Archive for ibooks
Writer Brian K. Vaughan released a statement today saying that the 12th issue of his science fiction series Saga, illustrated by Fiona Staples, will not be available via comics iOS apps such as comiXology because of “two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex” that did not make it past Apple’s content reviewers. The comic will be available digitally from the comiXology and Image Comics web stores.
Saga, which launched with a bit of controversy over the cover early last year, is rated for mature readers, and it has featured sex scenes in the past, but it’s possible that it was the graphic nature of these particular images (which are small but quite explicit), rather than who was doing what to whom, that caused Apple to refuse to carry the comic in its apps. Heidi MacDonald posts the unexpurgated images at her site, and in the comments, creator Tyler James posts comiXology’s guidelines, which make it pretty clear why those images won’t be in the app (presumably comiXology’s guidelines reflect Apple’s).
Perhaps the folks behind the French comics app Izneo should have gotten a copy. Two weeks ago—on the eve of the long Easter week-end, the site IDBOOX notes—the Izneo folks got an order from Apple to remove the “pornographic” content from their app. With no clue as to what Apple would judge to be pornographic, the Izneo folks immediately took down 2,800 of the 4,000 comics in their app, cautiously removing anything that could hint of adult content, including Blake and Mortimer and XIII, both of which are published in print in the U.S. without any fuss. Then they reviewed those comics and put about half of them back, but that still leaves 1,500 titles that aren’t in the app any more. Izneo took quite a financial hit on this; turns out comics featuring “Les jolies filles un peu sexy” are their top sellers. (This story, it should be said, came from an anonymous source.)
Later, IDBOOX caught up with Thomas Cadène, one of the creators of the series Les autres gens, which contained all that Apple doesn’t want to see, he said: “Breasts, genitals, people making love, people who are not making love but are nude anyway—in short, life.” Cadène, of course, doesn’t regard his comics as pornographic at all, but he notes that at any rate, Apple is being hypocritical because the comic is still available on iBooks, Apple’s digital bookstore; the Izneo folks were simply told that iBooks was different from the apps. In another interview, Allison Reber of Aquafadas, another digital comics distributor, said that in 2009, Apple’s standards were so strict that an image of a nude man, seen from the rear, in the shower would be enough to scuttle a book, but that they have loosened up considerably; she hopes that the whole episode will turn out to be nothing more than a misunderstanding.
Vertical publishes some of the most interesting manga available in English, but they have not had a digital program—until now: They recently announced that they will make three series available as e-books: The astronaut-school story Twin Spica, the science fiction story 7 Billion Needles (based on Hal Clement’s novel Needle), and the soap opera about competing wine connoisseurs, Drops of God. Unlike most other manga publishers, Vertical has not designed its own branded digital service but will make the books available on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes.
I asked Vertical’s marketing director, Ed Chavez, to unpack their digital strategy a bit.
Good E-Reader: First of all, why did you decide to go the Nook/Kindle/iBooks route rather than having your own branded service?
Ed Chavez: Vertical is a tiny company with budgetary constraints, so we could not afford to develop an app and we do not have the staff to maintain one. And honestly, I wonder about the effectiveness for something like that from an indie-publisher perspective.
Vertical’s brand recognition has a small footprint. Spending already limited resources to attract an even more fragmented community might be aggressive at best, ill-advised at worst.
On the other hand, the Big-3 eBook platforms do a good job selling books, and we have seen results from them with our digital prose line. We know how effective they can be and we also understand that people want accessibility. The Big-3 provide a lot of positive options to readers.
Why go with e-book platforms rather than hooking up with comiXology or even another manga publisher?
Actually we have been and are still in talks with comiXology and we were in talks with JManga, however, Vertical is exclusively distributed by Random House. All sales contracts must be negotiated through our distribution partner, so we hope these groups can work out something to help Vertical be on as many platforms as possible.
Will these e-books be available worldwide? If not, what is the territory (and why the restriction)?
At this time our launch titles are worldwide English. Future licenses may not have such luxuries due to contracts with the original creator. Obviously Vertical is not the lone international publisher for many of our books, so to not conflict with existing regional rights, the original rights holder may set such restrictions to protect those relationships.
Which titles will you be releasing digitally, and do you anticipate adding more? Will you be focusing on a particular type or genre for digital release?
We have been releasing eBooks for a year now. But most of our releases so far have been prose. We will be expanding to manga this Spring with The Drops of God, Twin Spica and 7 Billion Needles.
With a small manga catalog, we’ll just focus on the backlist at this point.
What will your digital release schedule be—how aggressive will you be about adding new volumes?
We’ll be releasing a volume a month to start. That said, Needles and Drops are short series so they’ll wrap up quite quickly. Twin Spica on the other hand will go at a slightly more accelerated pace, with three books released every two months.
The prices of your digital manga are considerably lower than print editions. Why is that?
Market pressure. Having worked with Random House since 2006, together we have long seen the impact on price for eBooks. Digital novels and non-fiction are generally less expensive than their paper counterparts. The prices are comparable to what our collective philosophy has been for novels, and not far off what we have seen from other publishers. So we are fine passing on some savings to readers for backlist books.
For years we heard that Japanese licensors were reluctant to permit publishers to release manga digitally. How has that attitude changed in recent years, and what caused it to change?
Global pressures. Actually, if I were to be frank, just America.
While Japan has had domestic eBook sales for a while, few services have been very successful. But with the growth of the Kindle, Nook and iBookstores, Japanese publishers have been desperately playing catch up to not only learn about the digital marketplace but also be a part of it. Some Japanese publishers have tried and most initiatives have failed as they have done poor market research (mainly not understanding international purchasing habits, poor marketing, or even worse have blindly believed previous eBook booms to include similar sales for manga or comics in general); while others have simply had their stances thaw out hoping to gain revenue streams or to prevent piracy.
Then again, I think eBooks in general have only been a viable business in the last three years, so being a year or two behind isn’t that surprising. What does surprise me is how little is being done regarding digital in other, more robust international manga markets.
Do you think digital publishing can push some marginal manga into profitability?
No. At this time, I do not see that as a possibility. From what I have heard and the sales data I have read historically this is a major challenge for manga. Those overhead costs are just quite steep to start. Sales have to be significantly better digitally than in print to push titles into profitability. Higher royalties and lower MSRP rates, compounded by existing distribution fees, do not help.
Would you consider publishing digital-only manga? If so, what titles would lend themselves to that?
It is something we have discussed. The concept of direct-to-digital manga is always going to have one big hiccup…licensing. It is easier to take on those overhead costs (translation, lettering, editing, advances…) when print books get money upfront from vendors. There is a cash flow shift in digital where there are no wholesale (bulk) transations with vendors.
Honestly, I don’t know what could work in that model. JManga was built on a model like that but those titles did not have the name recognition even though quite a few were from established authors and a number had media tie-ins. Viz has tried that with some brand new SJ series launching simultaneously in English and Japanese but I do not think most of those titles have been hits either. It’s a tough call. But I think it can work if expectations and costs are lowered.
Do you read manga digitally? If so, what is your preferred platform?
I do. I’ve been reading Dark Horse’s Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Viz’s One Piece. In both cases, I have used their respective publisher’s apps. Viz’s app is really snappy and has been prime time ready for almost two years now. I love how it is now starting to add some deep backlist titles as a better representation of the breadth of Viz Media manga.
I now prefer Dark Horse’s app, though. I like their overall presentation. Their resolution rates and how they handle two-page spreads have really impressed me; almost to the point where I might prefer reading some titles that way (specifically for titles that are really visually dense).
A few days ago, as Michael noted, JManga announced it is shutting down. The significance for many users was grave: Since JManga was a streaming site, most of the users will lose access to the manga that they paid for when the site goes dark on May 30. It’s unfortunate, as JManga offered a lot of quirky, interesting books that probably wouldn’t succeed in print.
There’s still plenty of manga out there for your e-reader, though, and unlike JManga’s selection, it’s downloadable.
Barnes & Noble has a robust selection of manga for the Nook. Viz, Yen Press, Digital Manga Publishing (DMP), Seven Seas, and Manga University all publish manga for the Nook. Check before you buy, though, because not every book is available on every platform; some are available only for certain devices or apps. Amazon and iBooks also carry manga, but Barnes & Noble seems to have the most robust selection.
Viz is the largest manga publisher in the U.S., so naturally they have the largest selection of titles available digitally: Action stories like Naruto and One Piece, romances such as Vampire Knight and Hot Gimmick, classics like Neon Genesis Evangelion, and arty titles like Natsume Ono’s Tesoro and Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster. Most single volumes are priced at $4.99, and omnibuses are a good value at $8.99 to $9.99. Viz also publishes the digital magazine Shonen Jump, which carries new chapters of an assortment of manga released the same day they come out in Japan. The Viz app is available for the web, iOS, Kindle Fire, and Android. Yen Press and Kodansha Comics have their own iOS apps, and Dark Horse has web, iOS, and Android apps as well.
ComiXology doesn’t have a huge selection of manga, but what’s there is pretty good. Here’s their manga page; their most noteworthy titles are Hetalia: Axis Powers, the classic Cyborg 009, and a wide selection of volumes from Digital Manga Publishing (DMP). Prices vary widely; Hetalia is 99 cents per chapter (and the first chapter is free), Cyborg 009 is $4.99 per volume, and the DMP books are all over the place, from $2.99 for the shoujo manga Mizuki to $9.99 per volume for their yaoi titles and Vampire Hunter D. ComiXology has the advantage of being available on multiple platforms, including the web, iOS, and Android, so you can sync across different devices.
eManga (Warning: May not be safe for work) is DMP’s own website, and it carries a wide selection of Digital’s own titles (mostly yaoi manga, with a sprinkling of shoujo as well as the flagship title Vampire Hunter D). Digital gets singled out for special mention because unlike all the other apps mentioned, they offer DRM-free downloads in PDF or a variety of other formats. Digital offers a lot of titles at a wide variety of prices. However, the reason for the NSFW warning is that they also carry hentai (erotica) and photo magazines of models, which they mix indiscriminately among their other titles, many of which are teen-friendly. Plus their crowded site design is a little hard on the eyeballs.
GEN Manga offers alt-manga in a variety of genres at a very affordable price, and everything they publish is a downloadable PDF. Until recently, their flagship title was a monthly magazine, but that has been put on hiatus. They are still publishing single volumes of manga, and they now have a monthly manhwa (Korean comics) magazine.
When Apple iBooks launched in Japan last year the only way to get ebooks free was if they were public domain content. Since it’s not always riveting material, customers had to turn to Amazon or Kobo in order to get good content. Today, Apple has rolled out a new update that brings thousands of new books available for purchase, including fiction, manga, light novels, and more. There is also a number of changes to render complex Japanese characters and new EPUB3 enhancements to better present comic books and manga.
In December we reported that Baen would start selling its books through Amazon. On January 24th, publisher Toni Weisskopf said in her section of Baen’s forums, “I am able to announce informally that we’ll be selling books at the Apple iBookstore pretty soon. Target is early February, but we’ll post a formal release with the date as soon as we know it. No DRM, same prices as elsewhere. EARCs and limited time discount monthly bundles still only at Baen.”
Baen has an almost fanatical following in the SF field, and I’m sure this will be a real boost to its sales. For some of the history of the company and its innovations see the previous article linked above.
If you feel, as I do, that $3.99 is a ridiculous price for a 24-page comic, digital or paper, here are some alternatives. In most cases, these free or less expensive comics originally sold for higher prices, as most comics on comiXology are priced at full cover price when they are first released. Waiting a few weeks can save you a bundle. In addition, some publishers are offering some sweet promotional deals at the moment. Read on for bargains!
Archie Comics has a rather nice assortment of titles available for free on its app (if you don’t already have one, you’ll have to create an account to download these). They include the first issues of Archie: Will You Marry Me?, the comic in which Archie married Veronica and Betty in separate alternate storylines; Life With Archie, the comic that picks up the story of the Riverdale characters in their 20s, with, again, two separate storylines; Archie: Freshman Year, which looks at a slightly younger Archie and his friends as they begin high school; and Kevin Keller, the comic that introduced Riverdale’s first openly gay character. And there are two interesting crossovers: Archie Meets KISS #1 and Tiny Titans and Little Archie #1. Sonic the Hedgehog, Josie and the Pussycats, and Cheryl Blossom each stars in a freebie comic, as does the manga version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
If there’s one comic that’s worth setting up an account for, though, it’s Jughead #200. Written by Tom Root (of Robot Chicken fame), it’s a laugh-out-loud funny story about Jughead selling his soul to a witch for an elaborate hamburger—and then, in true Riverdale style, his friends all sell their souls to try to get him back. Chris Sims called it “without question the best Archie story since Archie Meets the Punisher,” adding, “It goofs on the established format in a way that’s actually really funny, to the point where it’s the first Archie comic I’ve read in a long time that I not only laughed out loud while I was reading, but laughed later when I was telling friends about it.” The Archie app is available for iOS and Android as well as on the web.
For readers who prefer a much darker read, King Tractor Press is offering both volumes of Shawn Granger’s Family Bones for 99 cents each via the Kindle and iBooks stores. This is a fictionalized account of the true story of Ray and Faye Copeland, the oldest serial killers on record. Like a murderous Ma and Pa Kettle, the couple were farmers who used drifters as shills in a cattle-selling scam, then murdered them. Granger is the great-nephew of the real-life Copelands, and he writes the story from the point of view of a fictitious nephew who is sent to live with them. The story was originally published as a series of single-issue comics, but the e-book collections are a better way to read them because you really want to jump from one chapter to the next. Granger used a number of different artists, but after the first chapter they all have a pretty clear and consistent style so the books hang together pretty well.
Finally, be aware that comics that debut at $2.99 or $3.99 on comiXology usually drop in price after a few weeks. To make these price drops easier to spot, the comiXology folks have set up a Recently Reduced section. The latest assortment is pretty eclectic, with everything from superheroes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to My Little Pony most priced at $1.99. My pick: Great Pacific #2, the second issue of a clever adventure comic about the rebellious scion of a wealthy family who attempts to set up his own nation on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
So keep your eye on the ball and your hand on your wallet, and you can get plenty of good reading without breaking the bank.
One of the iconic moments of recent comics history occurred at the February 2011 meeting of ComicsPRO, the association for comics retailers. During that meeting, DC co-publisher Jim Lee held up a sheet of typing paper and a piece of dental floss as a visual analogy for the relative sizes of the print and digital markets.
If he did that today, he could replace the dental floss with a piece of clothesline. The digital comics market has grown from an estimated $1 million in 2009 to $25 million in 2011, according to Milton Greipp of ICv2, and digital comics sales tripled in the first half of 2012 relative to the first half of 2011. Meanwhile, the print market has stayed relatively stable, at a total of $640 million, and Greipp predicts that digital comics will comprise over 10% of the comics market by the end of 2012. Some publishers are already reporting that; most recently, Robert Kirkman told ICv2 that digital sales of The Walking Dead have risen from 5% to 25-30%. In May, Ted Adams of IDW Publishing said that digital was 10% of his sales but given the current rate of growth, he expected it to be 20% next year. Since print sales aren’t shrinking, digital comics are expanding the market as a whole. Some key factors in the past year:
More comics are available digitally: The trend in 2011 was publishers announcing they would release comics digitally the same day as print. That’s still going on, and the market is expanding even more as Fantagraphics and Abrams, which specialize in more literary comics, and as Andrews McMeel, publisher of the newspaper strips Doonesbury and Dilbert, signed on to comiXology. In addition, a number of publishers, including Dark Horse and the manga giant Viz, have been working mightily to get their backlists digitized.
Comics are available on more platforms: DC, which has been selling graphic novels via Kindle for some time now, recently began releasing single issues in the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores. Marvel made over 100 graphic novels available for the Kindle. Dark Horse started offering their graphic novels through the Kindle Store in November. Making these graphic novels available in mass-market bookstores like these vastly increases the number of possible readers. In addition, most of the major comics apps are now available for Android as well as the web and iOS.
Small digital-only publishers are experimenting with new formats: Who says that comics have to be 24 pages long and come out once a month? Madefire, Aces Weekly, Monkeybrain, and Mark Waid’s Thrillbent are experimenting with different formats, offering fresh work by new artists that is made specifically for digital media—often using techniques that are unavailable in print. This is a small niche right now, but there’s potential for growth if they catch on as apps.
Classic comics are also coming to digital: Reprinting a classic comic in dead-tree format is an expensive and risky process. Digitizing it isn’t free, but it sweetens the deal. Panel Nine is packaging classic comics by Eddie Campbell, Dave Gibbons, and Hunt Emerson in beautifully designed standalone apps with lots of extras; Dave Sim is bringing Cerebus back via Diamond Digital; and even Classics Illustrated comics are available in both the Nook store and as their own app.
Digital appears to be expanding the market, not taking readers away from print comics: While the final numbers aren’t in yet, it seems that print comic sales were up in 2012. (Graphic novel sales were down but Greipp attributes that to the closure of the Borders chain.) For the moment, anyway, digital comics sales seem to be expanding the market. Anecdotally, many of these readers are lapsed comics readers who are being drawn back in by the convenience of digital and, perhaps, by the content as well. There’s something else going on as well: It’s no coincidence that it’s Robert Kirkman, proprietor of a major media property, who is reporting strong digital sales. Most people are more familiar with the movies and TV shows that spring from comics than with the comics themselves, and putting the comics in mass-market platforms makes it easier for the casual reader to connect with the original source material.
At the end of 2012, comiXology was the number 3 app in the iTunes store. That is a testimony not only to comiXology’s large market share but also to the size of the market as a whole. After all, the top stamp collecting app, or even the top fart app, didn’t make it into the top ten for the year. It seems that a lot more people are reading comics these days.
Things to watch for in 2013:
Digital comics come to the library: The digital comics distributor iVerse has been working on a digital comics program for both public and school libraries for some time, and it is poised to launch in 2013.
Comics based on games draw in new readers: Games and comics have a lot in common, but the audience for games is much larger, so it makes sense for comics publishers to tap into it. Dark Horse has had a great deal of success with its Mass Effect and Dragon Age comics, while Ape Entertainment sold a million Pocket God comics by marketing them in the same space as the game, in the app store; they are now following that up with comics based on Squids and Temple Run. Numerous creators and publishers told me over the course of the year that they were finding new audiences at gaming conventions, and that trend is likely to continue over the next few years.
Children’s comics remain a puzzle: While digital comics have exploded, marketing them to children has proved to be a tougher sell. ComiXology and iVerse both have children’s comic apps, but they don’t seem to have taken off. Single-property apps, such as Pocket God and the Archie Comics app, seem to be doing better, but there’s room for growth here.
DRM is here to stay, at least for a while: Everybody complains about paying full cover price for a comic they are only renting on comiXology or the e-reader platforms, but it seems to be the nature of the comics world that people still pony up anyway. As much as readers would like to see lower prices and DRM-free comics, the economic pressure doesn’t seem to be there.
… except on Kickstarter: As creators finance their latest books via crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, most are offering digital copies as lower-level premiums. Most of those digital copies are simple downloadable PDFs, which may change the shape of the digital market eventually, as DRM-free digital comics from prominent creators become widely available.
Where’s the money? A number of the experimental digital-first comics are free, and creators such as Thrillbent’s Mark Waid have said up front that they want to figure out the model first and then think about monetizing it. 2013 will be the year the rubber hits the road, as creators start figuring out ways to get paid for their work.
To infinity—and beyond! Digital comics will continue to grow in 2013, no doubt about it. The number of people who own iPads, Kindles, and nooks is much higher than the number of people who read comics, so the capacity for exponential growth is still there, at least for a little while, but realistically it wouldn’t be surprising if the rate of growth were to slow a bit in the coming year. Still, by the end of the year we should be able to replace that dental floss with, if not a posterboard, at least a business-size envelope.
Congratulations on getting your new e-reader. Now, what should you read on it? Here are five suggestions for graphic novels that will look particularly good on your new device. Each one is complete in a single volume and makes for a good read whether or not you are usually a fan of comics. (If you’re new to digital comics, check out my quick guide below.)
Parker: The Hunter is Darwyn Cooke’s graphic-novel adaptation of the first of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. (Richard Stark is the pen name of mystery writer Donald Westlake.) It’s a taut tale of revenge, and Cooke’s illustrations strongly evoke the setting of the story, the early 1960s. Available via iBooks, Kindle, as a Nook book or a Nook app ($7.99)
Here one for food lovers: Oishinbo: A La Carte, an exploration of Japanese food presented as a journey by a reporter assigned to put together the greatest Japanese meal ever for his newspaper’s anniversary celebration. Of course, this requires him to travel around Japan sampling every possible delicacy. This manga reads right to left, which takes a little getting used to, but the art is clear and not very stylized, so it’s a pretty easy read. (Available via the Viz app ($4.99) or for the Nook ($5.99)
Ivy, by Sara Oleksyk, is a coming-of-age tale that is brutal in its honesty. Teenager Ivy dreams of escaping her small-town existence, and a long-distance relationship with a fascinating stranger helps keep her going. When he actually shows up, though, she has a tough time matching her fantasy to reality. Rarely has a creator captured the nuances of teenage life so well. This was my personal choice for top graphic novel of 2011. Available via comiXology ($9.99)
Mary Talbot tells two stories in parallel in Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes: Her own story of growing up as the daughter of a troubled James Joyce scholar, and the story of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, who dreamed of being a dancer but wound up in a mental hospital. Talbot portrays the gender and family conflicts without ever being heavy-handed, and the art, by her husband Bryan Talbot, beautifully evokes the ambience of both Paris in the 1920s and England in the 1950s. Available via Dark Horse ($12.99).
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomrrow, by Brian Feis, is a look back at the future as viewed in the past. Starting at the 1939 World’s Fair and winding up with the end of the Apollo program in 1975, it follows a young boy and his father as they thrill to the possibilities that science and technology were opening up; a parallel story, written as an old-time adventure comic, brings in another dimension. The art is beautiful and very evocative of the period in which it takes place. Available via comiXology ($9.99), Kindle ($9.99), or Nook ($13.72).
Graphic novels 101
Here’s a quick guide to graphic novels on e-readers.
Kindle: Most graphic novels will not work on a black and white Kindle; the resolution simply isn’t good enough. They will work on a Kindle Fire or the Kindle app for iPad or Android.
Nook: Again, graphic novels won’t work on a standard black and white Nook, but they work fine on Nook HD, Nook Color, or Nook Tablet, as well as the Nook app for Android or Windows 8. Note that graphic novels don’t work on the Nook iOS app.
iBooks: iBooks is simply Apple’s digital bookstore; purchases are made through the iTunes store and can be read on any of your iOS devices.
ComiXology, Viz, Dark Horse: These are all comics storefronts; Viz and Dark Horse are publishers who carry only their own comics, while comiXology offers comics from a number of different publishers, including Marvel and DC. All three services sell comics via their websites and iOS and Android apps. You will need to create an account to buy comics; that account will allow you to sync comics across all your devices. Purchases made via the iOS apps go through the iTunes store, while you will have to enter a credit card number to purchase comics via the web.
While each of these channels will allow you to read your graphic novel on any device that has the appropriate app, they do not sync with each other—so, for instance, if you buy Oishinbo for the Nook you can’t read it using your Viz account.
A few weeks ago, DC Comics began selling single-issue comics via iTunes, Kindle, and Nook. Previously, DC only sold single issues via the comiXology platform (both the comiXology store its own branded store and apps, which are run by comiXology), although it has been selling graphic novels via Amazon for quite some time.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, single-issue comics and collected editions (or graphic novels) are two different markets. People who buy single-issue comics are generally serious readers who buy an installment a month and are dedicated enough to their favorites that they will check in every Wednesday for new releases; in the brick-and-mortar world, they probably go out of their way to go to a comic shop, and in the digital world, they use a dedicated comics app and pay the same price they would for a print comic in order to get the comic the day it is released.
The comics market is unique in that the only significant retail outlet for the product is small, independent comics shops, and the margins in a business like that are notoriously thin. At the moment, the vast majority of comics sales are still in brick-and-mortar stores; although digital comics are growing, they are still less than 15% of the total market.
This presents something of a paradox for publishers in that they have to grow the digital market without cannibalizing print sales. We have seen disruptive change in the music, video, and book markets with the advent of digital media, but in comics, if the retail stores all go out of business before digital is firmly established, the industry as a whole could be threatened. The conventional wisdom right now is that digital sales are additive, and the fact that sales of both print and digital comics were up in the past year seems to back that up. Furthermore, the serious comics fan who bothers to make a pilgrimage to the comics shop once a week tends to be conservative and prefer print. (Anecdotally, many digital customers seem to be lapsed comics-shop customers who are drawn back by the convenience of digital.) But it is in retailers’ best interest to be wary of changes that may draw customers away.
One compromise that publishers have made is that digital comics sold via comiXology were not available until 2 p.m. Eastern Time on the day they were released in print, in order to give retailers the edge on timing. That worked fine for comiXology, but in the Kindle, iTunes, and Nook stores, DC doesn’t have the power to specify release times. Consequently, when DC comics appeared on the book platforms for the first time, they showed up much earlier than 2 p.m. Unfortunately, DC didn’t let retailers know in advance that this would happen. They did send out a memo a few weeks later, basically saying that they have no control and comics may appear digitally as early as 12:01 a.m. on Wednesdays; comiXology’s release time has been moved to 3 a.m. ET.
That may or may not be a significant change. In its memo, DC said that the vast majority of sales before noon were made outside North America, and it seems unlikely that a dedicated comics fan would switch from print to digital because of a few hours’ difference—although that could be one of several factors pushing in that direction. DC senior vice president of marketing John Cunningham told CBR last week that
We’re not of the opinion that [the earlier release times are] going to provide that much of a statistical advantage because there’s still no consistency as to when, where and how these titles go up digitally. And we’re watching things on a very close, day-to-day basis to see if we have to make any adjustments, but I think we went into this fairly comfortable in the notion that this would prove to be additive just as well as day-and-date was.
Nonetheless, this signals a change in the publisher-retailer relationships. Retailer Brian Hibbs wrote a bitter column for Comic Book Resources in which he alleged that when DC began releasing digital comics the same day as print, they promised retailers they would be given “most favored nation status” as long as print was the primary market. In his eyes, DC’s actions broke that promise, and he concludes, “Ultimately it shows the retail community that, all of their pretty words to the contrary, DC Entertainment really doesn’t care about any of our businesses.”
Hibbs rightly makes the point that this whole affair isn’t just about release times, it’s about a relationship that is shifting. Digital sales may be additive, and they may be small, but they are also the way of the future. Although they have very loyal customers, comics shops are a limited outlet—many communities don’t have them, and many people aren’t aware they exist. The e-book platforms allow DC to put their comics out in the mass market. There’s a significant chance this won’t work—publishers have experimented with putting print comics on the newsstands in chain bookstores, and I don’t believe that was a resounding success—but DC is apparently willing to risk its relationship with brick-and-mortar retailers in order to give it a try. The cold, hard fact is that publishers are in business to make money.
And that’s the real timing issue. There is no question that digital comics are growing; the question is when is the opportune moment for comics publishers to stop limiting their digital initiatives in order to keep their relationships with retailers. Apparently, DC has decided the opportune moment is now.
Anyone who has spent some time with iBooks should be familiar with the way pages turn on ebooks. It’s unique in that it mirrors the appearance of a page turning on a real book. Apple has now been granted patent on the particular animation with patent number D670,713 titled “Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface.”
The animation responds to a simple swiping motion with the finger, which turns the page over just as it happens on a paper book. A different swiping motion will flip the pages quickly, and a vertical finger movement will flip the page just enough to reveal what’s on the next page.
The animations go a long way in making even the most avid traditional reader of printed books adjust to the digital versions. The unique animation is the handiwork of three designers—Elizabeth Caroline Cranfill, Mikio Inose, and Stephen Lemay—who submitted their patent application at the US Patent and Trademark office. It took almost a year for the patent to finally be granted.
Apple has also been highlighting the page turning animation in the iPad Mini ads.
Reader’s Digest now has its own section on the Apple iBookstore! The company is currently offering almost 150 titles that are enhanced for the iPad and iOS in general. The new section features five distinct categories including Health, Mind, & Body, Cooking, Do-It-Yourself (DIY), General Reference, and Children’s books.
“The number of readers who receive our books and magazines on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch continues to escalate,” said Robert E. Guth, President and CEO of Reader’s Digest Association. “The Reader’s Digest section on the iBookstore is the ideal outlet for consumers to enjoy our books through yet another channel.”
“Our readers appreciate the visual qualities of our books,” said Harold Clarke, President and Publisher, Books and Music at Reader’s Digest Association. “The superb graphic layout the iBooks App provides brings out the best in our books and we’re excited to have a reading platform and a storefront that delivers our books digitally with great quality.”
Apple is poised to make a mega announcement later today that has to do with iBooks and the new iPad Mini. One of the early announcements stems from the expansion of the iBookstore. It has officially opened in New Zealand, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
This move into other foreign markets will finally allow everyone there to purchase paid ebooks. In most countries where Apple does not officially support, users can only download free ebooks and royalty free ones. Localized content is available for people who speak Spanish, so you may find some bestsellers by authors residing in your own country.
Stay tuned to Good e-Reader as we will be Live Tweeting all the essential news from the Apple event later on today.