Comixology has been revolutionary on mobile devices over the past four years. Both Marvel and DC have their own mobile apps, but Comixology gives its users access to books from both companies, as well as other publishers like Image Comics who put out The Walking Dead and Chew. The app has been a fantastic one-stop-shop for people who want to read comic books digitally. You could browse through thousands of books, read descriptions, see users ratings, and then when you found a book you wanted to read all you had to do was tap the price to purchase and the book would download to your device. All was right with the world, then came Amazon.
Earlier this month Amazon acquired Comixology. I love Amazon, really I do, but I should have seen the writing on the wall. Back in 2008, Amazon acquired digital audiobook company Audible for $300 million. In 2011 Audible removed the ability to purchase audiobooks from their iOS app, opting for a page that displays cover art and tells you how great the company is and what a great selection of titles they have. It’s no surprise then that Comixology has gone the exact same direction. Now when you open Comixology’s new “reader” app, you can download all of your books to your iOS device, but you can no longer browse through the store on your device before you buy. Now you have to log into their website, which is not nearly as attractive as Audible’s, and purchase your content their before being able to download it to your iOS device. The enjoyment of the experience of discovering new comic books to download and read is gone, replaced by a sub-par solution that destroys the user experience in the interest of making more money.
The reasons that both Audible and Comixology changed their sales model are twofold: Amazon is greedy, Apple wants a taste. When I say Amazon is greedy, what I really mean is that they are willing to sacrifice the end-user experience for the sake of making more money. When I say that Apple wants a taste, I’m not talking about just getting their beak wet. Apple changed the rules for in-app purchases a few years ago so that they get a 30% cut of whatever sales happen within their app. So you want to listen to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower from Audible on your iPhone? Apple get’s a 30% cut. You want to read Saga in Comixology on your iPad? Again, Apple takes 30%. When these two companies were smaller and independent, 30% was the cost of doing business and they lived with it because they needed the sales coming from iOS devices more than they needed the 30% Apple was taking. 30% of nothing is still nothing. But when Amazon came along and acquired them, suddenly both of these companies had deeper pockets behind them and no longer had to deal with Apple’s in-app purchase rules.
Over the past couple of days there has been a lot of blame placed on both Apple and Amazon for ruining the customer experience on iOS. If Apple didn’t take such a dramatic cut, then Amazon wouldn’t have changed the model. If Amazon was focused on the user experience instead of profits, they would have left things alone. Some say that Apple should make exceptions to their in-app purchase rule specifically for companies like Comixology and Audible for the sake of the user experience, something Apple likes to claim they are always focused on. For the moment the end result is that Comixology’s reader app on iOS has a one and a half star rating on the App Store, and the best digital comic book reading experience is now on Android where Comixology remains unmolested.