I wanted to take a break from the new feature announcements to discuss where Fresh Comics is headed over the next year. The applications themselves are getting a bit "long in the tooth" from an aesthetic and functional perspective and I have concrete projects underway to revamp and extend the applications to keep them relevant moving forward.
Extending the Audience
In its current incarnation, Fresh Comics is optimized for comic book readers who tend to fetch the latest issues from their local comic shops every Wednesday. When I started building Fresh Comics, that was the problem that I set out to solve. The initial iteration was just a listing of issues for this week and the one before. An update added the local comic shop locator to help find nearby stores, and after that I added events to those stores so fans could discover common events to meet one another.
While I'm happy with this functionality, it imposes a fairly hard limit on the number of people who will use Fresh Comics. Comic Book Resources has been doing a great job analyzing monthly comic book sales and from their numbers, I have a hunch that the number of weekly comic shop customers is probably somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000. (If anyone has any solid analyses on the number of regular comic buyers, please let me know.)
While a quarter to a half a million isn't a bad size for an audience, it's become clear to me that while comic book culture is at its all-time high, the core fans that actually buy and read floppies is a very small part of that group. Faced with this reality, I could remain satisfied that the shrinking population of weekly comic buyers is sufficient for my interests or I could try to extend the Fresh Comics value proposition to a larger audience interested in comic book culture. Should I continue making Fresh Comics exclusively for the folks who purchased 600,000 Avengers books (spread across multiple titles) in January or I should extend the scope of the app and make it useful for the folks who purchased over 75 million tickets to "The Avengers" last summer?
I've opted to go after that larger audience. My plan is to continue listing the weekly releases and maintaining the shop & events database, but to also address new opportunities that address the larger comic book culture audience. One way that I'm planning on doing this is by extending into…
When I rented a booth at C2E2 last year, my goal was to pitch Fresh Comics to potential users and retailers. While my exhibition skills leave a lot to be desired, one of the groups that seemed most interested in the app were not comic buyers or sellers, but folks putting on regional conventions throughout the year. To be honest, I was completely unprepared for their interest, and since then, Fresh Comics has floundered with respect to comic shows and conventions.
In the last couple of weeks, I've been working to remedy this issue. I've found a couple of good resources and I've compiled my initial list of conventions happening in 2013. While my list is currently limited to basic information at the moment, I'm working with convention managers to merge their guest lists with the Fresh Comics data. The fundamental premise is that if you're a fan of Scott Snyder, you can see his upcoming convention appearances from his creator page/screen. If you're enjoying Superior Spider-Man, Fresh Comics will be proactive in letting you know where you can go to meet Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman. There's a natural synergy between the information I'm already compiling and I'm looking forward to exploiting it.
My goal is to have every convention exposed in Fresh Comics with basic information like location and guest lists. I'm also looking to turn the convention side of the system into the part that helps fund the ongoing operation of the app. While I've struck out with retailer-sponsored events as a funding mechanism, I'm now looking to see if I can fund the app by working with individual conventions to make Fresh Comics the defacto resource they can point their attendees towards for mobile panel schedules, venue maps, and so on.
Personally, I've never been impressed with the applications conventions like Wizard World and Reed Pop commissions for their shows. The apps are almost always extremely laggy and seem like poor adaptations of mobile websites than projects that take seriously the opportunities and limitations of mobile technology. Pushing Fresh Comics out into the convention space is my opportunity to demonstrate how it can be done better. If you're interested in seeing how this plays out, I'm planning on using Chicago's C2E2 convention as a concrete demonstration of Fresh Comics' event technology.
If you're an attendee, stay tuned. If you run a convention, let's chat.
Personalization & Recommendations
In the convention discussion above, I alluded to my plans to make Fresh Comics more personalizable. In addition to using your Fresh Comics favorites to suggest conventions attended by your favorite creators, I'm also working on an internal recommendation engine that can suggest other comics and series that you may be of interest, given similar fans' interests.
On a similar note, I'm also implementing sync features so that your favorites lists and other parameters can follow you as you upgrade to new devices and add new gadgets to your repertoire. The infrastructure for user accounts is already in place, I just need to complete the registration and login flows and integrate the sync features into the native apps. Keep an eye for this to come out in the month of March.
Once the basics are complete and I have some excess bandwidth to spare, I'd like to learn more about what could make Fresh Comics useful to you on a personal level. Would you like integration with social network (automatic publishing of favorites to a Pinterest feed, for example) or would adding cataloging features to the app (my favorite idea) be a better use of time. If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.
The App Roadmap(s)
The current Android and iOS versions of Fresh Comics are a bit stale from a technology platform. Both apps are designed for handheld devices and the tablet interfaces are extremely lacking. User interface conventions have evolved since the initial implementations (especially on the Android side) and the apps are not taking advantage of new user interface paradigms that could simplify the interfaces significantly. On the Windows Phone side, I'm still quite pleased with the presentation, but given Microsoft's adoption of Metro on the desktop in Windows 8, I also need to begin implementing a tablet plan for that branch as well.
Given the large amount of work ahead of me, I'm officially placing all of the current Fresh Comics mobiles apps in maintenance mode so that I can focus on work ahead of me. Other than the favorites syncing feature, I am not planning on adding new features or tweaking the interfaces of the current Fresh Comics apps. In the next two months, my plan is to modernize the apps by replacing them with new versions that include the new features mentioned above that behave as first-class tablet citizens. I'm tackling each platform based on its installed user-base in the following order:
1. Android: Work is already underway.
2. iOS: Development will begin once the Android app is in beta testers' hands.
3. Windows 8/Windows Phone: Development will begin once the iOS version is in beta testers hands and the Android version has been released.
Given my time constraints, I'm looking forward to having the iOS and Android apps in their respective app stores by the end of April. It's probably not realistic to think that the Windows app will be finished by then, so the summer's probably when that will come out.
That said, I'm already interested in recruiting beta testers (especially tablet users). If you're interested in getting a sneak peek of the new Fresh Comics and would like to help a lone developer app, e-mail me and let me know which version you'd be interested in testing.
Thanks for your interest in this project and thank you for your continued support. I feel like Fresh Comics is on the verge of doing some really neat things and I'm glad to have an audience that makes it all worthwhile.comments powered by Disqus