ComiXology, the company that is at the top of the heap for digital comic book distribution was purchased by Amazon last week. Let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly.
Amazon buying ComiXology may be a good thing in that Amazon has the muscle to push product. The comic book industry has not been doing well for quite some time. There was a crash after a craze of speculators (people buying comic books hoping to cash in one day in the future) in the 1990s. Since then sales have consistently worsened with occasional bumps (see Marvel’s Civil War). Despite the success found in comic book adaptations to theater, this slump continued until the arrival of digital comics. Digital comics and mobile devices like the iPad and other tablets are actually helping the industry. Amazon buying ComiXology shows that Amazon has a strong interest in comic books as a medium.
I believe that this purchase by Amazon shows that the comic book industry is healthy and growing. I also believe that Amazon would not have made this purchase without a plan. Could comic books be rolled in to Amazon Prime to make it a more attractive product? Could ComiXology be a default app on the home page of a brand new Kindle Fire? Could ComiXology be rolled into the Kindle app itself to grow the library or improve the comic book experience? Could they be interested in sprucing up their newsstand with better software? I think these are all questions we should ask and I think that most of these questions may result in an increase in eyes on comic books as well as increase in sales.
On top of all of these things there is a chance that this will help out independent comic book creators, though it could have a negative effect on big publishers. With the Kindle, Amazon has weakened big book publishers but they have also lowered the barrier to success for an independent author. ComiXology already has a program in place to do the same thing for independent comic book creators. With both companies using this tactic it could prove to be a very good thing for the indies. Something being bad for Spider-man and Batman is not necessarily bad for the medium as a whole.
Amazon buying ComiXology may be a bad thing because Amazon has the muscle to push terms. Amazon may have the muscle to push sales in the direction of comic books but they also have the ability to push the other financials in a direction favorable to them. Amazon has shown in the book industry that they are not to be trifled with. They have a lot of control over pricing and are able to dictate to publishers because of their size. The book industry was a lot healthier than the comic book industry is right now and they still had to bow to the almighty Amazon. Will Disney and Warner Brothers care enough about comic books to push back against Amazon? Is the digital comic book market an infant still in its crib waiting to be strangled before it really takes its first steps? Is the coupling of Amazon’s new digital branch with their trade paperback sales an insurmountable beast?
While I am happy for the guys at ComiXology, losing them is a blow to consumers. I say this because whenever we lose a competitor in the market we lose the competition. The good thing about ComiXology was they were successful because they have a good product but were in a position where they could not dominate companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google simply because of their size. I don’t think the big guys have shown to have as good of a product and this helped to keep a level playing field. Having a big company like Amazon buy out the best product coupled with their desire to dominate all media could be bad for consumers as it could give them more say than one company should have. You may think since Amazon releases Kindle on other platforms it would be okay but Amazon has shown that they are willing to withhold if they think they can benefit from it. To this day Amazon still has not released a Prime movie streaming app for non-Fire Android devices.
Who really knows how this will play out? Certainly not me but I am certain this not an innocuous purchase. Somehow or another this purchase has created a timeline that diverges from the one we were on. We’ll see where it goes in a year or two.