Last month, Amazon bought ComiXology, the company behind an amazing app for reading and buying comic books on a mobile device.
A couple of weeks later, ComiXology replaced its old app with a new app that removes in-app purchases, forcing users to make purchases on the ComiXology website which they can then download to the app.
Theoretically, the change made sense. Although one-touch in-app purchases were much easier, a 30% cut of every purchase went to Apple. By forcing users to make web purchases, Amazon claims a larger revenue share and presumably so do comic book publishers. Also by ditching in-app purchases, ComiXology was able to escape Apple’s controversial content restrictions.
Yet Amazon and ComiXology dropped the ball when it came to public relations, making hardly any effort to persuade users to support the change beyond offering a $US5 gift card, instead leaving them fuming about how ComiXology ruined its app — the new one sports a 1.5 star rating and over a thousand angry reviews — while industry insiders speculate that this is a scheme by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to hurt Apple and force people to buy Kindle Fires.
“They couldn’t possibly have handled this one worse,” Andy Ihnatko writes at Chicago Sun-Times. “They failed to look at this announcement from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been thinking about this for weeks and months, and who doesn’t have direct access to the company’s thoughts and motivations. It’s incredible, but they seem to have forgotten that they were dropping in-app purchasing just weeks after they announced that they were in the process of being bought out by Amazon.”
Even beyond the public relations blunder, Amazon and ComiXology’s new app simply does not work well.
In my experience and the experience of various app reviewers, comics purchased at comixology.com do not always appear for download in the app. When they do, downloads are often slow to the point of unusable. I have several times had to put down the app and try again in the morning when comics would not download. That never used to happen on the old app.
Even when the new app works as it is supposed to, it doesn’t work nearly as well as the old app. The browsing function is much less attractive. It’s hard to view previews of issues. The sorting function for comics that you already own is worse. And of course having to leave the app to go to comixology.com is a major pain and far less conducive to binge-reading than the wonderfully seamless old app. Even minor website improvements could make this process better.
Would it have been too much to ask for Amazon and ComiXology to iron out a few of these major kinks before rolling out what was already a very controversial update?
And again, couldn’t they have done more to persuade users that there’s a method to this madness?
Now I’m going to keep using ComiXology. I have faith that the company will eventually fix the app, and the comic book reader, with its clever single-panel reading function, is still the best way to read comics on mobile, and digital comics are still much more convenient than print. And I still have faith that ComiXology is good for the future of comics.
As ComiXology CEO Dave Steinberger told Comic Book Resources, ComiXology and Amazon’s Kindle team have a similar mission:
[W]e started saying this thing internally in the company a long time ago, and it’s actually part of our little tagline: Our goal is to bring comics to everyone everywhere. The idea that we can find a reader and then get to know them, and match them to content they might like, and at the same time, expand the market — which means more content is going to be made, that there’s more diverse available for different kinds of readers, which means we get to reach more readers — Amazon’s really good at that. We’ve done a great job, but Amazon is the expert at matching potential readers to books that they’re interested in. Their attitude is, “Read Kindle books everywhere.” That’s our attitude as well, in terms of different devices, available on all platforms.
I just wish that the digital comic hegemon would show a little more care about looking out for users in the here and now.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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