Robot 6

Bluewater goes digital-first with bio-comics

Bluewater Comics has gone where others fear to tread: The publisher released its Gabrielle Giffords and Mitt Romney bio-comics last week via Nook and Kindle, while the print versions won’t be out until Jan. 29. And both the Kindle and the Nook versions are priced at $1.99, two bucks cheaper than paper. (Links are to the Giffords comics because I saw that one first.)

Will retailers grab their torches and pitchforks to protest this move, as they did when they thought Dark Horse was pricing same-day digital releases below print? Probably not, for a couple of reasons: Bluewater isn’t as big a player in the direct market — it isn’t in Diamond’s Top 10 publishers, and much of its line is aimed at children, who are not the core customers of the direct market.

Beyond that, though, dedicated apps like comiXology and Graphicly seem more like competition for comics stores than e-readers. I think that the latter has broader appeal: While some Kindle comics, like DC’s exclusives, can be read only on the Kindle Fire device, the Bluewater comics can be read on any device with the Kindle or Nook app. This makes the comic more accessible than most, and it’s easy for non-comics readers to stumble upon the comics while looking for books on Romney or Giffords. On the other hand, the comiXology/Comics +/Graphicly ecosystems are set up specifically for comics readers looking for something new — readers who are using digital to supplement or supplant their Wednesday purchases. In other words, with the Kindle and Nook, the subject matter comes first; with comiXology and other apps, the medium — comics — comes first.

This is not black and white, of course. Digital Manga has successfully marketed yaoi manga via the Kindle and the Nook, and DC’s Kindle Fire exclusives were big news. The comiXology app even comes pre-loaded on the Kindle Fire. Still, most of the conversation about digital comics still seems to revolve around comics apps rather than e-readers. Interestingly, I’m not seeing the Bluewater comics on comiXology, so maybe this is a strategy to attract a different audience without cannibalizing direct market sales. (Or maybe comiXology just hasn’t processed the files yet — who knows.)



So… when will publishers start offering books via Overdrive, which manages digital collections for “more than 15,000 libraries, schools, and colleges worldwide”?

When can I go to the public library and borrow e-book graphic novels? Why is the digital library of the Twenteens like the paper library of the 1990s, with just a smattering of titles?

(And for publishers: the library is the “other direct market”. They don’t return the books they buy. Also, almost every library system is automated. They can tell with the push of a button what is popular and what isn’t. How many comics shops can do that? The American Library Association tabulates that there are 16,698 public library buildings in the United States. School libraries? 99,180. Total libraries? 121,785. Comics shops? 3,000?)

Everyone’s complaining that no one sells $0.99 comics. I’m complaining that no one sells FREE comics! (Yeah, I know, public libraries cost money via taxes. But my library card is much more valuable than my credit card.)

“much of its line is aimed at children”

Much of Bluewater’s line is aimed at people who like really, really crappy comics.

Is there really anyone that buys these books? They have the charm and quality of CD-i Zelda games.

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