Is Steve Jobs a Superhero?

Twenty years ago, when I first attended the San Diego Comic-Con, it wasn't the spectacle it is today. Hollywood wasn't interested. Toymakers were only marginally more interested.

Now, all that's changing. Every major studio attended Comic-Con last week, as did most of the major video game publishers. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , and Fox Studios were all there, each one situated near Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) , which was showing off a new Spider-Man theme game to the 125,000 or so fans in attendance.

The comic book industry isn't what it used to be, with one exception: Comics are still in print, and collectors still buy them at mom-and-pop shops and at Comic-Con. But even that could change soon.

In an interview, retailer and comics historian Robert Beerbohm, who's sold at every Comic-Con since the first one in 1970, proclaimed digital as the future. "People want to read the stories. It's not about having the paper document in your hand," Beerbohm said from the show floor. (Click the screen to see the whole interview.)

I think Beerbohm's right. And if he is, it's yet another reason to love Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad. Combined with digital technology supplied by a private company called comiXology, the Mac maker's iconic e-reader is becoming a platform for reading comic books, as well as newspapers, magazines, and anything else that can fit on a small screen.

For mom-and-pop retailers, that's a scary, disruptive idea. Get enough people behind digital and you no longer need comic book shops, the thinking goes.

But for Disney and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , whose Marvel and DC Comics franchises live off selling intellectual property in a variety of forms, the promise of digital is huge. At the very least, it creates a cheap way to distribute comic books globally. Just download to your smartphone or iPad.

Many longtime comics readers I spoke with love digital comics, even if they mourn the thought of losing the paper format. Neither of the big two publishers are likely to harbor such sentiments. They know that paper comics are expensive to produce. Anything that cuts costs yet preserves the storytelling format is ideal. Digital on the iPad achieves that.

Put another way: Comic book publishers need a superhero, and Steve Jobs may be it.

But that's my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Can the iPad substitute for a paper comic book? Should it? Let the debate begin in the comments box below.

Apple, Activision Blizzard, and Disney are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended investors take a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy says you don't need superpowers to be super at disclosure.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 4:41 PM, kevisrs wrote:

    I love these digital times we live in. I have embraced and practiced them since the late 70's. But, it's not a question of "paper or digital?" It's the question of what lies in store for the collection of history over the years ahead of us. What does it feel like to meander through a cluttered old antique shop or flea market and come upon a magazine, book, comic or stack of photos from 50 to 80 years ago? A first addition of some great work? Or to purchase and own a piece like this? A piece of history in your own hands! Fifty to 80 years from now there may not be much of what we create today for those in the future to actually hold. Works of art and humanities went digital. Over time formats changed, stored files lost... and there was nothing tangible left to hold on to. Our nontactile history will be nothing more than ferrous particles lined up on a plate or atoms properly arranged to be recalled on some type of viewer. Really sad! Glad I won't be there when history is lost.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2010, at 6:19 PM, mattack2 wrote:

    First "edition", not "addition".

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2010, at 1:33 PM, kevisrs wrote:

    Thanks! I knew that. Didn't proof read as I usually do. Was in a rush to finish and go home.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2013, at 2:35 PM, BlowingInTheWind wrote:

    Hello Tim, Am just catching up with my life by googling my name following medical surgeries replacing both my hip joints on the same day after being canceled by HMO Aetna, an evil corporation.

    That said, your article mentions a more extended interview with me on the future of "new" comics reading in a digital age. Might you help me out here where that might be as i "clicked" the screen as prompted.

    Also, just for setting potential record straight for what it is worth, vintage popular culture artifacts are going great guns to date and foreseeable future. Been doing this gig of mail order comics for 47+ years now since Oct 1966 age 13 in the pages of Rocket's Blast*ComiCollector #47, once the center of the known "organized" comics fandom, now on many thousands of web sites and blogs. Ready for any sort of update? Just asking....

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