DC and Amazon look for heroic digital future

Nov. 22, 2011 | 8:40 a.m.
watchmenkindle DC and Amazon look for heroic digital future

Alan Moore's "Watchmen" is among the 100 titles DC Entertainment has released digitally for the Kindle Fire.

It’s a question every comic book publisher is thinking: Will digital save the day?

On paper, literally and figuratively, the American comic book’s past looks brighter than its future. The question now is whether the medium’s classic approach to sequential storytelling with static images can leap off the page and become a pixel proposition in a major way. DC Entertainment is counting on it, and its executives say the launch Tuesday of a new storefront on Amazon.com is a milestone moment on the path to that downloadable future. Digital versions of 100 graphic novels and collections such as “Watchmen,” “Batman: Year One” and Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” stories are now available exclusively via Amazon for its first color e-reader, the Kindle Fire, which arrived in November.

The deal and the ramp-up to the storefront has stirred curiosity, controversy and competition. When word spread that Amazon’s device would get a four-month window of exclusivity for those 100 digital graphic novels, angry executives at Barnes & Noble yanked the hardcover and softcover versions of those titles from shelves of their brick-and-mortar stores. That was followed by the announcement of a Marvel deal for Barnes & Noble and its Nook device. It’s all part of the roiling marketplace where comics — which have fallen well below circulation numbers of the medium’s glory decades — search for their place in the pixellated future.

arkham asylum DC and Amazon look for heroic digital futureThe comics giant DC has been talking with Amazon for about two years, according to Hank Kanalz, DC’s senior vice president of digital. The result of their collaboration is something they’ve dubbed Comic Reader technology. “The resolution is outstanding …  and it’s backlit, so the colors really come to life,” Kanalz said.

The screen on the Kindle Fire is a little smaller than 4-by-6 inches — not exactly optimal viewing size for complex, elaborate comic book pages. But DC and Amazon developed some features that they hope will overcome the small screen size. A double tap enlarges the image to 150%, focusing in on one panel at a time. A swipe from right to left whisks the reader from one panel to the next.

A key audience DC hopes to reach with its digital library are new readers, those who haven’t given comic books a try yet or are recently arrived tourists in the medium. There’s cause for optimism — with films such as “The Dark Knight” and the upcoming “Man of Steel.” the DC universe is at the center of a bright Hollywood spotlight — but cynics wonder if a medium with static illustrations and word balloons can compete in an era of Xbox, Pixar, iPhone games and Cartoon Network. To Kanalz,  the popularity of competing digital entertainments only spreads the interest in comics; if kids play Arkahm City the game, they’ll want to eventually check out “Arkham Asylum” the book.

DC kept those entry-point readers in mind when selecting the first 100 titles to be offered digitally. Kanalz said they aimed to choose “something for everyone” to appeal to a broad group of those just getting introduced to comic books while also making sure DC’s bestsellers made the list, which includes titles from their DC Comics, Vertigo and MAD imprints.

“We’ve talked a lot about how people try to get their friends [interested in reading comic books]. There’s a standard list people use to get other people involved,” he said.

Don’t expect digital comic books to completely replace paper anytime soon, Kanalz said.  DC is looking at the performance of its September revamp effort, The New 52, as proof that digital and print can coexist.

“The results for print and digital for ‘The New 52’ confirmed that digital is definitely additive,” Kanalz said. “I think print is here to stay for comics for a long time.”

— Emily Rome


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9 Responses to DC and Amazon look for heroic digital future

  1. Paula says:

    I think this signals the death of the local comic book store. People will buy their paper copies where they buy their digital copies: Online.

  2. babyfacemagee says:

    Ok, so it's not perfect but the Kindle Fire is still an amazing deal for $200. At kindlefireforums.com there's a ton of great reviews and articles about the best apps as well as discussion with other new Kindle Fire owners.

  3. west says:

    Ipad vs Kindle vs Android tablet? Which should I get? I hate that the Ipad is so expensive and think I’d miss a keyboard. Maybe a tablet is not for me? I tried doing a simple “cut and paste” on an Ipad, and it was a pain, whereas it is so simple with a mouse.

  4. DanZee says:

    Try a notebook computer. Same screen size as an iPad, but it has a keyboard and a touchpad. And you’re talking about a lot less money, especially if you go with a refurbished unit! I bought one recently for $199.

  5. red reyder says:

    this is a very postive step towards comic books in the tuture

  6. Rusty says:

    I like digital comics but I'm limited because DC and Marvel's Comixology app isn't available for the HP Touchpad. So here I am, someone who would spend money on digital comics, but can't because Comixology won't support WebOS. I'm not the only one with this problem either.

    Hopefully this new "Comics Reader" technology is supported by the Kindle App I have.

    Silly DC & Marvel. There are dollars in my wallet just waiting to get to you.

  7. Chris Sartin says:

    This is ridiculous. video game developers do this all the time and no one cries about it. I was comparing both the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet the other day, and the Kindle will probably be my choice hands down. They have many more apps including the Comixology app, which is one of the main reasons I've been considering a tablet.

  8. Ipad vs Kindle vs Android tablet? Which should I get? I hate that the Ipad is so expensive and think I'd miss a keyboard.

  9. Gilda Kuning says:

    The Amazon Kindle is a series of e-book readers produced by Amazon.com. Amazon Kindle devices enable users to shop for, download, browse, and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other digital media via wireless networking. The hardware platform, developed by Amazon.com subsidiary Lab126, began as a single device and now comprises a range of devices – most using an E Ink electronic paper display capable of rendering 16 tones to simulate reading on paper while minimizing power consumption.^**:

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