While the iPad has been the most-talked about digital platform for comics, Barnes & Noble has recently expanded their comics offerings on their Nook eReader, and done so in a fairly unconventional way. While previous efforts to place comics on eReader platforms focused on converting the comics into the Kindle’s proprietary e-book format or into the open source ePub format favored by the rest of the commercial eReader devices, the Nook is now offering comics as apps.
Barnes & Noble, thus far, is operating through digital comics application providers Graphic.ly and iVerse. Comic apps listed in the Nook’s store function show either Graphic.ly or iVerse as the comic’s publisher, not Archie or Boom or IDW. Graphic.ly’s properties on the Nook include Irredeemable, Mouse Guard and Wanted. iVerse’s properties include Archie, and IDW’s Parker and Star Trek.
“We were introduced to B&N, and they were actively looking for a partner at the time, and believed we were the best suited to work with them,” Graphic.ly’s Micah Baldwin explained.
“Michael Murphey at iVerse got in touch with us first to let us know that this was a possibility,“ Archie Co-CEO Jon Goldwater said, about how Archie’s comics came to be on the Nook.
Since these comics offerings are applications, finding them on the Nook can be a clunky process. Walking into a local Barnes & Noble, the user is advised to type in “comics” and “graphic novels” into the Nook’s search function. Approaching it this way, the comics apps were mingled in with a much larger number of ePub formatted comics, including comic apps like The Archie Wedding (listed at $5.99) and the first two volumes of Irredeemable (digital editions of the trade paperbacks reprinting 4 issues each, listed at $6.99). Additionally, readers only see these apps while searching on a Nook, not at BN.com or on the Nook app on a smart phone. It is considerably easier to find the apps if the reader already knows the title of the comic they are looking for.
Since the Nook is an Android-based tablet, it makes sense that Barnes & Noble would reach out to companies already publishing comics on Android platforms. Baldwin said “It’s very similar to our Android app with a new skin and a few controls.” Baldwin also added that Barnes & Noble is “curating the apps, and being very specific about what they are allowing in.”
These comics apps are standalone products, they don't link back to Graphic.ly or iVerse to offer more comics. Just as you see competing formats for digital comics with companies like Graphic.ly, iVerse and ComiXology (who declined to comment on future plans for the Nook platform), you now have competing formats for comics on the Nook platform: Graphic.ly, iVerse and ePub. Much of the reason for the different formats is the perceived need for guided navigation while reading digital comics. The comics apps allow for panel-to-panel navigation and automatic enlargement of panels. ePub editions are essentially static pages like a .PDF or the .CBR format popular with the much-maligned bit torrent crowd. On the other hand, ePub editions are listed with the regular eBooks.
“The ePub format is very limited right now until we see the emergence of ePub 3 which will support much more complicated page layouts,” offered Jeff Webber, director of ePublishing for IDW. “Android apps running on the Nook offer the full reading experience found on iOS and Android devices.”
Regardless of the increasingly complicated issue of format, everyone involved seemed happy with the consumer response in the first two weeks of comics apps availability. Once more, comics seem to be an online growth area, as Webber explained: “The Nook is one more interesting platform in a quickly growing landscape. The challenge for publishers right now is to focus tight resources on the strongest distribution and partnership opportunities. New platform manufacturers and major distributors are all looking at what is doing best on the leading application stores—I'm calling it the Angry Bird syndrome. When they look at the book category, they see comics coming on strong. So they are all actively courting publishers and app developers that are proven.”
[Todd Allen is a technology consultant and former adjunct professor with Columbia College Chicago's Arts, Entertainment & Media Management department. Allen's book, The Economics of Web Comics, is taught at the college level. He also writes the Division & Rush webcomic. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Publishers Weekly.]