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When the announcement was made this week that DC Comics has started selling single issues in the Google Play Books store, my reaction was surprise — that the publisher wasn’t doing it already. Unlike Marvel, which has an exclusive agreement with comiXology for single-issue sales, DC takes a broader approach, offering comics through Kindle, Nook, iBooks and, of course, comiXology. There’s a lot of redundancy there: You can read DC comics on your Kindle as straight e-books or via the comiXology Kindle Fire app, on your iPad via iBooks or the comiXology iOS app or the Kindle or Nook iOS apps, and now, on your Android device via Google Play Books or the comiXology Android app.
Why choose one over the other? Actually, the question really is, why something other than comiXology? For regular comics readers, comiXology offers a more organized storefront and bookshelf area; e-book vendors just give you lists, while comiXology groups comics by publisher, by series and by creator. The other bonus for comiXology users is their Guided View panel-by-panel view system, which flows really well and makes it easier to read comics on an iPhone. On the other hand, Amazon is where the casual customers are, people who just read books but might pick up a comic from time to time.
Google Play suffers from the same organizational problem as Amazon: It has no digital equivalent of a longbox, at least not in its web storefront. Its bookstore does have a comic section, and that has a handful of categories, but it doesn’t divide up the comics in the most useful way for comics readers, by series. Do a search on “Batman” on comiXology and you’ll get a list of all the Batman series; click on one of them and you will see all the comics in the series displayed in numerical order. Do the same on Google Play, either its curated Batman collection or a simple keyword search, and you will get a hodgepodge of comics and graphic novels (and a few outliers, like a Junie B. Jones book), with no way to find a specific issue or see a single series at once. (Google Play does have a new-comics page, which is a bit better, if only because the comics seem to be in roughly alphabetical order.)
The basic problem is that Google Play, like Amazon and the other e-book platforms, ignores the sequential nature of comics; they are not books and they should not be treated like books. Unless that’s fixed, I don’t see Google Play pulling in a lot of the Wednesday crowd — except via its comiXology app.