Digital Comic Resources: Scott Kurtz Sounds the Alarm

It's another week of game-changing announcements in the digital world as Archie Comics gets a web store, iVerse launches a library service, and Viz sets up a division specifically for digital products. Even digital skeptic Brian Hibbs gets into the act, signing on to Diamond Digital. And while we wait for the launch of Mark Waid's Thrillbent.com site next week, he and partner John Rogers have a few things to say -- as does future competitor and webcomics veteran Scott Kurtz

Creators: Mark Waid's new digital comics site, Thrillbent.com, doesn't debut until next Tuesday, but he is busy discussing the process of writing his new, digital-first comic "Insufferable" at his own blog. His first decision was how long to make the chapters -- since the book is serialized weekly, not monthly, the standard models don't apply. SPOILER: Eight to ten pages seems to be about right, with some sort of !? moment at the end, so the reader will come back for more. He then explains why he broke that rule immediately and made the first chapter 23 pages long. Waid also discussed his interest in digital comics with CBR reporter Kiel Phegley at C2E2.

Creators: Meanwhile, Waid's partner on the Thrillbent site, John Rogers, discusses his role as collaborator and motivation coach: "Basically I had been just harassing Mark to do this digital stuff -- I had been just on him for three years... And when he finally decided to launch it, he said 'I want you to come in with me and partner on this,' and how do you pass that up?"

Digital Comics: Scott Kurtz, the creator of one of the first and most successful webcomics, PvP, looks at Waid's entry into digital comics as a potential game-changer, because the rest of the world will start paying attention to the webcomics model and realize the advantage it has over the pay-to-read digital comics model: Webcomics make money for the creator, not the middleman. "Fortune favors the bold and Mark Waid is looking to be bold. He's going to throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. And once something sticks...well...woe betide the webcomicer who hasn't established a corner of the web for themselves. Because if Mark can make Thrillbent stick then everything changes. Everyone up to this point has been too scared to follow us. They have too much to lose. Mark Waid doesn't give a shit. He's going for it." That means the established webcomics creators have their first "legit competitor."

Publishing: Archie Comics became the first publisher in the iVerse family to set up its own web store this week; this is something that comiXology has already done with its name-brand app as well as DC and, more recently, Marvel. The HTML5-based website works on most mobile devices and syncs with iVerse's Archie Comics iOS app.

Libraries: In a move that challenges the current paradigm of e-books for libraries, iVerse unveiled its library digital comics service, Comics Plus Libraries Edition, which will launch in July. Unlike Overdrive, the dominant library e-book service, which allows patrons to check out one copy of an e-book at a time and removes some books after a certain number of checkouts, the iVerse service will charge libraries on a per-checkout basis and allow them to set a ceiling on the amount they want to pay each month. That means if 30 people want to read a comic at once, they can, as long as the library has the budget to cover it. The fees will come to about 50 cents per graphic novel, 10 cents per single-issue comic, and the service will offer a number of comics for free as well, according to account director Josh Elder. iVerse is currently negotiating with all its publishers with regard to participating in the library service, and Elder says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Publishing: Manga and anime publisher Viz Media announced this week that it has created a new division, Viz Labs, to be headed by Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Gagan Singh. Here's the key line from the press release: "VIZ Labs will focus on innovation in digital content distribution, and will consolidate engineering and digital business efforts across the company into one group. VIZ Media has recently been selectively acquiring engineering talent, and that acquisition strategy will continue under VIZ Labs." Why? Viz has been a pioneer in the manga world; its iOS app and digital manga site are the best in the business in terms of ease of use and it recently converted their "Shonen Jump" magazine to a digital weekly. It's not clear what creating a separate division will accomplish, but one possibility is that moving its digital service away from its publishing functions would allow the publisher to offer a variety of digital products in addition to its own comics.

Digital Comics: DC Entertainment is taking its digital initiatives to the youth market with the launch of the DC Nation app, a companion to the print "DC Nation Super Spectacular," which will include over 100 kid-friendly DC titles, many of them available for free. The print comic, which will be available on newsstands, will feature comics based on the DC Nation animated cartoons, while the app includes both digital-first DC Nation comics and selections from the backlist.

Digital Comics: In the wake of the Tor Books announcement that all their e-books would be DRM-free as of July, I checked in with Seven Seas (which is owned by Tor) and learned that its graphic novels have always been DRM-free.

Retailing: Daniel McAbee, of The Tangled Web comics shop in Spartanburg, South Carolina, makes no bones about it: Comics publishers are aiming to sell digital comics directly to his clientele, cutting out him and the middleman. He makes a compelling argument, including a rather jaded view of those free download codes that come with Marvel comics (and require the reader to set up an account with Marvel's digital service). But here's the twist: His sales numbers are up: "With all the recent digital activity, I found it strange that my comic sales numbers are actually slowly climbing.  DC certainly has right to say that they saved a portion of the business by thinking (and advertising) 'outside the box' with their New 52 promotions but sadly, those numbers are already on the decline. The thing that has NOT declined is the number of new customers saying, 'What else should I be reading?'"

Retailing: Longtime digital comics skeptic (not opponent, he is at pains to say) Brian Hibbs explains why he is signing on to the Diamond Digital program (and not its competitor), and he discusses the advantages and disadvantage of Diamond Digital. Hibbs sort of buries the lede in this story, which is that he has a live Diamond Digital site; apparently he's one of the beta users mentioned at the retailer summit at C2E2.

Commentary: Newsarama contributor Jill Pantozzi reflects on how her comics buying and reading habits have changed after four months of going digital. Her biggest problem: Remembering to read the comics without the visual reminder of a stack of physical copies, and the fact that comiXology's "Alert" button appears to be broken isn't helping things. On the other hand, she enjoys the convenience and ease of reading, as well as the digital firsts, and overall she feels that digital comics have the edge.

Digital Comics: ComiXology has recently introduced a section of its web store that makes shopping easier for penny-pinching fans: A listing of comics whose prices have recently been reduced.

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