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The big news from Amazon yesterday was that Kindle books are outselling print books, both paperbacks and hardbacks, so far this year. And by “Kindle books,” they mean “e-books bought through the Kindle Store,” because you don’t need a Kindle to read them; I have Kindle apps on my Mac, my iPod Touch, my iPad, and my Android phone, and I love them.
I have a friend who thinks that Kindle is actually the best way to market comics. “People are already there,” she told me. “That’s where they go to look for books. Why not sell them graphic novels there?” It’s stunningly logical when you think about it, as plenty of readers already get their graphic novels through Amazon, which often offers a hefty discount.
Graphic novel publishers don’t seem to have caught on, however. The list of graphic novels available for the Kindle is large but eclectic: There’s Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s Tumor, a line of Kindle-only yaoi from the Japanese publisher Animate, Harlequin manga published by Digital Manga Publishing, children’s folk tale adaptations from Graphic Universe, some self-published graphic novels—there’s good stuff in there, no doubt, but it’s not easy to find it unless you already have a creator or title in mind. On the other hand, you don’t have the problem of fragmentation that the iTunes store presents—you can search for a creator or title and be confident that if it’s there, you will find it, while the iTunes store doesn’t allow you to search across apps.
As a graphic novel reader, however, the Kindle leaves something to be desired. The Kindle device itself is in black and white, so color is out. As I mentioned, I don’t have a Kindle so I use the iPad. The interface is a lot better than it used to be, but the page size is small (the right size for the Kindle but smaller than the iPad screen). You can enlarge it with the iPad’s pinch and zoom functions, but since the resolution isn’t very good, the picture doesn’t become clearer. The biggest distraction is a sort of cloudiness around the lettering, which gets bigger when you zoom. Also, the Kindle interface doesn’t play very nicely with the iPad; if you pinch or zoom, you have to click a red X on the corner of the page to get back to a normal-size page and move to the next. This is a distraction and seems unnatural, since a big red X usually closes you out of whatever you are doing.
Some books do better than others. I downloaded half a Harlequin manga, which was advertised as a free book (nothing in the catalog listing hinted that it was only a very large sample, which is another problem with the Kindle store). It looked terrible on my iPad but the page size was bigger on the Mac version of Kindle, which made for an easier read. The Graphic Universe folktales and the yaoi from Animate stayed small on both devices. Tumor, which was originally published for the Kindle, was chopped up into “pages” of one or two panels, which I thought made it harder to read. The World of Quest, with thick lines and simple blocks of color, wasn’t too hard to read at its small size. All the comics got fuzzy when I zoomed in, though.
Amazon could be the best place to get digital graphic novels. The marketplace is there, and as my friend pointed out, people are already buying books there. If you want to sell, say, a Janet Evanovich graphic novel to Janet Evanovich mystery fans, that would be the place to do it. But Amazon has to improve the searching a bit and optimize the books for devices other than the Kindle in order for that to happen. Unfortunately, they may be going in the opposite direction: When I checked out the books in this 2009 article about graphic novels for the Kindle, a lot of them had disappeared.