So when Amazon made changes to the Comixology app over the weekend, it seemed like a backwards move. Comixology is one of the top comics' apps thanks to a large and thriving marketplace, which includes the big titles from DC and Marvel, alongside smaller independent works.
Part of the appeal has always been that the app made it incredibly easy to browse and buy comics, along with the fast availability of titles, regular sales and a huge library to choose from. Almost all those positives are still there but to buy comics, you need to leave the app to go to your browser and make the purchases there. Go back to the app and then sync, and you've got your comics.
Now there are two ways of looking at this. First, that when a comic is sold via the app, Apple takes a 30% cut, reducing the artists profits along the way. And you can't buy books via the Kindle iOS app either, and that doesn't seem to have made much of a difference, so is this really a big deal?
The other way of looking at it though, is that Amazon's move has negatively impacted the customer experience of a large number of iOS users, many of whom will not adapt but instead move on to different stores. That's where it gets interesting.
The 'backwards' model?
If we can accept that Comixology will lose at least a little revenue because of the increased friction between reading, browsing and buying content, then how does this move make sense? That's pretty similar to the perennial complaint about HBO - we want Game of Thrones, no HBO, but there's no option to buy the show! How many legitimate buyers are lost to piracy because you're not given the option?
And the answer, similar to Amazon's, is not enough.
What HBO does is not selling content - though it might look like that. What it is actually doing is closer to what Apple does by selling you an iPhone, or what Amazon does by selling you the Kindle. These companies are selling you an ecosystem filled with content.
With HBO, you pay for the "container" and get the shows for free. Amazon and Apple are one step ahead, selling both razors and razor blades - you get thousands of free e-books via a Kindle, and as many great apps for free on an iPhone, but on both platforms there is an additional layer of paid content to empty your wallet faster. Clearly HBO still has a few tricks to learn.
Comixology is well reputed and easily the best storefront for buying comic books; a niche community certainly, but one that has a strong affinity for technology and gadgets in particular.
By making this change to Comixology on iOS, Amazon's own platform can offer the best experience for buying books, while also denying Apple revenue. They've already done it with books. And now they are working to do the same with TV - in partnership with HBO, Amazon Prime users will now be able to stream HBO shows, without an HBO subscription. Classic shows like The Sopranos, Rome and The Wire are covered under this agreement, which makes the Fire TV look more appealing.
In contrast, iOS users have the HBO Go app, which requires a subscription to HBO on cable to use. Once again, this is a question of forwarding an ecosystem, instead of selling content. And when the goal is not to sell shows or comics, but ecosystems, the model don't look as backwards, does it?