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painfully clear that Amazon’s browsing capabilities are even more difficult to navigate than comiXology’s already outdated interface.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
I basically went through this past week and canceled all of my subscriptions except for three just to see how it’ll all operate. but frankly, in the end, this is going to have me simply stop reading comics. I’ve been digital-only since ComiXology went full-launch with the Big Two publishers and have loved it right up until… today.
This is just a mess and is going to hemorrhage readers from the publishers. And it won’t get me to go back to print either. I wanted the ease and portability of digital.
Just an unmitigated disater.
I agree with everything mentioned in this article. It feels like since Amazon got involved with Comixlogy. Things have been on a slow decline. Doing nonsensical things and tampering just to make it appear as if they are making changes for the better. While in fact, it’s only made things worse. At this rate, I might just go back to buying physical comics again. This is just becoming a hassle.
It is unfortunate that yet again, piracy provides a better user experience than a paid-for model.
Stuff like this is why there is a 5″ stack of comics waiting to be read by my recliner. Once read, I shall save the ones I like. FOREVER. Their format will never change. I will always be able to find them. Digital comics is just lame and more obviously now, a waste of effort and money.
Tim Bellshaft, you’ve got it correct. I really hope this gets sorted out ASAP because I’ve grown to the point where I really don’t want to have more and more paper taking up space in my home. It’s difficult to transport, more of a pain to re-read, annoys my wife… Honestly, when it’s orders of magnitude easier to just steal their product than to pay for it, and they seem to be making it difficult on purpose… Why shouldn’t I resort to piracy? I’m happy to give them my money. I like supporting the creators and the publishers of this medium that I’ve loved for nearly my entire life, but FFS, when you make it a pain in the butt on purpose? As part of some BS marketing scheme?
I started reading digital comics on comiXology more and more during the pandemic and have spent the last several months using it as my exit ramp from paper comics. I have a number of digital subscriptions now and have ordered numerous digital trades during the last two years. I’ve even used comiXology to revisit and re-read a few old storylines I already have physical copies of somewhere, just so I wouldn’t have to lift and dig through boxes. I love the way the comics look on an iPad. I’m not a huge fan of guided view unless I’m reading on a small screen like a phone, but the iPad Pro is slightly larger than a standard-sized comic book page so I’ve been using that as my reader. So everything reported in the article above is hugely disappointing to me. If the new app and website are basically unusable, then like fandompost I’m probably more likely to just stop reading new stuff than backtrack and get back into paper.
samu0034, you said Amazon did all this on purpose. While I was reading the article I assumed they made all the changes Cy described out of ignorance, ineptitude, or both. Why do you think it’s deliberate? What’s the marketing scheme?
Are we sure that this isn’t a small percentage of folks who read mostly using a desktop? My app is updating but I haven’t really seen many of these problems. Makes sense that the data would need to finish populating before some of the features like what I’ve read and such are fixed.
The DRM freaks going off are not the norm. I don’t feel the need to have my entire collection downloaded onto a drive in order to carry it around. I feel like some of this is way overblown by users who don’t represent the main demographic that reads digital comics.
That being said, the store front is a problem but the app itself seems just fine. Sorting by “recent” takes the place of the smart lists for things I’ve recently downloaded. Sorting alphabetical makes it fine to find stuff. Yet another “change” that is causing everyone to overreact. So a Tuesday in the comics community.
Since amazon dropped the ball, publishers should add support for a 2nd digital distributor. I assume all the publishers can determine which digital assets were sold to which comixology customers, and transfer those assets to the new service, right? And if not, isn’t it an antitrust issue — if all customers are stuck with the monopoly distributor? Any lawyers want to start a class action against a monopoly that’s stifling competition? Based on the number of issues I’ve bought over the years, this could be a bonanza for digital customers.
Darby the Hutt, my app hasn’t updated at all yet so I haven’t been able to experiment with the new interface. I’m glad to hear that you’re more or less happy with it. Is it still possible to turn your tablet on its side to view double-page spreads in landscape?
Stephen: Yes, in the new Comixology app (at least the iOS version – 4.x), you can definitely turn your tablet on its side to view double-page spreads in landscape.
1) I just noticed this afternoon that the old Comixology web site is gone; going to its old URL sends you straight to the Amazon.com Comics page.
2) It appears that a small subset of the comics I purchased through Comixology did not make the move to Amazon. A very specific subset: John Allison’s (excellent) SCARY GO ROUND collections.
On my Amazon list of digital purchases, it still lists the collections; but clicking on any of the links takes you to a “Sorry we can’t find this” page.
The behavior on the new Comixology app is even weirder: several of the collections were displayed, but there were gray squares in place of the covers for the other collections; clicking on them did nothing. Returned later in the afternoon, and the Comixology no longer could find SCARY GO ROUND.
In the Comixology-to-Amazon FAQ page (https://support.comixology.com/hc/en-us/articles/4421100073751-Tell-me-about-the-new-Comixology-app-upgrade), it mentions under FAQ 4 that “all of your owned and borrowed books will be available to download and read”. Ahem.
Luckily for me, I dodged this particular bullet: SCARY GO ROUND was one of those series where Comixology (thanks to the publisher, in this case, I imagine, John Allison) provided a DRM-free PDF version to download if you so wished. Before the switch to Amazon, I went to the Comixology web page and downloaded any comics that I thought might not make the switch (e.g., were not large publishers or were self-published). So I still have all my SCARY GO ROUNDs and assorted other Allison gems. (Sometimes, paranoia is Your Friend.)
Unfortunately, that door is now closed with the old Comixology web page gone.
I don’t know if this is just a temporary screw-up of Amazons, or a policy or business decision on Amazon’s part, or a decision by John Allision, or what. But I thought I’d warn others about it.
Has anyone else encountered comics they bought on Comixology, but cannot read since the move to Amazon?
HerrDoctorFfej, if I were you I’d contact their customer service and ask about it. Maybe it’s something they can fix. If the unavailability of those collections was a conscious choice by either Amazon or the publisher, maybe Amazon will credit you for them. I just updated the app minutes ago and haven’t done a deep dive yet. I haven’t noticed anything missing off the bat. Covers of some collections and issues were solid gray rectangles at first but they eventually populated.
Stephen — thank you for the suggestion, and your experiences! I’d been seeing the gray rectangles in the new Comixology app, too. Tapping on them did nothing — didn’t download the comics; nor could I view them on the Amazon comics website.
And I found a solution: going to the Amazon comics web site, searching for SCARY GO ROUND under “Manage Your Library” (go to Your Account page, and find (in the extremely dense list of choices) “Comixology Settings”), and then clicking on “Deliver or Remove from Device” — that makes them viewable, downloadable and viewable on my iPad.
So, false alarm on my part — my sincere apologies! It would appear everything I bought on Comixology is available on the new Comixology app. And thanks again, Stephen, for the feedback.
FYI, you can still download DRM-free comics; it’s just not obvious how to do it.
Go to Account, Comixology settings, View your Comixology books, and then there’s a Backups tab where you can download DRM-free comics as CBZ or PDF.
However, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to tell a book is available as a DRM-free download before you buy it like there was on the old Comixology site. You can generally make an educated guess based on the publisher — all Image and Valiant comics are DRM-free, all DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Archie books have DRM — but there are cases where it’s hard to tell, especially with licensed books. IDW, Fantagraphics, and Boom all publish some books that have DRM and some that don’t.
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