Yesterday, with zero advance notice, came some big comic news: Amazon stated that Comixology will drop in-app purchases for iOS users, to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app sales on any iOS app. The Android version will still allow in-app purchases, but not through Google Play’s system; Google also takes a 30% cut of sales from Android in-app sales. Android users will have to go through Paypal or Comixology’s own credit card system, which is what Comixology’s website uses. The new versions of Comixology’s iOS app will require buying comics through a web browser, which can then be synced with the now-reader-only Comixology app.
Needless to say, this seems to be a much bigger deal for comics folk than anything I heard at C2E2 this weekend. My Twitter feed shows a lot of people annoyed about the change, and how it’ll make things “needlessly complicated.” I thought I’d list my own pros and cons for this change below…
More money will go to comics creators
Under the previous system, the average comic sales split was 30% to Google/Apple, 35% to Comixology (which took half of all sales left), and the remaining 35% to be divided up between the publisher and creators. For a $4 comic, this would be $1.20 to Google/Apple, $1.40 to Comixology, and $1.40 to the publisher/creators. Seeing two-thirds of all sales gone to various middlemen before even getting to the publisher/creators (and however that remaining split goes) sounds like a ripoff to me. Amazon probably realized it’d hurt them as well, thus their taking the same path they’ve taken with their Kindle app.
Under the new system (which is how buying books through Comixology’s website has always worked), 50% of sales will go to Comixology, and the remaining 50% will go to the publisher/creators. For a $4 comic, that’s $2 to Comixology, and $2 to the publisher/creators. Granted, this could change in the future (say, if Comixology decides keeping two-thirds of sales for itself isn’t a bad idea), but assuming similar ratios, it works out to an extra 60 cents a book for Comixology/Amazon and an extra 60 cents a book for the publishers/creators (and however further down that’s split up, again). While from the creators’ end that still seems a bit lopsided to me, it’s one less middleman, and thus works out much better for everyone involved. Unless you’re Google or Apple, I suppose.
Slight lessening of Comixology’s monopoly could result
Some people that dislike Comixology’s in-app purchase change could realize that as long as they’re going through a website to buy their comics, they could just as well go through what alternate sites exist to buy comics. As I wrote in my post on Comixology alternatives, it’s possible to buy some of one’s comics from various alternate sources, though Marvel/some smaller publishers are exclusive to Comixology.
Again, having just one excessively dominant source for digital comics isn’t a good thing, especially if (as we’ve seen here) things change and one grows dissatisfied with said dominant company. Of course, DRM locking in one’s purchases to one store, making it harder to switch, is a reason why Comixology seems big on DRM (besides the publishers’ insistence on such). Webcomic xkcd summed this up in one strip.
Still, it’ll be nice if this does make people reconsider whether DRM, etc. is worth the now-lesser convenience of Comixology. It’ll also be nice if it lets people possibly consider sources with less harsh or no DRM, like Image Comics’ website. Some publishers also seem aware of the downside of overreliance on just one store, and have diversified their digital comics sellers (DC and Archie in particular).
We’re already used to buying some media through websites
Amazon’s Kindle app for iOS is designed to work similarly to the Comixology change—no in-app purchasing, etc.—but what few extra steps that might be required haven’t hurt Amazon’s current dominance of the ebook marketplace. Amazon also seems to be doing OK with selling digital music against the one-click iTunes, though they’ve also made it easy to transfer one’s purchases into iTunes on your PC/Mac.
Less censorship of Comixology books
Since one’s buying books through Comixology’s website, Comixology will be free to sell their entire inventory without worrying about Apple banning certain books from its app. This includes books that ran afoul of Apple’s iOS standards in recent months, particularly “Sex Criminals.”
Comics manufacturers’ individual apps still allow in-app purchasing
The individual apps for DC, Marvel, etc. will still offer in-app purchasing, even if Comixology’s app is what they’re based on. This might appeal to some, assuming they don’t mind having multiple individual apps on their mobile device. Though that might be the case already—Dark Horse Comics books are only available digitally through their own app.
Buying comics from an app might require a few extra steps
Setting up and buying new comics might take a few extra steps over before. But again, it shouldn’t work much differently from Kindle’s ebook store.
Creators might see sales decline if fewer people use Comixology, negating the benefits of removing in-app purchasing
Some have expressed the belief that people switching away from Comixology (for other sites, paper comics, piracy, etc.) might result in Comixology losing profitability, or even fewer people reading comics, as Gerry Conway notes in an article. While I suppose it’s possible sales could drop, as I noted above, I still feel people moving to a diverse choice of other (legal) digital comics venues will be a good thing in the long run. Comixology can still be a major digital comics choice (they do make a nice app); it just shouldn’t be the only digital comics choice.
Overall, while it’ll be a bit less convenient, I have to conclude the benefits outweigh whatever downsides will happen from Amazon’s removal of in-app purchasing from Comixology. If it results in an increased range of alternative choices to Comixology, more awareness of the downsides of DRM/near-monopolies, more money to the creators of the comics, and less self-censorship of what Comixology can sell, it’s hard for me to argue “a few less buttons to push” should trump those factors.