by Bruce Lidl
The digital drumbeat continues, as Marvel’s announcement of full day-and-date releases of digital makes clear. And on the demand side, e-Readers with high comic book potential continue to crop up, particularly as the holiday season rapidly descends upon us. First the new Amazon Kindle Fire got announced, then the Kobo Vox showed up and now the next contender to enter the ring is the new version of the NookColor from Barnes&Noble. The original NookColor has been out for almost exactly one year, and has done decently from a sales point of view, although much of the on-line enthusiasm for the device centered not on its qualities as an e-Reader of Barnes&Noble books, but on the ease with which users could hack it to be a full-fledged Android tablet device (myself included).
With the Nook announcement due on Monday, leaks are beginning to spring. Gizmodo had the scoop that there will be essentially two Nook tablets, the original NookColor marked down from $249 to $199, and a similar but more powerful Nook Tablet taking the $249 slot. The Nook Tablet will have the same screen size and format, 16×9 at 7 inches, but has an upgraded CPU and more memory. Just how well either of these color Nooks are able to compete with the coming Kindle Fire onslaught, or even the underdog Kobo Vox, remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that by January 2012 there are going to be millions of new potential customers with tablets ready for digital comic consumption.
Regardless of which new device proves to be the sales champion for the 2011 holidays (and all of them combined will probably sell less than Apple sells iPads in the same time frame), purchases made for these e-Readers, including comic books and graphic novels, will likely continue to suffer from format compatibility issues, particularly when trying to move content from one device to another. DRM and conflicting container file format structures have made the e-book world a “media hell” according to one author. Amazon has, traditionally, gone its own way with formats, and will again based on the recent announcement of their new KF8 container, just at a time when the more standardized ePub format has continued to evolve and find broad adoption. Readers with more than one device will have to look for work-arounds to either share their books or to read them on all their devices (which can include phones, laptops, computers, etc.).
Of course one group that will not be facing any compatibility problems whatsoever are those who acquire their e-books and digital comics through pirate networks. Publishers and authors have of course railed against the digital piracy of books and comics for years, but one publisher has recently taken the further step of actually suing alleged infringers. Wiley has gone after the IP addresses of people sharing their Dummies series of books, and is so doing are following in the sometimes problematic footsteps of the litigious music and film industries. Not satisfied with the deterrent power of their previous legal and educational efforts, the major content industries are pushing right now for a bill in Congress that would make it far easier for companies to get allegedly infringing sites taken down, or even blocked at the ISP level. Whether or not such laws would actually be effective, or would create even more problems than they solve is very much in question, however.