Troubles with Dark Horse Digital?

Ad for Dark Horse Digital released in Dec. 2010Originally announced on 2010’s New York Comicon, Dark Horse Digital was planned as the publisher’s digital comics distribution platform. Unlike other major publishers who use third-party companies such as ComiXology to get their comics on mobile devices, Dark Horse Digital was strictly an in-house operation. At NYCC, DH’s Micha Hershman said they did it in-house in order to avoid “censorship” by Apple or other middlemen and avoid any licensing fees. Promising 150 titles at launch and prices lower than the industry-norm, a lot of interest surrounded Dark Horse’s new digital initiative. Last month, we ran Dark Horse's list of offerings it would have on its app, but after Dark Horse blew through their January 2011 announced launch date, people are wondering why.

Although not going into specifics on the issues or any revised launch date, Dark Horse issued a statement in late January saying “factors beyond our control have impacted our plans and we are working to address these new developments”.  Dark Horse's Publicity Coordinator Jim Gibbons was unavailable for comment.

Although Dark Horse wasn’t forthcoming, recent news and rumors by other companies looking to sell their wares through mobile phones adds some layers to what could be happening. The dominant smart phone on the marketplace acting as the device for digital distribution is Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPhone Touch devices. Apple collects both an annual fee from iPhone developers as well as a 30% of all app purchases – from apps itself to purchases inside the app. Some app developers sought a way around the fee for in-app purchases by using alternative purchasing methods, but Apple’s recent rejection of an app from Sony for doing that has caused a ripple effect hitting digital publishers large and small.

Part of the recent Dark Horse initiated their own digital distribution platform was to avoid those licensing fees, and with DH’s announcement that the titles would cost $1.49 – which is non-standard for Apple’s e-book pricing requirement – could easily lead someone to believe they were looking to bypass that. With news that Apple is closing up this loophole in their delivery system, this could be a major change in income for not only Dark Horse, but other digital comics distributions outlets like ComiXology which acts as the exclusive outlet for DC Comics and Robert Kirkman’s title, and holds rights it shares with other competitors for Marvel, Image, Archie, Dark Horse and others. If digital publishers have to share their purchases on all levels with Apple, it could lead those publishers passing on the additional cost to the consumer – leading to even higher prices for digital comics sold on Apple devices.

Apple’s stricter enforcement of checkout procedures in order to get a cut of all money spent on their devices could rock any digital publisher’s business plans, but it could also foreshadow Apple doing stricter enforcement of other policies – such as adult content. On numerous occasions Apple has disallowed adult content such as pornography on its devices, so by showing its paying attention to sales going on inside apps it could also want to pick what content their devices display as well.

Full Disclosure: iFanboy is owned by Graphic.ly, a digital comic book distributor.

Comments

  1. This doesn’t affect Comixology at all, it could absolutely affect Amazon though.  They just want to make sure that any purchases made outside of the shop are also available as an in-app purchase, something Comixology and Graphicly already do.

  2. 2nding gobo. The new rule (or newly enforced rule? not really clear on that) is that you have to have the option of buying your digital media in the app using Apple’s 30-percent-off-the-top plan. Comixology does that already. Amazon’s Kindle app does not, but instead it lets you make purchase through their website (which you can also access on your iPad/iPod/iPhone) and then go back to the app to download it. It sounds like what Apple is saying is that what Amazon is doing is mostly okay, but they also want customers to have the option to buy that same material within the app, which would give Apple their 30%.
    I think Apple’s system is great for developers who don’t want to create their own sales system, even if the price is kind of high, but forcing developers to use their sales system is pretty unpleasant. I hope the result is that every developer changes their “in app purchases” to reflect Apple’s 30% increase while giving everyone the option to go buy the same thing through the website for 30% less.  Comixology could then match Dark Horse’s advertised prices on their web site.
    Problem is that ComiXology and Graphic.ly are multi-platform with some titles being available only on one platform, so offering everything for sale via the web interface would be confusing if you then couldn’t access it on your iDevice, or if you purchased it on the website only to find that you couldn’t read it on your desktop because it was an iPad-only title. 

  3. Adult content issue is alarming as well. It’s hard to imagine that Apple has time to vet all the apps and still have time left over to police content, but you never know. I don’t know where Apple draws the line, either. It’d be a shame if comics “for mature readers” got the boot.
    On the other hand…
    The way around that would be to sell actual files without DRM over the internet rather than selling permission to read something on a specific device using a specific app. Then you could take your file and put it on to any device you wanted to manually, which would be great.

  4. And where the Hell is Longbox too? They have been in beta forever it seems, and now I’m not even reading comics on the pc anymore, it’s strictly iPad, so I dunno when if ever I am going to be able to use it. Rantz? You out there buddy?

  5. @Unoob  Are they even still in beta? I had several failed attempts to get their software running on my computer. Their forums were a ghost town. Everyone has beaten them to having a tablet version (even though they were the first company I heard of), so I kind of assumed that they gave up.

  6. In order for digital to take off, developers need to go beyond the iDevices. You limit your audience that way. Android has surpassed the iPhone in numbers and tons of Android tablets are hitting the market and they’re cheaper than the iPad. I know DH is also planning a web-based reader which is a better solution as it opens up their market to all operating systems. 

  7. They definitely haven’t given up, around Christmas they had a 12 Days of Comics or something going on.  I really hope they do well but it seems like their “Waiting for everything to be perfect” strategy lost out to the “Release Early, Release Often” strategy of the other guys.

    As for the Adult Content, there’s been “adult” books (like the Pro) on Comixology, and the main Comixology app is 17+ on the app store so anything for adults (even from companies like DC) is in that and not the individual company’s apps.

  8. @nilcam Comixology and Graphicly have BETA apps for Android:

    http://blog.comixology.com/2010/12/15/comixology-announces-beta-release-of-android-app/

    &

    http://www.graphicly.com/platforms/2

    It’s a lot easier to develop for iOS since you have a MUCH larger community to call on for help (at least for now) and having only one set of hardware and fewer different versions helps for testing as well.

  9. @Unoob  – Longbox seems dead. It feels like they released a BETA and then walked away from it. 

  10. Just tried logging in to Longbox for the first time in ages… it failed connecting to their server.  Don’t know if it’s just a temporary hiccup or not.

  11. Oops, just went to their site. January 7th they posted that there was a problem with their server host. So they did make mention of it, but it’s been down for almost a month now.  Not looking good.

  12. Well I know there IS a huge market for Manga in DarkHorse comics. A friend of mine who actually works with their department of localization for the japanese raws said recently that it’s hard to make a sell to casual manga readers because most of their customers WANT the uncut stuff of Berserk and Gantz HOWEVER at the SAME time they are purists in the strongest sense, meaning that if they buy it, they want to PHYSICALLY hold it. This is a strong backlash in the western manga reading community primarily caused by the same anime fans being burned by DRM provided by licensing companies like Bandai-Visual, Funimation, Gonzo, Gainax’s smaller sub-company studio Honneamise, 4KidsEntertainment, MediaBlasters, and Manga Entertainment.

    So there you have it, the dying state of the anime industry indirectly infects the comics market. How did this happen now? THAT is an article all in its own.

  13. And amid all this, Marvel launched their Chrome app today http://chrome.marvel.com/, which looks to have 1500+ titles.  Since much of my day is spet on my laptop, this is a welcome surprise.

  14. Just another reason to avoid Apple products where I can. Pity no other company has a comparably useful slate yet. Soon, though, I expect a Droid system to have reasonably similar function.

  15. I know it’s all about capitalism, but I honestly don’t know how Apple can legally charge a fee for an item purchased from a service outside of their own app store.  This would be like Microsoft charging Amazon some portion of each sale because the purchase was made on the Windows operating system.  It seems like a pretty ironclad antitrust issue to me.  Apple has such a stranglehold on the marketplace that they’re able to charge whatever the hell they want, and people are forced to accept it or cut their business in half or more.  It just shouldn’t be legal.  Once the app is purchased, that should be it.  Apple makes money by selling apps and phones, it should end there.

  16. @Jon They’re not doing that.  Currently the Kindle app on iOS lets you buy items on the Amazon website which will appear in your Kindle app.  Apple’s stance (which has always been in the TOS but they’re now enforcing) is that you need to ALSO have it available for purchase from within the app itself using Apple.  You can still choose either method to actually get the books as long as they allow you to buy it both ways.

  17. Oh digital comics; you make me laugh with your inability to do anything right.

  18. @TheNextChampion  here here. DRM anyone? No? How disappointing.

  19. On any of these devices there is no perfect solution it seems. I went iPad because it did what I needed it to. I was, and still am, open to any any hardware that meets my reading specs. Size of screen is the biggest thing for me. As for Longbox, I participated in the beta but it never seemed closer than the day they released it. Sure I would get emails telling me of back end improvements, but it never seemed like it was going anywhere really. My dream scenario? Have all companies settle on a dmr free format. This will put the developers to concentrating on making their interface the best, and not on how to sell the most product. As for pricing, give me “Plans” as well as a la carte. I want every title Marvel, and Dc does with a deep discount because I am commiting to X amount of titles. I would so sign up for both companies “Platinum” membership without a doubt. You could break em up other ways as well (Bat titles, Avengers titles, etc). As far as individual titles, what Longbox was initially selling was a great idea. Say 1.50 per book without ads, or 99 cents (or less) with ads. Longbox also said they were going to advertise to non traditional customers like at airports, or on cabs, etc. Heck I started my own website specifically aimed at new readers, with the hope that there would be this mob of new readers looking for info on what’s out there. Then, the “gold” version never happened, and the AE podcast came along so that was that. I still dream about the day that I wake on whatever new comic book day is, and all my books are there waiting for me. It sure would beat digging the car out of three feet of snow and ice just so I could get my hands on the week’s offerings.

  20. If you don’t want DRM, check out http://www.mydigitalcomics.com/Default.aspx   (brought to you by DCBS)

    The selection isn’t as mainstream or as large as other providers but you can buy a straight PDF and load it onto whatever you want.  They’ve even got Duncan the Wonder Dog!

  21. Oops my bad, while some stuff is in a downloadable CBR/CBZ/PDF format, some have to be read on the website.

  22. @gobo  —you seem to be into the digital…all things being equal, and if you got to decide, what format would you prefer?