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