I just want to start by saying that I love comiXology a whole lot. It allows me, a comics fan who doesn’t live anywhere near a comic shop, to keep up with the books I love and stay current in discussions relevant to one of my favorite hobbies. ComiXology is basically my lifeline to comics and I give them a good bit of money each month. I have a lot of gripes about digital comics being the same price as print comics, but I still deal with it despite it all. When I saw that they were announcing something called “comiXology Unlimited”, a subscription service of their own, I was intrigued. It could be something that still lets me get my digital comics fix while making it much more affordable.
A “Netflix for comics” type service had been something that was talked about for a while. A few different apps and sites had popped up, but none had ever had the right mix of publishers and content to make it worth subscribing to long term. Marvel Unlimited was only for Marvel comics and services like Comic Blitz don’t have nearly the scope of recognizable content, or content in general, to make a monthly subscription truly worthwhile. Just about the only site that I figured could make something like that worthwhile would be comiXology, so it was exciting when Unlimited was announced, especially since it was only $5.99. They had the built in fan base already and even without Marvel and DC comics as part of the service, they still had all of the other big publishers as part of the service, more than making it worthwhile. With them even offering a free month to check it out, it only made sense to give comiXology Unlimited a shot.
After getting the trial started and browsing the library and reading a couple of titles, I was left quite underwhelmed by the entire experience. The whole thing starts with the odd thing of having to integrate your Amazon and comiXology accounts before you can use Unlimited. If you don’t, you can’t use the service. While not a major deal, it was just a little odd, but makes sense from the standpoint of comiXology’s parent company, Amazon.
After integrating accounts and getting that out of the way, I was able to browse the library of titles that were a part of Unlimited. ComiXology advertises “unlimited access to thousands of comics, graphic novels, and manga”, and that may very well be true. There’s good representation from publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Boom, Fantagraphics, Oni, and more, giving a nice library of potential titles to choose from. There’s a good mix of creator owned and licensed work, mixing in “Saga” and “The Life After” right along “Star Trek” and “Adventure Time.” While the selection is actually pretty good, the depth of what they actually offer as part of Unlimited leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike Netflix which gives you entire runs of television shows, comiXology Unlimited only lets subscribers read the first trade of most books, with some like “The Walking Dead” and “Chew,” putting the first two trades up for borrowing. May as well be called comiXology Limited. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. You want customers to try something and get hooked, then turn around and buy more of it. That makes a ton of sense, but from the standpoint of what people are actually going to do, I don’t know how well it will actually work.
Even beyond that, the books offered, as a result of only offering the first trades, are largely multiple years old. I think the newest one I saw was “Archie” #1, which is just under a year old. Most of the others, like “Saga,” “Chew,” “Wasteland,” and the like, are multiple years old. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a comic that’s more than a few months old. Nothing at all. But when that first arc is 5 years old and there’s another 50 issues after the free arc, that can be a bit much for someone who’s a more casual reader to dive into. Going from casually sampling a few issues to committing to buy multiple trades at $10 each can quickly stack up.Continued below
At this point, some are probably pointing out that this seems to be geared towards new readers and it’s not really for me. That really might be the case, but people new to comics probably also don’t know what comiXology is. You can’t expect a new reader to find a site/app on their own and be trusting enough to sign up for a subscription service. Not only getting those new readers to sign up for the subscription, but also then converting them into buying multiple digital trades or other series seems a little much. If that’s the thinking, it’s inherently flawed. Most people new to comics probably don’t even know much about comics shops, much less a digital comics site. The relative expense of digital comics, especially versus the $6 that the subscription is, will act as a barrier to some new or casual readers. Going from reading a lot of comics for $6 to reading six issues for $10, especially as you physically own none of them, is going to be a hard transition.
All this isn’t even mentioning the murmurs I’ve seen of creators not knowing about their books being part of Unlimited or how the payment breakdown will work for something like this. Money in comics is something I don’t know enough about to speak on it with any real authority, so I won’t. But it sounds like there’s going to be some less than ideal things going on from a creator standpoint when it comes to comiXology Unlimited, things that may hurt the program in the long run.
ComiXology Unlimited had such potential, but ultimately falls short as something that can be the “Netflix of comics.” While it includes a lot of quality publishers and comics, it doesn’t offer enough depth to truly be something that a large number could subscribe to long term unless they start offering full series. This could’ve easily been something that was a low cost method for readers both new and old to delve into various comic libraries and catch up on classics. Instead it comes off more as a sampler platter, offering you just enough to be interested and making you pay print prices for the rest.