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Digital Update: Kobo Vox a Viable Platform for Digital Comics?


By Bruce Lidl

Despite all the attention the Kindle Fire has generated in the weeks since its announcement, there is another very similar device coming to the market, even before the Fire arrives on November 15.  The Kobo Vox eReader is available for purchase today at $199, the exact same price as the Kindle Fire, and in fact they share the same size, form factor and screen resolution (1024×600).  The Kindle has a dual core CPU while the Vox’s is single core, they both have 8Gb of internal storage, although the Vox is expandable to 32GB with a MicroSD card, and both the devices run heavily modified versions of the Android operating system, that discourage, but do still allow users to install their own choice of apps, in contrast to Apple iPads.  

The first review of the Vox hit the web today, and it was quite positive, especially about the “social reading” aspects of the tablet.  Time will tell how popular tweeting your favorite passages will become with Vox owners.  More interestingly, Kobo, like Amazon with the Kindle Fire, has identified comics and graphic novels as potentially strong sellers for a color device, and according to the reviewer, has included a free Archie comic for Kobo purchasers.  Currently there are no comics or graphic novels available for purchase in the Kobo ebook store, but that looks to change.  And because of the ability to side-load Android apps, Vox owners should have access to graphic novels from the Amazon Kindle store and comics from the comiXology, Graphicly and comic publishing company stores.  So for those customers looking for a low cost color e-reader for digital comics, but are not interested or able to take advantage of Amazon’s broader content strategy, the Kobo Vox might be a viable alternative.

According to Amazon, the response to the Kindle Fire has been far beyond what even they had predicted, and there will be millions of them in users’ hands mere weeks after the official release.  Combined with the ongoing tidal wave of iPad sales, add in Kobo’s Vox sales, and we are about to enter a new era of color digital book consumption, ideally poised for digital comic books, in a way smart phones just do not provide.  Inevitably, a certain percentage of the comics read on these new devices will not come from legitimate sources, but will be downloaded pirated comics.  Jim Mroczkowski’s ongoing series of interviews with comic pirates makes clear that from a supply standpoint, motivated readers will continue to have access to high quality scans of every single comic printed, usually on the day of its release.  It will be interesting to see how the proliferation of new devices affects both legal sales and illegal downloads, although the interplay between the two remains controversial.  The large entertainment conglomerates, including the parent companies of both DC and Marvel, are nonetheless pushing hard for new harsher laws to regulate the Internet.  Digital civil liberties groups have raised strong objections to the new laws, but with the backing of big content and their lobbying might, the odds are certainly in favor of passage.

  1. Nawid A: Both the Kindle Fire and the Kobo Vox will allow users to install apps that are NOT available in the officially approved app stores each device is tied to. iPads cannot install apps not available in the offical Apple App Store.

  2. Kobo have been interested in graphic novels for some time. There are actually two graphic novels available from them: my VALENTINE (http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Valentine-Book-One-Les-Neiges/book-tcFCdwbw3EGQAhAXPXrzyg/page1.html) and Charles Burns’ BLACK HOLE. But apparently they aren’t listed under graphic novels.

    The main issue is that Kobo’s ePub compiler is kind of handmade and doesn’t comply to even ePub 2.0 standards (ePub is now on 3.0 as a standard), which means graphic novels that work fine in iBooks and on ADE and the Nook just won’t load on Kobo. They are now experimenting with PDF… and they requested Valentine on PDF to test, but I haven’t heard anything about those tests.

    If they just sucked it up and actually developed their compiler to industry standard, it would help A LOT to accomplish what many of their staff actively desire. They are great people but a dumb tech issue stops them from really going after the comics market.

    Although, speaking of dumb/annoying tech issues, BRB, need to recode my Kindle books from Mobo into HTML5 for the Fire and re-list special Fire editions and hope the buyers choose the right one and don’t get mad at me because Amazon is running two different/incompatible coding standards at the same time for their eReaders.

  3. Alex thanks for the correction. I did not see Valentine or Black Hole.

    And you make a very valid point about format compatibility among the devices. I was planning on writing a post on the new Kindle format, it looks like its going to cause quite a few issues, and not just for creators like yourself.

  4. I tested my digital art book out on a Kobo and I was fairly impressed. It handled it without much fuss at all. I believe it was a pdf though, not an epub. Can’t recall now.

    I’ve seen the Vox already and I wish the screen real estate was a bit larger. It’s very tall but not very wide.

  5. Chris, from what I understand Amazon is fine with people loading apps that are side-loaded, so you in theory you could download the Barnes & Noble app and install it yourself. You just won’t be able to get it from the official Amazon app store (probably).

    Amazon has also said they have not put in anything to prevent rooting/using custom ROMs.

  6. Meanwhile, the Nook Color has been available for a year now, and can be side-booted from the memory card, leaving the factory-installed OS untouched. Most comics publishers prefer apps to actual e-books, although their is a vibrant self-publishing movement in graphic novel e-books, as even the Big Six book publishers are hesitant to offer e-book GNs.

    There are graphic novel e-books available on the Kobo store… just not from comics publishers. No surprise… no comics publishers currently offer e-books.

    Ooops… Digital Manga does. “Weekend Lovers” is available as an Adobe DRM EPUB file. That format seems to be the default format for most Kobo books.

    “Amazon has also said they have not put in anything to prevent rooting/using custom ROMs.”

    (Amazon deletes copies of “1984” from Kindles)

    “It says Amazon grants customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.””

    Myself, seeing how the Kindle Fire is designed to replicate Apple’s walled garden by driving customers to Amazon to purchase content, and that Amazon subsidizes the cost of the Kindles to encourage customers to load files from Amazon, I would not be surprised if there were a “Charrington” utility reporting to the Thought Police in Seattle.

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