Digital Comic Resources: Platforms & Partnerships

In the last week, Apple's iBook Author announcement got comics creators thinking about making their own digital graphic novels, manga publishers continue to work on improving digital distribution, from the most popular manga like "Shonen Jump" to niche genres like yuri and Marvel promised "big news" regarding digital comics.

Digital Comics: Marvel is now offering collected editions of its comics via comiXology, but Johanna Draper Carlson points out that the digital bundles are only a dollar cheaper than the single issues (and priced comparably to print editions, while offering less in terms of durability) and that the comics are arranged in a way that is not likely to make sense to new readers.

Manga: Manga industry veteran Jason Thompson has penned a long, thoughtful piece for io9 on why the manga industry has been having troubles in recent years. Many of the problems are structural and have their roots in Japan, but Thompson does single out the poor job publishers have done with digital manga. On the one hand, manga is more popular than ever -- teenagers are reading it for free all over the internet, and the first result in a Google search on a manga title is often a scanlation site. On the other hand, as Thompson says, "Most Japanese publishers have no coherent digital strategy, and the extra step of licensing them in America makes them even slower to react to change." While most American manga publishers do have digital programs in place, there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of usability, selection, and price.

Manga: Geek Chic Daily's Tokyopop newsletter got a sneak peek at Viz's Shonen Jump Alpha, the digital version of their Shonen Jump manga magazine, which debuts on January 30. The writer found the app easy to navigate and very user-friendly, but questioned why single-issue subscribers would only have access to their chapters for four weeks, rather than 52 weeks, as full-year subscribers will.

Manga: The small yuri (lesbian) publishing house ALC has partnered with the online manga site JManga to publish the yuri manga "Poor Poor Lips," and more may be on the way. ALC publisher Erica Friedman says that ALC is providing localization and editing, while JManga (which is owned by a group of 39 Japanese publishers) holds the rights and will handle distribution. "JManga approached ALC because of our expertise in the Yuri genre," Friedman said in an e-mail. "They requested help with identifying titles of interest and, ultimately, help with localization, because of our familiarity with the genre, the lingo, the audience and the titles." Robert Newman of JManga added, "Poor Poor Lips" is the beginning of what could be several titles to come."

Platforms: Apple's announcement of its iBook Author was big news last week, but several other publishers announced their own authoring tools as well. Digital comics distributor Graphicly announced its own self-publishing platform that will allow creators to publish image-based books (i.e., comics) and distribute them across a variety of marketplaces, including Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Graphicly claims to be "the only platform that optimizes image-based content," but the competition is coming: Robot Media, which publishes comics for mobile devices, announced the beta version of their Little Robot Storybuilder, which allows the user to create interactive children's books, this week.

Platforms: Meanwhile, it didn't take long for comics creators to realize the potential of iBooks Author: Megan Lavey-Heaton immediately started thinking about using it to create a book-length compilation of a webcomic, and R. Stevens has already done it: He compiled all the December Diesel Sweeties comics into an e-book, Waking Up With the Diesel Sweeties, and has made it available for free via DropBox-but not through the iBookstore.

Apps: Mike Schramm chatted with comiXology marketing director Chip Mosher at Macworld, eliciting no news but a good sense of what the app is about and what they are hoping to accomplish.

Awards: Robot Media's "The Wormworld Saga" iPad app, based on the online graphic novel by Daniel Lieske, won the Publishing Innovation Award in the Comics category at this week's Digital Book World conference. This is Robot Media's second PIA award in two years; last year they won the award for their mobile comic "Robot 13." "The Wormworld Saga" is a graphic novel that uses a vertical variation on the "infinite canvas," in which the reader scrolls down to read the story uninterrupted by page turns. The app is free, as is the basic story; readers can upgrade to a paid "collectors edition" with extras such as sketches and author commentary for $3.99 per chapter. The story is kid-friendly, and judging from the "Customers also bought..." section of the app, appeals to readers of fantasy and picture books rather than traditional comics readers.

Retailing: Chris Brady of 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, California, told his local paper digital comics are a "gateway drug" for new readers and are expanding his business, not competing with it. What's more, he gets 15% to 30% of the sales from his comiXology digital storefronts with virtually no effort on his part.

Tablets: This is not specific to comics, but it's an important component of the digital comics marketplace: The Pew Research Center's latest survey shows that 19% of American adults own a tablet of some sort and 29% own a tablet or e-reader. Both percentages are up sharply from last December.

Tablets: The Aakash and Ubislate Android tablets, which are marketed in India, will come pre-loaded with Indian War Comics, a series of graphic novels about Indian war heroes that are written by a former Indian Army chief and intended to inspire patriotism in Indian youth. The Indian government plans to buy the Aakash tablets and distribute them to college students for free, which pretty much guarantees a comics-friendly audience (although Indian War Comics may not be quite what they are looking for).

E-books: IDW Publishin announced that it will publish eight short prose e-books ("e-singles") set in the universe of its "Zombies vs. Robots" comics series. It will release one e-book a week for eight weeks, and the books will be priced at 99 cents each and available from the Amazon, Nook and iBook stores. The series kicked off last week with "Pammi Shaw: Creator of Gods and Also Blogger," a story told in the form of blog posts, by actress and writer Brea Grant.

Quick Picks: John Parker read a heap of free comics so he could select the 15 best free comics on the Kindle Fire for Comics Alliance.

People: ComiXology has brought Ron Perazza on board as Vice-President - General Manager of Publisher and Creator Services. The official press release refers to him as a "veteran new media pioneer," which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Perazza was the editorial director of DC's Zuda webcomics site, which brought a host of new creators to the public eye. Since Zuda was shut down, Perazza has been Vice President of Online for DC Comics, so he really has been doing this digital stuff for a long time, at least in digital years.

Upcoming events: Marvel is promising "big news" in March, when it makes its debut appearance at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW). Marvel brass Axel Alonso, Jeph Loeb, and Peter Phillips will unveil "Marvel's bold new multimedia plans that includes the premiere of Marvel's revolutionary new ways to read comics," the press release promises, with slightly skewed grammar.

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