Cutting out the middleman: Thoughts on comiXology dropping its storefront

by  in Comic News Comment
Cutting out the middleman: Thoughts on comiXology dropping its storefront

I used to wake up every Wednesday, grab my iPad and start downloading comics via comiXology before getting out of bed. Apparently those days are over, and I’ll now be … well, hitting a different button to make my purchases, then jumping back over to comiXology to actually download them.

If you missed it, comiXology implemented what many predicted would happen when they were bought by Amazon — they’ve removed their storefront from their iOS apps and are instructing iPad and iPhone customers to go to their website to purchase comics. Android users will also see a change, as comiXology removed the ability to pay through Google and added the ability to pay with either a credit card or PayPal. It’s nice that on the Android side they have the option to add their own shopping cart, but of course, with iOS devices, there’s only one way to pay, and that way involves 30 percent of the sale going to Apple.

But for their customers, it’s a change — and a pretty inconvenient one, to be sure. comiXology seems to recognize this, as they’ve already posted a “pro tip” explaining how to add a shortcut to their webstore to your iPad desktop.

Anyway, let’s look at the positives and negatives of the move, with some reactions from various industry folks …

Positive: Less money for Apple means more money for creators

Overall the new arrangement should benefit publishers and creators, who get a bigger cut of the prize from comics bought on than they do on comics bought through the iOS app (due to the 30 percent that Apple takes). Chris Roberson and Nick Spencer (both of whom do several creator-owned books) pointed this out when the storefront news broke:

Positive: Now you’ll be shopping comiXology’s entire catalog

Another positive, as Andy Khouri at Comics Alliance points out, is that going to gives you a wider range of material to browse. Apple has become notorious for telling comiXology what titles they can’t sell, including things like Sex Criminals, The Boys: Herogasm and other comics that don’t meet their guidelines. So hey, no need to worry if you’re missing something anymore.

Positive So far the iOS publisher apps are not affected

Marvel, DC, IDW, BOOM! and Image all have their own apps on the iOS that are powered by comiXology (and in some cases, multiple apps). Will they decide to remove their storefronts as well? I reached out to several publishers yesterday when I was working on this piece, and only heard back from BOOM!, who said they do not currently have plans to remove their storefront from their app. So fans looking to buy comics from those companies can still do so like they always have. Those publishers might be able to get the best of both worlds here, as they keep the storefront on their own apps, keeping their fans happy and making it easy for new users to buy their comics, while also benefiting from the bigger slice of the pie they’ll get from additional web sales.

Negative: Again, this is inconvenient.

I mentioned this up top, but I’ll reiterate it here for the record … jumping between apps on my iPad to buy and then download comics is inconvenient. It could affect the spontaneous purchases I make while “binge reading” various series; downloading the next issue while I read the previous one was just so damn easy, and I did it all from the same app.

Granted, I could be overthinking things here, and comiXology has redesigned their mobile website so that, on the iPad, it emulates the shopping experience the app once offered. But it isn’t the same as the really easy-to-use, elegant storefront the iOS apps once included. And I don’t use the word “elegant” lightly. That’s a testament to how much work comiXology put into their app in the first place to make it so easy and pleasant to use. The user experience was a delighter and made me want to shop for comics in a way the new experience doesn’t.

Next Wednesday will probably be the best test of this whole thing, when I actually use the new method to buy my weekly stash. And I’m betting any binge reading I do will still be easier and quicker digitally than having to order the next trade off Amazon and wait for it to show up … but still, to quote Paul Cornell:

Negative: One more place to submit your credit card information

Not a make or break for a lot of people, but there are those who are uncomfortable giving credit card information out to anyone but the biggest of the big stores. ComiXology might be a difficult sell for some people in light of the recent security breach it sealed up a few weeks ago. While that breach did not include any payment info, it may be a little too recent in readers’ minds to make them comfortable giving the info to the company. On the other hand, when the Heartbleed vulnerability was revealed, Amazon’s retail site was one of the places not affected by it (their web services business was, however). As I said a couple of weeks ago, Amazon is pretty good at this back-end stuff, and comiXology will likely benefit from their expertise once the deal is finalized.

Negative: No more iTunes gift card purchases

For a number of more security-minded online buyers, gift cards are the “secure” way to purchase online items without having to use a credit card. With the shift away from Apple, readers of independent publisher offerings who used iTunes gift cards to fund their comic habit are now unable to do so. Even more frustrating, with the immediate shift, there was no “warning” given, which might have allowed readers to stock up on back issues they’ve been meaning to buy or otherwise use up their card balances, a situation which could alienate comiXology’s customers. I should also note that comiXology currently has its own gift card available, but it requires purchase from their site (versus grabbing one during a trip to Target, for instance).

If comiXology does eventually integrate with Amazon, and is able to take advantage of its parent company’s built-in credit card/customer base and gift card usability, then these two negatives will obviously be of far lesser concern (though there is a substantial user base which uses Apple’s ecosystem almost exclusively, especially when you look at the teenage market). Historically, however, companies Amazon purchases are left to operate pretty much autonomously — Zappos and Woot, for example, are both owned by Amazon, and while Zappos doesn’t allow for users to use Amazon’s gift cards in their purchases, it has recently become possible to pay for Woot purchases with your Amazon account. So it all depends on how much integration happens once the sale is finalized.

“Nothing to announce today, but we expect we’ll find ways to make both comiXology and Amazon work better together in the future,” said comiXology’s Chip Mosher when I asked him about the possibility of using Amazon credit to buy comics.

Negative: Try explaining how to buy digital comics to a friend

I at least have some experience with buying digital comics, and I’m a hardcore fan who is likely going to buy them no matter how many hoops I have to jump through. But what does this mean for first-time users? It’s definitely a stumbling block for anyone completely new to comics who comes into the medium by discovering comiXology or having a friend point them there. Now a simple, “Yeah, just download this app and start buying comics” has to be replaced with a “Oh, you can’t actually buy comics in the app, you’ll have to do this whole other step to buy comics, then come back and …” So it’s not exactly an “elevator pitch” anymore. Brian Truitt sums it up well: