SDCC: ComiXology CEO Explains New DRM-Free Backup Program

ComiXology CEO David Steinberger announced today at Comic-Con International in San Diego that the digital comics distributor will allow users to download DRM-free backups of some of the comics they have purchased. The backups will be available as high-definition PDF or CBZ files, but will not include comiXology's Guided View capabilities.

"This has been an oft-requested feature," said Steinberger. "It's a real backup file -- it's a fairly plain PDF or CBZ. They are high resolution, not a lot of bells and whistles, and my feeling is that people will continue to use the cloud-based reader to do their reading."

Initially, the DRM-free backups will be available for comics published by Top Shelf, Image Comics, Dynamite, Monkeybrain, Zenescope and Thrillbent. Publishers and creators who use ComiXology Submit can also opt to offer the DRM-free backups. Users who download their comics in this way will still be able to access the comiXology version from the cloud and read it using comiXology's Comics apps.

DRM, or digital rights management, allows digital comics to be read only with proprietary software such as comiXology's app. Users cannot share their comics or view them with other software. DRM-free comics, on the other hand, are simply files, usually PDFs or the comics-friendly CBZ files, that can be read in a number of different readers and are not tied to a single account.

Until today, comiXology offered its comics only within its own environment: Users could download comics onto their devices and read them offline, but only with comiXology's proprietary reader. ComiXology's software allows users to store their comics in the cloud and read it on any enabled device, but some readers have expressed concern that their purchases would disappear if comiXology ever stopped supporting the software. While this is unlikely -- comiXology is the largest digital comics distributor and was purchased by Amazon earlier this year -- it has happened with several smaller digital comics distributors, including Graphicly and JManga.

During the question and answer session, a reporter from The Motley Fool asked why comiXology is doing this now. "We do this 'Ask Us Anything' -- we have done it for many years -- and inevitably, a question every year is, 'Why is there DRM on my book? I want to own it,'" Steinberger said. "My answer has always been that it is more important to get all the publishers on board than to do DRM-free. The experience was going to be, you don't have to have stacks of hard drives, you don't have to load a file onto your computer... We decided it wasn't where we were going to put our development resources, given that no publisher of note wanted to do it. It's just the right time. Image started offering DRM-free, Top Shelf been doing it for a while -- I just felt like I couldn't sit up here and answer that question any more with a straight face. It's the publisher's choice, it's bare bones, we are not going to teach you how to load a CBZ file into comiXology. We don't expect you to do it. At the same time, people want it, publishers are doing it, it seems like the right thing to do. ... I hope you enjoy your backup, [but] our plan is we are always going to be the place where you buy and read your comics."

There was one opportunity missed, however. "[Digital Rights advocate] Cory Doctorow said if we ever announced DRM-free, he would come out and dance in a cheerleader's outfit behind us," said marketing director Chip Mosher, "but he's not at Comic-Con."

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