The Future of Digital Publishing – DRM-Free Comics and New Imprints

We have seen two pieces of exciting news for fans of digital comics earlier this month. Both of the new developments may offer us a glimpse into the future of digital comics, and indeed, digital publishing as a whole.

jet-city-comicsThe first is the launch of Amazon’s new digital-first comic imprint, Jet City Comics. The first of the books released by them, Symposium #1, is already up. Written by Christian Cameron, the comic is a spin-off to the Foreworld Saga, by Neal Stephenson. Comic adaptations of G. R. R. Martin’s short story Meathouse Man, and Hugh Howey’s bestseller Wool are set to follow. The books will be released on Amazon’s Kindle platform first, but collections will be available through their online store in print form. While by themselves this news may not be hugely exciting, it does open up the door to exciting possibilities. The first step, naturally, would be original comics. Amazon previously made headlines by allowing users to get paid for their licensed fan-fiction, based on the properties that signed on for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds initiative. The strides Amazon is making in publishing may soon allow independent, first-time comic book writers and artists to put out their work independently, and make some money on it.

image-logoImage Comics, in the meantime, was the first of comic book companies to launch a DRM-free digital comic storefront. Whereas digital comics are now common, and apps such as ComiXology are hugely popular, they have so far only allowed customers to download and read comics through their applications. This has the effect of the reader not owning the comic he paid for, but instead effectively buying the right to read it from their library, and nothing else. Image Comics, on the other hand, the third largest comic book publisher, now offers direct download of the comics from their website. Once a title is paid for and downloaded, it can be read on any device that supports the format, as well as shared and distributed freely.

This, naturally, opens the publisher’s comics up to piracy. In a bold statement, however, the publisher of Image Comics Eric Stephenson said the following to Wired:

My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment. There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high.

That certainly correlates with my own experience – I initially started reading pirated scans of Image Comics’ Spawn, but after catching up and deciding I really liked it, I started buying the issues as they came out, spending much of my hard-earned money on new releases of the title as a teenager.

The decision to launch their own storefront may not be completely idealistic, however. Image comics have been making headlines recently with two of their series, Saga and Sex having issues removed from the ComiXology iOS app, due to sexual content. The move appears to have been dictated by Apple’s iTunes policy, rather than by ComiXology itself, and the issues are still available through their website. This is, of course, hardly an ideal situation for Image, which has several titles aimed at adult audiences.

ComiXology also had a period of downtime one weekend in March, when Marvel announced it would be making over 700 issues available for free on the app, all on a single day. It turned out the servers were not prepared to meet the demand, as ComiXology was not accessible for users for the majority of that weekend. This meant that not only were users not able to purchase any comics during that time, but also that they were not able to access comics they had already purchased. The precedent set by this situation is a dangerous one, as the customers of the service evidently will not always have access to material they have already paid for. Image comics’ move, therefore, brings about the alternative that had been talked about as the ideal solution for customers for ages now, but until this month was not a reality due to fears of piracy.

Do you think these experiments will pay off, or is Image and Amazon being naive? Let me know in the comments!

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