A lot has been made of Image Comics’ recent announcement that they would be selling all of their digital comics DRM free through their new web store. The comic book industry is one of the last media formats to make the transition to digital, and it shows. Up until now, you had a few choices for digital comics from major publishers (Comixology, Kindle, Dark Horse), but they all work on a “license” model. You pay money for a license to read their comics, but no ownership is implied. All comics are in proprietary formats that can only be read in their respective apps and can’t be backed up. Obviously this is not ideal and Image has now changed that. An Image Comics digital purchase comes with a restriction free download of the comic that can be read on any app that can open picture files.
Yes, this is a big deal. But they did not go far enough. There is still one big advantage to putting up with all those DRM restrictions and it is the deciding factor for a lot of people when they choose where to buy, which is the actual reading experience. All three of the previously mentioned digital comic stores have some variation of a panel by panel zoom mode. Comics can’t alway be read full page by full page, especially on smaller devices. The panel by panel mode automatically centers around each area of the comic page and automatically advances to the next one, to create a smooth reading experience.
What Image should have done is to create an open source method of duplicating the panel by panel zoom mode. A file that maps out the zooming could be included in the digital comic which would be parsed by a reader app. It would then be easy for anyone that creates a DRM free comic as well as the reader apps to incorporate it. I guarantee this would lead to wide adoption by readers of a DRM free format. Until that happens, I think readers will gravitate to the more pleasant reading experience, and right now that only comes with DRM restrictions.