It's no stretch to say that the market for digital comics has grown astronomically over the last two years. Between the introduction of the iPad and other tablet devices, the advent of day-and-date releases for most comic book publishers and the growing amount of original digital content, the world of downloadable comics has quickly gone from a theoretical marketplace to an active, growing one.
And over the life of the current digital comics "boom period," there have been many changes not only in material available but also in players on the field. A case in point is Panelfly. One of the very first developers of a comics-reading app for smart phones, the company started as one of the key players in the evolution of digital comics. Since its debut, Panelfly's profile has receded as competitors like comiXology and iVerse have expanded their reach. But now, they're hoping to turn that around.
This week, a brand-new version of Panelfly's core digital comics platform debuts through its website and Apple's iTunes store. The company characterizes the move as a new start for visual digital media that's long been in the works. "We were one of the first companies out of the gate to digitally distribute comics. We were fortunate enough to work with enterprising independents as well as established powerhouse publishers to bring content to new and established fans. However, when the very first whispers of the iPad began to surface, we immediately began rethink our approach to the space," Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer Don McGuire told CBR News. "Over the last two years we've been diligently working on evolving from a singularly focused distribution channel to a more multi-dimensional media platform. With this in mind, the release of our new digital comics experience across all iOS devices (including the new iPad) is the first iteration and springboard to launching the deeper entertainment franchise experiences we've been working on.
"The first iteration of the new PF platform will be the best of the apps that are currently out there in terms of functionality. However, within a few short months following this launch, we intend to evolve the overall Panelfly experience and reveal our platform – enabling the most engaging, immersive, and social charged interface combined with the deepest content exploration, aggregation, and editorialization available and the the most intelligent and robust storefronts accessible. All deployed across multiple devices and OS platforms. Our new platform launch will be complimented with announcements regarding an expanded and more ubiquitous distribution strategy."
Currently, Panelfly carries content from a range of publishers including IDW, Top Cow, BOOM! Studios, Dynamite Entertainment, Archaia, Digital Manga Publishing, Devil's Due, Dark Horse, SLG, Campfire Graphic Novels and NBM. And with the new platform, the company is looking to partner with "a handful of others that we will be announcing shortly," McGuire said. "We intend to work with as many creators and publishers as we can. Our process for ingesting and publishing content is very fast, however there is an overwhelming amount of content out there, so it’s truly just a matter of time...We are furiously working to update and input as much new content in as possible." Users already buying comics through Panelfly apps will see no change in their comic collection, though McGuire promised users would see new features and functions by upgrading to the latest platform on their tablet.
In the long run, the company is looking to diversify its content beyond being a simple comics reader to a more multimedia approach, which it hopes will differentiate itself from comiXology and iVerse. "David [Steinberger] and Mike [Murphy] have done an amazing job over the last couple of years rapidly growing the market. But as we're starting to see, distinct paths are emerging. Although our DNA is rooted in the 'Fantastic,' Panelfly's place in the digital entertainment marketplace will be broader and unique in the sense that we intend to bring a new platform experience to fans and new tools and revenue models to creators, publishers, and distributors large and small. This evolution enables creators to unify every component of the creative process to drive better engagement, deeper exploration, and a more enjoyable experience for consumers."
McGuire noted that the company's partnership to create an original comics app for USA's hit series "Burn Notice" last year in partnership with DC Comics is the kind of project that Panelfly hopes to expand upon moving forward. "'Burn Notice' continues to be a really exciting project to be a part of, working with USA and DC has been incredible and we are so proud to be the enabling experience of this award winning app. Expect to see more of these collaborative projects shortly, as we intend to continue creating deep stand alone franchise experiences with our TV, film, and comic partners. Many of the core platform elements have been integrated and exposed through partnership projects, but will all come together under the Panelfly umbrella as we strive to deliver the ultimate digital fan experience to the world."
Ultimately, readers and industry watchers can expect more products and features to the new Panelfly by July. "The main short-term takeaway is how passionate we are about delivering the best experience possible to fans," McGuire said. "Today it is brought to life via our new digital comics experience, a long over due upgrade to our loyal and growing publishing partners and fan base. Tomorrow, expect more from us as we chart our path toward delivering the ultimate digital experience for our fans and partners. We are progressing nicely toward Summer 2012, where we plan to reach a major milestone in our metamorphosis that will set the stage for scalable growth and breadth taking us through the end of 2012 and well into 2013."