Amazon snaps up digital comics retailer Comixology

Amazon.com's purchase of the digital comic book storefront and reader could portend big changes for the burgeoning digital comics market.

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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.
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Comixology, the top distributor of comic books digitally, set up a camera to record fans' impressions of its comics-reading app and store at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2012. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Amazon.com is getting into comics in a big way as the mega-retailer on Thursday announced plans to buy digital comics reader and storefront Comixology.

Amazon did not disclose what it paid for the company, although Comixology's fortunes attracted many customers and publishers who have treated the app and Web site as the de facto online storefront for comic books.

The company, co-founded in 2007 in New York by David Steinberger, publishes most American comic books digitally, as well as many books from international publishers, in a one-stop shopping marketplace. He said in a statement that this is what made it a good match for Amazon.

"Comixology's mission is to spread the love of comics and graphic novels in all forms," Steinberger said. "There is no better home for Comixology than Amazon to see this vision through."

Comixology currently works with 75 publishers worldwide, as well as independent creators. It also offers a publishing program for new comic book talent.

The company's headquarters will remain in New York, for now, with the deal expected to close by the end of June.

David Naggar, Amazon's vice president of content acquisition and independent publishing, said in a statement that both companies are invested in "reinventing reading in a digital world."

Comixology's fortunes rose quickly thanks to a dearth of digital marketplaces for comics, a big launch on the first iPad, and its patented technology for Guided View, a tap-to-read method for advancing from panel to panel in digital comics. Gross sales of Comixology's iPad app placed it in the top 10 in 2010 and 2011, and made it the No. 1 grossing, non-gaming app in 2012 and 2013.

However, Comixology has a reputation for withholding some comics from its store that other digital retailers will publish, based on the content of the books, particularly those that have been labeled as not suitable for children. The company has found itself in hot water in other ways, too. A deal to offer up 700 Marvel Comics for free crashed its servers, while a recent data breach forced its customers to change their passwords.

Chip Mosher, Comixology's vice president of communications and marketing, said that he did not expect Amazon to change the prices of digital comics, nor did he expect much conflict between Comixology and comic books available on Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet.

"Nothing to announce today, but we expect we'll find ways to make both Comixology and Kindle work better together," he told CNET.

ComicsPRO, a trade organization that represents the interests of physical comic book retail stores, reacted defensively to the sale.

"There's always a concern when a huge corporation that shows little need to turn a profit tries to convert a niche market into a commodity," the ComicsPRO Board of Directors said in a prepared statement. "Fortunately there is a tactile element to comics that no deep-discounting Web entity will ever be able to replicate. So as long as there continues to be fans for the real thing, there will be comics and comic book stores."

DC Entertainment, which publishes DC Comics and Vertigo Comics, said that the deal will make Amazon and Comixology "much stronger." The deal will "allow us all to continue to enhance and build the fastest growing segment of our publishing business," said a DC Entertainment spokesperson.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Amazon stock is down around 1.7 percent on Friday to $311.73.

Update, 1:02 p.m. PT: Added comment from ComicsPRO and DC Entertainment.