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Talking the Amazon Kindle Fire with ComiXology CEO David Steinberger

The Kindle Fire is shown news conference Wednesday Sept. 28 2011 New York. The e-reader tablet has 7-inch (17.78 cm)

The Kindle Fire is shown at a news conference, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011 in New York. The e-reader and tablet has a 7-inch (17.78 cm) multicolor touchscreen and will go on sale for $199 on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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Updated: November 8, 2011 12:59PM

Next week, Amazon releases the Kindle Fire, a $199 Android tablet that puts Amazon’s wide range of digital content -- books, periodicals, music, video, and apps -- at the center stage.

But Amazon doesn’t sell comic books, which is where ComiXology steps in. The company, through their apps for iPad, iPhone, and Android devices, allow readers to purchase and read comics from all major publishers – in many cases, on the same day the comic is released to stores. On Tuesday, ComiXology announced the availability of their store and reader app for the Kindle Fire. I spoke to CEO David Steinberger about the new platform.

Andy Ihnatko: What does the Fire mean to digital comics?

David Steinberger: I’m going to change that up to just “What does the Fire mean to comics?”, if that’s ok. Comics distribution had been broken for a long time, as many people don’t even know where to buy individual issues of comics. The Comics by comiXology platform solved that by making the barrier to entry a web browser and a credit card. Can’t find a local comic shop? No problem, just point your browser to our web store and reader, or grab your mobile phone or tablet and download our app. The Kindle Fire, at $199, is another huge step forward, because people love reading comics on their tablets, and this is a high quality, affordable option.

AI: What’s different about making a comics reader for a 7-inch screen like the Fire’s, as opposed to the iPad?

DS: Ah, well we’re lucky there, because our Guided View reading technology was designed first for a very small device -- the iPhone -- long before tablets became the norm. A great comics reading experience is one of the core reasons we’re so successful, and it translates great to all devices, from small to large. The Comics by comiXology reading experience is the same on all platforms, so it’s going to be very familiar to our fans. You can toggle in and out of Guided View with a simple double-tap.

The Fire has a great screen, and for those pages that have lettering a little too hard to read, Guided View is a fun way to get in there and see the details.

AI: Does that maybe put a little more pressure on your bullpen? In the iPad app, users can more freely choose whether they’d like a traditional or a guided reading experience. It seems like with such a major device headed into consumer hands, the importance of making the right choices when building the guided views is even greater.

It almost feels like the phone app was Guided View’s Boston tryout, and with the Kindle Fire, you’re moving the show to the big stage for the main New York critics.

DS: No, we already put a good deal of pressure on our Digital Editors -- the bullpen -- to make good choices in storytelling and readability, which are the two attributes most important to us. We have a pretty solid “bible” of principles behind Guided View, and we continue to improve the experience and even return to existing books to improve individual comics’ Guided View paths as more devices and resolutions come to the market.

AI: Was it a linear process, building a version of the app for Fire? You already had a reader for Android, but is there anything different about building an app for this particular device, or about Amazon’s app vetting process?

DS: It’s an Android platform, so, beyond some of the backend and store implementation, it was pretty linear. That said, we do a little leapfrogging of features in our iOS and Android development. When we released Comics by comiXology for Android last December, it had some real improvements over the iOS version of the app -- the store ran about three times as fast, for instance. Then, this August, we released Comics by comiXology 3.0 for iOS. It implemented the speed improvements in the Android application and added the best-in-class shopping experience. We’re extremely proud of 3.0. The Kindle Fire will have the first 3.0 implementation for Android devices.

AI: Are there any new features unique to Kindle Fire?

DS: Purchases on the Fire -- and any Android device that installs Comics by comiXology through the Amazon Android App Store -- will be made using your Amazon ID.

AI: How do you launch ComiXology on the Fire? Do you get to project comic covers right into the startup carousel, alongside Kindle books and Amazon Instant Video titles?

DS: The app is going to be in the Apps area of the device. I think, at least to start with, only the icon of the Comics app will show in the carousel.

AI: So things like subscriptions, last page read, all that stuff is handled within the app.

DS: Right.

AI: And the content you sell through the Fire will still require the comixology app on whatever platform.

DS: Yes, comiXology is a platform in its own right. So, if you’ve purchased books on the Comics by comiXology app on the Kindle Fire, you can read them on the web or on other devices, like iPads or Android phones.

AI: But it’s still ComiXology content; it’s not like I’ll be able to read it in the Kindle app on the iPad. Conceptually, at least, what do you think of users having to go to “comic book land” to read comics content, instead of it being integrated into the general scrum of content? You know, like, a stack containing the Steve Jobs book, last week’s “People” magazine, this month’s “Justice League,” and then a Pixar movie? Does it even make a difference?

DS: I think having our Comics app front-and-center is a huge step for comics, and indicates that Amazon understands we’re doing something special with this specialized content. Comics deserve this type of attention and care.

AI: Well, it’s an interesting moment. This is the first time ComiXology has presented itself on a device that’s not being sold as a computer. Amazon seems to take great pains to appeal to people who don’t want to start a Tablet Lifestyle or leap into the Post-PC Period ... Kindle customers are people who just want to read.

DS: Right, and now read color content like comics and watch movies and listen to music, if Amazon has their way!

AI: I couldn’t help but notice you sitting all of two seats away from DC Comics’ co-publisher Jim Lee at the Kindle launch event.

DS: Rubbing elbows with comics royalty.

AI: Can we look forward to ComiXology-powered apps from the big two on the Fire?

DS: Only the future will tell. (how do you make a smiley face work in an interview?)

AI: What do you think of the Nook Tablet, which was just announced on Monday? Gosh, here’s another 7-inch color Android-based tablet, eh?

DS: Competition is good! I haven’t had much of a chance to digest the details, honestly.

AI: B&N seemed pleased to show off their Marvel Comics content. As part of the constellation of Nook content.

DS: Marvel makes great content. We like to show them off, too.

AI: So to wrap things up, how far along is the digital comics universe at this point? What would you still love to see, in terms of hardware or infrastructure?”

DS: With Marvel’s announcement of going same-day-as-print by March, it’s come a long, long way since a little over two years ago when we launched.

We’re much more interested in the reading experience and guiding people to content they’ll love than hardware or infrastructure. That said, we’re always looking ahead, digging into our own infrastructure to make distribution easier, and keeping an eye on the hardware to make sure we’re taking advantage of the platforms.

There’s a bit of a wild west atmosphere out there right now in digital, but we’re the one place it all comes together as a single experience. That’s a great place to be.

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