I have no idea what’s going on with ComiXology these days. Just recently I posted a BW Ramble v-log about how they finally fixed the Guided View feature they dropped when Amazon bought the digital comics service and decided to integrate it into Kindle, and now they’re cutting a huge chunk of their workforce. Almost 75% according to Bounding Into Comics. Yes, with people being allowed into that area of space we call “outside”, which I vaguely remember visiting once or twice, demand for at-home media has gone down. Streaming services are not making as much money as they were during the lockdowns and that’s only partly blamed on Netflix doing terrible anime live-action remakes and movies of dirty dancing pre-teens, Amazon working over Tolkien fans, and basically everything Disney is doing to their animated properties, comics, and Star Wars. Part of it can also be blamed on our current economic issues and I won’t go into a political rant here because I’ve discussed that stuff too much lately and yet will probably have to again.
Even people currently working at ComiXology is complaining about the layoffs, not to mention high ranking types who are already hitting the job sites for work. That’s certainly bad news in this climate and I wish them all the best of luck, but BW Media Spotlight isn’t a business site, it’s a storytelling site. Digital comics, for some, have replaced physical comics because they take up less floor space and are a bit cheaper since there isn’t printing costs to deal with…I mean, in theory they’re cheaper. However, with such a huge drop in people running the site this is a format of comics that may take a hit of its own, and frankly just pushes my belief that physical comics are still superior in the end.
Started in 2007, ComiXology used to do more than digital comics. There were news, reviews (I even posted a bunch of reviews up there myself, though they were reposts of the daily comic reviews I did here), solicitations, a way to download and print a list of all the comics you wanted that month to bring with you to the comic store (I actually began drawing the lineart for Jake & Leon on the backs of those printouts to not waste extra paper), and for comic book stores a way to stay informed as to what would be coming into their stores and what was popular. This means that they also supported comic stores in addition to offering digital versions for people who couldn’t get to a comic store and even offering some exclusive digital or digital-first comics for their readers.
Other digital comic shops would come out as well. I used to have a Wowio library until the company shut down without warning (or if there was one I missed it when all the medical issues started) and I also have one with Drive Thru Comics. I’m sure there are other ones out there. If ComiXology goes down I lose all the comics I’ve acquired from as far back as before Amazon purchased the site and made the mistake of trying to integrate it into their Kindle reader. ComiXology’s online reader was one of the ways the site stood out over other sites, which required you to download a book in PDF or digital comic format CBZ, requiring a program like Comic Rack to read it. ComiXology did have that option…for some of their books. When Amazon came along that feature was taken away completely, and had I know I would have down a download spree to make sure I didn’t lose them. After all, I paid for them and I don’t want another Wowio experience where so many books and comics I had in my library are just gone, some of which I won’t be able to recover.
You can point to any other service, and I just did, but Drive Thru doesn’t carry a lot of the big name publishers. Dynamite, Top Cow, and Valiant are the biggest names listed in their sidebar. They don’t have DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, or publishers that went out of business but I managed to get them before the publisher closed. I couldn’t review Monkeybrain-produced comics otherwise, for example. Sure, I could go to DC and Marvel’s own services, but then I have to buy them again. It’s not my fault if the digital service that housed my library closed down. It’s like if your house caught on fire and burned your longboxes, except my house is fine and my physical comics are still here, while the comics I downloaded are on a hard drive or CD or other storage device. I may have even made a printout to stick in my collection, a comic I wouldn’t have otherwise because it isn’t available around here or never had a real printing unless I want to go to a nearby Staples and do it myself or something. So if ComiXology does close down I lose that library. Except I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen, and thus I’m even more confused.
Like I said, it was the digital comics reader that ComiXology used that made it stand out among other services. You could turn pages and zoom in, or with Guided View you can just see it one panel or section of a splash page at a time. This made it easier to read on a computer and faster on a smart device like phones and tablets with smaller screens than your computer monitor. Amazon wanting to ditch the ComiXology reader because they thought running two reader apps seems odd. It’s not like Amazon wasn’t getting the same offerings that ComiXology was from DC, Marvel, or the other big suppliers. They had some indie comics that were exclusive but I don’t think Amazon cares about those. So what about that service were they interested in if they gutted practically everything? The regular Kindle reader still doesn’t have the Guided View feature for their comics in the Kindle Cloud or app readers.
The smarter thing, to give comic readers a better experience and thus increase their customer base, would be to take their Kindle comics and convert them to the ComiXology app. By having an Amazon account you already have a ComiXology account even if you didn’t merge the separate accounts when the companies combined. It’s no different than the Music app versus Amazon Prime’s video service and Freevee, the streaming service they purchased from IMDB and renamed from IMDB TV. That’s a point, too. Amazon Prime and Freevee are essentially the same service. It’s just Freevee is all ad-sponsored. To access Freevee content on Amazon Firestick or a smart device you need a separate app, while on the website you have to dig around the Amazon Prime video section to find the Freevee section. Yet somehow the two reading apps that have different requirements are harder to maintain separately that the two video apps with the same requirements but still require different apps. I don’t understand the thinking here. They should merge Amazon Prime’s video service and Freevee into something closer to Peacock, where you have free ad-sponsored shows and shows you only get through rent, purchase, or subscription. Kindle and ComiXology represent two completely different formats and should be treated that way.
As for the aforementioned indie comics making ComiXology Originals, what of them? I’ve heard some complaints that Amazon has not treated them as well as the old ComiXology had. Not having a big source like that means you have to find their comics. Finding a indie publisher’s personal site isn’t easy. You have to hear about them through word of mouth or if they have another way to promote themselves, like a YouTube channel–though that comes with the hope that the algorithm will actually get you noticed when there have some questions about Google’s algorithm for YouTube lately. We could use a good digital comics aggregate site, but even then folks would have to find out it exists. Even having a physical comic to point people to your site would cost money, something most indie creators don’t have or something like Rippaverse Comics wouldn’t stand out as something new. So what will this mean for digital comics unless one of the other online distributors really stands up and becomes what we lost? I don’t think they’ll go away but it won’t be as popular and available as it is now, nevermind how it was before Amazon changed everything about the ComiXology service.
What’s the future of ComiXology? Darned if I know. As noted repeatedly I don’t know what Amazon has ever been thinking when it comes to the purchase of ComiXology. They seem to be at odds with everything that made ComiXology the #1 digital comic service. They don’t want to run the app separately, dropped the DRM free downloads for publishers that allowed it, killed any connection to the physical comic distribution, and then there’s the drop in quality and thus waning interest in American comics under the current publishers that they don’t have any control over. From the beginning their approach has been up for debate, and if they don’t fix it soon we may be left with a lesser experience until some other service repeats the stuff ComiXology initially did correctly. ComiXology used to be a good place for the comics community both digital and physical to connect and now it’s just another corporate mess by people who don’t understand the creative industries they try to get into. Sometimes bigger really ISN’T better.