Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dark Horse comics planning new web platform for readers

I read this morning at Digital Book World about the announcement from Dark Horse Comics to invest its energy heavily on creating a reader platform independent of third party retailers, particularly iTunes.

Dark Horse publishes hugely successful and arguably awesome licensed comics like 300, Conan, Star Wars, and Hellboy. The article Dark Horse Circumvents iTunes, Plans to Sell Direct described the new platform like this:

Launching in January 2011 with over 130 individual issues and “several dozen collections,” Dark Horse Digital Publishing will be a proprietary, web-based platform accessible via any device with a browser (but not Kindles, Nooks, or Kobos), as well as via proprietary apps for iOS, Android and others to follow. Their ecommerce model will be “very similar to the Kindle experience and as seamless as possible for the user,” with a Dark Horse-branded app replacing their title-specific apps (400,000+ downloads to-date), and an online store where comics can be purchased, downloaded and synced wherever they’re being read. Existing standalone apps will be upgraded and those comics migrated into users’ accounts in the new store.
Factors motivating Dark Horse to establish its own competitive marketplace include an understandable desire to maintain control of pricing and avoidance of censorship. I have read several times that Apple denies content access to its selling venues if it determines the content to be undesirable. Because the comics genre tends to sexy, political, violent, and cutting edge, I can well imagine why publishers would shy away from editorial control imposed by retailers. This outside and arbitrary influence would only undermine the product they develop for an audience that is likely interested in daring content.

I admire these efforts by Dark Horse. Of course as a tiny mite in the world of publishing, I lack the resources to develop a fancy publishing and marketing platform, but I still find this move by Dark Horse very validating to my own efforts. Although I place my novels in many major retail outlets, including Apple's iBookstore, and I profit by this, I remain careful not to invest the entire future of my business in the accommodation of retail companies.

I still promote my fantasy fiction website http://www.braveluck.com/ and am planning future upgrades to make it more attractive and competitive. My sales through my direct-to-readers outlet are an important part of my income, but my website is also important to my long term success and creative control. At any time large retail companies could change their terms and wipe out my profit. Also, like Apple has proven, I could for some unforeseen reason be censored. I probably won't be, but who knows?

I encourage readers to try out the new Dark Horse system in 2011. It is not that I think large retail companies are bad. They serve a market and let me reach a market, but they should not be allowed to completely own content creation. Publishers of all media need to keep a market space for themselves. Readers can benefit by supporting the direct-to-reader sites of creators too. Pricing I'm sure will remain competitive. Remember, the middleman won't need to be paid. And also the dollars spent by readers will be more fully supporting the actual creative business people.