Looking to provide libraries with low cost, low maintenance access to thousands of digital comics, digital distributor iVerse Media is launching Comics Plus: Library Edition, an online service that allows library patrons to borrow comics and graphic novels on a cost-per-checkout basis. The service will launch today at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago with more than 7,000 titles from more than 80 publishers, including Archie Comics, Image, Viz Media, Dynamite, PaperCutz and others

At a time when public libraries are often at odds with publishers over making their titles available for digital lending, a new service looks to offer an easy-to-use, budget-conscious model for circulating graphic novels that provides libraries with a popular medium and publishers with both a new discoverability channel as well as a new revenue stream. Comics Plus: Library Edition is a cloud-based service that allows libraries to offer unlimited simultaneous checkouts (libraries are often required to loan digital e-books as if they were physical books and are prohibited from loaning more digital copies than available), a wide selection of titles and genres, content control for age and maturity, and data analysis and circulation statistics from checkouts.

The service is accessible from virtually any computing device, no contracts are necessary and libraries can end the service with a month’s notice. Libraries set up an account with a pre-set budget limit and the C+ Library Edition system alerts the librarian when funds are running low or halts lending when the budget limit is reached. The system also offers more than 600 free digital comics, which remain available to patrons in the event of a budget cutoff. Checkouts last a week.

The service was devised by cartoonist Josh Elder, account director at iVerse Media, and also the founder of Reading with Pictures, a nonprofit effort to encourage the use of comics in the classroom. In a phone interview Elder, said he developed the model from talking with librarians around the country about the problems they have acquiring graphic novels. “They were worried about the cost of acquiring physical graphic novels,” he said, “they often didn’t have enough knowledge about the category, shelf space, especially for manga, was an issue and they said that graphic novels were ‘read to pieces,’ circulated so much the books fell apart. I could see that digital was the solution.”

He brought the concept to Iverse Media CEO and founder Michael Murphey. Iverse is a digital distribution platform that specializes in comics as well as other media. “We were very enthusiastic about his proposal. Iverse’s whole basis is to expand the market for digital comics. The library market is perfect place to try out new comics, especially from indie publishers. It’s a way to find and discover new stories and great characters.” Murphey emphasized that the system offers, “no risk for libraries, the system won’t charge you more than you budget and there’s no waste.”

Elder said the service is also ideal for “patron-driven acquisitions,”—the service offers instant data on what digital titles patrons are checking out—rather than guessing in advance what readers want and the service provides data that can inform the acquisition of physical titles, Murphey said. In addition, according to a survey conducted by iVerse, the cost to libraries of circulating digital comics via Comics Plus: Library Edition is about 50 cents per title per checkout for graphic novels and about 10 cents per periodical comic checked out and Murphey claims publishers will get back a “higher return” from the service than circulating a physical graphic novel.

While the service’s inventory includes materials marked for young kids, middle grade, teen/YA, mature and adult readers, Murphey said the service offers “more kids and teens material on the whole.” Currently the service offers “universal display” of its content—mature material is labeled and displayed but library controls what can be offered—but software upgrades will add the ability to display material that cannot be accessed without permission. “We’re going to add selective parental controls,” Murphey said, emphasizing that “every title has a clear age rating and you know what you’re getting. No one ends up with a mature title if they don’t want it.”

Other publishers supplying digital comics titles via Comics Plus: Library Edition include Capstone, Archaia, Toon Books, Zenescope, Bluewater, Ape Entertainment, Andrews McMeel, Antarctic Press, Digital Manga and more. Titles include Naruto, Bleach and Dragon Ball from Viz, and even Christian comics from Kingstone Media. Murphy acknowledged that the service currently does not offer titles form DC and Marvel, the big two of comics publishing, but he also emphasized that Comics Plus: Library Edition is adding new content all the time and is focused on introducing independent publishers.

Iverse Media will be represented at ALA by by the distribution vendor Brodart, which will be promoting the service. “We offer more than 7,000 titles and there are a lots of big media properties," Murphey said, "We don’t necessarily have a lot of titles aimed at the direct market [the comics shop market, which tends to favor the superhero genre] but we’re looking to find new readers to introduce to comics.”