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Amazon’s Kindle – the reader we’ve been waiting for for comics?

There’s been some publicity about Amazon’s new Kindle product for electronic material (books, blogs, newspapers). We’ve had discussions on this blog about how newspapers may evolve and how mobile technology might play into that (see discussion in comments of this story). I look at this and wonder if products like this might be what comics need to stay relevant to an electronic newspaper offering. Mobile phones are too small and clumsy to go through a 3-4 panel feature smoothly, but this seems like it would be more conducive to reading a comic strip in one frame. It’s specifications say it has a 6″ display, 600×800 resolution at 167 dpi.

The newspapers and magazines it advertises it will have include The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes. Are any syndication execs looking at this as a distribution channel? It charges users $.99/month to access blogs. How long will it take for a syndicate to step up and offer a kindle friendly format for comics?

For those bleeding edge techies, you can get on the list to purchase the Kindle. It’s already sold out and is now taking orders for the next availability (December 17th) with ability to ship and arrive before Christmas.

Disclaimer: The links I’ve provided in the above post contain this blog’s Amazon ID so if you do purchase a Kindle, I’ll receive a small commission.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
November/26/2007
@ 3:39 am

If Kindles can offer a small printer so that you can print out comics and put them on a fridge, we might be up to something.

I’d wait until the price drops, though. $400 is a bit too much for me.

#2 Garey Mckee
November/26/2007
@ 6:02 am

$400 does seem a little steep. Right now it seems a bit pricey, especially when one can buy a paper or magazine for alot less! A smaller average consumer targeted price point would drive the product in a manner where it be more realistic to forsee it’s format ideal for comics and other print media.

#3 Garey Mckee
November/26/2007
@ 6:03 am

Umm, that would be “MIGHT be.” I swear I’m not practicing ebonics LOL.

#4 Alan Gardner
November/26/2007
@ 6:06 am

I’m starting to read other’s reviews. It’s clear this was not designed by Apple. For the price, its pretty expensive for what it does, but I imagine the price will drop as time goes on and subsequent iterations of the product will make it easier to use.

#5 Mike Cope
November/26/2007
@ 6:31 am

This is definitely a step in a positive direction since the device takes care of tedious tasks such as manually downloading the latest newspaper … It’s always nice to make things easier for the end-users.

With respect to syndication, this would probably just be considered an extension of a newspaper’s E-presence. Amy Lago mentioned in the Comics Coast to Coast interview that WPWG allows newspapers to provide their comics in both print and electronic format (at no extra charge).

The only part that raises my eyebrow a little is the fact that users can e-mail directly to the device. This could potentially hurt it’s widespread acceptance as a new platform for “making money” because it’s no different than a modern computer. So long as the syndicates are providing the most recent strips for free, users will be able to e-mail them to their Kindle at no charge.

Addressing the issue of copyrights is where the future REALLY is.

#6 Norm Feuti
November/26/2007
@ 6:35 am

I think this is definitely a glimpse into the not-too-distant future of how “newspapers” will be read. It combines the instant gratification of the web with the easily readable format of print.

Imagine if a comics page was formated to be read on this device by turning the screen lengthwise. It would actually increase the size of the daily comics.

#7 Anne Hambrock
November/26/2007
@ 8:19 am

“$400 does seem a little steep…especially when one can buy a paper or a magazine for a lot less”

I actually pay $8 per week for my paper which translates to $416 per year. My question is, after the $400 purchase price, is there a service subscription fee beyond the .99 blog fee, if so, how much will that be? Also most of the papers that have already signed up do not carry comics. The syndicates could potenially make alot of money off this device by offering their subscription services like Daily Ink in a way similar to the blog fee.

“so long as the syndicates are providing the most recent strips for free…”

While some syndicates offer their strips for free on the web, King does not – I think they are on the cutting edge of making more money for their artists. The current loophole for free comics on the web comes, not only from syndicates that put content up for free daily, but also from newspapers whose online versions include comics but do not charge a subscription fee on the web. Some papers are changing this and one can only access their best content by being a web subscriber to that paper.

I think there will always be two kinds of consumers – those who like “free” and those who like “convenient”. Folks who like getting things for free will always go out of their way to do so, regardless of how time consuming it may be. (I once watched over 150 parents stand in line for a minimum of 40 minutes just to get a free balloon animal for their kid. I would happily have paid at least $5 for the same animal and a 5 minute wait!) People who like convenience will happily pay for it just to save the time and aggravation. If individual papers can craft a web presence that offers their subscribers “one stop shopping” with all their favorite content in one place, they have a chance of succeeding with the “convenience” crowd. This would mark a return to the business model used by papers in the old days when most towns had at least 2 papers and you picked the one with your favorite content (usually including comics!) If papers can revert to that model and stop using the “monopoly” model, I think they stand a very good chance of remaining relevant.

#8 Dave Krainacker
November/26/2007
@ 9:07 am

“People who like convenience will happily pay for it just to save the time and aggravation.” I think this is the crux of the argument. I still don’t understand why the syndicates give away your work on the web. King Syndicates requires a subscription (only $15 a year for a lot of entertainment). UComics also has a good rate, but you can also view comics for free. However, you then get hammered with lots of ads. The Kindle, or something like it, is the way of the future. Thin, paperlike readers (that you can fold no less!) are on the horizon. I suspect within five years readers will be able to directly download an entire newspaper in a convenient format. Perhaps then content (beyond local and national news) will once again be a lure to get people to subscribe. I now read my 100 or so daily comics through subscriptions at my desk every day. It would be nice to have some mobility. I’d pay for the convenience, and I suspect there is a large market that will do so as well.

#9 Dawn Douglass
November/26/2007
@ 9:07 am

This is a verson of that inkless paper I’ve been talking about for two or three years now.

Japan has a version that is very, very thin and much larger. You can roll it up. They have these at train stations, etc. They’re recycled with new stories on them everyday. Sort of like old soda pop bottles used to be.

Right now, the New York Times you get on this is the same as the NYT online. What newspapers need to do, instead, is create a way that people can get their own customized paper each day, formated nicely for whatever device they are reading it on.

THEN you can pick the comics YOU want. It will open up opportunity for a lot more features. The end user will finally be in control, without the newspaper editor gatekeepers to the funny pages.

#10 Charles Brubaker
November/26/2007
@ 9:37 am

“Japan has a version that is very, very thin and much larger. You can roll it up. They have these at train stations, etc. Theyâ??re recycled with new stories on them everyday. Sort of like old soda pop bottles used to be.”

Really? I’ve never seen these things before. Although I guess it’s because those are (probably) only available in big cities, while the town I live in is very small, far from the nearest train station.

#11 Dawn Douglass
November/26/2007
@ 9:47 am

Yeah, Charles, they’re for commuters. And I’m not sure they’re even still doing it. It’s been awhile.

I don’t think Americans would go for not having our own privately owned devise. While I like the idea of a larger reading area, about the size of one newspaper page, I don’t like the idea of having to carry around something that big that can’t be folded up, but just rolled up.

Once they get the folding challenge solved, I expect this to be newspapers’ salvation, IF they use the technology to make newspapers customized to the reader. They need to get out of their mass market mentality. The mass market is already dead.

#12 Mark Tatulli
November/26/2007
@ 10:07 am

“While some syndicates offer their strips for free on the web, King does not – I think they are on the cutting edge of making more money for their artists.”

Anne, King Features doesn’t run the current day’s strips on their website (I believe they keep it two weeks behind), but King’s current day’s comics can be found on a myriad of newspaper websites, including the Chron.com. The result of this is, readers looking for the most current release of a certain comic will not be driven to or make a habit of King’s site.

Personally, I think all print comics appearing on the web should be at least two weeks old. This would add value to the newspaper release. Sort of like releasing a DVD three months after a movie’s run in the theater. If you were to release the DVD on the same day the movie came out in theaters, how many people would go to the theater to see it?

#13 Anne Hambrock
November/26/2007
@ 10:29 am

“King’s comics can be found on a myriad of websites…”

Mark, that is the loophole I was talking about. Technically King did not give those strips away – they received payment for them from the papers in question and the artists were compensated. The PAPERS are giving the strips away and syndicates are not holding their feet to the fire for doing so. That may change in the future.

Also, King does not keep their website 2 weeks behind. They run only the first week of every month as a sample. For the other 3 weeks you need to have a subscription. If you tune in the first week of the month you will see current strips but not the rest ot the time. While this is not a perfect set up I still maintain that they are doing more to protect the intellectual property of their artists than some other syndicates.

“comics on the web should be at least two weeks old”

While that is a compelling intellectual property argument, I doubt papers or any other content oriented sites would care for it from a marketing standpoint. For years all radio and tv were free over the air – a person’s financial investment consisted of merely purchasing a receiving device and media made up the difference through ad revenue. How many of us taped our favorite songs off the radio rather than buying the single or the album? (something I feel rather bad about in hindsight!) Sure some fans bought, but lots didn’t. In fact, when audio and video cassettes hit the market there was a huge broohaha over what that would mean in terms of copywrite and royalties. I remember quite clearly that both vcrs and cable were going to spell the doom of the movie industry and no one would go to the theater anymore. Not only did that not happen, new businesses sprang up to fill the demand for blank tapes and rentals.

Now the era of free tv is ending – America has had 30 years to get used to the idea of paying for television and consumers have embraced it to the point that it is considered the norm rather than the exception. There is a similar trajectory happening in radio. I imagine the internet won’t be that far behind. Although if it takes another 30 years none of us will see that money anytime soon!

#14 Anne Hambrock
November/26/2007
@ 10:37 am

Mark, I should add that King offers its comics through a service that goes directly to the subscriber’s email box rather than making the consumer come to their web site. Also, there are no ads or pop-ups – a feature that really appeals to me.

#15 Wiley Miller
November/26/2007
@ 11:34 am

“Personally, I think all print comics appearing on the web should be at least two weeks old. This would add value to the newspaper release. ”

That’s the way it was way back when syndicates first started to develop web sites. Newsapapers insisted on the comics being posted on a delayed basis for the logical reason that it was undermining the drawing power to their paper that they were buying. All the syndicates complied, despite the rancor from comics readers who wanted the comics posted on the same day they appeared in papers.

Then the newspapers began to develop their own websites, and they experimented with having most of the site free and other parts for subscribers only. The comics, of course, was the mainstay to draw people for subscriptions. But that didn’t last long, so the newspapers’ sites posted everything live. But the syndicates were still posting on a delayed basis, which meant hardly anybody was going to the syndicate websites. Since the newspapers were posting the comics live on the internet, there was no reason for the syndicate to post them on delayed basis anymore. All except King, apparently.

I always thought that the best thing we could do to help newspapers thrive again would be to have comics exclusively in print and not posted on the internet. When Berke Breathead came back with Opus, I was thrilled to see him employing that marketing tactic. But that, too, has gone by the wayside. I don’t know why.

#16 Anne Hambrock
November/26/2007
@ 11:42 am

I remember reading that a newspaper editor got quite upset when King launched the dailyink. The point he made had something to do with the syndicate syphoning off his paper’s web traffic by having their own site and also making him pay to put the same strips up on his paper’s site. That made no sense to me because I would have thought he would have been glad that readers could not access the strips for free anymore on King’s site. I thought he would have applauded King’s decision and encouraged other syndicates to follow suit. Go figure.

#17 Dawn Douglass
November/26/2007
@ 11:50 am

When I argued with Lee Salem way back when about them putting comics on the Internet for free, back when they first just started doing it, he told me that readers were giving newspaper editors positive feedback about it…they liked it because they could get caught up on the ones that they had missed when they were out of town, or whatever. It was looked at as a nice supplement to print.

But, inevitably, those same readers I’m sure soon realized they no longer needed the print paper at all.

#18 Danny Burleson
November/26/2007
@ 11:50 am

I think the concept of the Kindle is a step in the right direction, though the Kindle itself leaves a lot to be desired…

Digital ink: Thumbs up! (I’ve been reading about this tech for years, and was initially excited to hear it was finally going into some kind of mass distribution, but…)
Charging for blog subscriptions ($0.99+ EACH no less): Thumbs down!
Charging to upload your OWN files: Also thumbs down!
Anywhere access: Thumbs up!
Extreme limitations of said access: Thumbs down!
Comics friendly format?: Not really

This looks suspiciously like they’re selling the consoles– excuse me, “readers” at a loss, and are hoping to make the money back via overpriced content.

If there were some kind of scaled monthly fee to add certain subscription features I could almost see this working better. But to nickel and dime every content item is a bit much in my opinion. Or, gee, I don’t know, make blogs and files non-DRM based (and thus, FREE) like the Sony version of this already does (except Sony’s is not digital ink-based as far as I know) and just charge for books and newspapers.

Just on the blog side, if I were to add every one I read regularly, I’d be paying well over $60/mo.! I don’t pay that much for Internet access in general. But that’s a moot point as you can only add certain high profile blogs right now, which is another frustrating feature since it means I still can’t read The Daily Cartoonist anywhere but at a computer. :)

So, for books, this actually looks great, but for other content I think I’d end up paying MORE than if I just stuck with the current system: $50 a YEAR for comics and FREE news and blogs? Or, $60 a MONTH for news and blogs and no comics on top of $400 up front? Let me think about it for two seconds: Sure, I’d like to read blogs on the couch, but this costs too much.

There are a lot of things about the Kindle that seem awesome at first glance (even $400 for what it SOUNDS like it can do, isn’t all that steep), but once you get down to the details, I find it to be more of a hindrance to convenience rather than a help. And unless they can make it auto-rotate like the iPhone, I don’t see this helping comics distribution at all, web or syndicated.

In an age where things keep moving forward to be as free as possible, there are just too many features that cost, but shouldn’t, for this to be THE product that finally killed print.

Is there a suggestion box for Kindle 2.0? lol

#19 Dawn Douglass
November/26/2007
@ 11:53 am

btw, how do you think the syndicates will feel if I give my online syndicate’s comics to newspapers for free?

But do they care that for ten years they’ve made it impossible for web cartoonists and web syndicates to charge for comics?

#20 Dave Krainacker
November/26/2007
@ 2:21 pm

“I always thought that the best thing we could do to help newspapers thrive again would be to have comics exclusively in print and not posted on the internet.”
While this may help the newspapers, it would also dramatically reduce exposure of many strips. I live in a small town in Montana and my local newspaper has few comics. And yet I am able to read dozens of comics through my subscriptions. I wouldn’t totally do away with putting comics on the web. Rather, I think they should be available by paid subscription only. Perhaps leave a small sample of each strip online to wet potential appetites as well.
The Kindle sounds like a good start, but I’ll wait for it to come down in price.

#21 Carolyn G. Obara
October/3/2008
@ 7:29 pm

Where (to whom) may I ask if the Kindle is usable in countries outside the U.S.? I live in Tokyo.

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