At a time when some publishers have refused to allow libraries to lend their e-book titles under the old business model, the digital comics distributor iVerse is breaking new ground with a service that will allow libraries to offer digital comics to their patrons to read on just about every digital device. Current plans, which are tentative, call for the service to launch at San Diego Comic-Con International in July, according to iVerse account director Josh Elder.
Patrons would access the comics service, called Comics Plus: Library Edition, via the library's web portal, then go to a special version of iVerse's Comics Plus app, which runs on iOS, Android, and any device that can run HTML5, including laptop and desktop computers. Depending on the device they are using, patrons will be able to download the comics or stream them over the internet. Checkouts are temporary and will probably last one to two weeks, Elder said.
iVerse will charge the library on a cost-per-checkout basis that Elder said is "competitive with print," about 50 cents for a graphic novel and 10 cents for a single-issue comic. The library will set up a monthly budget allotment in advance, and when the limit is reached, most of the comics will become unavailable, although Elder said the service will always offer a number of comics for free. The premium comics will appear to the patrons to be on hold, and the hold will come off when the month is over. There is no upfront cost for the service, he said, and libraries will only be charged for actual usage. " There is no risk," Elder said. "You will never be charged more than the monthly budget allotment and you will never be charged for something you don’t use. No hidden fees."
According to iVerse, the library market accounts for about 10% of the U.S graphic novel market and its growing. As for the selection, Elder said that iVerse currently has over 10,000 titles in its Comics Plus catalogue including comics from Marvel, IDW, Archie, Top Cow, Zenescope, Boom! and more. The company is currently negotiating with publishers regarding participating in the program, and Elder said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Unlike other digital library programs, iVerse will allow more than one patron to check out the same digital comic at once. "It's a cloud service, so we don’t care if every patron checks it out at the same time," Elder said.
While the service will be available to all the library's patrons, Elder predicts that the typical user will be between 8 and 12 years old, with a 60-40 split between boys and girls. "Just as library graphic novel usage is dominated by YA titles, manga titles aimed at a YA audience, and children's titles, we expect that will be our core audience as well," Elder said. "Our goal is to reach everyone who is reading graphic novels in libraries."
The public library version of the service will allow libraries to block access to some comics, either for everyone or for certain patrons, in order to keep children from accessing mature content. iVerse will help by providing age ratings and content information. "Obviously it's a bigger issue for schools, so as we move in to school libraries, there is going to be a lot more of a curated experience than public libraries expect from our end and greater control tools for the school libraries," Elder said.
The finer details of the service will be determined in consultation with the libraries themselves, Elder said. " We are going to listen to our customers and give them what they want, not what we think they should have," he said. To participate in the beta, potential users can visit the iVerse website or contact Elder directly at email@example.com.