One of the discussions that not infrequently comes up around webcomics is: what are webcomics? The obvious answer—comics that are available through the web—glosses over the reality a bit, though, and ignores some noteworthy distinctions. The difficulty with that answer is that it includes digital comics. The distinction that is often made between webcomics and digital comics is that webcomics are viewed on the web, while digital comics are downloaded and can be viewed offline. And even that distinction is very imperfect since, technically, you’re downloading the graphic files of every webcomic you look at. That webcomics and digital comics can both be viewed via multiple programs further complicates the distinction.

Generally, though, I think most people accept that digital comics are ones that are either viewed through a third party proprietary cloud-based program like comiXology, or available as a downloadable PDF, CBR, or CBZ. Everything else generally gets lumped in as webcomics. Increasingly, though, I’ve seen another option that might be considered a third venue: apps.

Webcomics, as I said, can be viewed through multiple programs. Web browsers, primarily, but also various feed readers and some aggregators pull in the comics as well. There are also various programs to read PDF, CBR, and CBZ files. Many of comiXology’s offerings need to be viewed through their platform, but there are both web-based and app-based versions of it. What I’ve been seeing with more frequency lately, however, are apps that have exclusive comics content.

The idea is not dissimilar to what comiXology is doing; readers need to have an account and can select which comics they wish to read, adding them to their virtual pull list. There are two key differences here, however. First, comiXology’s offerings are primarily (if not entirely) available in other formats and venues; you can go to a local comic shop and pick up your favorite Marvel and DC titles in paper form. Second, and somewhat related, is that they don’t have any exclusive comics. There’s a few exclusive covers made available as promotions, but there’s nothing being written exclusively for distribution through comiXology.

There are webcomic apps, though, that seem to feature comics that are not distributed anywhere else. At least, nowhere online that I can find. Some of the ones I’ve run across have Facebook pages, but they simply post some notes about updates and direct readers back to the app. Some don’t seem to have dedicated domain names at all, and rely entirely on people discovering the work through the app itself.

Not everyone does that, of course, and it’s entirely possible that the ones that seemed to simply didn’t have anything that I personally could find. Although, frankly, if I can’t find your webcomics’ site when I’m actively looking for it, it might just as well not exist. I’m not entirely certain what the rationale might be for taking this approach, except perhaps where the app developers are paying the creators directly. Because without a separate website presence, a creator would not only be giving up revenue opportunities, but it would also inherently limit the number of potential readers. And if a creator had no interest in their readership at all, and was just interested in the craft, why bother posting anything?

Similar approaches were tried before smart phones (and their apps) were so ubiquitous. It will be interesting to see how well these updated versions pan out, and if the tweaked business model works any better.