Gerry Conway Killed Gwen Stacy. Amazon Hasn’t Come Close to Killing comiXology.

amazonWhile the above title of this article is clearly hyperbole, so is the reactions to comiXology‘s recent change to their iOS app and the removal of in-app purchasing of their digital comics within it (the ability to purchase through Google Play is also removed, but that’s ignored by most folks). That move has sparked armchair quarterbacks commenting on the change, stating opinion instead of looking at facts. This post originally was going to focus on legendary writer Gerry Conway‘s guest column on this subject. But, since I began writing, more posts have been written again ignoring facts, or clearly having axes to grind with the leading app in digital comics. So, lets look at what folks have to say, and present the reality of this change.

And so, as we could have predicted, Amazon wrecks Comixology.

What has it been, less than a month since Jeff Bezos bought the most promising tool for renewing the mass distribution of comics in the digital era? I’ll give the man this: he’s moved faster to undermine an existing technology for the benefit of his own company than General Motors did when it sabotaged Los Angeles’s public transit Red Line for the benefit of the bus fleet they wanted to sell the City of Angels.

comixology small imageRight away, with an article starting with the above, you know what will follow. The reality is, Amazon has done nothing to comiXology. As stated in numerous articles and interviews, Amazon has yet to actually purchase the software company. That’ll occur some time in the second quarter, most quotes have said June. While changes are clearly being made to prep for that acquisition, I think what Amazon brings to the table will not only cause comiXology to go to the next level, but also take the comic industry with it.

Comixology removed the storefront from its digital reading app for comics on the iPad and iPhone. It didn’t replace it with anything, just a link that takes you out of the app to the Comixology website. No big deal, right? Just one (or two, or three, as it turns out) additional step for the fanatic comic book reader to access comics on his digital reader.

ComiXology absolutely removed the storefront to its iOS app, it did no such thing to its Android app. So, comiXology has changed one app, not the entire eco-system as many individuals writing on the subject have ignored. Now individuals will have to go to the comiXology website to make a purchase and then sync it to their iOS device. This is the same strategy Amazon uses for their Kindle app. It’s against Apples terms of service to allow apps within their store to offer this, so blame Apple, not comiXology for making it more “difficult.” So instead of a process within the app, a few more steps are added to complete the same action. Steps a fanatic will complete anyways, they are after all fanatics.

This is no big deal. And I’ll tell you why and what Conway doesn’t mention. ComiXology, like Amazon and all intelligent technology companies, know more about your behavior than you do. The company has likely crunched the numbers, knowing how many individuals actually purchase from within the iOS app, and have made a conclusion, the business lost due to this change is not greater than the gains of no longer having to pay Apple 30% of their revenue. Numbers don’t lie, and what gets measured gets done. Conway is going off a shortage of information to make his opinion. ComiXology knows more about their customers than he does, and therefore can make much more informed decisions based on numbers, and not emotional opinions.

…it destroys the casual reader’s easy access to an impulse purchase. And that’s a terrible development for the future of comics.

And there’s the issue with so many individuals writing on this subject. They don’t know readers are actually making impulse purchases. ComiXology does an excellent job of presenting readers with choices to purchase through their apps, and through their email program. The actual likelihood is the vast number of purchases are driven by these two factors, not impulse. There are other ways to drive these impulses through links that take readers out of the app to purchase on the website, again bypassing Apple’s 30% cut. Many apps do this successfully.

Yet the fact remains that for someone to discover a comic book today for the first time, he or she pretty much has to be a comic book reader already, or know someone who’s a reader, and he or she has to be comfortable immersing themselves immediately in a very specific sub-cultural experience by stepping through the doors of a comic book specialty shop.

Again, this is an opinion and not fact. Individuals can discover comics in numerous ways. ComiXology’s prolific online advertising program has helped with their explosive growth. Their email program provides suggestions. The company’s thought out presentation of comics through their website and apps present yet another way to discover comics. There’s also word of mouth, and many other avenues, that exist today, as opposed to when Conway was writing. The age of people discovering comics due to specialty shops is over, one just needs to look at The Walking Dead‘s success for that. Mr. Conway, like many in the industry, need to get with times and discover that reality.

Now, I’ve heard some folks say that Amazon is just trying to avoid paying Apple’s “greedy 30% fee” for in-app purchases. This is such nonsense it almost doesn’t require a response, because there are people out there who have a knee-jerk reaction against Apple that goes beyond critical thinking, but in the hopes of reaching more open-minded readers who might be tempted by that argument, let me address it.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2011 specifically focused on Apple’s 30% cut of the revenue as a reason to now allow apps to link outside for purchases. Again, don’t blame comiXology, blame Apple’s policy.

Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing.

There’s absolutely more than Apple’s “greedy 30% fee,” Conway is right about that. ComiXology also removed the ability to pay through Google Play too. That’s another fee. This points more to the fact that all comiXology did was consolidate the purchasing point, making it easier, and more consistent for customers. It would also open up comiXology to better be positioned to have their own gift card program in stores in the future.

When measuring by revenue, comiXology placed fifth for apps in Worldwide iOS and Google Play revenue outside of Games in 2013. The company itself also placed fifth in the same category for companies. Their revenue when it comes to Google Play and thus Android devices is quite healthy.

Leaving the quality of the technology aside (pro or con), the fact is that at least 80% (probably more depending on your source) of all mobile digital purchases occur on the iPad or iPhone platform.

So here’s the actual numbers, Android holds the largest number of installed-base devices, with 1.9 billion in use in 2014, compared to the 682 million iOS/Mac OS, installed-base devices. Around the world Android also generally leads in market share. Apple also doesn’t have 80% of the mobile digital services, they actually have 38.17% of the traffic versus Android’s 42.83% and when it comes to revenue iOS has 52.7% versus Android’s 33.46%. It is projected though, that Android will overtake Apple when it comes to revenue by the end of the year. ComiXology is positioning themselves for the future.

I dug into Facebook data, and discovered users who “like” comiXology and also have the Android platform lead iOS platform users by almost 2 to 1. Their base might not actually be iOS users, so catering, and making business decisions around that install base might not be the best decision at all. Their future is with Android and Amazon, and the gains to be made there will be discussed further below.

Next we have this anonymous piece. One, if folks aren’t willing to put their name to something, they clearly have an axe to grind.

Comixology is nothing more then technology for Amazon to exploit and maximize money from.

The last I checked no business is a charity. They are here to make money and profit. It’s clear the writer of this article is an industry insider and thus benefits from the industry. The fact is, no comic company is a charity, and all are here to maximize money, that’s why they cancel comics, to make sure they make money. So they whole argument is without merit, and if anything hypocritical.

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.

What isn’t considered here is comiXology becoming the standard, not Kindle. The Kindle has comics, it’s not built for comics, where as comiXology is the opposite. Why wouldn’t Amazon make comiXology the standard in function, and name?

The author talks about the merits of DRM free comics from companies like Image and Rebellion. When Image made their announcement, I discussed how it’s not as great a deal as seems. ComiXology has DRM, but the experience is much better, especially for those not technically astute. You don’t need to load books, find a reader, go through a process. With comiXology, you get technical support if you have issues, as well as compatibility no matter the platform. The company even allows you to read, pause, and continue across devices.. DRM free services provide none of those benefits. But the proof again is in the results. This is from Image President Eric Stephenson in an interview with Multiversity:

The DRM-free thing, I received a lot of mail from people who were so supportive about it and enthusiastic about it, but sales-wise, it’s a fraction of what we do with ComiXology, so I don’t know if that’s necessarily something that is a selling point to the Image reader.

So, even with DRM alternatives, folks aren’t flocking to them…

As of right now, the only “safe” place to buy digital comics remains those that have DRM free offerings.

Really there is no “safe place.” With DRM free there are hurdles involved as well. Technical, organizational, many the average user are not willing to deal with, and based on Stephenson’s own words, not many individuals period are taking advantage.

So lets recap. ComiXology has data we don’t have access to. What data we do have points to the likelihood that iOS users are not a majority of comiXology users, and the money lost from some hurt by the change will be made up by the lack of paying 30% fees to Apple or through Google Play. That 30% will also go to creators and publishers, driving more money into the industry. More money = more profits boosting the long-term viability of the industry. Amazon opens up a whole new audience to market to with cross promotion that wasn’t previously available. Amazon will do that, Apple won’t. Overall, I’m hearing nothing but gains over the vocal minority who think change is bad.

2 comments

  • It’s hilarious how you accuse someone else of having an axe to grind when this whole piece is a veritable apologia for Comixology and, by extension Amazon, while putting the boot into Apple. Still, I foresee a truly stratospheric career in tech journalism for this particular writer.

    P.S. The bit about “The last I checked no business is a charity.” made me laugh out loud. Talk about your double standards.

    • So Apple isn’t the one that says Apps can’t link outside of their apps to a website? Steve Jobs in fact didn’t make that quote? That wasn’t an Apple change in policy in 2011? Please correct me if that was wrong…. cause it’s not.

      Apple has a right to charge 30%, just like others can choose to provide content in other ways and avoid that 30%. No double standard at all, just facts, instead of emotions.