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.)