Comixology and Apple

Death by a thousand acquisitions. 

Brian Ford
6 min readApr 27, 2014

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Dear Comics Enthusiast,

We have introduced a new comiXology iPhone and iPad Comics app, and we are retiring the old one. All your purchased books will be readable in the new app once you’ve downloaded it and taken the following steps…

I’ve been meaning to get into comics for years now.

“One of these days.”

Unfortunately, that day was last week. I bought the first volume of the collected series Y: The Last Man via the Comixology iPad app.

A few days after that, I got the email: “We have introduced a new comiXology iPhone and iPad Comics app, and we are retiring the old one.”

I should have seen it coming. Or, I did see it coming and just stupidly ignored my intuition. Amazon bought Comixology a couple weeks before I made my first “big commitment” purchase — big because the Y series spans 10 volumes priced at $11.99 per — and I was sarcastially skeptical regarding the move even then:

Brian Ford
04/10/14 Tweet

What’s done is done. The Comixology app no longer supports in-app purchases of comics because Amazon doesn’t want to pay Apple a 30% cut of every comic sold just as Amazon didn’t want to pay a 30% cut of every Kindle book sold.

Thus, no in-app store for comics on Comixology.

Perhaps Amazon’s aversion to Apple’s cut is perfectly reasonable. That doesn’t mean anyone is happy about the decision: The Comixology support account on Twitter is working overtime in the face of outrage to convince us that buying from the comixology.com webstore is a “stellar” experience. (It’s not. They know it’s a turd sandwich and they gave everyone a $5 credit to help wash it down.)

Here’s my knee-jerk reaction:

Brian Ford
04/26/14 Tweet

John Gruber posted a similar response to the news over on Daring Fireball:

Hold on a second, while I delete Comixology from my iPad.

Here’s the thing: It sucks that Amazon has been snatching up content providers like Comixology — and while I’m no stranger to hating on Amazon’s strategies — I’m starting to feel that most of the anger needs to be directed at Apple.

In the end, Amazon doesn’t own the rights to the comic books that are sold through Comixology just because they own Comixology. They bought a storefront, not a publisher.

It’s true that Comixology is currently (or was) the best storefront and it’s also sort of maddening that Comixology was an Amazon acquisition target primarily because of its breakthrough success on the iPad, but there’s nothing stopping Apple from offering a compelling comics experience sans Comixology.

So, I’m frustrated, yes.

I’m frustrated that no one at Apple seems to be making content deals that would negate this disappointing turn of events. I’m frustrated that no one at Apple takes comics or books seriously enough to counter Amazon’s bullshit strategies via a quality offensive.

Brian Ford
04/26/14 Tweet

Comixology’s supposed “killer feature” is a guided zoom view that is completely pointless on a tablet. It made a ton of sense on the iPhone, but comics are designed to be read and viewed a page at a time, not panel by panel.

Here’s how a typical comic looks in the Comixology app when viewed in portrait mode:

Y: The Last Man
Portrait
Comixology app for iPad

There’s nothing proprietary about that. Guided zoom, if you actually use it (but why would you?) looks like this:

Y: The Last Man
Portrait (Guided Zoom) Comixology app for iPad

Tapping the right side of the screen then wipes/animates through the page, panel-by-panel:

Y: The Last Man
Portrait (Guided Zoom)
Comixology app for iPad

It’s supposed to be clever and cinematic but instead it’s pointless and distracting. (It’s somewhat analogous to the pan and scan video debate in that you only see what the Comixology team thinks should be the center of your focus.)

The only thing Apple has to do to win me over, then, is match the quality of a full page spread in portrait mode and I’d simply delete the Comixology app from my iPad and buy all my comics from the iBooks store.

Here’s that same page as it is rendered in the iBooks app in portrait mode:

Y: The Last Man
Portrait
iBooks app for iPad

What the fuck, Apple? You had one job!

Amazon’s a near monopoly and no one with any sense should ever try to compete with Jeff Bezos on price because he’s crazy. Maybe it sucks that Amazon’s shareholders let them get away with this strategy despite poor returns or maybe it’s not fair that the DOJ turns a blind eye to Amazon’s monopolistic strategies while instead suing the one company that attempted to inject competition into the ebooks space — but that’s the sucky and unfair world Apple must live and compete in.

Tim Cook needs to realize that this is no longer an iOS-only world. The iPad is never again going to win simply by being the only game in town. Suing Samsung — and I agree that Samsung lives and succeeds via an ingrained corporate culture of copying the hard work of others — is no substitute for a solid Plan B.

Whining about what Amazon gets away with isn’t a winning strategy.

So, if Apple A) refuses to buy companies like Comixology while Amazon is more than happy to do so and B) refuses to lower its 30% in-app cut to something that Amazon (and others) might be willing to pay once that hpapens then C) Apple needs to get serious and reasonable about its own offerings and its deals with content providers.

This probably means opening up that cash horde and sitting bitch with deals that favor and flatter the content holders a little more than the deals they struck while in the driver’s seat.

In this platform war, the battles will be won or lost with content deals and acquisitions. This is true whether the discussion is books or comics or music.

The good news is that Google and Apple and Amazon don’t (generally) own the content, which levels the playing field and means any of the three can choose their favorite weapons: Price? Quality? Value-added features? Exclusives?

(I for one hate to see any company pull the trigger on the last option because it’s a total dick move and bad for consumers, but it’s nevertheless a common strategy.)

The bad news is that Apple seems to be sitting on its hands while others are making all the big moves. Having the best hardware won’t mean much when all the best content is more accessible on competing “inferior” hardware.

Maybe developers won’t choose that avenue of their own volition, but developers can clearly be bought.

So, by all means, rant about Amazon’s shady-seeming tactics, but realize that they’re only successful because Apple isn’t fighting hard enough to protect its turf.

The real risk is that there’s no one at Apple who sees this or that they do see it and hubris is preventing meaningful or timely action.

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