In his latest article for the Chicago Sun Times, Mac-afficianado and supergeek Andy Ihnatko discusses LongBox, an iTunes-like comic book online store and screen reader. If you’re into graphic novels, you’ll likely want to know more about this service, which promises to bring order and unity to the chaotic digital world of comic books. What caught my eye, however, was Ihnatko’s belief that LongBox is deep in discussion with Apple (s aapl) over bringing its app to the iTunes Store and making, in due course, the mythical Tablet the perfect e-reader for their graphical content.
Ihnatko describes how LongBox CEO Rant Hoseley dropped a very juicy hint at a recent convention:
Rantz spoke at the Long Beach Comic-Con last weekend, as part of an industry panel on the future of digital distribution. Referring to a future strategic partnership with an unnamed company, Rantz said “It seems like everything is going to go through as planned.” He identified the company only as one that “all of a sudden leaves us with a multinational launch with literally millions of installed users.”
That sounds a hell of a lot like access to the iTunes Store, either in the form of software in the App Store or readable content in a hypothetical “iTunes Newsstand.”
Ihnatko spoke with Rantz for an hour, relentlessly questioning him and expecting him to “stumble” over common issues that have kept the comic book industry from so far settling on a unified online sales and distribution platform. Apparently, Rantz didn’t stumble, but provided further tantalizing clues that something is afoot with our friends in Cupertino.
I’m pretty sure that Apple is entering into a formal alliance with LongBox. When I asked Hoseley about what kind of partnerships the company is forming, he spoke vaguely of what was taking up most of his time at the moment: a lengthy and complicated agreement with a seriously large company operating in the media space.
What follows is an explanation of further clues and detective work that convinced Ihnatko LongBox is working with Apple. It’s worth reading in full. However, he’s cautious, and warns against getting too excited too soon.
CEOs say a lot of things during these briefings and when you’re on the other end of the phone, you need to be cautious before passing along any speculation that makes the company look this good. Even on the record, a tissue-thin hint isn’t the same as an open confirmation.
So I’m wishing LongBox well. And I hope that this deal with Apple is, in fact, more than just a busload of wishful thinking from a comic book geek with a tech column. An alliance with Apple would benefit everybody in the comix [sic] industry. It would kickstart digital sales through a single, united storefront the same way that Apple’s alliance with record labels kicked off the digital music industry in 2003.
To be sure, LongBox will want to get its app onto as many platforms as possible. And there is no lack of choice. Amazon’s Kindle is in its second iteration and was recently made available outside America. Barnes & Noble’s brand spanking new Nook is making waves, too. And there are plenty more e-readers on the market, with more on the way.
While devices like the Kindle have established online stores with hundreds of thousands of titles on offer, they remain single-purpose machines. Sure, most e-readers can store photos for viewing on their grayscale e-ink screens, and the Sony Reader even offers MP3 support to boot — but none of the readers on the market today can offer wider multimedia capabilities.
Apple’s fabled tablet is expected to ship with some flavor of the iPhone OS and feature a full color capacitive touch screen. But more importantly, it’s expected to make full use of the iTunes store and all that it makes available to its millions of active users. So add music, TV shows, movies, podcasts, games and apps to the yet-to-be-launched e-book category. That’s content that works across all your computers and your phone, too. None of the other e-readers on the market even come close to competing with that sort of functionality.
For that reason, I barely use my Sony Reader, and have bought only a handful of books for the thing and have resisted the (sometimes rather strong) temptation to buy a Kindle. And believe me, I’ve been tempted; I have long-harbored a quaint desire to sit in my conservatory on a sunny, peaceful weekend morning and enjoy a long, slow coffee while catching up on the news. But I want my reader to do much more that simple news feeds.
I haven’t made a serious effort to read comic books for a long time (years, in fact) but I used to love them. I don’t bother now because I don’t like reading them on my monitor and I don’t like buying the dead-tree editions (it’s a personal preference — I simply don’t like buying literature on pressed wood-pulp any more).
So I’m holding out for next year when the Tablet is released because I know that not only will I be able to fill it up with books, all my other content from iTunes will work on it, too. And when that happens, I might just start buying comic books again.