By Bruce Lidl
While Heidi and Torsten were off having fun at NYCC, the rest of us had to sadly experience all the comics-related mayhem vicariously. Nevertheless, on the digital comics front matters continue to develop in interesting ways, particularly in relation to online retailing behemoth, Amazon. The explosive Amazon-DC graphic novel exclusive agreement for the upcoming Kindle Fire tablet device remains a hot topic and shows no signs of fading from view, with even the New York Times jumping on the controversy. As many have already commented, while comics from a numerical standpoint may not be hugely important to the looming tablet wars (Amazon vs. B&N, Kindle Fire vs. iPad, etc.) they clearly have symbolic value to the combatants. Amazon has been very aggressive in using comic and graphic novel imagery in their marketing for the multimedia focused Kindle Fire, as comics are, after all, a prime use case for an e-Reading device that comes with a larger color screen (and children’s books as well).
However, Amazon is making waves in many aspects of the publishing world, far beyond digital comics, as their recent moves towards becoming a publisher in their own right are beginning to unsettle the traditional publishing houses very publicly. Amazon has announced recently the launch of their own e-imprint devoted to science fiction, to complement already named imprints for romance and mystery. So far there has not been any mention of Amazon doing the same for independent comic book creators with an interest in reaching out to tablet owners, but with the release of the Kindle Fire in mid-November (and with on-going rumors of an even larger 10 inch Kindle Fire in early 2012), the possibility becomes more believable, even if there was no Amazon presence at NYCC. The ongoing move to day-and-date releases by the major comics companies, along with Amazon’s ongoing relationships with comiXology and Graphicly may make an Amazon comics imprint unnecessary, but, as mentioned in the New York Times piece, Neil Gaiman was one of the exclusive guests at the recent Amazon-elite pow-wow.
While the Kindle Fire is almost assuredly going to be a hit (pre-orders are pushing sales estimates to over 5 million by the end of 2011), Barnes & Noble are not the only Amazon competitor willing to take up the fight. eReader underdog Kobo announced today their new $199 7 inch Android tablet the Vox, which they hope to get into consumer hands even before the Kindle arrives in mid-November. The Vox appears to be very similar to current BN Nook Color, a device that has demonstrated decent sales power, although with a heavily (up to 75%) female demographic. Regardless of gender dynamics, Barnes & Noble are themselves rumored to be releasing a new tablet or two of their own in the near future, and they are aggressively lowering prices on their remaining stocks of the Nook Color. While much has been made of the value proposition of the Kindle Fire’s deep integration into Amazon’s broader service offerings (music, video, etc.), with today’s release of Google Android’s new updated Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, we are likely to see quite a few more competing Android powered tablets, in a variety of sizes and configurations in the coming months.
Amazon clearly has huge ambitions and is open to pushing very creative products (check out) and services, including their new locker service, allowing Kindles to “check-out” library ebooks, and providing the ability to upload eBooks and documents to your Kindle seamlessly. Amazon is alerting everybody, they are clearly not afraid to take on powerful opponents, from Apple to Barnes & Noble to the Big 6 publishing houses. Amazons attack, indeed.