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The development of Comixology was a very important step for the comic book industry. When the service was launched in 2007, everyone seemed to have had the sense for a while that digital comics were going to be an important part of the future of comics, but the experience felt very stifled, not unlike trying to read static panels of a comic on a computer. However, Comixology broke the mold with their “guided view” interface that moves you through a comic in a fluid but adaptable way that makes digital comics enjoyable, even if different from printed books.
In addition to the guided view interface (or maybe because of it) Comixology developed a large catalog of past and current comic books for sale. Before comics were readily available on ITunes, Comixology was a reliable place to look for digital comics. New comics weren’t available on the same day as the copies in store until fairly recently, but many readers started to gravitate towards digital comics for a number of reasons: physical space, ease of access, or just the portability. Comixology became successful enough that in April 2014 they were bought by Amazon, the mega retailer.
What does Amazon’s ownership of Comixology mean for comics and what does Amazon in general mean for the industry? So far, Amazon has stayed hands-off with Comixology – at least on the surface. Many users were probably even unaware that the company was sold. This was a smart move. Users who love a product don’t want it to change all of the sudden. And Comixology users didn’t want to have to buy their comics through Amazon’s website or have the Comixology site look totally different.
Comixology has also responded to customer demand by beginning to offer DRM-free back-ups of their digital comics. One persistent complaint that users and non-users had about Comixology was that because the comics were not physical files on one’s computer but rather copies through an app or website, there was nothing to insure that users could keep the comics that they had bought if they left the service. DRM-free back-up downloads, even if they are not offered on all publishers’ books, seems to be a move that puts customers first.
This shouldn’t be totally surprising because Amazon has built their empire through customer service. So the positive side of the Amazon-Comixology team might be that Amazon’s clout and focus on the customer means better service and more features that customers like. Perhaps that’s more discount sales or more DRM-free downloads. However, Amazon has also developed a reputation of putting customer satisfaction – mainly through low prices – ahead of their suppliers. That’s where Amazon’s other big impact on comics comes into play.
Amazon was already a huge presence in the comic book industry, even before the acquisition of Comixology because the web retailer has become the de facto choice for buying books online (and, for many people, buying anything). So Amazon is where most people shop for graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and related published comics material. This doesn’t even venture into the comic book-related merchandise that is available on Amazon, such as toys and clothing. Amazon turned into the go-to spot for comic fans wanting trades and graphic novels because of Amazon’s wide catalog, pricing, and delivery options.
The marriage between Amazon and the book publishing industry fell apart over e-book pricing, and there have been accusations that Amazon does not care about book publishing at all, even though the site was first a book seller. So far, there hasn’t been much public discord from comic book publishers about graphic novel sales through Amazon, but it will be interesting to see if things change now that Comixology is involved.
So here’s where the purchase of Comixology is important from a business stand-point. Previously, Amazon sold trades and graphic novels but did not have much available of single-issue comic books. However, with the purchase of Comixology, they control the largest digital comic book platform. Controlling both of those channels of distribution certainly gives Amazon more power. With books, Amazon used their power to lower e-book prices – will they do the same with comics?
Many fans will be unconcerned with lowered comic prices – even if they are artificially lowered – because it means they get what they want for cheaper. However, that means less profit for the publisher, printers, and creators. These are the groups that are ultimately producing the comic that the fan wants to read, so the financial health of those groups should be important to fans. It’s still uncertain how the future of digital comics will unfold, but Amazon has certainly positioned itself to be an important part of that future.