ComiXology made some big changes over the weekend, removing in-app purchase from its iOS app. In the same breath, the digital comics reader added in-app purchase capabilities to its Android app, using its own payment processor rather than Google's. These moves come less than a month after Amazon bought ComiXology, adding fuel to the speculative fire about why ComiXology is overhauling its mobile offerings.
The ensuing outcry over what ComiXology did could fill a trade paperback. But lost amid the alarmist, rhetoric-filled rants proclaiming the death of digital comics and freedom of choice are a few key facts about ComiXology's decision. The bottom line: There are no broadly-painted, black-and-white villains here, and this move could, in the long run, be better for people who love comics.
The rationale behind ditching the shackles of Apple's in-app purchase system certainly centers around money, to the tune of millions of dollars. More important, it's about a developer reasserting control of its platform. Yes, there's a cost to radically changing how users get their comics fix — you now have to visit the ComiXology website to buy issues instead of purchasing them from directly within the iOS app. But there are deeper issues at stake with regard to what is available for sale in the first place.
Behind the Amazon deal
First, though, we need to consider why ComiXology chose to link up with Amazon. When ComiXology entered the market several years ago, the digital comics publisher had chosen a niche within the book market that none of the major players — Apple, Amazon, and Google — had much interest in, nor had done anything on their own to define. It was only after ComiXology reported a big year in 2011 that those three companies made a move into digital comics. That was the year where ComiXology reportedly grossed $19 million, making it the top-grossing non-game app in Apple's iOS App Store. With Apple taking 30 percent of any in-app sales, that would put Cupertino's slice of ComiXology sales at anywhere from $4 to $8 million, depending on how you estimate the total sales.
That 30-percent payout to Apple and Google for payment processing was a cost of doing business for ComiXology. The overhead is mandatory with Apple, and optional with Google if you have your own payment processing backend. In either case, the payments give you the pleasure of offering in-app purchases on iOS and Android; they did not defray any file hosting, bandwidth, or other costs. One of the primary benefits Apple touts is the promotional value of being on its increasingly-crowded storefront. In ComiXology's case, that promotional value turned out to be just its presence in the store.
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