Amazon Fees Makes Kindle Even More Useless for Comics
For some reason there have always been people eager to read comic books on traditional e-readers like Amazon's Kindle, even with the advent of full-color, multi-purpose devices like Apple's iPad. Those e-reading comics fans will probably continue to be disappointed, as a recently deployed pricing system for publishers has made Kindle comic booking seem even more pointless.When e-readers first hit the market, there was talk of their potential to cater to readers of manga, the graphic novels of Top Shelf, Vertigo's paperback-sized crime books, and other black-and-white "bookstore" material. Obviously the technology was lacking, and the versatile iPad's instant dominance over digital comics relegated the Kindle and devices of its kind to the realm of tinkerers and the firmly anti-Apple set, at least when it comes to comics.
An in-depth Publisher's Weekly piece on the new costs of distributing digital content on e-readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble has revealed what's probably the final nail in the coffin of this discussion. Amazon is now charging publishers a 15-cent per megabyte "digital delivery fee" to transfer files to Kindle devices via 3G, which adds up very quickly given comics' hefty bandwidth and file sizes (Todd Allen writes that novels are unlikely to accrue delivery charges larger than two-cents per transfer). The cost to the publisher is also affected by Amazon's payment system, which is split into two plans. If the list price of the digital product is between $2.99 and $9.99, the publisher earns 70% of every sale (minus the 15-cent delivery fee). If the list price of a digital product is less than $2.99 or over $9.99, the publisher earns only 35% of the sale (but they don't have to pay the 15 cents!). Barnes & Noble employs a similar scheme for its Nook reader.
Given those conditions, Amazon's 35% payout amounts to what a digital comics publisher would make with an iOS sale through comiXology (after Apple took its 30% of every sale). However, dealing with Amazon means a potentially huge hassle with respect to digital comic book file sizes. If you want to sell a digital comic for $0.99, the file must be less than 3MB in size. If you want to sell a digital comic book for $1.99, the file must be larger than 3MB, but still less than 10MB. If you want to sell a digital comic book for $2.99, the file must be 10MB or greater. Factor in the 15-cent per megabyte delivery fee, you're looking at a big digital mess on the publishing side.
Los Angeles publisher Achaia enjoyed some attention when its acclaimed Tumor graphic novel became available on the Kindle before print, but Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy agrees the Amazon system leaves something to be desired.
"We had a lot of success with Tumor on the Kindle, but I don't believe the Kindle as it exists now is the right format for comics and graphic novels," Christy says, citing the amount of file formatting specific to the Kindle, the black & white display and the "pretty intense fees."
Despite what seems to be the plainly inferior nature of the e-reader/comic book relationship, work continues behind the scenes to develop some kind of decent marketplace for comics on the Kindle, Nook and similar devices. IDW's Director of ePublishing, Jeff Webber, told Publisher's Weekly that his company is "experimenting" and that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and even Apple's iBooks group are "expressly interested" in comics, at least in some measurable sense.
"Even though its taking a while for them to work it, all three ebook [platforms] are trying to work it out with comic books. They're all working on it, but it's not their number one priority."