fake paper reading experience. A potential challenger to the ipod and Sony ebook products. Maybe one day we will read Elvis Road by the Elvis Studio on a device like this. Maybe not.

Webcomics Economics

Webcomics creator T. Campbell digests the sad news that most people don't make any money creating webcomics ("especially if they have nothing to do with videogames" is the commonest wisdom I hear). Sure some people have jobs with startups and hyped businesses like Clickwheel, but on the creative side, not alot of black ink. Campbell looks at the idea behind webcomics collective (he is a member of several, it seems) and his verdict is generally negative:

This is bad news for those who, like me, have likened Keenspot and Modern Tales to "the DC and Marvel of webcomics" or "the comic-strip syndicates of webcomics." This was certainly true in intent and for a while it seemed true in execution. And after that, we wanted it to be true, because we were particularly good at being members of collectives or because we just wanted to make and make and make comics without having to complicate our taxes.

Bad news for us, and yet... great news for everyone doing webcomics, because the businesses that are doing best in webcomics are businesses of one. And all you need to be a business of one is the decision to be.

It's still weird the ammount of cheerleading and "team comics"-style hype these webcomics people engage in. Quite a bit of mystical vision-eering about the possibilities of comics on computer screens similar to the "comics can be anything you want them to be" era of print comics cheerleading circa 1980-2000.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PayPal, ECommerce, and Comics

It took me awhile to get on the Paypal bandwagon. I've been using ebay in various capacities since 1997 but it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally broke down and started accepting Paypal payments for auctions. Previously, as someone who didn't have a traditional bricks-and-mortar store and no credit card merchant account, I was stuck relying on money orders and the vagaries of cross-border postal systems. Now that payment is virtually instantaneous and I don't have to truck piles of weird money orders to my bank every week I wonder how I ever got along without Paypal.

On the surface it seems to be the most flexible and reliable online payment technology and my prediction is that Paypal (or whatever it evolves into) will be one of the largest banks in the world in another 10 years.

It's ease of use and popularity (as documented here) are legendary , which makes it all the more puzzling why it hasn't been more widely adopted for other forms of e-commerce.

My own largely postitive experience (I'll get to the negatives in a minute) and general love of Paypal received some food for thought recently when I read the Joey Manley interview in the latest Comics Journal (Issue #277). How is paypal being experienced by the online comics communtiy? Manley, the webcomics guru and founder of several successful webcomics sites and services (Modern Tales, Serializer, and the new AdultWebcomics) was interviewed by the Journal's Dirk Deppey about the future of comics on the web. Many of Manley's sites accept some form of paypal payments, and Manley explains his basic preferences to Deppey, an otherwise uninhibited and tech-savvy webhead, not to mention crac-a-jack journalist and editor:

DEPPEY: I've even got problems with Paypal. I refuse to get a full account with them because I won't give them my bank numbers and whatnot.

MANLEY: Well, that's understandable. We've never attempted to sell anything by micropayment, and there's a reason for that. I don't have a lot of faith in that model for the kinds of things I try to do. I do have a lot of faith in the idea that a certain kind of material will thrive online if it can be supported by its readers directly forking over cash. That can be in the form of print compilations, that people buy, that can be in the form of T-shirt sales, or it can be in the form of subscriptions, or possibly micropayments. I haven't seen a micropayment system that works for me either, and think it's unfortunate in some ways that the failure of Bitpass to really set the world on fire has sort of discredited the underlying idea of micropayments for everybody, always.

Manley has a well-documented history as a participant in the micropayments debate and criticisms of Bitpass. A few years ago, when micropayments advocate and cartoonist Scott Mccloud published an essay on the future of webcomics and micropayments, he started a debate on the viability of his proposed model for comics ecommerce. Manley weighed in with a general dismissal of micropayments, describing them as unviable for less-popular content (he also expressed doubts about advertising). But Manley has kept an open mind, investigating new options as they appear, including Paypal competitors like Clickandbuy. Nowadays, Manley's websites mostly follow a subscription model balanced with lots of free content, and flexibility given to the users of his products.

The artists that work with Manley, including Guelph's own Jay Stephens, are generally enthusiastic. Achewood's chris onstad is a recent convert to the Manley business plan, moving a selection of his work to Webcomicsnation's subscription-only platform:

"Webcomics Nation is the perfect solution for hosting subscriber material,” said Onstad. “The content management interfaces are extremely well-designed, and the whole product is very well thought out. From uploading art to managing payments, it’s very well integrated. It’s the best system I’ve seen for anyone trying to make a living off of their comics."

As well, Paypal announced last year it would be experimenting with micropayments, adding a new fee scale and making the system more flexible.

Paypal still has many drawbacks. One of which, as Manley recently noted on his blog, is that Paypal doesn't allow payments for adult content, making the roll-out of his latest porn/erotica-comics venture a bit problematic (Paypal is really missing the boat there, refusing to cash in on one of the biggest revenue sources on the web).

Additionally, the system of fees, privacy issues, and (at least for Canadians) problematic exchange rates are still big stumbling blocks, especially for small mom-and-pop type users who accept Paypal payments. Still, at least for now (and Google has announced a competing sertvie, Gbuy), it's the only game in town.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Music of Jack Kirby

I've not really thought about what Jack Kirby's comics would sound like when set to music, and aside from the theme songs and music that accompanied various Marvel Comics animated cartoon adaptations from the 1960s and 70s, and various references in pop music, I've never heard any musical attempts to interpret the spirit of Kirby's art.

The Kirby Quartet, on the other hand, have developed an entire repertoire of music that they claim has "the same energy and passion" that Kirby brought to his drawing. Based in Toronto, the group is currently touring the West Coast with an upcoming stop August 8 and 9 in Vancouver for "two concerts to raise funds for First United Church Mission in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside." (info 604-736-6926)

The Repertoire
Ludwig van Beethoven, String quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18

Joseph Haydn, String quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54, No. 1

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String quartet in B flat major ("Hunt"), K. 458
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String quintet in G minor, K. 516

Maurice Ravel, String quartet, in F major (1903)

Anton Webern, Langsamer Satz (1905)

John Zorn, Cat O’Nine Tails

Felix Mendelssohn, String quintet in B-flat Major, Op. 87

Kirby Quartet Home Page

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sony ebook pushed back

The much-hyped Sony Reader portable ebook has had its release date delayed once again, eliciting groans from tech reporters and gadget lovers the world over. Not that anyone is really acting surprised. The new toy has had tons of critics since it was first announced. Many industry watchers continue to be sceptical of the proprietary nature of Sony's copy-protection software.

The ebook is Sony's followup to the Librie, the last launch to meet with a mediocre reception.

Many U.S. publishers, including manga giant Tokyopop, have already signed on as content-providers but it looks like graphic novel fans will have to wait awhile longer for the privelege of not trading electronic comics they purchase from Sony.

Sony's such a tease CNET News.com