Ben Scofield

me. still on a blog.

Predictions for Comixology+Amazon

Note: I don’t have any special insight into the business arrangements here; I haven’t been paying as much attention to the comics industry over the past few years as I once did. These are just minimally-educated guesses based.

When the news that Amazon had acquired Comixology broke, several of my friends — knowing my long-time interest in comics in general and digital comics in particular — asked my opinion. I didn’t have a ton to say at the time, other than the general statement that I didn’t think much would change on the Comixology side (citing Goodreads as an example).

Today, though, Comixology announced that they were removing the ability to buy comics through their mobile applications, just like the Kindle app doesn’t allow you to buy books. I didn’t expect this, though had I spent any real time thinking about it I hope that I’d have predicted it — the only surprising part of this is that it is happening before the acquisition closes. In order to attempt to head off future unexpected events, I’m going to log some predictions here.

Comixology’s catalog will expand; Amazon’s won’t

Amazon has some comics that don’t appear on Comixology (in my experience, a lot of that is Vertigo and Dark Horse); I’m betting that’ll be rolled onto Comixology’s platform. I’m less certain that the reverse will be true, but if that happens I’d expect it to take a long time. Note that if Dark Horse makes the jump, that changes their native digital strategy considerably.

One of the good things that Comixology has done has been expanding its backlist, and I hope that’ll continue. I’d be surprised if it were to speed up, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it slow down.

Kindle comics and Comixology will stay separate

I’m betting that we’ll still see two applications for reading comics for the foreseeable future, and purchases on one won’t show up in the other (even when the content is available in both catalogs).

And beyond even not-merging: I’m betting both will remain basically the same. Amazon doesn’t seem to pressure its acquisitions to improve their customer experience (cf. Goodreads), instead choosing to focus on questionably-valuable backend integrations. Maybe we’ll see ratings propagate from one application to the other, but I wouldn’t expect even that for a year or more. I don’t expect to see Guided View(tm) in Kindle comics — I’d be less surprised to see comics removed from the Kindle app entirely (though I’ll be shocked if that happens).

Prices will stay the same

My impression is that prices for digital are where they are because of publisher pressure, and I don’t think having a single outlet will change that.

Recommendations will continue to suck

Near as I can tell, there’s no good algorithm for recommending comics, and even with the extra data that Amazon will have access to I don’t think we’ll see that change. You’ll still need to talk to someone you trust to hear about good stuff (be that a voice on the internet, your local comic shop staff, or someone else).

Publisher-native apps will start to fade

I’m guessing that as content contracts come up for renegotiation, we’ll see fewer native apps from Marvel, DC, and the rest (some of this happened in the last few years; the acquisition will just finish the job). I don’t think that Marvel, particularly, will ever get rid of their app completely, but I’d be surprised to see them push it as a primary channel a few years from now.

New competitors will emerge (but only for indie comics and, possibly, Dark Horse)

Thrillbent’s already out there and doing interesting things, but I think that the Comixology-Amazon behemoth will scare enough people that we’ll see new players emerge. Unfortunately, Comixology and Amazon will be able to put a stranglehold on content from the big two, so you won’t see a little comics startup distributing Batman or the Avengers any time soon.

I imagine most experimentation will be on pricing (again, looking at Thrillbent), but we seem pretty well locked into substandard user experiences for comic discovery, and we’ve seen a sad convergence to a decent (but not exceptional) reading experience.

TL;DR

All in all, I still don’t expect a ton of change on the consumer side — I think the most visible changes will be Comixology’s catalog expanding and some minor, low-value (for customers) integrations between Comixology and Amazon.

My fondest wish is that someone would come along — probably by providing something exceptional for indie comics, though they’d most likely have to figure some way to get mainstream content into their system — and just shake up the whole ecosystem. I remain pessimistic, though, as I have been since Comixology basically one the race years ago by locking up the content that most people are going to go looking for in a comics app.

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