Home > Blog, Comics & ePublishing > Why Kindle Has No Comics

Why Kindle Has No Comics

UPDATE 09/28/11: Thank you for reading! The information in the following post, as of today, has changed because of the new KINDLE FIRE. The MB fee described below currently applies to the 70% royalty option, only. If you choose the 35% royalty option, there is NO FEE! Start self-publishing your comics, NOW.

Why are there no comics on Kindle?

If you browse the Kindle selection of comics, it’s pretty sad. As of this writing, the bestselling title in the Comics and Graphic Novels subcategory is KINDLE TEXT TO SPEECH: How to use Read-to-Me (Text-to-Speech) Function of Amazon Kindle, and 80 out of the first 100 bestselling titles are manga porn and mis-categoried erotica ebooks.

In between manga porn you’ll find a few Star Trek movie-tie-in comics, Owly and American Born Chinese. That’s it. Why? Why aren’t book publishers selling graphic novels on Kindle? Why aren’t comicmakers taking part in the self-publishing revolution that has begun through ebooks?

I don’t own a Kindle (I use a Kindle app on my smartphone, instead) so I had some assumptions: Kindle buyers must not be comics buyers, graphic novels must not look good on those little black-and-white screens.

But after looking into it, I realized why: money.

Yes, the 4.8″ x 3.6″ screen dimensions are restricting (standard page size for mainstream monthly comics is 10.25″ x 6″) and the 72 dpi display is less than desirable for images (print quality is 600 dpi), but the real reason there are no comics on Kindle has to do with a $.15 per megabyte fee Amazon currently charges for transferring data from the Amazon server to the individual Kindles.

That fee may not be much for a html file of text (which most Kindle books are formatted to be) which can be over 500 pages and not crack 1 MB, but a file of images can easily grow to be many many megabytes. And since the majority of self-published ebooks are between $.99 and $2.99, it is difficult to find a profit.

For context, here’s a really brief overview of how Amazon Kindle self-publishing works:

You can set your own price but the minimum is $.99 per ebook.

If you price your ebook between $.99 and $2.98 you have to take the royalty rate of 35% (not bad) but if you price it at $2.99 and higher, you can choose the 70% royalty option (ridiculously not bad).

So, if you price your ebook at $.99 you would make $.35 per download, and if you priced it at $2.99 you’d make $2.09 per download.

So, how do we find a profit with a $.15/megabyte fee? I don’t know yet, especially since low megabyte file size can negatively affect the reading experience of the comic.

I’ve downloaded three comics through my smartphone’s Kindle app and 2 out of 3 were not a good experience.

One poor experience was with an ebook titled Tumor Chapter 1, the first in a series that is somehow free on Kindle. I’m not sure how you can put stuff up for free on Kindle, yet. Maybe you have to be published through a traditional publisher. I don’t know. (UPDATE: Yes, publishers can put something on Kindle for free, self-publishers cannot at the present moment.) But the e-reading experience of Tumor Chapter 1 was not so fun.

Every 1-3 panels had been made into a page, so each “page” was a different size depending on the size of the original panels, making it appear sloppy. Plus the font was too small to read on a smartphone. So, at 3.6 MB, each download is costing the publishing company $.54 (3.6 x $.15).

Another was titled Kindle Comics. It’s a Scott McCloud-esque comic essay about why comics should be on Kindle. It’s about 130 panels, designed to fit the Kindle screen dimensions, self-published and it cost me $1.69. If I had a Kindle, it probably would’ve looked fine but the 72 dpi quality made the images so blurry that reading the comic on my smartphone was a strain and nearly impossible.

Plus, the file was just over 5MB, so if you do the math, the Amazon fee cost the author at least $.75 (5 x $.15) and since the book is priced at $1.69, that means the author could only be making royalties on 35% of the ticket price: $1.69 x 35% = $.59.

So, it seems the author is making -$.16 ($.59 – $.75) per download of their book. My purchase of Kindle Comics cost the author 16 cents!

If the author priced the book at $2.99, they could choose the 70% royalty option and the $.75 fee wouldn’t be so bad. It would still be profitable at $1.34 ($2.09 – $.75) profit per download. And since the majority of mainstream monthly comicbooks are between 100 and 140 panels per $3.99 issue, the $2.99 price would be a deal in comparison.

But would you pay $2.99 for a 130-panel comic that is impossible to read on a cell phone? I won’t anymore.

The one purchase I enjoyed reading on my cell phone was the Star Trek movie tie in comic, Star Trek: Countdown #1. This comic did the same thing as Tumor Chapter 1 by presenting the comic in 1 to 2 panel chunks per “page”, but whenever the panel was a different size the Star Trek designers included a black background to keep it looking uniform. It was just under 100 panels, full color, at a high enough resolution to be 99% legible, and only $.99.

How it could possibly be profitable at $.99 with its 5.4 MB file size is baffling to me. 5.4 x $.15 = $.81. And $.35 – .81 = -$.46. Perhaps they are losing money to gain it somewhere else.Perhaps the $.15 MB fee is only for self-publishers. I don’t know, yet.

I still have a lot of questions and it will probably just take jumping in to find answers but what I’ve learned from this research already is:

Design the panels to custom fit the Kindle screen dimensions and leave it at a high enough resolution that it can be read on a smartphone.

Right now, people read a lot on their cell phones through their Kindle apps. Maybe that will change, and maybe Kindle will upgrade the resolution on future models of the Kindle, and maybe Amazon will get rid of the MB fee (especially once children’s books and children’s illustrated chapter books are more desirable on eReaders and Kindle will need to compete with iPad).

But until then, design the panels to fit the Kindle screen dimensions, leave it at a high enough resolution that it can be read on a smartphone, and…

Try to make it profitable!

If you figure out how, I’d love to hear about it so we can get more self-published comics on eReaders.


Categories: Blog, Comics & ePublishing
  1. Grant Donovan
    04/03/2011 at 10:28 PM

    great article, I’d love to see comics on my kindle. They have these static screens that display authors when your kindle’s asleep, and they look like woodcut’s, but they also look great. You could definitley do a kick ass comic or even adapt a comic book in a great way for the kindle, but you’re right with that fee it’s never gonna be worth someone’s time.

    • 04/04/2011 at 5:35 PM

      Thanks, Grant! When I get something up on Kindle (soon), I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

  2. Kris Diehl
    04/11/2011 at 6:33 PM

    I’m intrigued by this stuff too, but suggesting that creators tailor their work to fit an extremely limiting and rapidly changing technology seems foolish to me. Amazon has already released 3 different Kindle versions over the last 3 years. There will probably be a color e-ink version within 1-2 years. The NookColor is already incredibly successful and arguably a better platform. In fact, a mere dedicated e-reader device may be obsolete within 1-2 years, if not certainly within 5. Multi-application handheld computers of varying size & interface already have vast market penetration in the form of large touchscreen smartphones. Samsung already has a working 4″ flexible screen which they hope to get into production devices within a year or two. 22″ transparent television/pc displays will hit the market next year. Device formats will change in the immediate future faster than creators can adapt to them. Plus, why would creators create, say, a 70dpi, 4″x6″, b&w comic that somehow utilizes the black-white-black refresh flash as a feature, when this will restrict their audience to Kindle owners only? Why limit themselves to the lagging technology, keeping themselves constantly behind the curve, rather than pushing the boundaries of what digital technology is capable of, (ala McCloud’s infinite canvas, and surely other bold ideas?) Traditional comics have historically looked great in a variety of physical paper formats for nearly a century. In the last decade they looked sort-of-ok on a computer screen. 3 years ago, they looked like crap on a Kindle. Now they look almost decent on a tablet computer. Soon they’ll look great on a variety of digital formats. Don’t worry about traditional comics not looking good or working well on a given, immediately aging technology. The technology will catch up sooner than you think. Worry instead about how to get ahead of the curve and start creating comics that the technology will have to struggle to keep up with.

    • 04/11/2011 at 9:12 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Kris! Great to hear it.

      Yes, the Kindle and cell phones and other devices are constantly in flux as they figure out what they are going to do with themselves, and if I haven’t adequately expressed my frustration, here it is: I, too, am frustrated by the limitations.

      But that should not stop us from making our content available to them as best as we can RIGHT NOW. There are customers on the Kindle and these other devices and there’s currently very little product to offer them. That, to me, sounds like an under-served market.

      Fortunately, Amazon makes it very easy for self-publishers to stop selling their product, so if Kindle 4 had better display quality and color and touch screen and makes fries, you could take your book off Amazon and repost with updates AT NO COST.

      Much like print comics had to adapt to what printing technology could offer at the time to make some truly amazing pieces of art within the limitations that they had, so must we with digital technology. See what works within the technology and lets use it to our advantage!

      Making a comic for the Kindle will NOT restrict your audience, it’ll only expand it. The more times your name is out there, the better chance that fans find you. If someone finds you on Kindle and becomes a fan, then they are more likely to buy something else from you.

      Creating ONLY for the limitations of the Kindle is not my point. My point is to see if we can creatively adapt to what it currently offers to get our work out there and read. Take the Star Trek comic I mentioned as an example, it’s a print comic adapted for the Kindle screen and adapted very well. It was intentionally created to be multi-purpose (print and digital).

      And I’m glad you mentioned Scott McCloud because I see the Kindle as a new window into the infinite canvas. We just have to create our work — or arrange and organize our work — to make a pleasurable experience for the reader.

      You’re right, we can’t chase after technology. But that’s not a reason to not make art with what we have and get our work out there. Instead, utilize the tech as best we can for right now, and keep it’s changing nature in mind so we can adapt along with it.

  3. Kris Diehl
    04/12/2011 at 12:42 PM

    In related news, be sure to check out Comixology’s various forays into this arena. http://www.comixology.com/news/ I believe they’re demonstrating a healthy desire to empower creators by giving them potentially powerful tools of distribution and digital adaptation.

  4. 05/24/2011 at 5:03 PM

    Well, as the dummy who publishes Kindle Comics, color me embarrassed. Of course, when I first published it, Kindle 2 was coming, and iPhones were a rumor.

    But I get a little money from it. I’m not sure why, based on Kindles stated policies–but I make a couple bucks on the thing, and don’t lose money. I’ll have to look at re-thinking it. It’s due for an update, anyway. Perhaps an iPhone friendly version.

    As to chasing ‘new’ tech…I’ve been doing that my whole life. At some point you get older and start to realize, ‘I’m always ahead of the curve, but I’m always broke.’ Chasing emerging tech is one way to never hit TODAY’s audience, and hence be profitable.

    Kindle/Digital comics CAN make money, though I’m not sure how, either. I think genre is all-important. But as someone who loves the medium, and emerging tech, I’d love for it to be possible. It’s dead easy to do, and would just be a joy if it could make us rich, too.

    Ultimately, it’s all about the experience. If someone enjoys the comic and forgets the medium, that’s going to get things started. Until then…

  5. 05/24/2011 at 5:05 PM

    Oh, and if you tell me where to send it, I can send you a Flash version of Kindle Comics. You aid for it, you should be able to read it.

  6. 08/06/2011 at 11:52 AM

    What about creating comics as vector art? Does Kindle support vectors? I’m researching this stuff as well. Very useful information in this post Tim, thank you.

    • 08/07/2011 at 3:10 PM

      Great question, Sheff. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer yet. If you find out, please let us know. Thanks!

  7. 08/08/2011 at 10:11 AM

    It does not, currently, but is rumored in the next generation to have a kind of Flash viewer/player.

  8. Yen
    08/10/2011 at 2:11 PM

    Hello hello! Thanks for the discussion. This is exactly my struggle right now. Going to be launching two titles in October and I’m working on getting them on the iPhone and iPad. They are both going to be ongoing series. At the same time, as a reader, I buy many more books on Amazon than through the app store. But on the Kindle, I would have to deal with the cost for the file size and with readers seeing the comics differently from its original design. To Kindle or not to Kindle??

  9. Kris Diehl
    09/03/2011 at 4:43 PM


    Small analysis of Amazon’s upcoming tablet.

  10. 09/11/2011 at 12:04 PM

    I have published a few comics on the kindle, and I think it’s a great tool for self publishers.

    amazon doesn’t force people to price their books at $0.99, if publisher wants to price their book higher they can.

    But form what I can tell 99 cents is the price point people normal want to pay for digital comics (I notice this is my sales and reading peoples comments about digital comics)

    As for profit margin, comics have always had a low profit margin. That 35 cents form the kindle is pretty close to par on what a publisher makes selling print versions of comics when you look at the price they sell to distributors and subtract printing cost.

    In fact my profit margin on my .99 kindle comics are higher then my print comics prices at $2.50-$3. Though I use print on demand.

    I think the real reason we don’t see more comics on the kindle is because the many have been slow to go digital and some people don’t like the ideal of cutting their comic up panel by panel to fit the kindle.


    • 09/11/2011 at 6:47 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Martin. Great to hear you’re making your comics work on Kindle. The point I made here isn’t that Amazon forces people to price their ebooks at $0.99, but that customers like the $0.99 price and there is a MB fee to consider. But from what you’re saying, you may not be getting charged for that fee. Is that true?

      • 09/14/2011 at 9:15 AM

        If I’m reading it correctly, the MB fee only applies if you opt in to the 70% royalty. For the 35%, they don’t take the “delivery costs” into account because you are taking a smaller royalty.

      • 09/14/2011 at 9:31 AM

        You’re talking about the KDP Pricing Page. Hmmm. It’s been updated since I wrote the post. Maybe you’re right. We need to test it out and see. I’m not in the position to do that right now, but if someone is, please let us know what you find.

  11. 09/14/2011 at 1:50 PM

    Yeah, that page has been updated. Interesting. I may have to give this a try. No delivery fee at $0.99 would make all the difference. Especially given the new color Kindle and the color Nook. I’ve been hearing that the color Nook is making comics viable for some people again. No rags to riches stories like Amanda Hocking or John Locke, but certainly more than can be made through comics shops, these days, for an independent.

  12. Kris Diehl
    12/05/2011 at 12:30 PM


    CBR discussion thread of Mark Waid’s recent speech looking at digital distribution. This is an important discussion.

  13. 12/05/2011 at 1:08 PM

    Here’s my brief experience with the 99 cent file size download problem. I had a book up that was illustrated and selling at $2.99. When I tried to increase sales by dropping the price to 99 cents, Amazon wouldn’t let me re-upload it, informing me that the file size was now too big. So I had to strip out the illustrations and reduce the file-size to get the 99 cent price-point. Sales ultimately didn’t change.

    I also had published a friend’s comic about digital comics, and tried to reduce the price to that, believing that comics selling for 99 cents might be a good idea. Amazon once again informed me that the book was too large in file size for that price point. Not only that, but I would have to raise the price from 2.99 to 3.99 in order to offer it again for sale. Apparently Amazon’s ‘rule change’ wasn’t ex-post-facto, so if I’d left it alone, I could have kept selling the comic, but if you make changes they then enforce the new rule.

    My friend decided, since his digital comics book had been written for Kindle 1 and was now already very out-of-date, he couldn’t see charging more for it and had no time to update it, and so we took it down, although it was selling very well.

    The rule might be changed, but I haven’t had time to test it out, and Amazon is not very forthcoming with publishing specs or information (a friend who works there informs me that it is an intentional ‘firewall’ against those independent people who are not serious about publishing. The major publishers get all the information they need).

    Thanks for posting this link, Kris. I’ll definitely check it out. I still believe in it as the future.

  14. lady J
    12/12/2011 at 8:58 AM

    I am a bit puzzled here. I have a graphic book I want to publish on Kindle, mainly images and few words of text. it wouldn’t be ideal in black and white but I want to try anyway.

    My question is – I am based in the UK – although I visit the States regularly. The Kindle Fire is not out in the UK yet and although there is a rumoured early 2012 release date, this is yet to be confirmed.

    Meanwhile what is involved in making my book available on both Amazon.com for the US market and .co.uk for the UK market? (If you have a Kindle in the UK you have to purchase e-books from Amazon’s UK website).

    Would I have to start all over again and republish it on the Kindle Fire to get colored illustrations in it when that comes out over here?

    • 12/17/2011 at 7:30 PM

      Hey Lady J,
      When uploading your ebook to Amazon through Amazon’s KDP program, it allows you to make your book available in every country. If you create your book with color images, it will show up on early Kindles as black and white with gray tones, but color on all color devices (Fire, iPads, cell phones…). Would you have to start over to republish it on Fire with color? Not sure how you’re preparing it. I doubt it. I hope that helps.

  15. 01/27/2012 at 6:27 PM

    I took it upon myself to publish my comics on the Kindle even knowing that they might suffer substantially. I re-lettered them as best I could in the time I had, tried to compress them at a good enough quality to be clear yet small, and uploaded them. I’m not doing crazy numbers, but compared with the three other avenues of digital distribution I chose (Wowio, Drivethru and an Indi iPad app) Amazon outsold them all.

    I am creating one issue specifically for Kindle audience right now – hopefully with a better typeface that compresses more legibly, and my work is black and white anyway (it’s a future-noir series) so the Kindle appeals to me actually right off the bat.

    I know color is an eventuality – what I really REALLY would love is for them to embrace an HTML 5-ish standard which can layer text and images per page without relfow or resizing damaging lettering work. Likely a huge software update but it would make things abundantly easier.

    And I am late to this conversation I know – and the Kindle Fire is now out there – AND they have updated publishing with options for Kindle format 9 – not sure if that helps or hurts me but I will look into it – wow things change fast.

    I also wanted to point out that every last piece of software I use to publish my book digitally is open source – brainstorming in Freemind, artwork in GIMP, lettering in Inkscape, and layout in Scribus. So the real cost of publishing on Kindle even with the MB charges is – for me – time. While I loved using print on demand, attending shows, and putting up my neat 8 foot tall banners, I have sold as many comics on Kindle as I have on show floors and saved a lot of gas, meals and table expenses in the process.

    People are out there, hopefully they can be patient with the tech long enough for us to get this all figured out.

    • 01/29/2012 at 2:13 PM

      Great comment, Jesse. Thanks!

      Things are changing fast. A few days ago, Graphicly announced a teaser for a product that will enable comics to be published to any e-reader with any format (See http://distribute.graphicly.com/beta/). We’ll figure it out soon enough. But I’m glad you’re already working on it. You’ll be that much further than those who are doing nothing, waiting for the platforms to align perfectly before starting. Please keep us updated on your successes.

  16. 11/05/2013 at 3:46 AM

    I couldn’t help but comment on this great write up, i believe some of the issues have been rectified.

    Buy kindle comics at http://www.buykindlecomics.com

  1. 06/05/2011 at 3:05 PM

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