Reflection Point: ComiXology
As a kid, I enjoyed reading comic books. To me it was a great experience to lose myself in a quick story of heroic proportions. The process of reading a comic book itself opens up the imagination. In artist Scott McCloud’s blog, he describes some of the tools that help engage the reader in the comic such as controlling the pace of the reading of the story through the writing the art or more importantly the panel sizing and placement. The reading experience is tailored to suit the stories they are trying to tell.
I not only loved the content but I enjoyed the experience of getting and collecting the comics. The anticipation of the next issue coming out that would resolve the storyline, the pilgrimage to the local comic shop to pick up my monthly collection the digging through other boxes to find a new collection, and the process of storing them meticulously in their Mylar bags. When I started college I stopped reading and collecting comics. I’m not sure what made me stop but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that gave up on comics during that time frame. The industry was declining in the late 90s and people were not collecting due to a combination of expense, lack of storage space and a general decline in the comic book stores. With a large majority of comic book stores closing, there was a gap in the market. Going to the convenient store or book store (now also an issue) to pick up a comic just wasn’t the same as the comic book shop and reading experience.
What makes a product great?
After a long hiatus I have picked up comic books again through the digital app ComiXology. Like all good products ComiXology seeks to solve user problems. Specifically, the app solves issues of access, storage and cost. ComiXology is an app, now owned by Amazon that lets you read digital comics. But to me it does more than bring back the comic in a digital format it also brings back and in many cases, enhances my reading experiences. The app meets the criteria of a great product in that it is useful, intuitively usable and desirable for those looking to read and have access to comics. It recognized the need for comic readers to have access to a library of comic books whenever and wherever they wanted through the use of mobile devices.
ComiXology gave me the ability to read comics and search from over 100,000 collections. The digital equivalent of digging through comic book shop boxes to search for the perfect book (without being yelled at by the owner for mishandling his books).
ComiXology goes beyond just reading comics the traditional way and has changed the format and behavior of how I read comics in a drastic way. ComiXology introduced Guided View, which automatically pans and zooms per comic panel when reading. This not only makes me not think of where my eyes go next but also enhances the reading experience. The individual panels are now the size of the full page, slowing down the pace of reading and the story to make it more enjoyable. The comic pages are no longer a constraint as guided view can take you through an infinite reading experience without he breaks of a page turn or an advertisement. Guided view also solved a barrier to entry of new comic readers, which is knowing how to read the flow of comics.
With Comixology I no longer need to physically store boxes of comics, which is good since I’m a minimalist. I have my collection digitally at a reach of an iPad. This not only improves storage but also accessibility which changes where and when I read especially now when I want to read during the in between moments of waiting for coffee or commuting. The shift from paper to digital also shifts the product to one that improves sustainability.
Pricing and market
A good product not only has to fulfill a need, be useful and drive emotions but it also has to do this while finding a market fit. Digital comics are more expensive that traditional but by changing the experiences Amazon has increased the value proposition. In addition to single comic issues ComiXology now offers a subscription plan to entice readers. Select issues (usually first few issues of a run) are available via a monthly subscription. This not only offers readers the ability to sample but also provides Amazon a reoccurring revenue stream. The subscription model also creates a hook for readers to form a habit of reading more comics. Another hook for building habits in the app is after reading an issue you quickly are prompted for the next in the series. This feature takes the “never endingness” of comic book story lines and makes it easy for the user to purchase he next installment at a click of a button.
To be a great product you also have to know your competition ComiXology has positioned its product to not only compete against traditional sellers of comics paper and digital but also indirectly to compete with publishers. The app has provided indie artists the ability to upload and sell their comics. This was a huge entry hurdle for artists and provides them a platform to get noticed.
The experiences I had as a kid walking into a comic book shop may not exist in the not so distant future since the majority of comic book stores have closed. The new experiences that resemble the old along with meeting my needs as a reader is what makes ComiXology a great app. The key to making it an amazing app in the future is to further create an emotional connection to those that have not experienced comic books and make it indispensable.