Cover: Archer and Armstrong #22, Fred Van Lente, Pere Perez, David Baron. Valiant 2014Valiant Comics is bringing their entire library of digital comics to the iVerse comics reading app, Comics Plus. Going forward, new Valiant comics will be available day-and-date and the two companies are working to bring Valiant’s back catalog, which includes Archer and Armstrong and X-O Manowar, to Comics Plus.

In the meantime, to sweeten the deal, all Valiant number ones will be available for free on Comics Plus throughout the month of August. This has become standard practice on comiXology but it’s interesting to see competitors adopting the same strategy — it’s quickly becoming an industry standard loss leader.

I have never used Comics Plus but am now honour-bound to try it out. In the meantime, I have reviews, and they aren’t spectacular. Unlike comiXology, Comics Plus stillCover: X-O Manowar #27, Valiant 2104allows in-app purchases and has much of the same selection as the industry’s dominant player, minus DC and Marvel, plus a whole host of indier thanwhat we normally call indies publishers, including some that I’d never heard of. Those are big pluses. Absent though, are non-English language titles, so it looks as though Comics Plus, unlike its competitor, hasn’t yet made inroads into the bande dessinée market. Reviewers also bemoaned a lack of selection and slow loading — with comiXology still loading like lightning, this is a serious flaw.

But here’s the cool part: Comics Plus has special librarian subscriptions, through which librarians and patrons can read Valiant comics for free — any time, anywhere. Talk about audience building! Brigid Alverson reported on the feature back in 2012:

iVerse will charge the library on a cost-per-checkout basis that [John Elder, iVerse account director] said is “competitive with print,” about 50 cents for a graphic novel and 10 cents for a single-issue comic. The library will set up a monthly budget allotment in advance, and when the limit is reached, most of the comics will become unavailable, although Elder said the service will always offer a number of comics for free. The premium comics will appear to the patrons to be on hold, and the hold will come off when the month is over. There is no upfront cost for the service, he said, and libraries will only be charged for actual usage. “There is no risk,” Elder said. “You will never be charged more than the monthly budget allotment and you will never be charged for something you don’t use. No hidden fees.”

According to iVerse, the library market accounts for about 10% of the U.S graphic novel market and its growing. As for the selection, Elder said that iVerse currently has over 10,000 titles in its Comics Plus catalogue including comics from Marvel, IDW, Archie, Top Cow, Zenescope, Boom! and more. The company is currently negotiating with publishers regarding participating in the program, and Elder said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

As Brigid said then, it’s interesting that Comics Plus is banking on libraries to build readership. Although things are shifting within the comics industry, with first Image offering DRM-free downloads in a variety of formats and then comiXology DRM-free backups, there’s still lingering suspicion about the affect that unlimited, low-cost, easy access to comics — that’s not controlled by publishers themselves — will have on potential sales growth.

But let your fears be assuaged: according the the New York Times, the easy availability of digital comics has grown, not shrunk, the market as a whole. In addition to comiXology and Comics Plus’s pay-per-read model, the digital comics market now has a number of subscription based services, including Marvel Unlimited and Thrillbent, and even a pay-what-you-want service in Panel Syndicate. Brian Hibbs, wner of the Comix Experience, told the Times that he his hopes for digital are coming true. “The problem for the longest time for the comic book industry [was] that we were off the newsstand. We had no way to expose people to comics.”

If comics app stores can be the new newstand, can comics apps in libraries be the new reading rooms? Either way, it will be interesting to check back in with Valiant in a year, to see what kind of sales boost the move to Comics Plus will give them, and how much of that is due to library purchases.