Do Customers Want Publisher-Specific Apps? Top Shelf Launches Everywhere

The recent (last month, I’m catching up) announcement that Top Shelf was launching two digital comic apps led me to wonder… do digital comic buyers care about publisher-specific apps, or do they want one (iTunes-like) clearing house so they don’t have to worry about who’s releasing what?

Top Shelf apps

There were two versions of the press release that I saw. One, from comiXology, the company behind the two apps, was promoted with the mention of how “comiXology powers more comic book and graphic novel publishers than anyone else!” They emphasized that you can get a specific Top Shelf app for iOS, or an age-appropriate Kids Club app for iOS, and “purchases on these apps will sync across the Comics by comiXology platform — iOS, Android, and the Web!”

The Top Shelf version, by contrast, was careful to mention that their books are now available “across multiple digital platforms, for every device.” The list includes Comixology, Graphicly, Comics+ by iVerse, Apple iBooks, and Google Books, with plans to expand to Nook and Kindle Fire devices. Makes my head swim, frankly, to figure out what I want to read where! I didn’t even know you could buy digital through Google Books, and now a publisher is telling me that they have “by far the largest number of Top Shelf graphic novels: over 100!”

Being available everywhere and anywhere makes sense for a publisher, who just wants to get their books out to readers at a fair price. And I suppose creating an app just for the iPad makes sense to exploit the best technology out there for reading comics digitally. But I’m getting to the point where, when I sample electronic comics, I don’t want to have to download a different app per publisher. They want my undivided attention for their releases, sure, but it’s just an inconvenience for me, more things to check in on and keep updated. There is no publisher any more whose line is similar enough for me to want to follow publishers instead of creators (or neat-sounding content). That’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong — a diverse line is an asset.

I suspect we’re leading up to a temporary crash in digital comics, as there are too many releases and not enough advanced sorting and search mechanisms to make it easy for readers to find the material they are looking for. A publisher-focused app is one brute force method to attempt to solve that problem; hopefully, we’ll get more elegant ones as the industry continues to develop.

12 Responses to “Do Customers Want Publisher-Specific Apps? Top Shelf Launches Everywhere”

  1. James Schee Says:

    It really just depends on the customer I think and their needs. A family shared IPad I can understand having separate aps just for the kids section of comics. So that they aren’t exposed to things the parents may not find appropriate for them.

    I personally have many of the various publisher aps, because I find the main Comixology ap to take far too much time to load at times when I’m just looking for a certain book.

    I also have Kindle, Nook and a couple of other e-reader aps as well for regular books. Because I can get certain deals depending on which ap I use.

  2. Anthony Says:

    I don’t want *any* app to buy digital comics—I want to buy them as an actual non-proprietary downloadable file, just like mp3s from (or iTunes music purchases). Too bad the comic industry hasn’t learned anything from said music industry…

  3. Paul O'Brien Says:

    I use the main Comixology app. I can’t be bothered wading through every separate publisher app each week. Waste of my time.

  4. Rivkah Says:

    100% agreed that the search and sort feature on nearly all digital publishing sites are paleolithic at best (the itunes store doesn’t even distinguish between YA novels and children’s picture books!), but that’s also a good reason to be as cross-platform as possible. Just as having your books in as many different bookstores as possible means higher likelihood of customers getting your books, but even more so with digital where at least you don’t have to worry about returns!

    Just this issue came up recently when the comic shop I regularly go to didn’t have the BPRD issue I was looking for and wasn’t reordering, so I decided to look for it online. itunes didn’t have it, and at the time, neither did Comixology. The only place I could seem to get it for my device was to download the Dark Horse app and purchase through there. It wasn’t a ton of time, but it was enough to lose sales if somebody is impatient or loosely tied to their purchase and can’t find what they’re looking for in their preferred outlet.

  5. Thad Says:

    You already know my answer — I want DRM-free CBR/CBZ files, or MAYBE PDF. I won’t buy anything else — hell, I won’t even download anything else for free.

  6. Ralf Haring Says:

    I understand the desire of the publishers to have their own digital storefronts. It’s better for them to have their brand front and center than an app maker’s and they get to keep more of the profits (assuming they aren’t just paying the app maker to run the store for them).

    However, as a customer I don’t want to have to go to X different places to ultimately do the same thing – read and buy comics. I also want the freedom to move the content I paid for off your platform if you stop being a good place to buy or read comics (or stop existing entirely). App makers and publishers of course have the opposite desire, to entirely lock me into their ecosystem with no portability at all.

  7. Darryl Ayo Says:

    I basically quit digital comics. It’s too much work. I’ve got something like eight different apps, even after deleting the redundant apps. This company doesn’t like that company, these people have an exclusive contract with that platform. All of that stuff is nonsense which has no business being at the forefront.

    I want to read my Dark Horse comics in the same place that I read my Marvel Comics. There’s no difference between them in my position (the reader), and forcing me to care about your business wheeling and dealing takes the emotional effort away from the product that you’re trying to sell.

    Every single comic book publisher gets it wrong and the digital comics app stores/distributors are more than happy to encourage the publishers’ confusion.

  8. vid Says:

    I don’t know how iPad, Kindles and all these new fangled tablets work but why is an app required to buy & download digital comics?

    Shouldn’t you just be able to visit the website of the retailer or publisher, buy & download the file and then view it in a reader app of your choice?

    I can understand the need for an app if you were say renting comics to read. Sort of like Netflix movie streaming but for digital comics.

  9. Ralf Haring Says:

    That is what you’re doing. You’re renting comics to read. I don’t think any of the digital comics offerings give you the files themselves so that you can access them how you want, when you want, even if you choose to leave that service. (I have not investigated them all extensively.)

  10. Johanna Says:

    There are some little-known venues that do sell PDFs, but they don’t carry the books most readers want, the big-name superheroes and licensed works. None of those have moved to the “readers own the files”, probably due to fear of sharing.

  11. James Schee Says:

    I honestly wouldn’t mind “renting” the comics. 99 cents and they could disappear after 30 days. Anything I’d like to keep I could get in permanent form.

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