Like all industries whose products can now be digitized, comic books are facing the opportunities and challenges of a physical to digital evolution. This transition just hit a potentially massive milestone, as Amazon has announced plans to acquire comiXology, by far the largest digital comic book distributor in North America, for currently undisclosed terms. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of this year.
Unlike the music and magazine industries, whose digital development has been well underway for over a decade, comics have held on more tightly to a largely physical distribution system through local comics shops and mail order. Bookstore sales (as well as Amazon's current physical offerings) tend to focus on back catalog collections and standalone graphic novels, rather than the new, serialized comics that drive much of mainstream comics culture.
"Amazon and comiXology share a passion for making comics and graphic novels easy to enjoy anywhere on any device," Chip Mosher, comiXology's VP of communications and marketing, tells Fast Company. "ComiXology reinvented the digital comics experience with Guided View technology and Amazon reinvented reading with Kindle, and together we’ll continue to innovate on behalf of readers, publishers, writers, and artists. Our goal is to build on each other’s strengths and create the best service for all comic and graphic novel readers on any platform with comics content for every age, gender, and demographic."
Founded in 2007, comiXology has been the industry leader in developing a digital delivery system that offers the visual experience necessary for the medium, but their app and e-reader platform have only been available since 2009. And it's only been in the last couple of years that publishers like Marvel and DC have begun releasing new titles digitally on the same date they're available physically. Most releases from major U.S. publishers are available on comiXology, and Marvel and DC's branded digital apps are based on the company's technology. ComiXology also accepts work from independent creators and small presses to run alongside the biggest-selling titles in its catalog.
Amazon's purchase of comiXology all but ensures the online retailer's near monopoly in digital comics distribution, at least for the time being, as comiXology has no close competition and has enjoyed a virtual monopoly itself. While comiXology CEO David Steinberger said in a statement that "comiXology will retain its identity as an Amazon subsidiary," it remains to be seen what changes to user experience will come with the deal. One possibility that comes to mind is a Kindle or Kindle app exclusivity. "We have nothing to announce today, but we expect we'll find ways to make both comiXology and Kindle work better together," says Mosher.
Currently, comiXology's digital comics are DRM-protected and readable on its own app alone, but some publishers, notably Image Comics, have pushed back by making DRM-free PDFs available on their own independent platforms. If that kind of democratic move locks publishers out of Amazon's ecosystem and marketing machine, that could have a significant impact.
"We’ve long admired the passion comiXology brings to changing the way we buy and read comics and graphic novels," David Naggar, Amazon vice president, content acquisition and independent publishing, said in a press release. "We look forward to investing in the business, growing the team, and together, bringing comics and graphic novels to even more readers."