Op-Ed: “Comixology has gone from virtual spinner rack to virtual comics shop”

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201404281649 Op Ed: Comixology has gone from virtual spinner rack to virtual comics shop
By “Cornelius Stuyvesant

[This opinion piece was submitted to us; the author would rather not use his name, but we thought it was sufficiently indicative of some opinions on the new Comixology App that it was worth running. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat — Editor]

Comixology has always had great PR when it came to interaction with the overall comic book community. A lot of talk regarding how important local stores are, the role of digital comics in expanding the marketplace, customer focused products, and so on have been a stable of any interview or con appearance the company has done.

All this was reinforced with the role Comixology played in having a popular iOS application that made digital comics an impulse purchase for the non-comic reading public. This can not be overstated enough as for a long time now the only people that have bought comics are those that have set out to buy comics. Getting comics into the hands of people whose goal was never to make that purchase is the only way the industry could grow. The Comixology app fill that role in a high visibility way when the iPad was new any and everyone was desperate to put these new devices to some unique use.

With the removal of in app purchases from the Comixology app this function of facilitating casual purchases is now gone. Customers have to once again make the decision to buy a comic, and go to a place designated for that purpose and that purpose only. Comixology has gone from a virtual spinner rack in high traffic areas to a virtual comic book store.

Many have been defending this move as a way to make publishers and creators more money by no longer giving Apple 30% of all purchases. At the same time no apparent consultation with publishers and creators was part of this decision making process, and its quite likely one of the largest values creators received from listing comics through Comixology was the increased visibility. A benefit that is now removed.

Additionally, if an increased % of all purchases is important why does anyone buy Image Comics from Comixology and not always direct from the Image Comics store front where the publisher receives 100% of all money without paying a “Comixology Tax”?

In the long run, hopefully this will open everyones eyes as to what the Amazon purchase of Comixology means. If we give Comixology the benefit of the doubt and assume they really did mean 100% of everything they have said in regards to their desire to be a positive contributor to the comics community we have to understand that none of that applies any longer.

From here on out, Comixology is nothing more then technology for Amazon to exploit and maximize money from. Its no longer the company you may have enjoyed doing business with, now its something else. This is proven by the fact that this last update is all about changes that are good for Amazon with nothing that is positive for the end customers.

If you look ahead its pretty easy to see where Amazon will be with this in a few years time. The Kindle app has a horrible reading experience for comics and even magazines. Integrating Comixology technology into the Kindle app is a no brainer. At that point, does there really need a stand alone comics reading app? The death of the Comixology app with all functionality integrated into the Kindle app is very likely.

From a digital comics perspective, we were already on a trend of publishers taking a more assertive role in their digital comics offerings. Marvel has made massive improvements on their Digital Comics Unlimited app, and there has even been rumors that Marvel may make this the one and only place for all Digital Marvel comics. Dark Horse has maintained an independent digital comics offering for years and it keeps getting better to the point where in many respects it surpasses the Comixology iOS application.

Image Comics and Rebellion have even gone a stop further by offering DRM free digital comic purchases. In this case there is no Apple tax, no Google tax, or even a Comixology tax. All the money goes strait to the publisher and the customer is left with a product they actually own and not one they simply rent from Comixology. Heck, even Humanoids has followed this model with great success, minus the DRM free component.

DC Comics is the only major publisher that appears to have no independent plans for how to manage digital comics in the future. Their approach seems to be content with making DC books be listed in as many other stores as possible. This is a far more open approach with the publisher not taking a strong hand to things but also leaves an appearance of the publisher just drifting along with the flow.

This balkanization of digital comics will hurt the industry in the long run as casual customers will no longer have a easy location to be exposed to the wide array of titles. Each publisher will need to take direct responsibility for outreach with other publishers not receiving a halo effect like has occurred in the past. This is not so bad for large publishers but independent titles will start to suffer.

I would not be surprised if a “independent digital comics” store came online spearheaded from publishers such as Thrillbent or Monkey Brain. Independent books in particular have a greater importance on exposure compared to profit and that might be their only chance to stay relevant.

As of right now, the only “safe” place to buy digital comics remains those that have DRM free offerings. As the marketplace matures and other companies jump into mix we will see how things change. Perhaps Amazon will surprise us all and treat comics the same way they treat music and allow for DRM free downloads that customers can actually own. But really don’t hold your breath, as there has been no indication that they will do that with e-books so it would be quite odd for them to switch to that approach with comics.

Comments

  1. Oh man. At first I didn’t care too much about this, because I always buy my comics through the desktop browser (to give my local comic book shop a bit of the money). But this letter has really shown some light on Amazon’s intentions with the Comixology app.

  2. What happened to the other iOS comics apps whose names escape me right now? Maybe that’s what happened.

  3. Those are a lot of words for “I hate change”. Certainly more words than an “I’m lazy and want my content spoon fed to me” deserves in today’s world. but I’ll bite…

    The fact that Comixology even sold to Amazon is a indicator that Comixology was also run as a platform to make money and not much else. That’s why it costs money to use. They never cared about you except if you give them money. They filled a gap in a niche market. That’s capitalism, bro. Money talks, nostalgia walks…unless your nostalgia can be sold back to you at a profit.

    Even if they don’t bump up how much creators get (which I, as a creator selling on Comixology, haven’t heard out of the mouths of anyone who actually works for Comixology) they’re still not giving Apple money or Carte Blanche over their content. Why Comixology didn’t do this pre-Amazon is beyond me. Maybe this change was in the works before that deal. Who knows? Who cares?

    Much like in the superhero movie realm, they don’t care too much what you think because you’ll still give them your money in some form anyway! The Free Market is working!

    (but I do agree with you on DRM free digital comics. That needs to be more of a thing.)

  4. Glenn Simpson says:

    I feel like my comments would best be summed up by addressing the headline.

    Is Comixology like the old spinner rack? I don’t think so. The nature of the spinner rack was that you could accidentally stumble across comics. An app doesn’t work that way – you have to become aware of it, read the description, and decide to download it – and you still haven’t seen a comic book yet. While I do believe Comixology has made it much much easier for people to get comics, it’s still people who made up their minds to go get digital comics and give them a try, and they had to get that idea from somewhere.
    At the same time, I find the figurative distance between the app and the Web site to be much less than the literal distance between that convenience store that used to have the spinner rack and the comics shop somewhere else in town. If there was a car sitting outside that convenience store with a sign that said “I’ll take you to where the comics are” then that would be a better analogy.
    So while I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, most of the reasons I’ve been given for why it’s a bad thing haven’t rung true with me.

  5. joseph says:

    Is it such a big detterent? What’s changed, besides cutting out apple? Just open safari and purchase it there,no?

  6. Burt Kenobi says:

    Pretty certain there’ll be a comics tab on amazon.com soon – a new storefront that could be as important as iOS was when the company launched

  7. likefunbutnot says:

    Apparently, the biggest problem now is that iOS users are angry that purchasing comics isn’t an identical experience to buying music and apps from Apple. Because how dare anyone involve a web browser in one’s mobile digital commerce experience?

    Single party distribution HAS ALWAYS SUCKED. Diamond sucks. Apple and everything i-branded sucks. Renaissance-era Dutch Tulip distribution sucked. This is and should not be news to anyone capable of reading this sentence. The only thing Amazon has done here is restored balance to the force by making comic purchasing on mobile platforms work the same way that its music and book purchasing for mobile devices has.

    We can all work a web browser. Web browsers continue to operate even on lame mobile devices. We can click or tap a few links and our comics will still appear on our virtual spinner rack as if by magic.

    And if we don’t like the way Amazon has changed things – or moreover, the way Apple and Google demand control over what Amazon sells us – we are always free to move on to other platforms or to build one that suits us better.

    I can’t even believe people are upset about this.

  8. MWorrell says:

    If comic book stores vanish it will be because consumers decide they don’t need to go to them anymore. If Amazon succeeds with Comixology (and I think they will) it will be because consumers find, buy and enjoy the comics. Relax.

  9. rurjur says:

    “Customers have to once again make the decision to buy a comic, and go to a place designated for that purpose and that purpose only.”

    This was true three days ago, too! iOS users could not just boot up Siri, grunt the words “give me comic” and wait for the Comixology Gods to deliver unto them four-colored miracles.

    Look, it sucks for anyone to have to adjust their buying habits, and we are all keenly aware of the trauma that mainstream comics buyers in particular feel whenever change is forced upon them. The iOS ecosystem was a great springboard for raising the awareness of the Comixology brand, but Comixology was never just an iOS app, and providing a iOS app with purchasing capability did not make Comixology a “spinner rack”.

    Amazon is quite literally THE store where people from all over the world go to buy things on the internet. Comixology, like Audible before it, will inevitably see its digital offerings integrated into Amazon proper, because Amazon is wont to sell things and it is wont to sell things in every format it can get its hands on. Amazon is one of the only places where a metaphorical spinner rack can exist on the internet as we know it today. Were Netflix to show any interest in digital media outside of film and television, I’d argue that they would also be a great place for mass exposure to mainstream comics.

    I think its also notable that Amazon seemingly maintains Audible as a separate brand because it makes it simpler to promote the shit out of the service (and they do!). It’s way easier to direct potential customers to audible.com to find audio books than to the “Audio Book Section of Amazon”. If they provide the same level of promotion for Comixology, a brand that is nearly synonymous with “Digital Comic Books” already, I see no issue with Comixology continuing to operate largely as a virtual comic shop.

  10. Joe Musich says:

    Wasn’t there a collusion case about e books just settled ? Does that case have potential application here in the sense that the evnironment for collusion to once again creep in is increased. And who says Amazon wan’t take a cut ?

  11. There’s some weird logic in this article. We don’t know what Marvel’s up to; DC seems to sell to everyone; Image, Rebellion, and Humanoids have opened their own DRM-free shops. Therefore, comics are about to become (I guess) more fragmented and harder to find? Yes, Image sells its books through its own website (check out my book, EGOs, there!); but it also sells through Comixology and Amazon. In my experience, Image wants you to buy its books, and offers a variety of ways to do that. I don’t see any reason that would change.

    And why would it be bad if the Comixology app were integrated into the Kindle app? (Leaving aside the fact that we have no evidence that this is going to happen—the Comixology stand-alone app is wildly popular.) If the functionality is there, what’s wrong with having a single app designed for both books and comics?

    And I’ll agree that I wasn’t crazy about it when Amazon removed the in-app functionality to buy Kindle books in the iOS app. But as a lot of people have pointed out, it really isn’t that hard to go to your browser, then go back and refresh the app. It’s about three extra clicks…not worth getting worked up about.

  12. Kim Jensen says:

    “If there was a car sitting outside that convenience store with a sign that said “I’ll take you to where the comics are” then that would be a better analogy.”

    Except for the fact that the new app doesn’t tell you where to go. There is no link to the website anywhere because that is not allowed as per Apple’s terms.

    Also while it is true that people had to download the app first to see what it was all about and browse the store, they are not even able to see what content they might be able to read on the new app before signing up on the website (that they don’t link to).

    All in all, it makes for a much worse new user experience and fewer people are willing to try something out that you have to sign up for before knowing what exactly it is you are signing up for.

    It might not be equivalent to the spinner rack but the fact that comiXology was ranked at the top of the top-grossing book apps and in the top 30 overall top-grossing apps meant that a lot of people would come across the app when looking at the charts to see what’s others find interesting and might be tempted to check it out themselves. With the new app this isn’t going to happen.

    Amazon is a huge company and I do think that they have the ability of bringing in new customers if they hype up comiXology on the Kindle and on their own site etc. but until they had those new initiatives in place and maybe made purchases easier on the website and/or made Amazon gift cards accepted they should have kept comiXology as it is.

    They could even have warned their customers that in-app purchase would be removed so that people could go on “last minute” shopping sprees with their old iTunes gift cards for instance.

  13. Erik Scott says:

    What seems to be ignored here is that while it is true functionality has been removed from iOS products, functionality for Android tablets and phones has been greatly improved, and while removing Google play as a payment option, Android allowing app creators to chose their own payment method has allowed the Android app to allow payment both directly to Comixology and for Comixology orders to becarted and purchased all at one time, (something incidentally that is still not available on Kindle and as a Kindle user something I long to happen so I don’t have to make 20 different purchases if I want to purchases multiple books at one time on my Kindle). Android phones command in some studies about 75% of the smartphone market while Android tablets are now commanding approximately 2/3rds of the market. A lot of the negative criticism seems a lot more focused towards a dedicated (and smaller) market of customers being upset with a little change in their purchasing patterns than it does the actuality of what some of these pieces are trying to say, that of Amazon/Comixology cutting their nose of despite their face. Seems a little more forward thinking than people are giving credit for too.

    To me, it seems Apple not allowing app creators their own payment options is the thing to be critical of, not Comixology/Amazon not wanting to continue to give 30% of their profits to Apple when they simply don’t have to.

  14. Glenn Simpson says:

    @Kim Jenson – I’m in the process of downloading the new app to my iPhone now. I see pictures of comic books on the download page, so yes, I have an idea of what I’d be getting in the new app.

    On the other hand, you are correct, the new app doesn’t link to where you would sign up for Comixology. Looks like they are doing everything they can within Apple’s rules to make the user aware of what they need to do, but it’s not much. I can’t believe Apple won’t let people link to Web sites within their apps.

  15. Briefly – I’m a big fan of the analogy, going from spinner rack to specialty shop. As the manager of a comic shop with a Comixology digital storefront, that was one of my first thoughts: this would be good for me, as a destination. This tought occured without thinking of the implications of it: removing product from a large pool of consumers could actually do more harm in the long run than good. For the industry to thrive, access is key – and while I have made any and all attempts to make my shop very easy to walk into, the fact remains: you still have to GO TO there.

    Obviously, this is a larger topic for comments. There are books waiting for me at the store to unpack for tomorrow, so I’ll leave you with this little bonus nugget, gone largely undiscussed during this change. A few weeks before the Amazon news, retailers with digital storefronts were sent modified agreements for their accounts, imposing stricter guidelines on how and where a shop can “advertise” their digital store fronts. The language was terribly specific about not being able to mention your digital’s store existance beyond specific bits of linking on your website and MAYBE through your Twitter, sometimes. Mentions of your digital storefront in print, radio or television advertising were a big no-no. I tried contacting them several times about whether or not a podcast could make mention of the store (because that was a little grey), but to no avail.

    CX and Amazon are being very, VERY particular about how and where they make money, caring little for the volume, so long as they get the percentage they believe they are owed. And hey, whatever, that’s the retail game. Money can always be better spent elsewhere if you’re unhappy with the service part of your goods and service transaction. Regardless, it will be interesting to see where this all leads us over the next few months.

  16. JoeC_Mommy says:

    It seems strange to me that a technology, any technology, would step backward with respect to convenience. Sure, it’s small step and it’s for a fine cause. But technology-wise, and business-wise, it seems so strange.

  17. I can certainly appreciate the concerns. However, the article ignores the other side of the app coin, and that is the Android app which also got a recent update for the better. Erik Scott, above, summarized it well. Things are (mostly) better for Android users.

    So we can’t really say that removing in-app purchases on Apple products is a money-grab for Amazon/Comixology, while on the same hand praising the improvements to in-app purchases on Android as an enhancement to customer interaction. The changes to the iPad/iPhone app are a reaction to Apple’s policies, but not an indication that Amazon/Comixology wants to funnel everyone through their website. They obviously want to make it as easy as possible for customers with maximum visibility, just not at a 30% charge.

  18. Comixology is having its New Coke moment.

  19. This is pretty crazy. I have an android phone and have not been affected with the user experience.

    This is obviously meant to force people to a kindle device, and use that as their comics app of choice.

    One of my dreams was to always own and run a comic store. Perhaps one day that will happen. Given an update like this, it makes it that much harder for the comic store owner to really differentiate and REACH new customers.

    You truly need to create a destination and offline experience to truly differentiate. A lot of people highlighted the ‘discovery process’ that Comixology gave to highlight new comics. I never really saw this, as I thought the user experience on Comixology wasn’t that great.

    I never really saw a ‘subscribe’ link and had to click thru 2-3 times to see my purchase. I hope thats better with Amazon now managing the process. They are masters of having a clean user experience

  20. Bill Durham says:

    I like how some of these commenters in support of this move think this might benefit their presence in the Comixology store and lead to better terms for their media. All the while whistling past the graveyard that Amazon will be nice to them.

    Talk to Hachette and McMillan http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/09/technology/hachette-says-amazon-is-delaying-delivery-of-some-books.html?hpw&rref=books&_r=0

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