Retailing | As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act, Jacob Weisberg looks at how Amazon and Congress have managed to delay online sales taxes for more than a decade, giving online retailers a significant advantage over brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon, which has long fought any attempts to collect sales tax through lobbying, campaign contributions and threats to move to warehouse jobs, now supports the legislation, with Weisberg contending the retail giant “has played out the clock longer than it dared hope and would now like to be able to build warehouses everywhere without doing state-by-state battle over its ‘physical presence.’” The bill seems likely to pass the Senate, but its fate in the House is far less certain. [Slate.com]
Publishing | DC Comics has put together a guide to its graphic novel backlist, which will be available both in print and digitally. [Publishers Weekly]
Legal | Egyptian artist Magdy el Shafee, creator of the graphic novel Metro, was arrested by security forces in Cairo and is being held in Tora Prison. The arrests weren’t directly related to his graphic novel, which was banned by the regime of Hosni Mubarak; el Shafee went to Abdel Moneim Riyad Square to try to stop a showdown between protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, and ended up being arrested in a sweep that rounded up 38 people. [Words Without Borders]
Legal | The local paper profiles Susan Alston, who has been active in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund since the 1990s and even ran it for a while from the garage of her Northampton, Massachusetts, home. [Masslive.com]
Legal | Danny Bradbury takes a look at the financial and copyright aspects of online comics in an insightful article spurred by the recent dust-up between The Oatmeal and FunnyJunk. Among other things, he parses out how The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman makes $500,000 a year from his comic, why Inman and other creators object to their work being published elsewhere without attribution (and why they sometimes don’t care), the legal protections they can use (and how they sometimes fail), and how sites like Pinterest avoid the problem. There’s also an explanation of why FunnyJunk attorney Charles Carreon is suing Inman et al. on his own behalf, rather than FunnyJunk’s: “Carreon has now effectively abandoned the threat of a FunnyJunk lawsuit, stating that he was misinformed by his client. His letter claimed that all the comics had been removed from FunnyJunk, but Inman pointed out dozens that were still there.” [The Guardian]
Conventions | Three-day tickets went on sale this week for New York Comic Con. Confirmed guests so far include Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola and Josh Gates. [Collider.com]
Publishing | The revelation that DC’s newly reintroduced Green Lantern Alan Scott is gay has moved Christian comic publisher Art Ayris, who is also the executive pastor of a Baptist church, to announce that his company Kingstone Media won’t be including gay characters in its lineup: “If Kingstone is the only comic book company in America doing it, we will stand for the things God says are godly and stand against things that clearly fall under the category of sin.” [Baptist Press]
Retailing | The Avengers movie seems to be bringing new customers into comics stores looking for Marvel titles, at least in Maryland. Pullbox requests for Marvel comics are also up, suggesting some of the uptick is from existing customers. [The Star Democrat]
Legal | The trial resumed today, if only briefly, in Tunis for the president of a Tunisian television network accused of “insulting sacred values” when he aired the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Tensions were so high in the courtroom that proceedings were postponed until April. The Oct. 7 broadcast resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network’s offices and the arrest of some 50 protesters. Nessma TV President Nebil Karoui, who apologized in October, is charged with “insulting sacred values, offending decent morals and causing public unrest” because of the outrage triggered by a scene in Persepolis showing God, which is prohibited by Islam. [AFP]
Organizations | Stumptown Comics, the organization that puts on the Stumptown Comics Fest every year in Portland, Oregon, has added three new members to its board: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, Boilerplate co-author Anina Bennett and editor Shawna Gore. [Stumptown 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.)
There’s a brave new world of digital comics out there, but some publishers, it appears, aren’t taking it very seriously.
One of the advantages of ebook formats like Kindle and iBooks is that you can offer the reader a free sample of the book so they can see if they will like it. The problem is that these “free samples” often consist entirely of what editors call “front matter”—title page, half-title, copyright page, and blank pages in between them. No comics.
This probably comes from automatically grabbing the first few pages of the file for the preview without checking what they are. At the downthetubes Mobile Comics blog, John Maybury offers some suggestions for publishers to get their comic into the preview and their front matter out of the way. More publishers should heed his advice, because these content-free previews are distressingly common. When I was writing about IDW’s graphic novels on iBooks the other day, I got curious and checked out some of the other offerings; of the ones I looked at, only the IDW books and Bluewater’s Violet Rose had actual previews. That’s a shame, because the preview can be a powerful selling tool—but only if it has actual content. Setting up a preview and putting nothing but almost-blank pages into it wastes everyone’s time, especially the reader’s.
Click for an example of a preview done right.