Digital comics were a small but growing presence at the recently concluded San Diego Comic-Con International.  Generating pre-launch buzz for its Web download service, Wowio announced its August 13th launch date at the show.  The new service will offer free, ad-supported PDFs of comics; the technology the site will use allows the insertion of ads into the PDFs at the time the book is ordered online.  According to Wowio spokesperson Toby Gwinn, the ads will not affect pagination, appearing as four-color print ads would.  


No supporting publishers for the Wowio service have been announced to date.  In response to our question, Gwinn said only, 'Over the next several weeks we will begin to announce the publishers and titles that will be available.'  The company also plans to add graphic novels and games to its offerings in the future.


There was also a little cluster of Webcomics publishers on the floor, with Penny Arcade, Webcomic aggregator Keenspot, and Sam & Max all in the mid-1200s.  PvP was near its publisher Image, and Megatokyo was on its own. 


San Diego Comic-Con this year also set some kind of benchmark as the place where we saw not one, but two comics to phone technology demonstrations.  One was the very simple uclick interface, which is currently offering not only a wide range of newspaper strips, but also select Tokyopop manga, which have been repurposed from their newspaper strip form.  A subscription model offers subscribers a number of strips every day for one low charge every month. 


Wowmax Media announced another uclick deal at the show, by which the Guilstein manga will be available on phones as its first North American release, before any print or Web versions are made available. This is the first time telephone delivery has been used to premiere new content here.  Guilstein is a successful anime and manga property that is just making its way to the States. 


And another comics to phone demo, which we believe was offering the Metal Gear Solid graphic novel, was also available on the floor.


Programming also supported the new interest, including a half dozen programs on Webcomics, and a mobile comics program on Thursday.


The whole field of converting print to electrons and delivering it on the Web, on phones, or on other devices such as book readers is still at a very early stage.  But more and more companies appear to be finding ways to generate revenue, however modest, from electronically transmitted comics and it seems like a foregone conclusion that there will eventually be a variety of business models that use electronic delivery as a significant revenue stream. 


For retailers, the question is whether Webcomics, Web downloads or phone subs for comic content help or hurt sales of comics and graphic novels in stores.  At this stage, these alternate methods of delivery are more of a novelty than anything else, and are probably doing more to promote comics than hurting sales that would have otherwise occurred. 


Over the long term, electronic delivery is going to become a bigger part of people's lives, and in general the ability to commercialize new methods of delivery is lagging.  For example, illegal scans of new comics are widely available via BitTorrent and other file sharing services on the day they hit stores.  So while the industry can attempt to shape the way in which this change takes place, there's probably little that can or should be done to stop it.  The best that can be hoped is that the over-all comic business benefits from electronic delivery, rather than being diminished by it.