Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014+ Digital Comics On Sale at Google Play

Not sure how long this has been going on - just noticed it tonight - but Google Play is running a special where they're offering over 2,014 comics for $3.99 or less.  (This probably explains why Amazon has been offering so many digital comics for $3.99 recently.)

There's significant overlap with Amazon's offerings but not all deals from Google are currently matched by Amazon.  (Update 1/2/14: Several of the books have now dropped down to $3.99 on Amazon as well, although several were still at the higher price.  So if you prefer Amazon over Google make sure to keep checking the prices on both sites to see if Amazon's pricebots have caught up with Google yet.) Here are some of the best bargains I found on Google Play:
If you're a fan of DC's New 52 initiative, Google Play is the place for you as most of the early collections are available for $3.99 each.  For example, the first three volumes of Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Nightwing, and Teen Titans are all just $3.99 apiece.

With this sale and Amazon's deals, this is a turning out to be a great week to stock up on digital comics!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Digital Graphic Novels On Sale for Just $4 Each at Amazon

I swear Amazon has been adding more and more digital comics on sale for just $3.99 apiece the past couple days.  Here are some of the more interesting ones I've noticed:

There are also tons of other books that don't interest me but I'm sure are popular with others, including what looks like most of the volumes of The Walking Dead (vol.1 through vol. 19)

Tip: To find other deals, go to the Comics and Graphic Novels section, filter by your favorite publisher, and then sort in order of "Price: Low to High."  (This doesn't work as well for DC since they include single issue comics in their results even if you specify Graphic Novels only.  Image also has single issues you have to skip through although not nearly as many.)  At the moment there are over 10 pages of Dark Horse books for $3.99 and just over 11 pages of Marvel comics.

And while it's not the same level of discount, Amazon has also dropped the price on a bunch of Viz manga from the digital list price of $6.99 down to $4.99.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen (From Imagined Heights)

Kodansha recently launched an ebook program across multiple platforms but there have been several snags along the way:
  1. Google Play's participation has been postponed, apparently due to delays on Google's end.  The current version of the press release only lists "Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble Nook" as available platforms but Kodansha's Facebook post announcing the launch mentioned "Google Play, and more."
  2. Kodansha's two oversized digital samplers Real and Unreal are unavailable in iBooks.  Kodansha's ebook page originally included links to the iBookstore but those were later removed.  Clicking the links still take you to iBooks but the following error is returned:  "Item Not Available - The item you've requested is not currently available in the U.S. Store."
  3. Kodansha quietly discontinued further support of their original Kodansha Comics iOS app.  The app is still available (and still promoted on their website) but Kodansha will no longer release new series or volumes on the app.  (Although for now it's possible to purchase two volumes of Fairy Tail that won't be available elsewhere for another month.)
But by far the biggest issue has been with the confusion surrounding Kodansha's availability on Kindle.  While the press release simply states that titles are available on Amazon Kindle, not all of the 127 Kodansha titles listed in the Kindle Edition format as of this writing are available on all devices.  In fact, for most titles, the list of supported devices is fairly small:


That leaves out Kindle for iPad and fans on Facebook and Twitter have complained that they are unable to purchase Kindle editions on iOS.  Kodansha has replied that the problem is with Amazon limiting the devices they support as the files worked on all devices tested in-house before being sent off to the digital distributors.  This may very well be true, but it's probably little comfort to customers who are blocked from reading their favorite manga in their preferred format.

There are actually a handful of titles that are listed as available for Kindle on iPad.  If you go to the link http://www.amazon.com/iPadKindleStore on your iPad and search for "Kodansha Comics" you will see (as of this writing) 23 results.  Six of those are pre-orders, so that leaves 17 titles.  However, almost all of the titles I sampled didn't work:  Opening the samples in the Kindle app displayed nothing but empty white pages, and the reading direction was in left-to-right rather than right-to-left.  (Interestingly, the samples that failed on my iPad also failed when I delivered them to my Kindle Fire HD 8.9 which indicates to me that the problems are with the formatting of the ebooks in general and not with particular devices.)

I was able to get Kodansha Kindle ebooks to work on my iPad, but only by first purchasing them on another supported device and then downloading them from my cloud account to my iPad.  I read the Kindle versions of the sampler ebooks this way (and the formatting was wonky on both iPad and Kindle, with page content pushed to the upper-left of the page and too much white space on the bottom and right) and I also gambled on the full version of Fairy Tail 27, which was not listed as available on iPad but which did happen to be on sale for $5.22.  The book displayed just fine on an iPad, even double-page spreads in landscape orientation, as shown below (excuse to spice up this post with some fun, kinetic artwork)



So ironically it appears that Kindle books not listed as available for iPad work on iPad (if you first purchase them on another device that is listed as supported) but books listed as available for iPad don't work on iPad (or other devices either).

From my (limited) experience it appears that Kindle books that have the attribute "Optimized for larger screens" are the ones that don't work on any device.  If it's missing this phrase it may be safe on your tablet.  Another indicator appears to be if the device list covers a long list of devices including those with smaller screens such as iPod Touch (see screenshot below).  From my limited testing, these two factors always appeared to coincide.


With the latest version of the Kindle app, users are able to download samples of (related) books from directly within the app, so if you first install a sample of an book available for iPad, you can then scroll to the end of the book (the samples for the Genshiken Omnibus ebooks worked in iPad for me) and look for other similar samples to install to see if those books work properly before purchasing the full versions.  The available samples are limited to a handful of related titles, though -- "More books by [author name]" and "Customers who bought this book also bought" -- so you won't be able to search for specific titles.

If you're an iPad user and you don't want to gamble with a Kindle edition of a title working on your device, you do have other options:  There's the Apple iBookstore, of course, and the samples I've checked out there work fine (although I personally can't get past the iBooks app's insistence on forcing its hideous skeuomorphic UI on users).  And there's BN's Nook, which is a solid app based on my limited experience with it -- it just has the unfortunate drawback of having the highest prices of all the platforms ($9.49 per volume compared to $7.99 for iBooks and Kindle).

So there have been some bumps in the road for Kodansha's ebook launch but I'm assuming they'll get them straightened out at some point.  Hopefully readers will have the patience to wait for fixes rather than grow discouraged and forget to check back with the program in the future.

* The post title refers to the grandiose dreams I originally had for Kodansha Comics

Saturday, July 27, 2013

All Age Nightmare Fodder

I certainly never expected to see images like this in My Little Pony comics:



Yes, those are visual references to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Shining, two films that terrified me when I was young.



Actually, the whole first arc has elements that riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as the inhabitants of Ponyville are replaced with pod versions of themselves.

Here's me, midway through the first issue (the one with the Donald Sutherland creature screaming): "Uhhh... maybe we should pick a different story for bedtime tonight."

Kids (oblivious to the references freaking Dad out): "Nooooooooo!!!!"

[Later that night]

Kids: (sleeping peacefully)

Dad:  (afraid to fall asleep)

Related: Chris Sims combs through even more cultural references that I missed in the first storyline.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Google Play's SDCC Sale

As an addendum to my earlier post mentioning cheap digital Marvel graphic novels on Amazon, it looks like Google Play has those same books on sale for $2.99, plus additional titles, including some that aren't available on Kindle:

BookAmazonGoogle
Wolverine Goes to Hell$2.99$2.99
Invincible Iron Man 1$2.99$2.99
Iron Man: Extremis$2.99$2.99
Spider-Man: Big Time$2.99$2.99
Avengers Kree-Skrull War$2.99$2.99
Wolverine: Old Man Logan$2.99$2.99
Wolverine: Origin$2.99$2.99
Wolverine: Enemy of the State$2.99$2.99
New Avengers Vol. 1: BreakoutN/A$2.99
Astonishing Spider-Man and WolverineN/A$2.99
Deadpool Corps PreludeN/A$2.99
Avengers MasterworksN/A$2.99
What If?: Secret InvasionN/A$2.99
Daredevil: Guardian Devil$9.99$2.99
Ultimate Comics Wolverine vs Hulk$9.34$2.99
Marvel Universe Vs. Wolverine$5.59$2.99
Ultimate Origins$7.55$2.99

It looks like these are all part of an SDCC promotion Google is running on its main Books page:


I'm not sure if the titles listed are the extent of the sale as Google Play's search features are lousy (ironic for a company whose name has become synonymous with search).  Also, the Archie comics listed don't appear to be on sale as the prices aren't reduced and they're the same as offered on Comixology.

SDCC = Super Digital Comics Celebration!

One of the best things about SDCC in my opinion is all of the sales on digital comics offered by various publishers.  Brigid Alverson has a great roundup of the different deals, but here are the bargains I'd like to highlight.

Huge Top Shelf Comix sale!  Brigid mentioned this in her post but it's so spectacular I thought it was worth calling out again.  One of the most impressive things about Top Shelf's sale is that they're not just limiting their sale to one platform -- sale prices appear to be good across Comixology, Amazon Kindle, and Apple iBooks.  The announcement specified these three platforms "and beyond" but it doesn't look like all platforms are participating in the sale.  For example, on the Google Play page many titles are listed with the sale price but clicking though to Google Play the item does not display the sale price (see screenshots below).

Shows as on sale on Google but...
...Google Play doesn't show SDCC sale price

And some items that are listed as on sale don't display the sale price on Amazon, although in these cases the items were not listed as being available for the Kindle format on Top Shelf's site (e.g., We Can Fix It).

Amazon Kindle not listed as an available format but...
...book is available on Amazon, although not at discounted price

Discounted subscription to Weekly Shonen Jump!  Here's a great deal to gets lots of manga frequently for dirt cheap: From now through 7/28 Viz is reducing the annual subscription rate for its Weekly Shonen Jump anthology magazine from $25.99 a year to $19.99.  That's over 20% off!  And with about 48 issues a year, that works out to around 40 cents an issue!!  And with each issue averaging over 200 pages, that's practically zero cents per page, so it's basically free to read!!!


OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but this sale brought the price down so low it did convince me that it was better to pay for a subscription than continue to get issues for free.  Previously I was getting a free copy each week by downloading a free app through Viz's partnership with Flurry Rewards on Android.  But the discounted cost becomes so negligible that for me paying became a better option than the hassle of having to download a new crappy app each week on my wife's tablet.

Granted, I'm not really getting 200 pages of manga each week since I only read maybe half of the series but 40 cents for 100 pages of enjoyable material each week isn't bad either.  The last time I paid 40 cents for a comic was back in 1980, and those comics were only about 20 pages long.  You can check out the free (326-page!!) Shonen Jump Starter Pack for a peek at all of the series to see if there are enough to interest you in the magazine before buying a subscription.

(As an extra enticement to subscribe, I should mention that subscribers are granted access to the 2013 Shonen Jump Yearbook which contains the special one-shot "Otter No. 11" and is basically worth the subscription price on its own.)

Cheap Marvel graphic novels on Amazon! I don't think this is part of any kind of promotion, but I noticed that there a quite a few Marvel graphic novels on sale at Amazon for $2.99 or $3.99.  I was unable to find a single page that listed all of the discounted books but several are listed as part of Amazon's "Big Deal" category, and sifting through the best sellers in comics chart is another way to find some of the best deals.

Here are some of the more interesting items I found -- note that the price is significantly cheaper than at either Comixology or iBooks (and that Comixology and iBooks always have the same price):

BookAmazonComixologyiBooksSavings
Wolverine Goes to Hell$2.99$8.99Not on iBooks?67%
Invincible Iron Man 1$2.99$12.99$12.9977%
Iron Man: Extremis$2.99$10.99$10.9973%
Spider-Man: Big Time$2.99$6.99$6.9957%
Avengers Kree-Skrull War$2.99$16.99$16.9982%
Wolverine: Old Man Logan$2.99$14.99$14.9980%
Wolverine: Origin$2.99$10.99$10.9973%
Wolverine: Enemy of the State$2.99$19.99$19.9985%

At $3 a pop, I'm realllly tempted to snatch up some of these books (even though I'm not that interested in them and I could easily get them from the library for free).  So far I've restrained myself and only purchased one book (even though I already own these stories several times over in various formats, but how could I resist Ditko Spider-Man in the clean, bright digital format?) but I have a feeling I'll break down and buy more soon.

Any other great digital deals I've missed?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, July 8, 2013

DRM Through Deficient Design: The eBook Annoyances of Apple and Google

In response to my post on the various formats Double Barrel is available in, Chris Ross from Top Shelf tweeted the following:
Top Shelf did note this in their original blog post announcing Double Barrel was going DRM-free:
Starting now, the versions of Double Barrel sold by Google Books and the Apple iBookstore have no copy restrictions, and we're offering direct downloads of PDF, ePub 3, and CBZ formats for sale direct from www.topshelfcomix.com.
I went back and verified that the ebooks sold by Apple and Google aren't locked down with flat-out DRM constraints, but they're not exactly easy to work with either.  First of all, in order to download the DRM-free versions of the files, you have to leave the apps as it's not possible to press on the books and transfer them directly to another app.  Secondly, once the files have been downloaded, reading them in other apps isn't the most pleasant experience.

Let's look at Google Play first:  In order to download a copy of your purchase, you have to go to the Google Books website, click on the "HOW TO READ" tab for your book, scroll down to the "eReaders and other devices" section, and click on the link for the appropriate format.  The issue of Double Barrel I'd purchased was available for download in PDF format.  Importing it into Kindle wasn't difficult, but two things stood out immediately when I flipped through the book:

1. This letter from Google was appended at the beginning of the book so it effectively became the first page of the book:


Which meant that this letter from Google now displayed as the cover for that issue, which made it less immediately identifiable as the comic in question in thumbnail library view:


2. Every single page in the book was stamped with a small but distracting watermark declaring that it was "Digitized by Google":


I did figure out a (convoluted) way to remove the first page of the PDF so the original cover of the comic appeared rather than the odd Google memo (Really, Google? You couldn't have appended that letter telling me how grateful I should be at the end of the book??) but it was more work than I'd expect to have to go through as a paying customer.  And there might be a way to remove the watermark as well, but I'm not going to spend time researching it, so that "Digitized by Google" stamp does strike me as a mild form of copy protection (or at least "copy discouragement").

As for Apple iBooks, the only way I can find to obtain a DRM-free copy of your purchase is to download the book from within iTunes on your computer.  (I hate having to go into iTunes, so this is a definite nuisance for me.)  Once the book is downloaded, you can navigate to Library > Books, right-click the book, and select "Get Info" which will show you (1) that the book's "Kind" is "Purchased book" (as opposed to the "Protected book" type) and (2) the location of the book on your PC in the "Where" section of the summary info.

The first annoyance with the iBooks DRM-free file was that it was in EPUB format, which meant that I couldn't import it into Kindle.  Granted, this is a limitation with the Kindle app, not the file itself, but I still found it annoying as a user since Kindle is my preferred reading app (not to mention where all my other DRM-free comics are located).

The next annoyance was that the EPUB file didn't play well with any of the apps that are supposed to support that format.  The Nook app on iOS was unable to open the file at all, complaining "Error Loading Book: There was a problem loading your book."  The Kobo iOS app was able to open the EPUB file but was unable to navigate to specific sections in the book even though they were listed in the table of contents.  And every time I closed the book in Kobo, it added another copy of the book to the library shelf.

So technically the versions of Double Barrel available via Google and Apple can be copied to other devices and apps, but in my opinion buying the books directly from Top Shelf provides the best overall user experience as their DRM-free files are free from the deficiencies embedded in the ebooks from Apple and Google.