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.


  1. Barnes & Noble also publishes books, mostly via Sterling. They also own SparkNotes, Metro Books, and Friedman Fairfax.

    Sterling publishes various graphic novels, such as the No Fear Shakespeare line, and the Illustrated Classics.

    While Amazon is a big competitor to Apple via name recognition and media sales, the Kindle Fire is a 7-inch device, and more similar to the Nook Color in size and power.

    The big question: when will comics publishers enter the e-book market? Apps are nice, but libraries don’t lend out apps, they lend e-books.

  2. All of this is great because as a consumer I want to easily access a great catalog of comics new and old, buy, and then read them whenever and wherever I want. I want all of these publishing houses to get off their asses and get it done. There are too many cool comics and books out there (again, new and old) that aren’t being seen…

    and that’s a crime. (IMO)

    There really is no reason whatsoever that any comic (or book) should ever go ‘out of print’ ever again. Ditto books. There are really cool properties just sitting in publisher’s IP libraries that deserve to be seen and appreciated by new audiences. Those properties also deserve to be working on the creators’ behalf.

    We’re bringing out THE MIRACLE SQUAD in about a month (it’s in pre-order now). 199 pages of fun that hasn’t been seen since it was 1st published back in 86-87. We also have SCARLET IN GASLIGHT and the BIG BANG COLLECTIONS and other cool stuff coming out.

    I say all this because it’s what we do – we rescue cool books and comics from falling through the cracks and republish them as affordable collectible editions in print and digital. Just like what happened when video and DVD hit the shelves. If only other publishers would get on board with the idea it would invigorate the entire comics and book markets.

    Publishers will make pennies a comic, but they’ll sell TONS more comics. Retailers will sell more trades instead of floppies, and (if they’re good) they’ll be able to upsell folks on other material. They will always be busy because new comics will be coming out all of the time. Every day will be Wednesday, and the customer base will be much broader.

    But it’s creators who will benefit most of all because they will have their creations out there and working for them again. They will also have access to the tech in order to do it themselves (if they so choose), and earn a bigger percentage of the pie.

    I apologize for stomping up on my soapbox, but this is an issue for me. It’s why I started my little company in the first place, and it completely befuddles me that companies don’t think about making the future great, but rather work trying to preserve some stranglehold on the past.

  3. As the digital age picks up steam, and intellectual properties become of part, the cost will rise. Don’t be fooled by 99 cent come on’s.

    Without visibility aka stores that sell comics and the like, toys etc. There is no visibility.

    Same thing for price guides and the like. Comic books are not like romance novels per se.

    If you are an independent publisher, you might as well forget even being accepted unless your numbers can prove your worth.

    It’s still a paper industry. Without the fame of conventions etc. just how much fun would sitting in front of a Kindle or the like do you think it would be?

    It’s not there yet. It’s still a gaming industry, movie industry and music industry tool.

    Best of luck otherwise.