​Comixology cuts Apple, Google out of digital-comics kickback

Following Amazon's purchase of the digital-comics marketplace, Comixology updates its Comics apps to prevent Apple and Google from taking a cut. The move makes it harder to buy comics through the app.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
4 min read

Comixology's new iPad app is a big gamble because it cuts out in-app sales from the top-grossing iPad app. Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Digital-comics marketplace and reader Comixology updated its Comics apps for Android and iOS on Saturday to stop Apple and Google from taking a percentage of purchases made through the apps.

The move returns to Comixology, which was just purchased by Amazon for an undisclosed sum, a significant portion of its sales that had been going to the tech titans. They were collecting 30 percent of the price of every comic sold. Most new comics retail for the same price digitally as in print, between $2.99 and $3.99, and at least one company -- DC Entertainment -- has said that digital comics now represent around 15 percent of its new comics revenue.

Along with the app update and its more difficult purchasing process, Comixology is offering all its current users a $5 credit as a way to get people to try the purchase workflow.

"For years they've been one of the highest (if not the highest) revenue app on iOS," said Rob Salkowitz, author of "Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture."

"Removing that feature gets around Apple's fee and restrictive policies but creates extra steps for customers. I guess they are banking on having a loyal enough audience at this point that the reward outweighs the risk," he said. "Having Amazon behind them mitigates some of that risk while providing a pretty clear business rationale in terms of timing."

Comixology's chief marketing officer Chip Mosher told CNET that the company is incorporating Amazon's Web-based payments strategy prior to approval of the acquisition by the online mega-retailer.

"As we move to complete the acquisition with Amazon, we are shifting to the Web-based purchasing model they've successfully used with Kindle, which we expect will allow us to strike the best balance between prices, selection and customer experience," he said.

While the goal of Comixology's move might help its bottom line in the long term, it's also the most high-profile incident to date of a vendor balking at Apple and Google's in-app take. Google fans will suffer only a minor setback, but comics fans who read on iOS have no recourse and must change how they buy their books.

Mosher declined to say whether Comixology had received complaints from comics publishers. Comixology's impact on digital-comics publishing can't be understated. Most comics publishers had been apprehensive at best about publishing comics digitally because of fears of undercutting their small-margin print business, and Comixology was the vehicle they chose to help them make the transition.

Mosher also pointed to a benefit for comics readers: Apple's content restrictions for app vendors are now rendered moot. This issue came to a head a few months ago, when Apple demanded that Comixology stop selling the best-selling and critically-acclaimed sex-themed comedy Sex Criminals.

Some publishers, such as DC Entertainment and Image Comics, have since taken steps to diversify their online publishing platforms.

Comics publishers that were asked to comment have not yet responded. Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Chris Roberson, a comics author and co-publisher of Monkeybrain Comics, a digital-comics publisher, said on Twitter that he expects the move to result in more money per sale going to the comics' creators. That could backfire, though, if overall sales decrease because iPad owners buy fewer comics.

Comixology's remedy could lead to many comics fans feeling like they've been left hanging.

Comixology's Comics app for iOS is no longer able to make in-app purchases of any kind. iOS users must make all comics purchases from the Comixology website store and then synchronize the books to the iOS app.

The Comics app had been one of Apple's top grossing apps with in-app purchases for several years. It ranked third on the iPad top-grossing chart for 2012, and was the top-grossing iPad app of 2013, with 14 percent of all nongame in-app sales.

Just a day after the new iOS app launched, it had only a 1.5-star rating after more than 800 reviews.

The old iOS app's comic-reading functions will continue to work, reports Bleeding Cool, but the store won't. For people who don't want to have to download their books to their iOS device, this could be a small time-saver.

Comixology's Comics app for Android will continue to allow users to make in-app purchases, but instead of paying with your Google Play account, you must now go through Comixology's new system and pay with PayPal or a credit card.

Comixology was a hero to many comics fans for its key role in convincing publishers to sell their books digitally. But a survey of Twitter comments on the change indicates that, at least for iPad owners, today the villain is Comixology.

Update at 1:50 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 with comment from Comixology and review status of the new iOS Comixology app.