Wednesday's announcement of the Apple iPad may have much of the comic book industry excited about its impact on the industry, but Marvel is a little more cautious, particularly since the device isn't Flash-enabled.
"I don't think it's the be-all, end-all for comic books. I think it's a good start," said Ira Rubenstein, executive vice president of Marvel's Global Digital Media Group. "It's definitely something we're exploring, but it's not something we're going to rush right out and do."
Creators and publishers of comic books have anticipated the Apple tablet for months, because it offers a vertical e-book reader that has a color screen -- something that is almost essential for the experience of reading comic books in their current form. Marvel, the Disney-owned publisher that holds the largest market share in the comic book industry, owns familiar comic book characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men.
One thing that Rubenstein found most disappointing about the Apple announcement is the iPad will not be Flash-enabled.
"It's not going to support our digital comics subscription service as it is," he pointed out, referring to Marvel's current online comic book reader. "But netbooks do. And they're cheaper, and they do more. I guess you have to make trade-offs for what you're going to take. If you look at how much content is on the web that is flash-enabled, like flash games and flash comics, then that's a disadvantage."
But the executive said he recognizes the market penetration Apple could get with this device, so Marvel is in discussions about how to best reach the iPad's potential audience.
"We're exploring. There's a lot of questions about the impact to our current business," he said. "And trying to understand the demand. Is there a demand for trade-back books on there? I'm not sure that individual books will work. Maybe they will. But we're still in discussions."
Rubenstein said the company will also look closely at the "iBooks" store that Apple announced today, although Marvel has not marketed individual issues via an e-pub store before. According to Apple, iBooks will function like iTunes does for music, but will sell books. However, there are already existing stores that Marvel works with to sell digital comics.
"I think for our existing vendors we're working with -- iVerse, Comixology and Panelfly -- it claims that those apps will work on the iPad, so that's a good thing. It always helps to have more devices out there where your app works," he said.
Rubenstein said the publisher is also unable to tell just yet whether the 5.82-by-7.75-inch screen will work well for comics, although the bigger, vertical-enabled, color screen is obviously one of the biggest advantages of the device.
"I do think the bigger screen absolutely helps comic books. And I think more e-readers certainly helps," he said. "We haven't had a chance to get our hands on it and work with it, but I think we'll now see more and more e-readers with color screens, and that's obviously good for the future of digital comic books."
DC Comics declined to comment for this story.