Comixology, a service that was like the Amazon of comic books, was bought by the Amazon of everything else and they promptly disabled the ability to buy comics from within their iOS app ostensibly to avoid paying a 30% cut to Apple. No one knows for sure. All that’s certain was that what was an incredible comic book store for your phone is now a neutered comic book reader app. What was once a two click process to get a new comic requires you to leave the app, open a browser, log in, pay, and sync the purchase back to the app.
I witnessed a lot of sentiment on Twitter where it seemed like many folks missed the point. Gems like …
1) “It’s Apple’s fault for being so greedy taking 30%!!!” – Google and Amazon both do the same thing for things using their payment backends but only Apple is evil for doing it because they don’t let their vendors circumvent them … they’re so evil!!! Apple charges access to its customers the same way that traditional brick and mortar retailers do. Rent a storefront and you pay rent whether you sell anything or not. Apple’s customers tend to be the most affluent and willing to spend which I’m told is something that’s useful to people who are looking to sell things. The App Store is insanely profitable even after the 30%. This is an argument that is demonstrably false. ComiXology came along and made a great experience out of reading comics and got people excited about comics. It was the most profitable non-game app for the iPad in the Apple App Store. The business model worked. It was profitable. Somehow ComiXology that was a fraction of the size could make a profit even after a 30% cut to Apple but Amazon can’t???
2) “Now more money will go to the creators!” – There will undoubtedly be far less money collected to go to anyone overall when you cordon yourself off from the most profitable customers in mobile but keep telling yourself that. The bulk of the sales on ComiXology (I would assume) would be the comics from Marvel and DC so this means nothing. Will independent authors make more? Theoretically however if you don’t get promoted in the App Store and it’s cumbersome to make a purchase, expect to make a lot less. For example, I’d rather get 70% of $5,000 than 100% of $500. Most of the folks I saw just assumed people would keep using ComiXology. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. There will be a lot less new users and that’s what will hurt. Growth will slow.
3) “Can’t you just open a browser and buy something? Is it that hard??” – Sure I can but new users likely won’t know about this and won’t come in droves like previous users did. Customers are attuned to in-app purchases. They do it for games as that’s the prevalent gaming model and game publishers aren’t complaining about that 30% cut … they’re making money hand over fist. The expectation in this day and age is that if you’re selling something on iOS, you make the purchase in the app. If you don’t do in-app purchases, you will not make money. This is more or less accepted as fact. To use a real world comparison, this is like entering a comic book store, finding what you want to buy, then having to leave and make your purchase in the alley behind the store. Sure I can open a browser but new customers who weren’t comic readers could be lured into becoming customers by the frictionless purchasing experience. If Comixology had launched years ago with this convoluted experience, no one would’ve used it. If it was a superior model, Comixology themselves would’ve adopted this model before being bought by Amazon. The beauty of ComiXology is that it brought new users to the platform that weren’t comics readers … like me. I would sometimes spend $30 in a night reading an entire series. They were all impulse purchases. I’m proof that the previous model worked.
In my opinion, Amazon bought this to make the Kindle Fire tablets more compelling. I get that. That’s how capitalism works. I do believe that this will hurt ComiXology’s sales. Amazon has proven they are not deterred when they don’t make a profit so I doubt they’ll reverse course on this policy. My prediction is that Marvel and DC will either retain the right to keep in-app purchases in their Comixology-powered apps or they’ll move to a different back end provider when their deals with ComiXology expires and independent publishers will watch their sales recede like a waning tide.
I’ve been a big fan of Marvel Unlimited, which is like Netflix for Marvel Comics, and while their interface doesn’t have the patented guided-view technology, it’s good enough. Marvel’s own app uses a ComiXology backend. I’m hesitant to keep using it but they’re still doing the in-app purchases so maybe I will.