The digital comics industry is in the midst of a significant transition. Early in April digital comics distributor ComiXology announced that was to be acquired by the online retail giant Amazon. Within weeks of the announcement, while the full impact of the acquisition was still being debated, ComiXology made the controversial decision to reduce functionality and eliminate in-app purchases on their popular iOS app, forcing users to leave the app and buy comics through ComiXology’s web storefront (in a manner similar to Kindle purchases on iOS).
It should come as no surprise that the response from fans and creators has ranged from concerned to critical. At the time of this writing the new app has well over 1,500 reviews (and counting) and has managed only a 1.5 star rating.
“This feature removal isn’t going unnoticed; reviews of the app have plummeted with the new version…” – TechCrunch
Chip Mosher, ComiXology’s Vice President of Marketing, has advanced the idea that publishers, creators, and fans could benefit from the move, citing the potential for diversity and savings. Certainly the elimination of Apple’s 30% channel fee opens up the potential for an increased share of the revenue paid directly to publishers and independent creators – that is, assuming the web store can compensate for the lost iOS sales.
“…shopping on the web provides even greater selection of comic books and graphic novels. iOS customers will now be able to save money with comiXology’s exclusive web-only bundles, take advantage of subscription features and enjoy eGift cards.” – Chip Mosher via Comic Book Resources
ComiXology’s acquisition potentially impacts every creator working on digital comics to one degree or another. With Comic Book Think Tank we’ve always tried to focus on progressive digital publishing and the digital comics creative process so we thought it might be a good idea to reach out to a few of our fellow digital comics creators, experts in their craft, who might be able to give valuable insight from their unique points of view.
Are these changes good news? Bad news? Will it have a significant impact on digital comics creators and publishers? This is an evolving issue and one that is sure to affect the digital comics marketplace for weeks and months to come. Do you agree with one of the creators below? Disagree? Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments but first, read on…
JOHN ALLISON (BOBBINS, SCARY GO ROUND, BAD MACHINERY)
Viewed from any angle, ComiXology/Amazon should give people pause.
The 30% pay-to-play on in-app purchases within the Apple store’s walled garden is obscene. Comixology Submit’s creator deal was an equitable 50/50 split – after a corporate giant took a vast cut. This inevitably pushed prices up.
A rump of entitled ComiXology users complaining that their method of reading comics just got *slightly less incredibly efficient* is laughable. One assumes that getting off one’s ass is still not part of the new way to buy titles through ComiXology.
Amazon’s ownership of ComiXology will have an immediate hammer-down on prices, just like every other sector they’ve been involved in. Amazon’s near-monopoly has sucked a greater part of the life, and money, out of working in books, music, film.
For the last 20 or so years, comic books have cost more than they were worth. Now get ready for them to cost much less than they’re worth. Get ready to lose your local comic shop, like you lost your local record store and your local bookshop.
JARED K. FLETCHER (Marvel Comics, DC Comics, STRANGER FICTIONS)
ComiXology is the best chance of bringing in new comics readers right now. If the industry is going to grow, we need to get comics into the hands of new readers as cheaply and easily as humanly possible. So why do we continue to complicate the matter? This is another sad example of how comics generally, not just digitally, continues to put up these barriers between the reader and the product.
What’s bad for the readers of comics is bad for the creators of comics. I’ve already seen a few tweets from people who have already given up trying to switch over the new app because it was too complicated. And that’s just getting the app to work, not even buying or syncing comics yet. It’s a disappointing situation for everyone on all sides of it. It looked like ComiXology had a good thing going until this.
I understand Amazon not wanting to give Apple that extra dollar for every comic sold. But where does that dollar go now? Are the comics all one dollar cheaper now? Most of them should be anyway. Do the creators get that dollar? I would hope so. That would be a bright spot in this. Or does Amazon just take that dollar for themselves in exchange for removing the only feature of any significance in the ComiXology app?
MATTHEW PETZ (WAR OF THE WOODS, LORDLESS)
As a creator, I can’t helped but feel this is a step backward. Discoverability is essentially gone. If it was hard to be seen before, I think unfortunately it’s harder now.
This idea that the savings will go towards the creators seems little dubious at this point. We’re talking about an extra 15 cents in most cases. Maybe it will add up? But if it’s at the cost of a lot of lost sales from inside the app then I’m not sure it’s worth it.
JOEY ESPOSITO (Assemble After Dark, CAPTAIN ULTIMATE, FOOTPRINTS, PAWN SHOP)
I think people tend to go from zero to sixty in reaction to these types of things and the apocalyptic reaction it got was sort of unwarranted, nevermind it being unfairly directed at ComiXology instead of Amazon. And that’s the thing: Amazon acquiring ComiXology wasn’t done on a whim, and I would imagine that the removal of the in-app storefront on iOS was a calculated move rather than an arbitrary one. I doubt Amazon acquired ComiXology to lose money, therefore I’m willing to wait and see how this change pans out and see what the result is in terms of sales and money for creators.
It certainly makes discoverability a concern, particularly when it comes to getting under the eyes of new and/or casual readers, but at a certain point it falls on us, as creators, to find our books new venues to readership. We should never be relying on one platform; we should be using every platform available to us to get our work out there. We need to be nimble and be able to change with technology and with the market.
BENJAMIN BAILY (Assemble After Dark, CAPTAIN ULTIMATE)
It’s easy to call the removal of in-app purchases on iOS devices a misstep on ComiXology’s part, and maybe it is, but the folks there have proven one thing time and time again over the years: they love comic books. For our little all-ages title, the loss of easy and friendly browsing and shopping is a little painful; we’re a kid’s book starring a new, unknown character. It’s impossible to know how impulse purchases affected our sales, but I suspect it was significant. Time will tell on that one. For us, that extra 30% isn’t quite as important as selling an extra 30 copies. It’s about getting the title out there, getting the book into the (digital) hands of new, young readers. That said, we have faith in the folks over at ComiXology and they have always been supportive of us and our little book. Things might not be perfect right now, but we know they love comic books and that, ultimately, they want what we all want: to share that love with new readers.
CAMERON STEWART (Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse, SIN TITULO)
I’m trying these days to remain as positive as I can about most things (even though it’s extremely challenging at times), so despite the inconvenience of no longer having an easy and seamless shopping experience, my initial reaction to the change in the ComiXology app was to be happy that a) they’re no longer beholden to conform to Apple’s ludicrously inconsistent content restrictions, and b) the 30% of sales that they surrender to Apple is now able to be kept by the publisher & creators.
However, I’m very curious to see what kind of hit they take on sales, now that it’s impossible to make casual, impulse purchases within the app. Building an obstacle course in front of the cash register is sure to discourage a significant number of people from even bothering. I myself had this experience a couple of days ago – I downloaded the new app, synced some of my library to the iPad, and for a moment actually forgot that I was using the new non-retail app and went looking for some new issues of series I follow to purchase. When I remembered that I was using the new app, I was frustrated and closed it. I didn’t bother to go to the ComiXology website to download them. I still haven’t. Maybe I’ll get around to it at some point. They would have had a couple new sales, now they don’t.
I’ve bought comics through the website before, but generally when I’ve been at my desk, on my computer. There are many times when I’m browsing the ComiXology app while in bed, or in a cafe, and those are when the most impulse-purchases happen. I’m not sure I’ll buy as many now.
As for independent creators, we/they need every sale they can get so it’s a bit depressing that what was a promising new outlet for them seems to be radically compromised now.
It remains to be seen what Amazon’s plan is, and if they’ll be able to build some new method of sales that will be as convenient as what came before – I hope they can do it.
And then of course there’s that brief moment of clarity where you realize we’re all whining about how we can no longer purchase drawings on our luxury devices without going to a different website
KEVIN COLDEN (DC Comics, IDW, FISHTOWN, BABY WITH A MOHAWK)
In the short term this deal isn’t that great for anyone except Amazon – my wild speculation is that they purchased ComiXology primarily to a) Remove a potential competitor and acquire their existing interface and user base and b) take revenue from Apple by disallowing in-app purchases. I suspect the latter is the primary reason. But they may implement some new ideas that will change that in the future.
Due to the removal of in-app purchases, the big losers will be the independent creators with books on ComiXology, as their visibility and discoverability just dropped to zero, possibly lower.
ALEX DE CAMPI (Dark Horse, VALENTINE)
I think Amazon buying ComiXology was inevitable. While the elimination of in-app purchasing for iOS devices is frustrating from a user point of view, I’m hoping Amazon shoves enough money Comixology’s way that they can work on streamlining the mobile version of the site. My biggest concern is that the casual/non comic store going reader will be dissuaded from buying comics (or confused by the new iOS app) during the initial period of app downloading/investigating, and will do the app equivalent of abandoning their shopping cart… which is, in essence, abandoning digital comics. I emphasize again this is only users on iOS devices, but that’s still an important segment of users.
I also hope they integrate Amazon gift cards into ComiXology purchasing (as I know many friends, and children of friends, who bought comics on the app using iTunes gift cards/credits).
As a creator, I”m mostly concerned with, “can I still get my comics on the ComiXology platform?”. The answer is yes, and now if there is better integration onto Kindles / the app coming bundled onto new Kindles, that is one less formatting and submission job I have to do and, hallelujah. Seriously, if by having my comic on ComiXology Submit, it can also be available on Amazon for download via Kindle publishing/the main Amazon Kindle store? I’ll buy David Steinberger beers for the rest of his damn life. Verily, multiple formats and submission processes are a hobgoblin preying on creators’ time and sanity.
DAVID GALLAHER (THE ONLY LIVING BOY)
It’s interesting because I believe the changes to the ComiXology app are really just small potatoes compared to the massive opportunities available to creators. How many resources will now be available to small publishers that were out of reach before? Amazon runs one of the largest order fulfillment services in the world, provides publishing services, and incredible recommendation engine that drives discoverablility on their website for physical and digital goods. I think the opportunities for creators is brighter now than it ever was before. ComiXology may have revolutionized digital comics, but I think it will be Amazon that liberates them.
RSTEVENS (DIESEL SWEETIES)
Good or bad, it’s really not surprising if you look at Amazon’s history of making things more efficient for the sake of Amazon. It’s no different than how they try to cut out other layers like UPS. Maybe the inconvenience of not being able to buy comics on iOS will be outweighed by the ease of doing so on amazon.com or a Kindle?
It’ll be interesting to see.
As we reached out to different digital comics creators there were a few that had strong opinions but for various professional reasons asked us not to disclose their names. While we think context is important we also respect their right to privacy. We felt that the opinions expressed were informative and indicative of some of the general opinions on the evolving relationship between ComiXology, Amazon, and the publishers and creators that distribute through them. Presented here are a few comments from those that wished to remain anonymous.
Amazon buying ComiXology is, to quote the Vice President, a big f’ing deal. It’s validation – not just for ComiXology, but for the entire comics industry. The world’s biggest bookseller just bet big on comics, and that is an awesome thing.
In the long term, this will be a boon for publishers both great and small. It’s going to force other digital distribution outlets to step up their game and compete for both content and customers. It’s going to put comics in front of more potential buyers than ever before, and that means more sales and more revenue for everyone.
However in the short term, this is nothing but bad news for publishers and creators. In-app sales on iOS were the largest single largest source of ComiXology’s sales by far. The majority of ComiXology customers will (grudgingly) make the transition to making purchases on the web, but some will not. Those disgruntled customers may migrate to other channels (ComicsPlus, iBooks, etc.), but they may just as easily stop buying digital comics all together. And even for those customers who stay with ComiXology, ‘impulse purchasing’ will inevitably decrease since a purchase that once took a single step now takes three or four.
In summation: I believe that publishers will lose sales and customers will be dis-satisfied in the short term, but that the benefits to both will (eventually) outweigh the costs.
This ComiXology/Amazon move is one of greed, pure and simple. It infuriates me to read the praise people give towards ComiXology/Amazon and how this will ultimately benefit the creator. This is a spin, pure and simple, and not a very clever one. Oh, and thanks for the five bucks! That will go a long way toward my comics ever regaining what little digital traction they once had in the crowded industry leader storefront.
The worst thing this move has done is lessened any chance of me or others buying digital comics in a casual/browsing way – similar to the experience of shelf buying. I wonder how long before the ComiXology-powered publisher apps will lose in-app purchasing?
ComiXology has taken what little trust, faith, and belief I had that they were honestly for a better digital comics marketplace, and sold it to the highest bidder. I sincerely hope those behind the app made a small fortune on the purchase. It only cost their fan base.