ComiXology Not Quite But Almost As Terrible As It Was Six Weeks Ago

Bleeding Cool has been reporting on concerns about digital comic book distributor ComiXology and its switch to the Amazon website and structure since they were implemented six weeks ago. We have reported on the dropping of the ComiXology website comic book reader. It is ComiXology App only on mobile devices and tablets or using a reskinned version of Kindle reader on the desktop – which was not designed for reading comic books. Another big issue is for the non-Americans only, as they are no longer able to subscribe to digital series. For some undisclosed reason. Which is a pain for many and may well lead to reduced income for publishers and creators. But as the ComiXology App was also updated, a stream of other complaints came in, talking about how people's libraries had been removed, downloads deleted, the speed of reading delayed, definition degraded, ease of use decimated and we reported an account from a ComiXology Beta Tester looking at the circumstances behind some of the changes.

Six weeks in, how are things? Well, still pretty terrible. Comic book publishers tell Bleeding Cool that they have  a definite initial drop in digital sales across the board, and hoped that this would rise back up, when people got used to the ComiXology changes. Well, that has not happened,  especially in territories where Amazon has disabled the Subscription feature that used to let people automatically receive the next issue of whatever series they were following. The fact that previous links to ComiXology listings no longer work has been seen as a real impediment to driving traffic to the comic books in question. The long tail has been snipped off at the spine.

Where are the customers going? Back to comic book stores? I have seen only sporadic evidence of that, and there is no statistically significant bump. I have been told that Marvel Unlimited has had a bump in subscriptions, though the new Marvel Unlimited Infinity Comics may have helped that. DC Unlimited Infinity did not see a bump until they added Canada to their territories, and Australasia this week. They may be the biggest beneficiaries of the Amazon change. But a lot of people have simply stopped buying and reading comics, in digital and print. And a bunch of fine back to comic book piracy. ComiXology, like Netflix, was a killer app that killed a lot of piracy by introducing convenience. The ComiXology convenience has gone and the pirates are back with us.

Some improvements to the initial ComiXology readers have come in. On iOS, viewers can now pinch and zoom pages on the web reader, including the shrunken double-page spread. But they can't do that on PC or Android and the double-page spreads remain unreadable. Guided View for PC, iOS and Android has returned. You still can't zoom in on a double-page spread on Android or PC though.

ComiXology

And on PC however, you still get to see two pages at once, and the Guided View operates on one page at a time, so you see a blown-up panel on the left and the next page, waiting to be read on the right. This utterly destroys and distracts from the reading experience and has also ruined the second page reveal storytelling trick many authors employ, teasing a story development that happens on the next page. It also remains slow as all hell.

Because finding what you are wanting is still far harder than it should be.  Another reader reported to Bleeding Cool of their experience searching for Fire Hot Aunt, a pretty tame manga about a kid trying to get his aunt to stop being a gangster, and what came up was "Sexy hot wide open nude women" and "Hot photos of sexy nude girls", both of which have multiple photos of, well, exactly what it says on the tin. The reader told Bleeding Cool "I'm not one of the "think of the children" people, but it's not a good look for Amazon at all since the old ComiXology used to show ratings for their manga front and center." And yes, those photo collections are still up, and searchable.

ComiXology

People who are searching for comic books are finding pirated versions of the comic books. Such as these volumes of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.

But this is commonplace, I found a pirated version of my own comic book Watchmensch on ComiXology/Kindle and was able to get it taken down after a week of complaining. One Redditor posted "I searched for the manga Hajime No Ippo (Fighting Spirit) on ComiXology, and a few volumes came up in the search results. They were free with Kindle Unlimited, which I don't have, so I bought the first one for $3.99. I opened up my ComiXology App and started reading. Upon reaching the first splash page, it was clear this was a pirated scan. (See the pirate scan credits plainly in the image in the bottom left.)"

ComiXology

That listing has been deleted. The Sex Criminals volumes are still up. for now.  This was never an issue at ComiXology. It seems endemic at Amazon. People can upload pirate scans, sell them digitally through Amazon, even register on the streaming service Kindle Unlimited. Every ComiXology comic book was either vetted or from a trusted publisher. With the new service, it relies on people reporting them. The Sex Criminals volumes have been up for a month. Let's see how long they stay up after this article is published. [UPDATE: The Sex Criminals listings were removed shortly after this article was published].

ComiXology says it has resolved issues with the New Releases filters and made scrolling through multiple pages of results easier on the app and web. But those who do find what they want, when a comic book is separated into issue numbers, find the numbers displayed alphabetically rather than numerically, so it's #1, #10, #11 rather than #1, #2, #3, with only a few numbers displayed at once, forcing you to keep bringing up more issues – and if you go back to the search you have to do all this again.

ComiXology co-founder David Steinberger has been promoted within Amazon and there are worries amongst those remaining of the ComiXology New York offices. Chip Mosher is the only public face for ComiXology now, and that's because ComiXology Originals needs to be seen as creator-facing and have a human face – but that's it. Amazon policy is that Amazon companies are group identities, and not the product of individuals

The forced account merging for Kindle and ComiXology customers from Amazon also manages to ruin the Kindle ebook reading experience for some. As expressed to me "if you're reading a bunch of cosy mysteries you don't really want random issues of Nightwing popping up in your recommendations for things to read next. And having every comic purchase via Amazon show up on a Kindle Paperwhite is less than helpful. (Because naturally, you can't hide them. For some reason it is permitted to hide old purchases from the ComiXology website, but not the Amazon Kindle store ones. Because they're "Books". And yet Amazon has separate categories for Books, Magazines, Audiobooks, etc, so you wouldn't really think "Comics" would be beyond the capabilities of their website interface.)" Indeed you would not.

The US and UK homepages for ComiXology through Amazon have definitely improved. ComiXology states that the comics store homepage on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk now automatically focuses search results on just comics, manga, and graphic novels content. But that still leaves a wasteland for other countries, Italy's described as a husk, with Danish and Netherlands not selling digital comics at all. ComiXology states that they are still making a few improvements to their already-live US/UK comics storefronts, and plan to roll out storefronts to additional countries this year. ComiXology also states that they have improved book downloads in the mobile app such as stalled downloads or blank pages and that the app library now groups content by series in Australia, Brazil, and India, as well as in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Japan.  One might wonder why this wasn't done on Day One, and also note there are a lot more than "a few" improvements necessary to even get close to where they were before the relaunch.

ComiXology claims that improved book resolution is now available in the mobile app. And that if your book appears low resolution, you should just re-download the book on your app to access the highest-quality version available. However, that is often not the case. The Other History of the DC Universe, which contains lots of small text is almost unreadable in the Comixology App because of the resolution, and the same is true for the X-Men text pages that have become so popular, especially the opening double-page spreads. Customers are still facing issues with comic books they had previously bought in high resolution, now only being available in low resolution, no matter how many times they delete and download the comic book again. Amazon support has now acknowledged to some customers that there is a problem but has yet to find a solution, as instructed. Customers tell me they feel as if they have been robbed of what they already bought.

The sales are harder to find and sometimes have nothing on sale when clicked on. Finding free comic books is no longer possible, in the way it was, reducing the ability of people to sample comic book publishers' wares.

An IT professional who is a Senior Product Owner managing websites for a major hospital system, and is familiar with Agile software development, tells Bleeding Cool that "the Comixology  changeover is just weird. It violates the principles of every other software rollout Amazon has ever done, where you focus on the most important features of the product and slowly deliver them over time in an iterative fashion. Instead, they rolled it out like an old Waterfall project, where you just delivered a big chunk of software and chalked up missing features as bugs. For example, by redirecting all of the existing store pages to the main Comixology site, they broke years of work by publishers directing paying customers to the platform. And it makes no sense, because it really wouldn't be hard for another software company to build a digital comics storefront. You just need the relationships with the publishers, a reliable cloud storage vendor (such as Microsoft's Azure platform), and the right technical resources. They prioritized tearing down the old storefront and moving everything to Kindle over those publisher relationships that took years to build. Meanwhile, both Marvel and DC have spent that time building their own digital comics platform, even if they're using a library model instead of a newsstand. They could change that pretty quickly if they determine Amazon isn't a good partner for them. It wasn't that long ago that both companies determined Diamond wasn't good for them; how did that turn out for Diamond? Someday, and maybe you have the story, someone's going to find out why Comixology made such weird decisions, decisions that go against the mantra of its corporate parent and against accepted software methodology, to do what they did."

The truth is that this didn't come from ComiXology but from the corporate parent. As far as digital comic book reading experiences. ComiXology was as good as you could get. It really didn't need fixing. Amazon has, in an attempt to smooth ComiXology into Amazon, destroyed what made it work. And is now slowly, slowly trying to get closer to what it once had. Will they be in time before people just give up?

Amazon Closes ComiXology Website, Merges Accounts With Amazon

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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