SLG Publishing has been doing digital comics since before they were cool, and this week had more news on that front: They have signed with iVerse, and their comics will be available in iVerse’s Comics Plus reader. This will definitely help bring their comics to a wider audience. The digital launch includes the first five issues of Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Serenity Rose, and Ben Towle’s Midnight Sun, and the first three issues of Rex Libris.
Checking the SLG site, I also noticed they are doing digital in a different way: They are making Katy Weselcouch’s The Floundering Time available in CBZ format, for use in readers such as ComicZeal, and they say they will be making more comics available in that format in the future. The advantage to CBZ is that you can download it once and keep it. Comics bought through iVerse can only be read in the Comics Plus reader, and if the company or the technology disappears, your comics may disappear as well. Basically, digital comics distributors don’t sell you a comic, they sell you a license to read a comic. CBZ is much more portable and makes it possible to keep your comics forever, independent of a particular distributor or app. The ebook versions of The Floundering Time are priced at a very reasonable $3.99, a considerable savings over the print price of $12.95.
All over the Internet, folks (myself included) have been speculating about the fate of Tokyopop’s licenses once the publisher closes up shop next week. Fans have been listing their favorites, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed that the first license rescue would be a global manga. But it’s true: Cryptozoic Entertainment has acquired the digital rights to Tokyopop’s World of Warcraft and Starcraft manga, created under a deal with WoW parent company Blizzard, and today released them on the Cryptozoic iPad app. The app is free, and the first volume of Warcraft: Legends will be free through June 2; other than that, the manga is $5.99 a volume.
If you have never heard of Cryptozoic, don’t feel bad — the company was only founded in March 2010 — but now might be a good time to start paying attention. It makes comics, trading cards, and games, and its line includes the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game and The Walking Dead board game. The iPad app, provided by iVerse, also includes IDW’s Locke and Key comics, but the Warcraft and Starcraft manga are a big get, because fans can’t seem to get enough of those franchises.
(Hat tip: Steve Horton, via Twitter)
Stan Lee may be well past 80, but he’s always willing to move with the times. During the manga boom, he wrote a manga series, Ultimo, that was actually published in Japan before making it to the United States.; now that digital is the Next Big Thing, he has his own iPad/iPhone app. The app works the same way most comics apps do — it’s free to download, and it includes a couple of free comics (first issues) as well as more comics that you buy within the app.
Lee’s new app features all the comics he has done for BOOM! Studios, which is a healthy handful (Lee just thinks up the ideas — other people write and illustrate them): Soldier Zero, The Traveler and Starborn.
Interestingly, though, the app is published by iVerse, while the BOOM! app is based on the comiXology platform. While the iVerse flagship app, Comics+, carries BOOM! titles, they only added Lee’s comics today — and they are also up top in the featured position on comiXology’s Comics app. So not only is Lee getting his own app, he’s getting some extra juice from other digital distributors.
The digital comics scene continues to be a bit of a mishmash.
Every week, I get an e-mail from comiXology listing all of its new issues for the week, but the order seems to be somewhere between alphabetical and random. Viz Media also does a nice job of letting me know what’s new on its app. Graphicly sends a chatty e-mail featuring a couple of titles, but the company doesn’t put them front and center in its app, so I have to go looking for them (and it’s not the most intuitive interface). And while I know the iVerse folks have been busy, they don’t update their blog or (as far as I can tell) send out e-mails. This is all my way of saying that while the following may seem heavy on comiXology content, that’s not because I’m biased — it’s because comiXology has more titles and is doing a better job of promoting them.
That said, I thought it would be helpful to sift through this week’s offerings and pull out some good weekend reading.
A couple of classic series are debuting on comiXology this week. Having attended both the Vertigo panel and the Bill Willingham spotlight panel at C2E2, I was interested in seeing more of Fables, so it’s a happy coincidence that Jack of Fables #1 is up there for free. It’s just as clever as the main series, and Tony Akins’ supple penciling is a treat for the eyes. (One of the things I enjoy about Fables is that there is plenty of eye candy for the ladies as well as the guys.) Sometimes the free samples are kind of mingy, but not here: This is the whole first issue of Jack of Fables, and if that whets your appetite, Issue 2 is up there for $1.99.
Also new this week, although, sadly, not free, is Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. The first six issues, comprising two complete story arcs, are up this week.
One of the best things about comics conventions is getting creators and marketers to talk about the things that aren’t quite ready for prime time yet, projects that are coming up but haven’t been the subject of a torrent of press releases. I heard about a number of interesting comics at C2E2 this past weekend; here are a few that piqued my interest.
The one that really grabbed me is Dark Horse’s nonfiction graphic novel about the Green River killer, which was first announced in 2009. The Dark Horse folks like to take their time with their books, and marketing director Jeremy Atkins tells me that it is now slated for a September release. The book is written by Jeff Jensen, whose father was a member of the investigative team on the murders. “It’s stories that have never been told before,” said Atkins. “It’s not sensationalized at all. It’s more for a true crime audience than a crime fiction audience.”
If that’s too dark for you, here’s a bit of sweetness and light: Amy Mebberson, whose super-cute art graced the global manga Divalicious (you can read the whole first volume online at the link) and many of Boom! Studios The Muppet Show comics, is not letting any grass grow under her feet: She is one of the artists on Ape Entertainment’s Strawberry Shortcake comics, doing the coloring and some of the pencilling. This increased my interest in Strawberry Shortcake 100%.
Last week’s announcement that Diamond and iVerse would team up to form Diamond Digital, and sell digital comics in comics stores, left a lot of questions unanswered. So I went straight to the source: Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse, which is Diamond’s digital partner in this deal.
iVerse is the company behind the Comics Plus app, as well as a number of branded apps, including IDW and Archie. Unlike comiXology and Graphicly, their apps run only on the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch, but that is about to change: As Michael explains below, they are expanding onto other platforms, which should make the program more attractive.
Brigid: I’m still trying to get a handle on how this works. I understand that customers who buy the digital copies will be handed a printed code, which they then redeem. How? Through iVerse’s digital storefront?
Michael: That is one way a retailer can sell a digital comic to a customer, yes. The retailer can also sell digital comics on their website. Codes can be redeemed on the retailer’s website or inside the Comics Plus application from iVerse.
Brigid: Will the sale go through the iTunes store?
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing plans to close about 192 of its 639 Borders, Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet locations over the next several weeks. It’s unclear how many of the company’s 6,100 full-time and 11,400 part-time employees will be affected by the closings. Borders, which listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.27 billion in assets, plans to continue to operate through the court process with the help of $505 million in financing from lenders led by G.E. Capital.
The likelihood of bankruptcy has loomed for the past several weeks as the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller pushed unsuccessfully for publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans. That concession was critical to Borders securing $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital. Publishers like Penguin Group, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are now, in Publishers Weekly‘s words, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Diamond Book Distributors, which stopped shipping to Borders last month, is owed $3.9 million. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]
Publishing | The 61st volume of Eiichiro Oda’s insanely popular pirate manga One Piece sold more than 2 million copies in its first three days of release, according to the Japanese market-survey firm Oricon. It’s the fastest-selling book in the Oricon chart’s nearly three-year history, breaking the previous record set by the 60th volume of One Piece, which sold more than 2 million copies in four days. [Anime News Network]
Retailing | Heidi MacDonald talks to Dave Bowen, Diamond’s director of digital distribution, about the newly announced deal with iVerse Media that will allow retailers to sell digital comics in their stores: “The retailer will login using their Diamond retailer login and be presented with the opportunity to create store-specific, item-specific codes in whatever quantities they need. Then we’ll use some approved cryptographically secure method to generate random codes for the retailer to use. And we’ll format those in a PDF which they can then print out. Likely what will happen is, it’ll print easily on Avery 30-up laser labels. So what you have is a sheet of Avery laser labels with a bunch of different books and codes on individual labels. In that case the retailer takes that material and secures it and then when someone wants Transformers #16 they simply ring the sale and give the label or sticker or cut-out to the consumer. [...] It’s really very simple. Then the consumer that has that code, which is live, they could literally step out of the line, pull out their iphone or ipad or whatever other device and redeem the code and begin reading the material.” Meanwhile, Todd Allen dissects what he describes as “a particularly silly digital download scheme.” [The Beat, Indignant Online]
Diamond Comics Distributors and iVerse media announced plans today to allow customers to purchase certain digital comics exclusively in their local comics shop on the same day the print editions are released.
That’s right: Digital comics that you buy in a store. Not the iTunes store, nor, apparently, through the store’s website. In. The. Store.
The special editions will sell for $1.99 for about 30 days after the release date, and customers also can buy a digital download for 99 cents with the purchase of a print comic. The digital comics are purchased via code redemption, although retailers who do have websites will be able to sell back issues that way.
Admittedly, this seems to be at odds with the current notion of digital comics, which involves downloading comics onto your computer, tablet, or phone from the comfort of your own home, but there is a certain logic to it. After all, who knows what the release date is for a new comic and cares enough to want to get it on that date? The Wednesday crowd, and they are heading to the comics shops anyway. Viewed from that point of view—What will please my regular customers?—it makes sense, as it adds some value to the trip to the store.
The New York Times reports that Archie Comics is moving to day-and-date digital releases with six of its titles in April. Archie, Archie & Friends, Betty, Veronica, Betty and Veronica, and Jughead join Batman Beyond and Walking Dead, among others, on the list of titles you can purchase digitally on the same day the print edition is released.
The digital comics will cost $1.99, a buck less than the print version.
As Brigid pointed out last month, it can be difficult to find comics simply by doing a search in iTunes, since comics exist in applications called “Comics by comiXology” or “BOOM! Studios,” versus the name of the title folks might be looking for, like “Batman Beyond.” Archie, however, is in a unique position, in that their company is named after their flagship title and character. Doing a search for “Archie” in iTunes brings the app right up. I guess that’s the advantage of being a branded house vs. a house of brands.
This follows the news that the company reported last week, that the free Archie Comics application, created by iVerse, has been downloaded “a little over 1.7 million” times. What that means in terms of actual sales within the app is something else entirely, but it’s an impressive amount of awareness that these comics are out there.
What a difference a year makes! A year ago today, the iPad not only didn’t exist, it hadn’t been officially announced yet. People read comics on their iPhones and iPod Touches, but the screens were too small for a good experience (and therefore, no one wanted to spend much money on them). The iPad changed all that, with a big, full-color screen that is just a tad smaller than a standard comics page (and a tad larger than a standard manga page), and publishers started taking digital comics seriously. The distribution was already in place, thanks to the iPhone—comiXology, iVerse, Panelfly—and now the publishers not only jumped on board with those platforms but also started developing their own apps.
The digital comics scene is still developing, but the iPad was the game changer. For many people, it was the first time that they could comfortably read comics on a handheld screen. Now, it’s just a question of marketing—this year, publishers will grapple with bringing comics to a wider audience, outside the existing readership, and balancing the digital marketplace with the established brick-and-mortar retail structure.
Here, then, is a look back at our digital year.
The Register is a UK newspaper that that makes tech and business news a lot less boring by cloaking it in cheeky slang. An item that popped up today, iPad media apps: Stealthed hobbits thwart Google’s flaming Eye, caught my attention because it relates to the changing landscape of comics.
The point of the article is that iPad and iPhone apps are not accessible to Google and other internet search engines. This may not seem like a big deal, but in January, Apple will unveil the Mac Apps Store, and more and more content will be walled off in separate applications. I already use comiXology’s web app and the Mac version of the Kindle reader, so a Mac app is only a small step away from what I’m doing now.
It’s time for comics publishers and app developers to devote some serious thought to the question of how readers are going to find comics on their mobile devices. Already I have a hard time finding things in the app store, and the lack of a dedicated comics section makes it even worse. Unlike Google’s robust search engine (if I search for “Joseph Smith,” it knows to give me hits for “Joe Smith” as well, and it will ask me if I’m really looking for “Jo Smyth” if there are more hits for that), the iTunes store only responds to a handful of exact keywords.
Apple has released a list of the top apps for iPhone and iPad in its iTunes store, and three of the top five grossing book apps for the iPad are not just comics readers, they are all from comiXology: Marvel Comics, Comics (their multi-publisher reader), and DC Comics. This reflects not just the quality of the iPad as a comics medium for comics but also the large numbers of comics that must be selling through those apps (the apps themselves are free). The top grosser in the book category is The Elements, a visual exploration of the periodic table, which probably doesn’t have a lot of mass appeal but sells for $13.99, and the number five app is The Cat in the Hat, which does have a lot of appeal and sells for $3.99. That three comics apps can match that tells me that people are buying a lot of comics through them.
The pattern is the same for the rest of the top ten book apps—all but the comics apps are single-book apps (as opposed to an e-reader like Stanza), and none are free: Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, a Toy Story read-along, and two more Dr. Seuss books.
The Marvel and DC apps are number three and six, respectively, on the list of most downloaded free apps.
So, I broke down yesterday and bought an iPad. (I got the 32 G, Wi-Fi only version, for those who care about such things.) It’s a toy, but it’s a very nice toy. The question is, will it be a good workhorse?
So far so good. I’m a good tester for products like this, as I am not particularly good with technology, and I find that moving things to multiple platforms is often more trouble than it’s worth. The guy set the iPad up for me right in the store—got the battery charged, showed me how to use it, and made sure I installed iBooks right away. I doubt I’ll ever use iBooks, because I couldn’t find any free books, but whatever, it doesn’t take up much space. With a quick sync, I had the iPad versions of several comics readers that I already had on my iPod Touch: Comics by comiXology, Comics + from iVerse, some Dark Horse stand-alone books. Somehow the Viz Manga reader appeared as well, although I don’t remember signing up. Downloads were swift and easy. When I went home, I added the iPad to my Kindle account and moved some books over there.
Interestingly, the iPod comics I already own are readable on the iPad but in the smaller iPod format, so while I haven’t gained anything, I haven’t lost anything either.
With DC Comics revealing its digital strategy yesterday, all of the major players now have some sort of digital comics plan, allowing folks who have an Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.), a PlayStation Portable or even just access to the web to read at least some of their comics in a digital format.
I’ve had an iPhone for a while now, and I’ve downloaded free comic apps from distributors like comiXology, Panelfly and iVerse. I’ve used them to download free samples of comics they were offering (sampling Jersey Gods on the iPhone, for example, led to me purchasing the trades). But I never actually bought comics on it. And there’s a big difference between downloading something because it’s free, and actually becoming a paying customer and spending real money on it.
So what held me back? Part of it was because of what was available — most of the material I would have been interested in downloading I already owned in print, and I couldn’t justify buying it again. And part of it was that I just didn’t enjoy the experience of reading a comic on my iPhone as much as I did a print comic, mostly because of the size restrictions. The app developers, of course, tried to make it easy to adjust, offering zoom features and panel-to-panel scrolling, but there’s just something about not seeing the whole page of a comic at a time, versus just seeing each panel, that was the hump I couldn’t get over. I need the forest, and I need the trees.