Robot 6

Apple policy may set up a roadblock for digital comics [UPDATED]

Where is Dark Horse Digital?

Back in October, at New York Comic Con, Dark Horse announced an ambitious new digital comics program that would make many of their most popular titles available, at a discount, on a number of different platforms. At the time, they said the program would launch in January 2011 with about 150 titles.

Last week, Dark Horse posted an update on their digital comics page, saying that “factors beyond our control have impacted our plans.”

While there could be many different reasons for the delay, recent developments suggest that Dark Horse’s decision to allow readers to buy comics through their own digital storefront may have fallen afoul of Apple’s prohibition on in-app purchases outside the iTunes store. UPDATE: Apple clarified today that this is not a new rule but simply stricter enforcement of existing policy. See below for more details.

At the Dark Horse NYCC panel last October, Micha Hershman said that readers would buy and download comics through the online digital bookstore and could read them on apps for the iPad, iPod, Android, and other platforms.

“The big news here is that it’s a proprietary system,” Hershman said. “We built it ourselves.” He cited two chief reasons: “There is no censorship,” he said. “We don’t have to submit our comics to Apple for approval. The other reason is for creators: If we are not paying licensing fees to Apple, we can pay our comics guys more money.”

Single issues of their comics would be priced at $1.49, Dark Horse promised, which also suggests that that the iTunes store is not involved, as Apple requires that e-book prices end in .99.

The problem is that Apple may not let them do it. The e-book site TeleRead reports that for the past few months, Apple has been rejecting magazine apps for its iPad that allow in-app purchases that don’t go through the iTunes store. If that is what Dark Horse was planning—and it certainly sounds that way—then they may be hitting the same roadblock. Apparently Apple has been blocking new apps that aren’t in compliance and have given developers of existing apps until June to follow the guidelines. The New York Times reported today that Apple rejected Sony’s e-book app for precisely this reason.

When asked about this, Dark Horse spokesman Jim Gibbons said “No comment” and pointed to the statement on the Dark Horse website.

This could also spell big trouble for existing comics apps like comiXology, which support multiple platforms, allowing you to buy books through their web app and upload them to the iPad or iPhone. ComiXology CEO David Steinberger, contacted through his PR representative, responded, “Until Apple has an official statement, we don’t have any official comment. We don’t believe there is any issue.”

UPDATE: Digital Daily reports that Apple does not prohibit all in-app purchases from outside sites, but it does require that developers offer the opportunity to make purchases through the iTunes store. This means that comiXology probably won’t have an issue—but Dark Horse might.



There is a very easy workaround if Apple persists in these sorts of games.

Publishers can sell their comics in .CBR or .CBZ format, which users can purchase directly on their respective websites and then import the comics into any of several freeware or low price readers which CAN be loaded on the iPad or iPod.

Dark Horse could also simply give Apple the middle finger and work exclusively in the Windows and Android environments. We’re less than a year into the era of iPad and already competitors are bringing viable alternatives to the market. Apple will not remain the exclusive venue for long.

We have started to follow Skottie Young’s (and others) lead and began experimenting with selling directly to readers. I actually thought it was way smarter to charge less and get a bigger % than it was to give someone else a cut and this just serves to solidify the thought even more.

Hurricane Islandheart

February 1, 2011 at 10:45 am

As much as I love my iPad, I agree with ChristopherH – if Apple is going to try to force publishers to publish through iTunes, then just dump the Apple format. Use the mentioned options that work with freeware, or dump Apple entirely and risk losing a few sales to Apple customers until Apple pulls its head out of its ass.

From what we know of this move on Apple’s part so far it seems aimed at e-books and therefore their competitors (Amazon, Sony, etc). Still, if it applies to all in-app purchases I think the clear workaround is the one that and Comixology have already begun using: Buying comics thru their website or desktop app and then importing them to your device. I think what you lose in a little bit of convenience here you can gain by charging lower prices to avoid the Apple fee.

I also read Dark Horse’s plans as working that exact way which is why they were charging only $1.49 an issue. It sounded like they were planning an “online digital store” rather than an “in-app store”. But their response to questions seems to indicate it is related so maybe Apple is also cracking down on this workaround.

Rich, you hit the nail on the head with what Dark Horse has said they have planned. However, the reason and Comixology are ok in the way they are doing things is because there is the option for in-app purchase in addition to desktop purchase. If Dark Horse wants to have an official app, they would need to offer both options… Which is probably what put a wrinkle in their plans.

And on the flip side, as someone who owns an iPad and uses it for the majority of my non-new comic reading, I really hope something works out here. Even if it’s as simple as Dark Horse making the comics web-page readable on the mobile version of Safari.

One solution might be for Dark Horse to offer comics for sale at $1.99 in the app, and make it clear to consumers that they can buy them for $1.49 online. Don’t know if Apple would allow that, but maybe worth a try?

Well, then, how do Kindle and B&N Nook apps get away with it? Both don’t sell books through the app store, but rather on their own websites, andt hen the eBooks are sent to the app via download. I’m sure other folks could so the same thing, right?

Brigid Alverson

February 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm

@Rob, the NY Times article suggests that this could be a big problem for the Kindle and Nook apps. If I’m reading this right, the policy was there all along but Apple only started enforcing it recently; now they are giving developers a deadline to conform.

I use the Kindle app quite a bit, so I for one would be unhappy if it went away. But somehow I don’t think it’s going to come to that.

In the end, won’t all books, mags, and comics eventually be sold on Amazom? Look how simple it is. Authors simply upload their book and they’re in business. Brian Haberlin was one of the first guys to point this out to me.

Brigid Alverson

February 2, 2011 at 3:27 am

@Cliff Galbraith: Yup, it’s awesome, but as I pointed out last week, the Kindle (or even the Kindle app on the iPad) is a less than ideal comics reader—the graphics aren’t good enough.

@Brigid: Kindle is ok because when they open the mobile Safari app, it passes something through the URL telling that the reference is the Kindle app for iPad/iPhone. So my guess is Amazon tracks these sales and they are treated as in-app purchases… Whereas if you just go to the mobile Safari app without clicking from the Kindle app, it doesn’t “know”. So in effect, Amazon is offering in-app purchases “through” Apple. So they end up covered like Comixology and are.

The big problem I’ve been hearing is with e-books and the new agency pricing model. If an e-book lways has to retail@ $7.99 then Amazon will lose money if people make in-app kindle purchases which have to go through Apple and drop 30% to them in the process. Agency model pricing agreements prevent Amazon from raising the book price. I do wonder if they could tak on a fee though, and name the fee “Apple store maintenance” or some such thing. I have also heard the extreme speculation of apps that allow people to order “meatspace” items now having to push that transaction through Apple and giving 30% over to them. “New Domino’s app with 43% higher prices on pizza!”

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