By Cy Beltran
Last year Amazon announced that it would be refreshing the comiXology platform to more fully integrate it into the existing Amazon Kindle e-reading experience. After a delay in the integration, comiXology users received a notice earlier this month that “the team-up with Amazon is launching soon. Upon launch, comixology.com will redirect to the comics shopping experience on Amazon and the updated comiXology app will launch.” As of this morning, the comiXology app has refreshed, but the redirect from comixology.com to Amazon’s “comics shopping experience” hasn’t yet taken effect. The Amazon page is already available to view, though, and a comparison of the original comiXology page to the Amazon page immediately reveals some issues for longtime digital comics readers.
The most frustrating thing about the way the Amazon-comiXology ‘team-up’ was handled is how little it takes into account the opinions of the people who have actually used comiXology. While the original service had its fair share of problems, it was at least designed by people who read comics and understand how comics are organized. It’s bad enough that there’s really only one way to buy digital comics from a number of major publishers (that’s called a monopoly!), but to have it be from a website that isn’t even clear makes it so much worse. The designers of the new Amazon comics storefront don’t appear to have anyone who’s read comics before working with them. I plan to tackle the changes that’ve happened to comiXology from the American side of things, which won’t even get into how miserable online comics are going to become for international readers.
Now, there are far too many differences to cover in one article, but I think it’s important to talk about some of the more egregious changes that have been made in terms of simple navigation and the shopping experience (since that’s what Amazon is calling it, after all). As mentioned, comiXology will eventually redirect users straight to an Amazon page; when you get to that new front page, you’re greeted with the familiar overabundance of banners that comes with comiXology and a fairly similar line-up for where to shop first. However, after clicking any one of these tabs, it becomes painfully clear that Amazon’s browsing capabilities are even more difficult to navigate than comiXology’s already outdated interface.
New releases are a confusing mess. Featured books and Kindle Unlimited series take priority at the top of the page, while the full list of new books is pushed to the very bottom. Those titles are no longer sorted alphabetically, but are instead thrown onto the website in a completely random order. Individual release dates aren’t even listed – each book that comes out during a given week is lumped together under one week-long designation.
For those who use series subscriptions, most of those books are going to be continuing over to Amazon, but there are a handful that are no longer going to offer the option. Any comic that comes with a DRM-free copies won’t from this point forward. Those copies made it a lot easier for people to use their own comics readers, maintain a complete digital collection, and read offline copies when there wasn’t internet available. This makes no sense from a customer standpoint, but it might be that publishers made deals with comiXology and don’t want to deal with Amazon.
Looking for single issues on sale? They’re no longer listed with the collections, meaning that you have to travel to each series that the book comes from in order to find out whether or not a single issue is on sale. While I understand that readers often read their books in full collections, Amazon treats the sales like that’s the only way to read those stories. I’m assuming it has something to do with how Amazon organizes the physical graphic novels on the site, since they don’t normally sell single issues, but it’s still a poor way to sort through the website.
Speaking of sorting through the website, browsing through titles is now unbelievably complex. While on the old website, readers could simply search for a title and have a bevy of options appear, ranging from series to collections to single issues to story arcs and so much more. Trying to search now yields a messy list of books sorted in no particular order. The filters Amazon offers don’t help either, only allowing for the option to sort between price, reviews, and release date (which does not help if you’re looking for something like Detective Comics and it’s 80+ years of publication).
When looking through the title lineup in the storefront, I noticed that Amazon has also made collections and single issues each into their own series. For example, the 10-book series of collections for East of West is listed as its own series, while the forty-five individual issues of the series are listed separately as their own entity. Why not merge those into one series? If comiXology was able to do it, what makes it so hard for the billion-dollar megacorporation to do it?
Organizing a digital library through Amazon’s portal is a nightmare now, as there is currently no option to sort issues by series. Sure, there’s a ‘series’ view within the storefront, but that doesn’t exclude issues you don’t own. I’ll give it to Amazon for letting us separate prose books and magazines from comics, but that’s the minimum of what they should be able to do. There’s no option to sort a book by grid, meaning that you have to get used to looking at everything in a long list. Also, Amazon has removed the ability to archive books. So if you’re someone who’s hidden some of their books to clear space in your library, get ready for all of those books to appear again.
There is a bit of a runaround to this awful library Amazon has set up. If you head to read.amazon.com/kindle-library, there is the option to sort issues alphabetically, by title, and as a grid, so they get a pass from me on that. It’s a browser-compatible version of the Kindle app, which I don’t think should be necessary to read one’s books. However, Amazon doesn’t advertise this as an option, which is bewildering to me, since it’s far easier to read books through this page. Amazon’s also merged the wish list feature with their pre-existing wish lists, which is just another hoop to jump through for readers.
Now, the worst part about the redesign is unequivocally the web reader. You know, the whole point of buying these digital comics. As with most of this ‘team-up,’ Amazon has taken their Kindle interface and slapped the comiXology branding on top of it. Now, instead of enjoying a double-page spread in all of its glory, we’re forced to squint our eyes and put our faces right up to the screen to see anything that’s happening in the spread. Want to zoom in? You can’t! Want to try the guided view to get a better look at things? Oops, that’s not going to do anything. The Kindle reader is only really designed for prose books. If Amazon wants to keep their monopoly over the digital comics space, they better step it up, since this is unacceptable.
As mentioned above, the comiXology app itself relaunched this morning, and as with the redesign of the Marvel Unlimited app last fall, the app is less functional than it was yesterday. The two positives that I’ll give the new app is that series organization is nice (if slightly distracting) and collections are now separated from single issues within the same series (which is nice from a reader perspective, but not ideal from a shopping perspective as mentioned earlier). However, this is again, just the Kindle app. The library is the same, the discover tab is the same; even the rampant self-promotion for comiXology/Kindle Unlimited is the same. The app is so regressive that the design on the search tab makes me feel like I’ve been transported back to 2010. Reading comics is largely untouched (I’m using an iPad to test this, so hopefully things haven’t changed on Android or other operating systems), but the app still feels much less usable. If you plan on reading comics digitally and there’s a company-specific app to do so or DRM-free copies: please use those other apps.
Everything I talked about above only applies to the US version of Amazon. There are a number of changes, which The Beat will cover elsewhere, that have been made in the UK and abroad that make it much more difficult for comics readers around the world (it’s already being reported by international users that subscriptions to digital comics, a staple of comiXology’s functionality, will no longer be available outside of the U.S.), and there are still some changes on the U.S. side I didn’t even talk about here (the lack of creator credits on the new Amazon storefront is absurd..). I’m tired and annoyed with how Amazon has gone out of their way to make reading comics difficult for existing comiXology users, and set up new barriers to entry for readers who may be interested in getting into reading digital comics. Amazon has already delayed the comiXology redirect once, though, so here’s hoping against hope that they’ll either roll back some of these changes or adjust the new website to make it more usable