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The Beast of Bezos Attacks!

Posted April 29, 2014 into Comics by John Birmingham

Been meaning to write something snarky about Amazon buying out Comixology since the news broke last week. But deadlines got the better of me, and apart from comic book nerds, nobody seemed to care.

And then the Beast of Bezos went and made poo-poo in everyone's icrecream bowl.

Comixology, the New Comixology, updated its app – the best comic book app to be found on any platform. The app that had done so much to grow the market for comics, especially indie publications that weren't Marvel headliners. The app that fucking saved comics from comic book nerds.

Amazon decided to break it.

How? Buy removing in-app purchases. So now rather than just hitting a single button to download the next issue, or some related impulse buy, the reader has to drop out of the app, go to the Comixology website, login, go to the store, find the issue (not always easy), order it, confirm the order, return to the app, download the new title (again, surprisngly difficult and non-obvious) and finally open it up.

I'm familiar with this process because I've been doing it for months. It was cheaper, you see. Avoided the 30% mark up Apple takes for in-app purchases. It was a process I was willing to go thru because I'm picky about my comic buys and I tend to buy collections anyway, so the 30% can make a big difference.

It won't now, because the readers (and artists for that matter) won't see a cent of that money. Amazon is taking it all.Wait a minute! This isn't my phone. This a phone-shaped block of pure Kryptonite!

Fair 'nuff, you might say. Bezos bought the business he can do what he wants with it. And you'd be right in that. But don't be surprised if the comic book Renaissance chokes and dies in the next few years. Oh, there'll still be the Marvel juggernaut, but that's more about Hollywood than the nerdiverse of comic book fandom. Introducing friction to the business of buying a comic book can only hurt that business.

Perhaps someone's begin coding work on a new Comixology somewhere. Beuller? Anyone?

There's a great piece by a veteran comic book creator, Gerry Conway that's worth a read if you're at all interested in this topic. (Full text is here.) He writes:

I’m going to say something that I hope you won’t misinterpret (oh, who am I kidding, this is the internet, of course it’ll be misinterpreted): comics have been struggling in a ghetto for thirty years. That ghetto is called the comic book store. Please don’t hate me, comic book store owners — I love you, I love your dedication to the form, I fully support you, and never want to see you replaced. 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.

Thanks to movies and games and other media, of course, many people do so, but not as many as once did (ask any comic book store owner) and not with any consistency. There just aren’t that many comic book stores and they just aren’t that easily accessible. (How many comic book stores are there at your neighborhood Westfield mall?)

Comic book publishers know this, and that’s why they’ve embraced digital distribution while still trying to support the comic store experience. Comixology provided a fabulous tool to do so — a way to easily introduce casual readers to new comics and provide quick and easy access to the vital impulse buy.

Impulse buys are crucial to hooking new readers to new books...

By forcing readers to leave the app and go searching the Comixology website, add books to a cart, process the cart, return to the app, activate download, and wait for their purchases to appear, Comixology has replaced what was a quick, simple, intuitive impulse purchase experience with a cumbersome multi-step process that will provide multiple opportunities along the path for the casual reader to think twice and decide, ah, never mind, I don’t really want to try that new book after all. I’ll stick with what I know. Or worse, when a new casual reader opens the Comixology app for the first time and sees that THERE ARE NO COMICS THERE, and that he or she will have to exit the app and go somewhere else and sign up for a new account, maybe he or she won’t bother buying a comic in the first place.

This is a disaster.

13 Responses to ‘The Beast of Bezos Attacks!’

beeso ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2014

I bet lots of smart coders who had slight improvements on comixology are busy working. There was no reason before, but now?

Darth Greybeard mumbles...

Posted April 29, 2014

Why bother? The smart users can still do it on Android.

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Blarkon ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2014

On Android and Windows you can still do in-app purchases - so it's only on iOS that this option has gone away.

beeso puts forth...

Posted April 30, 2014

Hardly any of those devices, I suppose it doesn't matter at all.

Blarkon mutters...

Posted April 30, 2014

That includes Windows PCs. I'm sure that there are none of them.

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Blarkon ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2014

And as usual with "smart coders" - the advantage of Comixology wasn't the code - it was that they were able to make the deals with the people that produce the comics.

The general Silicon Valley attitude towards content is "fuck creators - we should get their stuff for free and creatives should work for exposure" - which has left most creative organizations a bit reluctant to make deals. You can see the attitude with the streaming services who are trying to reduce the revenue paid to creators, or YouTube, which is reducing its miniscule rates to the people that make it money.

"Hi - we're from Silicon Valley and we're here to disrupt Comixology by paying you even less money" is not a particularly enticing pitch.

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Alexvdl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 30, 2014

I think the writing was on the wall as soon as Amazon bought them out. The Amazon MP3 store has worked the same way for a while. Amazon isn't willing to give that thirty percent to Apple. And since Apple states in their TOS that all purchases available in app must be the lowest price available out of app, Amazon said fuck it, we're not playing Apple's games. It's not like Apple is blameless here.

Really this is a big reason that other than my iPod Touch, my gadgets are firmly in the Android camp.

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JR asserts...

Posted April 30, 2014

I am probably one of the few people for whom the new app came as a welcome improvement. I use an android tablet, but have never had a need to sign up for google wallet as my app purchases are added to my phone bill.
From the beginning with Comixology I used PayPal and purchased books through the web store, then downloaded them through the app. I sympathise with apple users as it is sometimes inconvenient, but it always frustrated me that I would have to sign up for yet another online payment method just to buy comics. Stubbornness and laziness had prevented me, but I was weakening to the idea.
Thankfully the new app now allows me to purchase comics in-app with PayPal and I got $5 to boot.

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Darth Greybeard would have you know...

Posted April 30, 2014

If you like your comics and want to support the writers plus charities plus the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, there's the Humble Bundle.

They mostly have Android games but occasionally ebooks and comics.

Surtac ducks in to say...

Posted May 1, 2014

I second Greybeard's recommendation. From what I've read of its content so far, this Humble Bundle is a good one - my highlights so far? Saga and Lazarus.

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Dino not to be confused with mutters...

Posted April 30, 2014

I care Captain.

In the nether regions at the moment.

As soon as I get out I will have a word to to boffins at Apple.

Did I mention I designed the Iphone and Apps back in '96?

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Rob puts forth...

Posted April 30, 2014

I am so confused and perplexed. I still buy paper copies of comics via titan books and book depo. And I go to comic book stores....inevetably to buy teeshirts. I really must get with the program.

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 30, 2014

One of the biggest changes in comics in the last decade or so (at least according to Warren Ellis) has been the rise of the trade paperback. A lot of readers moved away from buying monthlies and instead just buy the trades as they come out. This switch also changed the approach many writers used as they went from assuming that the stories would primarily be read in the trade rather than the weekly/monthly format.

All the comics I keep are in trade paperback (or hardback collections).

I have several thousand comics in my comixology collection and I primarily use the iPad as my reading device. This change doesn't bother me - I have to use the browser to buy my Kindle and Audible stuff, so flipping across to Safari for Comics isn't much of an issue for me (or I could use one of my Android or Windows devices).

It's ultimately pushback against Apple's policies WRT in-app purchases. Amazon is very data driven. They saw the impact of removing in-app purchases from Kindle and Audible on iOS - so they've probably got a reasonable idea of the pros and cons in terms of what will happen to their income.

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