Five questions about the Kindle Fire and digital comics

by  in Comic News Comment
Five questions about the Kindle Fire and digital comics

Immediately after Amazon announced its new full-color tablet, the Kindle Fire, on Wednesday, eagle-eyed comics fans noticed something they hadn’t seen before: evidence of a digital version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal comics work Watchmen. The next day, DC Comics officially announced an exclusive deal with Amazon to offer not only the full Watchmen story in one download for a single price, but to unleash a wave of other graphic novels and collected editions, all formatted for the November-debuting Fire.

As with any announcement for a product not yet available, there remain some questions about the Kindle Fire, the DC agreement, and their effects on digital comics. Here are the ones Robot 6 has:

How long does DC Comics’ exclusive contract run?

Not many people know right now, and nobody who does is speaking at this point, about how long the contract DC signed with Amazon is good for, nor what the terms are. DC likely jumped at the chance to be the premier comics presence at the launch of the Kindle Fire. Indeed, according to this report at ICv2, the pricing on DC’s graphic novels — a “digital list price” of $17.99 on Watchmen, for example, versus a $9.99 “Kindle Price” — indicates there may have been more than your usual wheeling and dealing going on in the weeks and months before the big announcement.

Is the DC contract 100 percent linked to the Kindle Fire hardware?

As most iPad users are well aware, just because an ebook is saved in the Kindle format, it doesn’t mean you can’t read it on other devices. The Kindle App grants iPad users full access to Amazon’s directory of available titles — for now.

Edit: As pointed out in the comments below, Warner Bros. answered this question via their Twitter account, stating that any device that runs a Kindle app will have access to the DC Comics library. If accurate, this is good news indeed.

Until this point, virtually all Kindle ebooks were developed for text, not images. The occasional Kindle comics project would come along, but the art was generally designed with the device’s limitations in mind, or featured black and white art adapted to the Kindle’s e-ink display. With the Fire, all of those limitations are out the window. The tablet’s full-color screen allows for comics of all types to be rendered legibly, and between the 8 gig hard drive and Amazon’s free cloud storage, file size is no issue, either.

So the question remains: Will Amazon create an app for other devices that allows non-Fire owners to purchase Kindle Fire books and magazines? It likely depends on the specific contracts with the publishers. Amazon’s entire digital business model is based on selling you non-physical goods; mp3s, movies, ebooks, etc. Things you can store in the “cloud.” The Kindle itself was never meant to make money, as evidenced by Amazon’s aggressive pricing model. Instead, the goal is to get the various Kindles into the hands of as many people as possible to increase sales on items that take up no physical space, don’t need to be shipped and have lower overhead than real-world items like books, DVDs, etc.

How long until Marvel develops an Android/Fire app?

Rather, how long until Marvel’s contract with comiXology allows the digital distributor to sell the publisher’s library outside of iOS or Internet browsers? Again, without knowing the details of the House of Idea’s contracts, there’s no way of knowing much about this save for the fact that the publisher must be chomping at the bit to get the Marvel Universe in front of tens of thousands of more eyes. Until then, DC is very obviously the biggest fish in what is likely to be an increasingly large pond.

Will the screen size of the Fire have an adverse effect on casual comics readers?

One of the complaints the iPad generates, despite its general popularity, is that the screen is too small for a pleasurable reading experience. While it hasn’t stopped thousands of fans from enjoying the tales of their favorite characters digitally, the Fire may not fare as well. With a 7-inch diagonal screen optimized for landscape viewing, the real estate for reading a full page from your typical DC title is limited.

Of course, a lot of digital comics readers seem to like, possibly even love the panel-by-panel style of reading popularized by the various digital publishers (Amazon’s listings for the DC graphic novels refer to it as Kindle Panel View), so this may not be the worst hurdle to overcome — although those of us who are more purist in our sequential storytelling may balk at reading comics created at one size that need to be shrunk to digest size to be read a full-page at a time.

Will consumers be limited to Amazon’s content, or will .cbr/.cbz files be readable on the device?

We know pdf support is part of the Kindle Fire’s capabilities, but will readers be able to use third-party apps to read their .cbr/.cbz comics files? Odds are they will, but until the tablets are firmly in consumers’ hands, it’s tough to say so with any certainty.