Dark Horse is getting ready to roll out their much-delayed Dark Horse Digital iPad app, and marketing director Jeremy Atkins showed me the beta version at C2E2 last weekend. The app is currently scheduled to launch in mid-April with about 300 titles, Atkins said, and Dark Horse does plan to do some simultaneous print and digital releases, although they have not settled on which titles would be involved.
In some ways, all iPad apps are alike: The Dark Horse app serves as both storefront and comics reader; you open it up to an array of covers, and you tap them for more information or to buy the comic. But Dark Horse built their app from the ground up, and there are some innovations here.
One is the grouping of comics. While most apps present the user with a bewildering array of single issues, the Dark Horse app groups them by title in “stacks,” so that a single series or story arc is a single icon on the home page. You tap that to get to the individual issues. Instead of trades, Dark Horse will be offering “bundles” of issues for a discount over the single price; the issues will still be read one at a time. The selection is pretty eclectic and includes Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub, making Dark Horse one of the first American publishers to offer Japanese manga on the iPad.
Like other comics apps, the Dark Horse app has a panel-zoom mode; unlike some other apps, Dark Horse’s is easy to toggle in and out of. The app also allows the reader to store the comics on or off the device. “You don’t really ‘own’ anything digitally, but you have the right to read it forever,” Atkins said.
The rollout of the app was delayed when Apple started strictly enforcing some of its policies about in-app buying. As the app was originally conceived, the reader would buy comics through the Dark Horse web store, not the iTunes store. This allowed Dark Horse to offer single issues for $1.49 each. While details are still being worked out, the current version of the app would allow purchases through both the iTunes Store and Dark Horse’s web store. “The pricing structure will reflect Apple’s standardized pricing, with different prices in the digital store,” Atkins said.
Dark Horse had previously made some of its comics available as individual apps, and Atkins said they will update to in-app versions. He added that Dark Horse is currently working on a retailer program that would include content, such as prequels, that would only be available through comics shops.