Dec 312013
 

spiderman7Marvel’s announced that they’ve stopped selling single-issue comics at Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=49951

I suppose I can’t blame Marvel for pulling singles from bookstores, though their trade paperbacks will still be sold at such venues. While some suggest digital is the better alternative, I think the existing singles business model’s broken. Who (outside of enthusiasts) wants to pay $4 for a 22-page story that’s only one part of a multi-part storyline? The single-issue superhero comic as it currently stands is probably the least cost-effective form of entertainment. By contrast, trade paperbacks are a better deal, actually contain an entire storyline, and fit on a bookshelf (versus requiring specialized storage).

Superhero comics are also competing with their own corporate cousins—the various video games, TV shows, movies, etc., all of which provide more cost-effective forms of entertainment. Video games also have the advantage of letting you become (virtually) your favorite superhero, as Scott McCloud noted in his books.

May 042013
 

Nook HDThe other day, the big US bookstore chain Barnes & Noble announced that their line of Nook tablets will now be allowed to access the Google Play app store. This access applies only to the current line of tablets (the HD or HD+), not their original Nook Color or Tablet models.

One long-standing flaw of the Nook tablet is that until now, B&N didn’t allow the Nook access to Google Play, instead curating their own app store. Their own app store was limited in selection, older versions, and often charged for apps that were free from Google Play, such as Angry Birds. Since the Nook was easily rootable, however, the more geeky of us online didn’t mind much, and got around B&N’s limitations. Of course, this was early in the color tablet era (a.k.a. a few years ago); now, with a wide selection of tablets to choose from, such as the excellent and inexpensive Nexus 7, such limited access to apps is unacceptable. While Amazon’s app store for its Kindle is much better curated than Nook’s app store, Amazon’s Kindle still doesn’t allow access to the Google Play store. This might help differentiate the Nook from its Kindle competitor.

Since the Nook’s market share is lower compared to the iPad, Kindle, Nexus 7, etc., hopefully this change will allow the Nook (which is nice hardware otherwise) to gain ground. While sideloading apps still isn’t officially allowed, as The Digital Reader blog criticizes, I don’t think the average user the Nook’s aimed at will care one bit. I recall sideloading homebrewed apps on my old Palm Pre, but only because the official apps I wanted—which was most of what’s out there—didn’t have WebOS versions.

Jan 132013
 
Archie #640 on the Nexus 7

Archie #640 in the Nook app on the Nexus 7.

Updated 4/10/14

While Comixology’s come to become the dominant force for digital comics, is convenient, and has a nice enough app, it does have some flaws. For one, comic companies and creators seem to have rushed into handing things over to a digital near-monopoly after years of complaining about the physical monopoly distributor for comic shops, Diamond. For another, there’s the proprietary nature of Comixology’s purchases—they’re in a file format that’s tied to the Comixology app, and thus no way to back up one’s purchases to an external hard drive, use an alternate program for reading comics, and so forth.

Thus, I thought I’d post a few online alternatives I’ve used for reading comics. Again, these are legal alternatives—so you won’t find Usenet or torrents here.

Image Comics’ website

Image Comics made a big splash in 2013 when they announced that they’ll be selling digital rights management (DRM)-free comics. So far, it seems to have been fairly well received, and it also means one can fully own all those issues of “The Walking Dead.”

Buying through Image’s website also means fewer middlemen skimming an absurd amount of money off of sales—Apple/Google take 30% of all digital sales via apps, and Comixology then takes half of what’s left, or 35% of total sales, for a total of 65% of sales gone off the top before any money even reaches the creators/publishers. Image selling comics through their own site thus means more money will go to the creators. It also avoids censorship concerns, such as Apple’s rejection of an Image title (“Sex Criminals”) from Comixology’s iOS app.

Thrillbent

Mark Waid’s website Thrillbent also offers DRM-free comics. While not as large a selection as Image’s, there’s still some choices available here.

DriveThruComics.com

Drive Thru Comics is a site that specializes in DRM-free, smaller-press and independent books; no DC, Marvel, or Archie material here. The highest profile titles on Drive Thru Comics are “2000 AD” (the long-running British magazine featuring Judge Dredd) and Top Cow’s books (Witchblade, etc.). The books here are offered largely as DRM-free PDFs, watermarked with the purchaser’s name.

Nook Store (Barnes and Noble)

Barnes and Noble’s online Nook store offers everything in EPUB format, including its comics. While wrapped in DRM, the comics still at least come in an actual non-proprietary file format. The Nook app comes in versions for iOS and Android; development on Mac and Windows versions has ceased.

Comics offered include same-day digital offerings for DC Comics and Archie Comics. There’s also digital trade paperbacks from DC, Marvel, Archie, IDW, and some other publishers. Manga and some comic strip compilations (Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy) also have digital versions offered. Some Marvel trade paperbacks are offered, but single-issue comics are only available through Comixology or Marvel’s own (Comixology-based) apps.

Kindle (Amazon.com)

Amazon’s ebook store has come to dominate (for better or worse) ebook sales; it also offers some digital comics. Amazon, however, is the one online ebook seller that doesn’t offer its books in EPUB format, but instead in its own format, AZW. Along with that, not all of their comics are offered in AZW, but (similar to Comixology) in a proprietary format. Like the Nook, not all of Amazon’s comics are capable of being read on all platforms; again, the Mac’s often the odd man out. What platforms the comic will be readable on (and whether it’s an actual AZW file or not) involves reading the description carefully, but mobile platforms (Android and iOS) are covered.

Amazon’s comics include same-day digital books for DC Comics, as well as some trade paperbacks for DC, Archie, Marvel, etc. Manga and some comic strip compilations are also offered digitally. Again, Marvel exclusively offers single-issue digital comics only through Comixology/its own apps, so you won’t find those on Amazon. Some other publishers’ same-day single issues (including Image’s) are also offered through Amazon.

Kobo

Since the closing of Borders a few years ago, Kobo doesn’t have a very strong presence here in the US. Kobo’s app is still often included by smaller tablet/ebook reader manufacturers, however. Kobo also has a strong presence outside the US, especially in places Amazon or Barnes and Noble have a reduced or no presence. Kobo’s approach is to offer comics in either a proprietary format (similar to Comixology) or in an EPUB format (like Nook), though largely the former. The ebook descriptions will openly list what format it’s in, whether there’s DRM (which all its ebooks have, save some self-publishers), and what platforms it may be read on. Kobo offers apps for most of the major mobile and desktop platforms.

Marvel and DC don’t offer single-issue comics or trade paperbacks through Kobo. From my perusal, Kobo’s biggest comic company is Archie—Archie offers same-day digital comics through Kobo, as well as some trade paperbacks. Some smaller publishers also offer trade paperbacks (but not single-issue comics), including Image’s “Walking Dead” series.

Google Play

In recent months, Google’s been beefing up its digital media offerings through the Google Play store. It’s now possible to buy digital comics from Google through the Google Play website or the Google Play Books apps, the latter available for iOS and Android.

Google’s digital comics (under its “Books” section) include same-day single-issue and trade paperback versions of comics from DC, Archie, Image, and a few other publishers. Once again, Marvel isn’t included.

One positive aspect of Google Play: unlike Nook and Kindle, one can download most of one’s purchases as DRM-free, watermarked PDF files, with some books also offering Adobe DRMed EPUB files. (There’s a “digitized by Google” watermark on the bottom corner of each page of the PDFs.) To access this, go to the “Books” section of the Google Play store in your browser, then click on the “My Books” tab. Hovering your mouse over one of the book’s/comic’s covers, you’ll see a dash in the upper right corner of the cover. Click on the dash, and there’ll be a pop-up menu giving the option to download the book as a PDF (and/or as an EPUB if available).

I do have some nitpicks for Google’s service. For starters, a choice of formats besides PDF and EPUB (such as CBZ/CBR) would be nice. For the PDFs, no or less-aggressive watermarking and not making the very first page—and thus the comic’s desktop icon—a notice from Google would be nice. The notice page can at least be edited out in OS X’s Preview app. Perhaps Google could move the notice to the second page  (like real books) or last page instead? Finally, a few books for some reason don’t offer any sort of download option at all, making them just as locked into Google’s app as Comixology’s books.

Still, it’s nice that Google’s providing the option of downloading a backup copy of one’s purchased files.

Conclusion

Overall, the digital comics landscape is still dominated by Comixology. Still, the number of alternatives has grown over the past year alone. Hopefully the competition will lead to improvements in Comixology’s service as well, particularly the DRM aspect.

Nov 082012
 

DC ComicsYesterday, DC Comics announced that they’ll start selling same-day digital comics through several non-Comixology sources. These sources include Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, Amazon.com’s Kindle service, and Apple’s iBookstore service. The comics will apparently be priced similarly to Comixology’s (i.e. the same as the paper copies). Details may be read here.

I view this as a big step, plus a positive sign. Perhaps someone at DC’s realized that giving Comixology a complete monopoly on digital comics was a bad thing, or would put them in the same situation as that for the monopolistic distributor for comic book shops, Diamond. Still, an actual wider range of choices to buy comics from is a good thing. Said bookstores are also much more prominent among the general public than comic-specific apps; one can buy comics alongside “regular” text books, magazines, etc., just like the old days (when comics were sold at newsstands).

The usual downsides are that the comics are still overpriced (a reason I’ve mostly moved to trade paperbacks, which fortunately are also sold digitally via the above sources), and that they’re still DRMed as ebooks. However, the biggest advantage over Comixology is that they’re in EPUB format (or Kindle’s non-EPUB format) like any other ebook—and that means there’s an actual file I can back up on my own, plus remove the DRM myself. While I’d prefer DRM-free materials, as long as I can perform the latter (which with Calibre and a few plugins is easy… future blog post on this, I suppose), I can finally switch to buying “Superman Family Adventures” digitally, probably via the Nook app on my Nexus 7.

Apr 022012
 

Nook Color setupRecently, I’ve discovered that the most recent update for the Nook Color and Nook Tablet has given the Nook built-in support for CBZ files. CBZ is a popular digital comic book format online—mostly found with smaller press or independent publications, public domain materials, and (yes, I know) pirated materials. CBZ is merely a renamed ZIP file containing sequentially numbered JPGs. A common companion format of CBZ is CBR (a renamed RAR file).

Testing some CBZ files on my Nook Color shows it displays the comics just fine. While there’s no support for CBR files, converting CBRs to CBZs is fairly straightforward (in Xubuntu, right-click on the CBR and select “Extract Here,” then right-click on the extracted files’ folder and select “Create Archive,” then select “CBZ” from the drop-down menu and click “OK”).

On a related note, I wonder why Barnes and Noble doesn’t offer the Comixology app. Despite the heavily DRMed nature of Comixology’s comics (proprietary files only readable or accessible within the app; basically a glorified rental model), it seems to have become the most popular online legal comics venue. I suppose it’d mean less sales of B&N’s own digital graphic novels, though.

 

Nov 052011
 

Nook Color setup
This week, Barnes and Noble (on the heels of the recent Kindle Fire news) has announced an update to its Nook Color tablet. The “Nook Tablet” will share most of the same features as the Color, but come with more tablet oriented software and features: 16GB internal storage, a MicroSD slot, and support for multimedia features such as Netflix. The price tag will be at $249; the old Nook Color will be discounted to $199.

More info on the Nook Tablet is available in this Engadget article.

For me, I’ll stick with my first-generation Color, which still works well as an ebook and comic book reader; rooting it allowed me to install Comixology and CBR/CBZ comic reader apps. Since I don’t have a need for streaming video/audio on the device, the Color works well for me in its limited usage. I imagine people looking for a cheap alternative to the iPad will be interested in the Nook Tablet… assuming they simply don’t buy the $200 Kindle Fire. Some of the Fire’s specs are lower than those for the Nook, plus the Fire lacks a MicroSD slot.

Guess we’ll see what happens to the Fire and Tablet once both are head-to-head with each other. The Tablet will be released on November 16.

Apr 252011
 

Barnes and Noble today has released a major upgrade for the Nook Color. Not only has it been upgraded to Android 2.2, but it now comes with the long-promised Barnes and Noble app store. Flash has also been included in the upgrade. More information may be found here:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2011/04/nook-color-gets-froyo-flash-facebook-and-angry-birds.ars

While I’d imagine those of us who rooted our Nooks won’t be reverting back to a stock install just to run 2.2, I do think this is a good upgrade for the Nook. A slightly more modern Android version, Flash support, and a basic app store are all good features for the general public. Several caveats, though: for Flash fans, Engadget, in its own review of the Nook Color upgrade, notes that so far it’s *not* the “fastest plugin alive.” There’s also no Android Market, of course, though that’s available for the rooters.

For the general public, this will make an already-nice ebook reader/basic tablet much nicer. Not sure how much pressure this will put on the Kindle, however.

Mar 132011
 

After some thought, and seeing that Barnes and Noble seems to be dragging their feet on introducing their own app store for the Nook Color (as they promised to do months ago), I’ve decided to go ahead and root my Nook. The Nook Color’s been quite popular among tech enthusiasts, as it’s easy to root, and thus allows one to turn it into a cheap, mostly-full-fledged Android tablet. With the rooting, of course, comes access to the Android Market and its various apps (most of which work with the Nook). In terms of ebooks, it’s also possible to install an app that’ll allow you to read ebooks made for the Kindle. In my case, I’m interested in reading comics on the Nook without having to convert them to PDFs first, thus a comic reader app was part of my motivation for rooting.

Here are the sites with the instructions I followed for rooting the Nook Color:

http://nookdevs.com/NookColor_Rooting

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/guides/2011/02/howto-root-a-nook-color-to-transform-it-into-an-android-tablet.ars/

The most difficult part I had was using the “dd” Unix/Linux terminal command to copy the disk image to the MicroSD card, though somebody online helped me out on that point.

Otherwise, things went smoothly, and I was easily able to root/set up the Nook Color. I installed a few apps, including the Droid Comic Reader and Angry Birds. I’d heard much about Angry Birds, but never gotten a chance to play it until now. I can see why it’s popular; like Frozen Bubble, it’s simple, but addictive.

As for Droid Comic Reader, it worked nicely…for awhile at least. I say “for awhile” because unfortunately, it started to throw up “out of memory” errors. I’ll check online to see if there’s any alternate comic readers, or if there’s a way to fix Droid Comic Reader, though from the looks of what I’m seeing so far, it doesn’t seem likely (the “out of memory” error/bug seems to have been around for awhile).

I’ve also installed the Android Comixology app, which works quite nicely, downloading my already-purchased comics to the Nook. The app (and the Nook) is much nicer to read comics on than Comixology’s website/within my laptop’s browser.

Overall, it’s nice to see my Nook Color now has a lot more functionality to it. I’ll report more on my experiences with the rooted Nook in the future.

Update: Think I might’ve found a better app for reading comics, “Perfect Viewer.” Lofty-minded name (and the programmer doesn’t seem to speak English as his primary language), but it seems to work much better with CBR/CBZ files (no out-of-memory errors so far). I’ll post another update if that proves not to be the case.

Feb 132011
 

After much consideration (and going over my future budget plans), I finally decided to buy the Nook Color, Barnes and Noble’s new LCD color ebook reader. Among my reasons for buying the Nook Color: something to read digital comics with (other than my laptop); giving the growing new area of ebooks a try; staying up on new tech (ebook readers and tablets); and possibly writing a few articles (or blog posts) out of owning an ebook reaader.

Since the Internet apparently is infatuated with unboxing photos/videos for new gadgets, here’s my photos of opening and turning on the Nook Color (or “Nook” for short from here on):

Nook Color still in its box

Nook Color unboxing #1

Nook Color unboxing #2

Nook Color setup

Setting up the Nook was straightforward, as the automated setup asked for my information (email address, etc.). I noticed the address information allowed for inputing Canadian addresses; maybe an indication that Barnes and Noble might consider selling the Nook north of the border?

After fully charging the Nook, I placed some digital comics onto it. Given most of my comic files are in CBR/CBZ format (and the Nook Color doesn’t have a comic reading app, or at least not yet), I used an open-source program called Calibre to convert the files to PDF format (turning off the comic conversion preferences first, which ironically made the resulting images look better), then transferred them to the Nook. The Nook handled the PDFs nicely, though it was a big sluggish at page-turning on a few PDFs I didn’t make. One or two PDFs wouldn’t open at all, instead giving error messages. The pictures looked great on the Nook. If and when Barnes and Noble gets their app store up and running, I’d like to see a comic reader app as one of the apps offered, not to mention the bookstore offer a wider selection of comics (presumably from smaller-press or independent companies, per the big comic companies’s skittishness about comics).

I’ll post more about the Nook in the future, but for now, it seems like it’ll be a nice way to read certain electronic documents. I look forward to giving the magazine purchasing and public library ebook borrowing features a try…

Jan 092011
 

Earlier today, I went to Barnes and Noble to see for myself the Nook Color, the bookstore chain’s 7″ color LCD screen ebook reader, which has some tablet functionality. I spent about an hour or so going over it, trying out various functions. My thoughts:

  • The Nook Color does weigh more than its plain black-and-white e-ink Nook counterpart (or the Kindle), though not as heavy as what an iPad weighs.
  • Text in ebooks was easy enough to read. Pictures and graphics (as seen in the sample magazines and children’s books) looked great. While there weren’t any comics to test out (though I suppose I should’ve pulled some comic strips up with the included web browser—more on the browser below), I imagine they’d look great on the Nook. Asking the clerk if there’d be any comics (or comics apps) got a generic response, though she cited manga being available through B&N’s ebooks bookstore. The generic response is presumably because B&N hasn’t finished setting up its Nook app store yet (no Android Market access, though a rooted Nook could access it). I’d hope (or would assume) that there’ll be some comics-related apps (such as the Android app Comixology has come up with) available, though since the Nook Color supports PDF files, I could convert some digital comics from .CBR/.CBZ to .PDF.
  • Buying books and magazines was quite easy to do. I “bought” an issue of “Consumer Reports,” and tried it out. It looked just like the print edition, though the electronic version’s several dollars cheaper than the newsstand version (and wouldn’t suck up shelf space like my pile of “Consumer Reports” does).
  • One issue, one that I assume might be lessened with the upcoming Android 2.2 upgrade (the Nook Color runs Android 2.1), is zooming in on text/pictures and pinch-to-zoom. On occasion, both of these features wasn’t so smooth.
  • Pandora and a basic music player are included, but there wasn’t any sample music to try out that features.
  • The built-in web browser worked quite well, accessing web sites just like any smartphone/iPod Touch/iPad browser.
  • The build quality seemed good, though I might not have had enough contact with ebook readers/tablets to compare its quality to. The front of the Nook Color feels sturdy, while the back is made of a rubberized material, making it easy to hold onto. Buttons on the Nook include the power button and a volume rocker switch. There’s also a micro-USB cable plug and a slide-open slot for a Micro SD card.
  • While I was trying out the Nook, I saw several people approach the kiosk to look at them. One told me she has the Nook Color, and loved it (she was there to buy a case for hers, so she could “take it outside”). Another, a younger male, noted how the Nook Color was more interesting/cheaper than the iPad (and wondered if it’d have Android Marketplace access, which it doesn’t). Finally, an elderly man and who I assumed were his grandchildren weren’t impressed; the man thought it was “too complicated.”
  • Cases and plastic screen protectors (like the protector I have on my Palm Pre) were on sale at the kiosk. However, B&N wanted, at the cheapest, $30 for a case and $15 for the screen protector, which would push the $249 Nook Color cost to $294 (and over $300 with sales tax included). Steeper than the Kindle/Sony Reader/black-and-white Nook, though I assume there’s cheaper cases/screen shields available elsewhere.

Overall, I was impressed by the Nook Color, and think it has much potential as a color ebook reader, especially if its own app store actually sees development for it (plus future Android updates). Currently, I’m strongly thinking about buying the Nook Color. I assume it’ll eventually be surpassed by color e-ink readers, if and when those become cost-effective and feasible (which is probably some distance in the future). For some digital comics (though I’d still also be purchasing paper ones), digital magazines, and some ebooks (including library ebooks), I could see the Nook Color being quite useful. Still, the downside is spending $250 (or around $300 with a case/screen protector), and the worry of the Nook Color, or any ebook reader/tablet, being a redundant gadget. While I know it’s supposed to fill a perceived space in functionality between the smartphone and laptop (at least, that’s how Apple pitched the iPad originally), I can read comics on my laptop, as well as non-DRMed ebooks. Though the Nook would be more compact as an ebook reader, plus would allow me access to cheaper digital versions of magazines and couldd save some space on paper comics. I’d like to know how others decided an ebook reader was worth purchasing, and how it fits into their lives (versus just sticking with a laptop for the same functionality).