Biff, Pow! Amazon Throws Digital Comics a One-two Punch

| Analysis

Amazon and ComiXology did more than ruffle a few feathers over the weekend with the release of a new iPhone and iPad ComiXology app that removed in-app purchase options. Instead, users now must go to the ComiXology website to view and purchase titles, heralding in a new Amazon-controlled age of digital comics.

The digital comic game belongs to AmazonThe digital comic game belongs to Amazon

ComiXology announced only a couple weeks ago that it had been bought by Amazon saying, "We are confident that – with Amazon by our side, who shares our desire for innovation and a relentless focus on customers – we've only just begun." This weekend's update, however, isn't about focusing on customers; it's about Amazon owning the digital comic industry.

At the time I was skeptical about how Amazon would treat its new property, and even said, "Please, Amazon, don't kill the ComiXology app because reading comics in the Kindle app sucks."

Amazon released the updated ComiXology app, now named Comic - Read Comic Books & Graphic Novels by comiXology, without support for in-app purchases. The feature was disabled in previous versions, too, so avoiding the update to continue making in-app purchases is not an option.

The change means iPhone and iPad users have to go to the ComiXology website to find what they want to read, and to make purchases. Ironically, in-app purchasing was added to the Android version with the company calling it "one of our most requested features."

On first glance, sending users out of the app to browse and purchase doesn't sound like that big of a deal, and there's plenty of talk on the Internet from people saying as much. What they aren't seeing is that pulling purchases out of the app is more than a minor inconvenience, it's a fundamental shift in the comic industry -- a shift that builds a barrier to purchasing in a market that's been struggling to grow.

If this change were in the grocery market, for example, it would be like going to one store where you find and purchase what you want, and then a second where you can pick up and eat what you bought.

Alternatively, you could go to one store to buy apples, and another to buy bread, but you'd be able to walk out with your purchases in hand. That's the model comic publishers are facing: Lose out on convenience and impulse purchases, or start their own online store where buyers need to already know what they're interested in.

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I wonder how many replacement apps are in development right now ?

This move by Amazon strikes me as being uncharacteristically dumb. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for a new app to appear, and how quickly indie authors move to it.

Jeff Gamet

I’m curious about that, too, vpndev. I reached out to several publishers to see what they think, but hadn’t heard back by the time I was ready to publish.


Because iPad users have been shown to spend 5X as much on Android for online purchases, this move by Amazon is clearly neither in the interest of artists, publishers, or readers.  What can this possibly mean?

A huge business opportunity for competing apps.


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