Digital Comic Resources: What's Old is New Again

Fri, December 16th, 2011 at 12:28pm PST

Comic Books
Brigid Alverson, Contributing Writer
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This week in digital comic news, IDW Publishing goes same-day print and digital at full cover price, while manga creator Ken Akamatsu offers out-of-print manga for free. Digital helps self-publishers hedge their bets on print runs, a non-tech savvy comic strip creator takes his work to the iPad and research shows that people go to bookstores to buy e-books -- which could be good news for retailers!

Digital Comics: Every week, it seems, there is one big digital story. This week it was IDW moving its branded app from the iVerse platform to comiXology. Users won't notice much difference—the IDW app still works about the same, and the IDW titles are still available via both comiXology's Comics and iVerse's Comics + apps. The real significance of this is that comiXology is consolidating is place as the leading provider of apps for traditional comics readers, with apps for DC, Marvel, Image, IDW, Dynamite and Boom, comiXology is the provider for six of Diamond's top seven comics publishers. Only Dark Horse goes its own way with its own home-brewed app. comiXology is also providing the support for IDW's other branded apps, which include Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Transformers apps. It almost seemed like an afterthought that IDW also announced that it would be releasing all its comics in print and digital on the same day, at the same price. Isn't that what everyone does? There's one more thing, which seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle: IDW now has its own digital storefront website, basically an IDW-focused version of the comiXology web store.

Digital Comics: DC Comics' Jim Rood spoke with CBR about DC's digital sales vis-à-vis print sales, and found the two audiences to be surprisingly consistent. "There has been no shake up of numbers when you look at the percentage of physical sales by title," Rood told CBR's Kiel Phegley. "So if something is selling 6% of its physical sales digitally for issues #1 and 2, then it's about 6% in issues #3 and 4. And if another title has been selling at 16% of print sales in the early titles, the latter titles have stayed at the same level. So there's been no fluctuation. And the fact is that the makeup is largely the same and the performances you've seen in the data provided is largely the same in digital as it is in physical, yet we know from both anecdotal and primary research that this is a different audience. It suggests that the people might be different [for digital and print] but their tastes and their demos are largely the same."

Manga: Over in Japan, manga creator Ken Akamatsu is working on a digital model that is the very opposite of selling brand-new comics at full cover price: His J-Comi site offers older manga, much of it out of print, for free. The site is supported by ads, and the manga is all offered with the creator's permission; Akamatsu got it started with his own series, "Love Hina." This week, he announced an English-language beta version that provides machine translation of the Japanese text. The translations are not overlaid on the word balloons but are in a separate window at the bottom of each page, which makes reading a big awkward. The list of the first 18 titles is posted on the J-Comi Facebook page, and while all the navigation in the reader is in Japanese, it's pretty easy to figure out. Akamatsu also announced a J-Comi iOS app, J-Reader, which allows registered users to download the manga.

Manga: Robert McGuire publishes "GEN," a manga magazine that provides new, independent manga in Japanese and English in two digital formats: Downloadable, DRM-free PDFs and via Graphicly. This week he talked to Danica Davidson of Publishers Weekly about the thinking behind that strategy, as well as his plans for the immediate future.

Apps: Eddie Campbell released his early series "Dapper John in the Days of the Ace Rock 'n' Roll Club" as an iOS app this week. The app collects all the issues of the miniseries, which was created in the late 1970s and published in book form by Fantagraphics in 1993, along with the covers of the original comics, Alan Moore's review of the series and all sorts of other extras.

Marketing: One of the tough calculations small publishers have to make is the cost of physical copies versus the number they expect to sell; guess wrong in either direction and you could be losing money on the deal. "Sacrifice #1," the first issue of a new indy series by Sam Humphries and Dalton Rose, came out this week and sold out at the distributor level almost immediately. While that doesn't translate into empty shelves in comics stores -- distributors are not retailers -- it did give the creators an additional marketing hook, as they released the comic digitally on the same day as print via comiXology and Graphicly (which owns iFanboy, the blog that ran this piece). Humphries and Rose got a lot of prepublication buzz, , so the book is likely to be in demand. A commenter at iFanboy notes that Humphries did this with his earlier book, "Our Love Is Real," starting with a small print run and winding up with a much bigger second printing.

Retailing: Dennis Johnson of Melville House Books turns around a doom-and-gloom story about bookstores to reveal a surprising truth: People go to bookstores in order to buy e-books. According to a survey by the Codex Group, reported in the New York Times earlier this month, 39% of people who bought books from Amazon reported having looked at the same book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore first. Bad news for bookstores, right? Not so fast, Johnson says: "Almost 40 percent of Amazon’s book-buying customers have rejected something fundamental to Amazon, which is the concept of buying something sight unseen. And indeed, according to this poll 40 percent of Amazon’s business thus relies on brick-and-mortar bookstores." It's not too much of a stretch to think that the same holds true for comics retailing, and that retailers still have an opportunity to capture the digital audience from their stores. It also makes the Diamond Digital program, which allows shoppers to buy a download code from retailers, seem a lot more logical -- if it ever gets off the ground.

Apps: You may not have heard of Big Nate, but he's huge with the Wimpy Kid set, thanks to his syndicated comic strip and his presence on the children's game site Poptropica. Now, Big Nate gets his own app, just like the big boys; it's a comics creation app that allows kids to write dialogue, make up a story, or draw the whole page from scratch, depending on what part of the comics process they find interesting. Ironically, Big Nate creator Lincoln Pierce told Washington Post writer Michael Cavna that he doesn't own a smartphone or iPad, so as the app was being developed, his editor would mail her iPad to him with the latest version installed, along with a set of written instructions on how to use it. At least Pierce was tech-savvy enough to e-mail his comments back.

Apps: On the distaff side, Strawberry Shortcake also got her own app, which features several of the new Strawberry Shortcake comics published by Ape Entertainment.

E-books: Fleen's Gary Tyrell notes that Howard Tayler is marketing "Schlock Mercenary" e-books via the science fiction publisher Baen, at a price well below that of the print volumes. It's interesting that Tayler chose to market his books via a sci-fi publisher; Baen has a loyal following among e-book readers because they offer many books for free, and their other books tend to be reasonably priced. The full archives of Schlock Mercenary are still available for free on the web and through a rather nicely designed iOS app. The free versions of the comics have ads, however; presumably the e-books don't.

Reviews: In their roundup of top reading apps, Macworld names Comics by comiXology "the definitive app for reading comic books on iOS."

Piracy: Finally, here's another digital story that's not specific to comics but definitely has some relevance: An independent study commissioned by the Swiss government found that people who download copyrighted material illegally do not spend any less on legal media, and often spend more. They concluded that harsh copyright enforcement is too expensive relative to the results and may violate human rights, and they decided to continue to allow downloads for personal use.

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TAGS:  digital comic resources, eddie campbell, idw publishing, comixology, big nate

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