iVerse, a digital comics distributor, is debuting a library version of its ComicsPlus app, the company announced at ALA, during the inaugural reception for the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Prize for Libraries. The app is the brainchild of Josh Elder, president and founder of the non-profit Reading with Pictures, who will serve as service manager. He attributed much of the design of the system to his mother, a school librarian, who told him her big barrier to buying comics was the risk of wasting her limited budget on the wrong titles. ComicsPlus: Library Edition is designed to eliminate that risk.
The app operates on a pay-per-circulation model, like Freading, so libraries don’t have to deal with purchasing multiple copies to enable simultaneous use. But while applauding Freading’s model in principle, Elder told LJ the ComicsPlus implementation is “a little flatter than Freegal’s token system, a little easier to understand.”
Each standard graphic novel circulation will cost a library 50 cents to circulate, and $1 for a premium graphic novel circulation; a single-issue comic will cost 10 cents for standard and 25 cents for premium content. (Publishers will decide whether each title is standard or premium.) The publisher gets three fifths of that fee. Librarians told iVerse it cost them about 40 to 60 cents to circulate a graphic novel, “I said OK, then, that will be our target,” Elder told LJ. And some titles, such as the first book in a series, will always be free.
Patrons sign in through the library to access the app through iOS, Android, Nook, Kindle, or any major web browser. They can choose to download or stream content. In addition to the content that appeared in print, features will include audio commentaries, exclusive artwork, and digital-specific enhancements.
Librarians can control the length of time a particular title is checked out for, and can put an age lock on an individual title or by genre. Librarians also set a weekly budget; when it’s exceeded, all but the free titles go dark until the next week. Librarians can also choose to “curb power use” either for a specific person or by setting a general cap.
So far only a handful of smaller comics publishers, such as Arcana and Seven Seas Manga, have signed on formally, but Elder told LJ that iVerse has “handshake deals” with several larger names which it hopes to finalize and announce in the next few weeks.
The program will be beta tested in July by the Ann Arbor and Pasadena libraries, and possibly Queens, NY, as well – Elder says Queens’s Christian Zabriskie, one of LJ’s 2012 Movers & Shakers, provided feedback which was instrumental in developing the program. Now that the NYC libraries budget looks poised to pass without major cuts, Elder plans to follow up with Zabriskie after ALA. The beta is officially closed, said Elder, but libraries that want to help suggest features are still welcome to apply. Everyone else won’t have long to wait: the service itself is set to launch in August or September, and interested libraries can sign up now. The rapid turnaround is possible because ComicsPlus: Library Edition builds on the existing ComicsPlus app; all that will change is integration and adding features, said Elder.