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.
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.