Robot 6

ComiXology: Over 50 million served — but how many sold?

ICv2 kicks off the week with an interesting bit of digital comics news: More than 50 million comics have been downloaded from the digital comics distributor comiXology since it launched in July 2009. This news comes in a bit of a void, as digital comics distributors, unlike Diamond Comic Distributors, don’t release their sales numbers. Perhaps ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp, who is on the comiXology board, has some insider knowledge, because the article adds that 5 million of the downloads occurred in December alone — in other words, 10 percent of the total downloads over the entire life of the business occurred in a single month. No word on January or February, though. Also, the article notes that “a significant percentage of the 5 million comics downloaded were free.” Which immediately (at least in my mind) raises the question, “What’s the percentage?” It must be pretty high, as ICv2 estimated the entire digital comics market in 2011 at $25 million; even if everybody bought their comics at comiXology, during one of its 99-cent sales, that would still mean only half the downloads were paid.

With the statistics out of the way, the article goes on to discuss the usual questions of whether digital sales are supplanting or supplementing print and how piracy figures into all of this. Ten points to Top Cow’s Filip Sablik for this observation:

“Anybody that thinks piracy doesn’t have an impact is drinking the Kool-Aid. But there’s a pretty significant group of people that were reading illegal content that if they have a legal, safe, easy way to buy they do so.”

“Once you’re into the system and can sync across platforms, it’s not worth the hassle to get illegal copies,” he said.

The point about syncing across platforms is a good one, and it implies another essential strategy: Being available across multiple platforms to begin with. The most successful comics distributors (comiXology, and in the manga world, Viz and Digital Manga) are doing this; the others keep having to answer questions about why they aren’t. ComiXology is the most widely available—the web for convenience, the iPad for reading quality, the Kindle Fire for … I don’t know, ask someone who owns one, but Kindle owners tend to buy more books than the print-on-paper crowd — so they are always there when you need them, a key point in today’s on-demand society.



I’d give Flip a dozen points for that, not just ten.

Anyone that’s saying piracy has no effect is drinking the Kool-Aid just like anyone who says it’s the only reason sales are down.

He also seems to have recognized that the only thing you get by not offering your comics digitally the same day they’re released in print is the guarantee that nobody gets paid for every copy that’s downloaded when demand is highest, rather than making it possible for people to get paid for at least some of them.

There’s hope.

Now if only Marvel could sort out their pricing (particularly how simultaneous release books stay at full cover indefinitely, but books released the same day but put on digital later are cheaper). If you ask me Marvel’s digital pricing is more about trying to drive digital readers to print than serve the digital market – and as a digital reader it infuriates me.

Agree on the Marvel pricing comment. DC’s policy of dropping the price a dollar a month after release fits my buying habits perfectly. I refuse to pay full cover price for a digital comic, but I do want to shift some of my reading to the digital platform, so I now buy some products in print as they come out and collect digitally “one month behind” for other series. It works great for me.

I see these numbers as positive news for Comixology. They’re getting eyeballs on more comics and if that’s free content in the short term while customers sample the digital platform then that could very well position them as the destination digital retailer as digital books become more widely accepted and commonplace.

‘“Once you’re into the system and can sync across platforms, it’s not worth the hassle to get illegal copies,” he said.’

I would agree with this if not for the fact that I’m currently locked out of reading all my comics because I’m either under the age of 17 (not true), or I just plain haven’t purchased the comic I’m trying to read (also not true).

Comixology really needs to improve it’s service. This happens way too often. It’s pretty insulting to get a response of ‘oh, try again later’ from their support as well.

Regarding the Kindle Fire, I would say that the experience is similar to that of the iPad albeit with a somewhat smaller screen. I bought one of the devices on release and have been reading and enjoying comics almost exclusively on it. While I don’t have an iPad, I have test driven them in the store and have the ComiXology app on my iPhone — not ideal but enough to make me glad that I didn’t pay so much for an iPad when I could have the same reading experience on the Kindle for much less money.

I agree with previous comments with regards to Marvel’s pricing strategy. In short — it’s a mess. However, I’ve had a much different experience in interacting with ComiXology than GiantRaven. I think that because the ComiXology app for the Kindle Fire is newer and hasn’t been through the same levels of development that the iPhone/iPad apps have, it can be a little buggy. In my case, I’ve had problems two or three times getting comics I purchased on the website to sync to the device. But when I’ve contacted them, they’ve been very responsive, friendly, and helpful and have resolved these issues right away.

He’s right that if digital comics were easy to buy and could sync across platforms many illegal downloaders would convert. He’s right about that, what he’s not right about is that such a system already exists.

I’m a big fan of Comixology. It’s easy to buy, good reading experience, the prices are (usually) right, and I can CURRENTLY use it across my different devices. Basically, it’s ALMOST there. But not quite.

There’s still the problem of ownership. Comixology sells glorified rentals. Whether you pay $.99 or $3.99 you own nothing. Comixology can pull your membership anytime, and therefore pull your entire collection with no recourse or refund for you. But honestly that’s a bad example because it paints Comixology as the bad guy, which they’re not. They’ve been nothing but nice and helpful in all my interactions with them.

But what happens when Graphicly gives Marvel an offer they can’t refuse, and Marvel signs exclusively with them? Comixology will have no choice but to remove your entire Marvel collection that you over-paid for, and it’ll be up to Marvel and Graphicly to decide whether you can get access to in on their platform without buying again.

Or, let’s even take the publisher out of the role of the bad guy. Do you like GI Joe? Like that you can read IDW’s GI Joe comics on your iPad? Well what happens when IDW loses their license to produce and sell GI Joe comics? It’s bound to happen at some point, even if its years down the line. Then Comixology and IDW will have no choice but to remove your GI Joe collection. It would be out of their hands. And since they don’t provide you with a file you can keep and back up on your own hard drive, there’s nothing you can do about it.

And as far as syncing across platforms is concerned, it’s only true as long as Comixology CHOOSES to develop for that platform. No one has to worry that their MP3s will work when they get a new device, no matter who makes the device or who develops for it.

Comics needs a standardized file format with open source readers, so that distributors like Comixology can sell DRM free files that customers OWN when they purchase, and then can be read on any device, period.

That’s how you beat piracy.


March 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I’m just fine with “renting” digital comics (if the price is 1.99 at most). I’m only really going to read them once and look at them another time or two anyway. If I really like a particular run I’ll buy the TPB when it comes out.

I personally love Comixology in its current form and have yet to have an issue with it. Good for them!

I’m with Ziggy on this one. I use Comixology every week, but I’m worried that if it goes bust, I’ve lost ALL the investment I’ve made in it over the two years or so I’ve been using it. I DO go back and re-read stuff, so having a full archive of material is important to me.

BTW, I buy UK comic 2000AD digitally and it’s provided as a CBZ file, or PDF if you prefer. It’s sold via The trade-off for having no DRM: the digital version is released a week late. I can live with that.

PS. I’d happily allow Comixology to embed ID data in DRM-free comics that, if a comic gets posted online, they can see who did so. I’d happily trade that for DRM-free downloads.

Hi there. Im using Comixology across laptop, 10 inch Coby tablet, and the Kindle Fire. Im 99% satisfied across all platforms, although I do most of my reading on the tablets. I do have trouble with the price point. Im only buying the new Valiant comics (they are VERY well done) and am paying $3.99 an issue, ouch! I agree that same day as print is a great idea! I would love to see a price change after 2 weeks or a month.

What about using advertising to lower the digital comics cost??? I think it will eventually happen and could actually help the industry.

I started on comixology just getting free comics to whet my appetite and buying the trades if I was interested. Since marvel Mondays and the 3 day sales I’d estimate I’ve spent several hundreds of pounds on the site. Notice something there “pounds”. As a Brit I am ripped off by apple currency conversion $1.99 is £1.23 but I get charge £1.49 ($2.33) it adds up. That and the pricing strategy is way off. Put it this way if a $0.99 sale comes along I’ll buy the whole series, but I refuse to buy same day as it equates to around £2.49 but I can buy a physical copy from retailer at £2.10-£2.60 with digi code. There’s no value in that to me. In my opinion if they set the same day comics at £1.49 and anything over a year at 49p they would make a killing. The evidence is there look at the music industry they wanted to charge the same as a physical single and got told no point as piracy is free. Apple forced them to go down the 99cent model and it saved the industry to an extent. People get addicted and don’t see the impact of micro transaction (like I mentioned above I buy whole series when a sale is on) this has been proved with free to play. I understand this will kill comic book stores, here’s the reality. They’re dead already they just don’t know it, piracy and digital will kill them there is no stopping that (unless they find other revenue streams) there is no point standing in the way of innovation in the meantime. Proper pricing or competition, could have a massive impact on the comic industry.

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