Several months back, Comixology’s affiliate linking partner began emailing participants (including yours truly!), that the Comixology affiliate program would shut down in the coming months, as the website migrated in full to Amazon. While a mild inconvenience for a strapping young webmaster like myself, this was hardly shocking, as Amazon purchased Comixology back in 2014, and it’s honestly surprising Comixology operated as its own entity as long as it did.
This rollout was delayed (spoiler: all rollouts are delayed), but came to fruition this past week. In and of itself, this would have generated the predictable levels of dissatisfaction that happens with any technology changing, but Comixology managed to actually shock by combining the migration with a full-on upheaval of their entire product. What I took to be a minor shift was instead accompanied by a full app overhaul, a desktop reader overhaul, Comixology Unlimited changes, and virtually every feature changed – predominantly for the worse – in one form or another.
In short, it’s the single most universally reviled technology shift I’ve ever seen in digital comics, and one of the most confusing instances of a self-inflicted wound since Plaxico Burress.
So, here we are, to explore what did Comixology do, what does it mean for comics fans, and is it as bad as everyone’s saying on social media?
What’s It Like Reading Comics On The New Comixology
Over the past 15 years, Comixology built two key advantages:
- The best digital comics reading technology available
- A borderline monopoly on selling digital comics from *virtually all* publishers
In one update, they managed to notably sabotage one of the two. If you’re a desktop reader, they eradicated it entirely.
I’ve been covering the digital comics landscape since CBH was founded in 2011, and in that entire time, Comixology has been *the* competitive leader in the experience of reading digital comics. Truly, I’ve watched over the years as Marvel Unlimited has slowly and steadily tried to emulate Comixology, from their smart panel technology to their smooth transition between double page spreads, and how they’ve never, not for a second, quite caught up to the wizards at Comixology.
I cannot emphasize this enough: If you wanted the best experience reading digital comics, you read them on Comixology.
The rushed, crass, and careless feeling updates of this past week really muddy those waters. App libraries are more difficult to sort and arrange, Comixology’s desktop reader has migrated to Kindle’s non-comics friendly version, DRM-free downloads are far more difficult to find, and if you’re a non-US reader, there continue to be frustrating limitations with the service and Comixology Unlimited (their digital comics “all you can eat” streaming service). And honestly, that’s not even close to the full suite of changes.
Now, let’s be clear: you can still read comics. I read Scott Snyder’s Comixology Original books (We Have Demons, Night of the Ghoul, Clear) over the past couple days (see also: I interviewed Scott Snyder!), and it was a perfectly navigable comics reading experience. But even here, it was weird and buggy in a way that reminded me of 2013 era Marvel Unlimited, instead of the world leader in digital comics.
Here’s an example: I signed up for a free Prime 30 day trial (first time I’ve done it!) which grants you access to Comixology Originals and Prime Reading (more on this in a bit). And every time I clicked “read this book for free” and began downloading a comic, my issue would begin downloading, load the cover, and then seemingly stop with a really weird hodge-podge of available pages within that issue. Like maybe half the pages loaded in full, sporadically placed, so that every time I started reading, I’d get 3 to 6 pages in before hitting a blank screen of nothing interrupting the story.
And I could not, for the life of me, figure out the trick to get those pages to load. There was no clear indicator of how much of the comic was downloaded, or where I could try to re-download, or anything. Mostly, I just clicked around every available option until, after some time, the page would eventually pop up, no thanks to anything I did.
Now, eventually, I realized that the best approach is to leave the single issue page, and go to my library, and then select “download” from there for any issues I want to read. And they *do* download much faster than Comixology used to (this is one of the heralded updates, and it’s a good thing!), and I haven’t had the same issue since. To return to the uproar about the changes, and questioning whether it’s as bad as advertised, well, purely from the stance of can I download and read comics I want to, no, it’s not as bad as all that. It’s not like the Comixology app is suddenly unusable.
But again, the fact that I had to figure out a workaround for a funky problem is a scenario that simply didn’t exist on my Comixology experience previously. Is it a BIG DEAL? Not really, and at the end of the day, my experience here is certainly one of privilege and the luxury of enjoying comic book stories on a tablet. But it’s needless regression, and simply one small example of the ways this migration is letting longtime fans down.
Of course, this is all the experience on a tablet, through the Comixology app. For readers who have preferred Comixology.com’s desktop reader, the migration to the Kindle Cloud reader (built for novels, and absolutely not for comics) is a way harsher change. I’ve had the experience of reading digital library checkouts through the Kindle Cloud reader, and it’s consistently a mess, to the point that I *always* use another app now when I can. Double page spreads are a particular disaster (good luck reading anything written by Brian Michael Bendis, or with art by JH Williams III), and while updates for comics may be in the pipeline, for now, it’s enough of a turn off that I could actually see readers abandoning the desktop reader entirely.
The most relevant question from there: Where do they go?
So What’s Up With Comixology Unlimited?
If you’re still wondering, “wait, why is any of this happening,” the most clear-eyed rationalization for the move centers around Amazon’s need to 1) switch all sign-ons to an Amazon account 2) migrate the store to Amazon.com to take a larger percent of royalties (seems like I’ll also lose my sweet 4% Rakuten kickback on purchases!)) and 3) Connect Comixology to their own Kindle properties. This seems cogent, and given that I was already signing in with my Amazon login, and was given ample warning for the website-to-amazon-store turnover, not particularly egregious (again, your mileage may vary on that reaction depending on your usage).
The piece of this that actually seemed the most obvious to me was the chance to finally synergize Comixology with Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading. Heading into the changes, Amazon had an odd amount of options available to stream comics. I’ve subscribed to both Comixology Unlimited and Kindle Unlimited over the years, and always found it odd that I had access to a different library of comics for each subscription.
Surely the migration combines all these various offerings into one streamable library?
In my experience, it does not! I was surprised when I filtered my search for “American Vampire” by books available in Comixology Unlimited to find that my Prime access only covered the first volume of the series – not the remainder available to Comixology Unlimited members!
The most definitive point of differentiation that I can offer is price (ya know, aside from the obvious fact that Prime is loaded with other benefits).
- Comixology Unlimited – $5.99/monthly
- Kinde Unlimited – $9.99/monthly
- Amazon Prime (Prime Reading) – $14.99/monthly
Apart from that continuing confusion, the bigger development here seems to be that subscriptions to individual series are no longer available to anyone outside the US (Comixology Unlimited was not available outside the U.S. prior to the updates). At least for now? I’ve worked some with Amazon in the past, and their global set-up is notoriously fragmented, which does not fill me with confidence for any short-term changes here.
Will This Actually Hurt Comixology?
From the big corporate overlord’s perspective, I’m not sure this update does anything to change Comixology’s 2nd major advantage (that digital comics monopoly). If you want to buy new comics digitally from the widest array of available publishers (which is absolutely the case for all sorts of readers who don’t have access to a local comic shop, simply prefer the digital comics space, or in my case, can’t wait to read the latest issue of X-Men until the LCS opens at noon), Comixology is practically your only option.
Now, personally, I don’t use Comixology that often anymore. For Marvel I read through Marvel Unlimited, for DC I read through DC Universe Infinite, for Webtoons I read through Webtoon, and for everything else, I use my local library, Hoopla (through my local library), and publisher review copies (#tastemaker). I’m a broken record on this one, but if you haven’t explored the likes of Hoopla or your library’s available comics options, you’re missing out (assuming that’s an option for you regionally!).
So this is why I highlight Comixology as a destination for “new” comics, the week they come out. Apart from Comixology, here are your options for “new” books as they release (I’ll caveat here that the state of digital comics by publisher will require a deeper dive to truly portray!):
- Marvel – Digital comics are available through the Marvel Comics app, and everything is available 3 months after release on Marvel Unlimited (weirdly these can only be purchased on mobile / aka another instance of publishers giving a Brian Cox sized “EFF OFF” to desktop users).
- DC Comics – Digital comics
are available through their DC Reader, and6 months after release on DC Universe Infinite.
- Image Comics – Image’s website will direct you to purchase through Google Play / Books (I distinctly remember buying DRM-free digital copies right from Image’s website for years and years, but apparently that’s done with!)
- Dark Horse – Digital copies purchasable through website.
- IDW – Digital copies purchasable through website. (Also: When I googled “read TMNT #125,” 7 of the first 10 listings were pirated versions of the book. The only purchasable option was the link to Comixology, which now just redirects you to the Amazon Comixology storefront page. That doesn’t seem great for sales!)
- Vault – Their “buy now” option takes you straight to Amazon.
- Boom Studios – From what I can tell, purchasing through their shop is for “print” products.
Clearly, it’s a mixed bag, and one that favors the power players. Obviously there are all sorts of high quality comics publishers I haven’t named here that will be similarly impacted.
There is *no* second player with a combination of publishers, or centralized one stop hub. Over the past decade a handful of apps have tried, but no genuine competitor has emerged (Madefire Comics may have been the most notable, but it quietly shut down in 2021).
Now, big picture, I think Comixology faces very real competitive pressure from the likes of Webtoon, Marvel and DC’s “Unlimited” offerings, and Hoopla/Library streaming. But if we’re talking about getting your fix of new stories as soon as they’re available, it will remain – for the foreseeable future – the clearest option.
So honestly, no, I don’t actually think this will do much to Comixology’s ability to sell new digital comics. There simply isn’t clear enough competition. Their reputation amongst comic fans may take far longer to be restored.
If It Ain’t Broke, Let’s Fix That
There’s a really unfortunate trend in the digital comics landscape lately where software or features that comics readers enjoy are scaled back, broken, or removed at the expense of… well the reasoning varies, but it’s consistently outside the best interests of the most obsessive comics readers.
It’s a really strange development, where as digital comics sales increase, the functionality of the most popular apps and resources takes four steps backward. Comixology is the latest and most pronounced example, but we’ve seen similar trends in Marvel Unlimited over the past 6 months, as the popular “all you can eat” Marvel Comics platform revamped by removing core features and breaking fan-favorite functionality (it’s been half a year, and my “Continue Reading” suggestions still don’t reflect the comics I was reading recently. It’s weird!).
In Marvel’s case, I do buy that the Unlimited team’s heart’s in the right place (trying to make the app more accessible to new users, launching their own exclusive line of “Infinity” scrolling comics). Regardless, I just can’t get over the fact that the digital comics landscape does not require more incentive to use an increasingly (and preposterously) easy pirated comics ecosystem. Search for any comic book, practically from the day of release on, and you will find yourself a website offering that issue streamed for free. All you need is internet access!
It’s bonkers, but comics fandom shows time and time again that collectively, fans have a deep attachment to this medium, and truly value their part in keeping it alive. You see it in keeping comic shops alive, and you saw it in choosing the legal means of purchasing digital comics on Comixology. When an option like that breaks – especially when it’s the only game in town – it’s demoralizing. I believe the service will improve over the months, but that will never really solve for the simple reality that it never needed to happen like this.
If it feels to you like the entire update reeks of irrational deadlines, and callous disregard for quality assurance, you’re not alone! I doubt this is what most of the hard-working team wanted for an outcome. Again, Comixology’s own reputation of 15 years has always suggested they get what comics fans like. This clearly isn’t that!
As a final anecdote, my day job is in SEO, aka staring at Google search results all day. I’ve helped a huge number of websites migrate from one destination to another. And when I noticed that all Comixology website URLs redirect to the new Amazon comics storefront homepage, I knew this was a rush-job.
Normally, in a migration, the best-in-class recommendation is to migrate URLs to matching URLs on the other end. You set up a forwarding address so a page that used to show DC’s Mister Miracle on Comixology now sends searchers and visitors to DC’s Mister Miracle on Amazon. There are plenty of variables, and it’s not always your best approach, but it’s always recommended for at least a core set of landing pages.
Comixology has literally no targeted redirects. They are all the laziest, fastest, “eh whatever” shrug I think I’ve ever seen on a migration of this size. And there’s no way that was the recommendation. There’s just no chance! The only way that happens is when the big wigs making the decisions do not care about really anything other than hitting a deadline and getting the thing done.
And hey, if it was just the SEO, who cares? I mean, they’re flippin’ Amazon, they do not want for traffic or findability. But this whole project, this whole update, it all feels that way. A big fat “eh whatever, get it done.”
And so it was.