Earlier this week, digital comics platform Comixology unveiled its newest offering, Comixology Unlimited. Taking a page out of subscription models seen in the likes of Spotify and Netlfix, Comixology now offers the option to pay $5.99 per month to read from a selected library of comics. While this is certainly a concept that appeals to comic fans, Comixology Unlimited comes with a host of challenges and has sparked conversations about the nature of the modern comic book business.
Unlimited Comics, Please
Comixology Unlimited is not the first comic subscription platform. I know of at least two others: the wildly popular Marvel Unlimited which gives access to a backlog of most of Marvel’s output from the 1940s through about 6 months ago, and ComicBlitz, a platform that debuted last year and also offers access to a platform of comics from publishers like Valiant, Dynamite and Aspen. It was rumored for some time that Comixology would follow suit, albeit the exact nature of their offering wasn’t known publicly until the official launch, which isn’t surprising.
What is the goal of Comixology Unlimited? No doubt a new revenue stream for Comixology and publishers. Given the aforementioned successful subscription models, it’s unsurprising Comixology would explore this option.
Of course, as with any service, there are imperfections.
Introductions Are In Order
Comixology Unlimited currently allows access to comics from a number of publishers including Image, Valiant, and Dark Horse. In general, most series offered allow access to only the first volume of the series for Unlimited subscribers. From a business perspective, this makes sense: allow customers to try a series and, if they like it, they will spend more money to buy later installments. One downside of this model is that customers may feel somewhat cheated, as, for example, a Netflix subscription will give you access to an entire season of a television series, rather than a few episodes. Of course, I’d wager that Comixology Unlimited will add later volumes of each series the longer the service is around, and eventually become more akin to Marvel Unlimited where a subscriber can easily read the entirety of multiple series.
Input on Your Output
Alas, one major drawback of Comixology seems to be creator control over what is offered on the service. Comic creators have taken to social media to express their feelings. In numerous cases, creators mentioned they were given no prior warning that their creator-owned work would be included. However, Dark Horse has received praise from creators for informing them about the new service months in advance. And, of course, some creators are excited that their work can reach a wider audience.
I, of course, don’t know the specifics of contracts signed by creators with their publishers. It is entirely possible that, under the terms of the contract, publishers do not need creators’ consent to offer a series on Comixology Unlimited. Nevertheless, it seems professional courtesy would dictate at least some advance warning.
Given that creator-owned comics already struggle without one or more big name creators attached to the project, adding series to Comixology Unlimited may further harm up-and-coming comic creators. For example: why buy Volume 1 of a series for upwards of $7.99 when you can read it, along with other series, for a lower price?
As I alluded to earlier, however, Comixology Unlimited will likely lead to more sales for certain series. While estimates are no doubt impossible, customers who sample a first volume cheaply they wouldn’t normally even read are more likely to purchase later volumes, thus leading to sales that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
While it may seem like an obvious next step to implement an all-you-can-read comic subscription service (albeit from a limited library), the implications for the comic industry cannot be understated. Will creators begin to demand new language in their contracts to have greater influence on whether or not their series are included? How are creators compensated for work that is placed on the platform? How will the platform expand its library, and at what rate? How many customers will actually buy later volumes? How many new customers, who otherwise wouldn’t buy comics, will sign up for Comixology Unlimited?
Without a doubt, Comixology Unlimited is a platform to watch in the coming months. I’m not sure whether it will be an unqualified success, but without a doubt it’s sparking interesting conversations about the nature of modern comics’ business.
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