September 18, 2014

Comics in Libraries: iVerse, Brodart Set Date for Comics Plus: Library Edition; OverDrive in Talks with Manga Publishers

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This weekend, iVerse Media announced that its Comics Plus: Library Edition will be available to school and public library patrons via tablet computers, desktops, and mobile devices beginning on April 1. In recent months, more than 250 libraries have been beta testing the service, which offers about 10,000 comics and graphic novel titles, including “Adventure Time,” “Doonesbury,” “Bone,” “Mouse Guard,” “Sesame Street,” and “Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.”

Sales, setup, and customer service will be handled through library wholesaler Brodart Company, via a partnership also announced at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference 2013 in Seattle.

Reading With Pictures founder Josh Elder, who has partnered with iVerse on the venture, described it as a “zero cost, zero risk” platform for libraries, explaining that participating libraries would only be charged on a per checkout basis. Print graphic novels average 50 cents per circ, he told LJ, and “we set up an apples to apples ratio with 10 times the catalog,” that the average public library would have, priced at 50 cents per circ. Elder says the pricing was partly based on the  notion of micropayments for content, a model advocated by comics guru Scott McCloud. The model emphasizes access over ownership, and decreases three of the risks of building print collections, according to Elder: up-front cost, guessing at demand, and use of limited shelf space.

iVerse is also, in its own small way, attempting to lead publishers away from measuring success only in terms of units. With this platform, Elder says he’s pushing publishers to understand that revenue can stream to them from libraries, regardless of the raw number of units sold. Raw whole-increment sales are misleading, Elder says, especially when it comes to trying something new. “It’s like when you start exercising a lot – just the numbers on the scale can be worse than no numbers at all.”

Meanwhile, Elder also noted that digital availability likely won’t completely eclipse print purchases. He says the usage numbers from such a platform could easily inform librarians’ decisions to curate a deeper, more specific collection in a few specific areas that have already proven popular.

Helping bring the platform to market is comics-in-libraries veteran John Shableski, formerly of Diamond Book Distributors, who noted, “it will now cost the same to get comics as it did in the 1950s.”

In other comics news, “OverDrive is working on distribution agreements with Kodansha, Shogakukan, and other Japanese Manga publishers,” according to an ALA Midwinter report from GoodEReader.com. Company officials informed the site that Overdrive CEO Steve Potash met with several Manga publishers during a recent trip to Japan, and that some content could become available this year.

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