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B&N Week 193: What Can Apple Teach Us?

| September 2, 2014

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What? Tuesday already? Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

This week’s question: what can Apple teach us?

I have an iPhone. Before I had my iPhone, I had a Blackberry knockoff, a Blackjack, by Samsung. When the iPhone first came out, I dismissed it as an iPod Touch [which I didn’t own]. Then it hit, and was monster, and I wanted one. And when I got it, it was a 3GS. I loved it. I’m not rich, so I didn’t get the 4 and the 4S. I went straight for the 5, which is what I have now. I love my phone.

Why? Why do I love my phone? And what does it have to do with comics?

Apple is known for a few things, aren’t they? The uncompromising quality of their products, their singular focus on user experience, and, of course, the price.

Apple isn’t interested in the low end of the spectrum with their products. Their focus is solely on the high end. This means they don’t have a lot of market share due to the cost of their products, but they do have a lot of mind share. You can’t go anywhere without someone talking about an iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and others. Yes, people cling to their Window’s based PC’s, but they often talk about the Blue Screen of Death, having to update drivers, malware, and the like. For Android phones, there’s talk about malware, phones not working properly after a limited amount of time, and phones not holding their value. Not like an Apple product does.

Apple is the new standard in tech. Mind share. They have it, and others want it, so other companies such as Samsung and Xiaomi do their best to copy the products, but without the attention to detail that Apple is known for. They take shots at Apple in the press and in commercials, but Apple remains impervious. They continue to take the high road, the high end, and all the profit.

(Steven, when are you going to get to comics? We now know you love Apple, but when are you going to bring it home?)

How many bad comics have you read?

That’s a serious question. How many? And I don’t care where they’re from—how many bad comics have you read? Set aside for the moment the mid 90s, where bad comics were the norm. Let’s also set aside the fact that “bad”, just like “good”, is subjective. How many comics have you read that you know in your heart of hearts, were bad.

Lots. The answer is lots. Especially lately, when the barriers of entry are nearly non-existent, and anyone with a small amount of will can create a comic. There are just a lot of bad comics that are being made.

There is a reason why comic books are everywhere you turn today. A reason outside of the fact that the properties are decades old and have shown their staying power. The quality of the comics inside the top five publishers have gone up, and even though some might not like the stories, there is no denying the quality of the efforts.

When you make quality part of your business, part of the function that reaches the goal, then good things will happen. Quality, in terms of comics, is reader experience. Reader experience is a whole, made up of a sum of parts. Apple goes out of its way to make sure that the user experience is as easy, seamless, and great as it can be. It isn’t afraid to change direction when something isn’t working. It isn’t afraid to take criticism in order to make something better.

As creators, we’re often reluctant to make changes, because we’re too close. “This is my story! You can’t change it!” This reluctance, at all levels, leads to bad decisions, which can lead to a bad reader experience. That’s assuming, of course, that the story has been approved by a publisher. If you’re self-publishing, it becomes even more of a challenge.

Self-publishers often have little-to-no self-control. They have a new idea, and because it’s bright and shiny, they want to go immediately into production and try to publish it. [Hence, the high number of bad comics you’ve been reading.] They don’t take the time to ask the hard questions, because they’ve been reading too many quotes from other, successful creators who have been saying the same thing: “I created this story because it’s something that I wanted to read, myself.”

Where’s the understanding that goes along with that statement? Where’s the realization of the years spent honing their craft, which allowed them to tell that story? Where’s the understanding that some stories just aren’t publishable, or if published, won’t be profitable?

I wrote a story about a guy who becomes the Supreme Being. Three issues. It’s intensely interesting to me, but it’s very cerebral. Being so cerebral, it’s crap, because it won’t sell. However, I’m still pursuing the story, because I’ve found a way to make it less cerebral, still keep the interest, and still keep the elements that will make a reader think.

What can Apple teach us?

A lot. About quality, about clarity, about focus. If we can adopt some of the Apple philosophy as we create, the simple result should be a rise in the quality of the comics that we create. That focus on what is best for the user [the reader] should result in critical acclaim, and hopefully that will translate into sales.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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