The Price of Comixology

This article was originally published at DC Infinite and The Nerd Cave on May 2, 2014.


On Saturday, April 26th I felt a great disturbance in the comics Force, as if thousands of voices suddenly cried out in terror and ran to internet message boards. Comixology announced that they would no longer be supporting in-app purchases in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. They updated the Comixology app to remove in-store purchases from all non-Android devices and released a new Comics app to replace it. The original app is still being supported for now, so fans can continue to access their library and download already purchased comics. Comixology released a brief message explaining this transition to their customers.

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The one-click purchase and in-app store has been forever removed for customers using Apple and Google operating systems. In-app purchases accounted for the majority of purchases made from Comixology. It was part of a remarkably easy system, where users could click on the price tag next to any comic, enter their Apple ID password, then confirm the purchase: three steps. This system encouraged impulse purchases and for readers to keep buying; as each comic ended it would provide a link to the next chapter or volume.

The alternative to making in-app purchases is to purchase digital comics directly from the Comixology website. This requires readers to sign in to the website, select comics they would like to purchase, enter payment information (using PayPal or a credit card), confirm their purchase, and sync that purchase to their Comics app: about 6 steps. It’s a very similar process to the one used by the company which just acquired Comixology: Amazon.

This new system is not more convenient, but it is better.

And Here We Go

The primary motivator for this change is profit. In-app purchases — through both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store — provided a large percent of the revenue to the stores through which they were purchased: 30% to be exact. That’s a lot of money. With Apple and Google removed from these transactions, 30 cents of every dollar spent will be redistributed amongst the remaining parties. How will that money be divided though?

Unlike many areas of comics, where real numbers are obscure and difficult to obtain, there’s actually a lot of great data as to how much creators, publishers, distributors, and others earn from digital and physical purchases. Jim Zubkavich (Skull KickersSamurai Jack) has spent a lot of time blogging about the business side of comics and what life is like as a creator. Not only has Zub worked for DC Comics, he has published comics at Image, Dynamite, Valiant, IDW, Udon, and has self-published comics on Comixology. His experience with both print and digital sales from more than five publishers has provided him with an excellent overview of comic finances.

In a twopart series of article at the end of 2012, Zub broke down the realities of creator-owned comics and digital comics. He focused a lot of time on where the money from each purchase went. He even made nifty-looking graphs, like the one below that breaks down the revenue dispersal for a digital purchase.

Digital Economics

For a $2.99 comic (rounded to $3 for simplicity’s sake), here’s how the money breaks down.

Apple/Google – $0.90

Comixology – $1.05

Publishers $0.36 – $0.53

Creative Team $0.53 – $0.69

If you remove Apple or Google from the equation by buying directly from the Comixology website, their portion of the sale is redistributed proportionally amongst the remaining parties. Apple and Google did not negotiate their percentage. It is a standard fee applied to all sales made through their stores. The distribution between Comixology, publishers, and creators remains the same whether or not the sale is made through Apple or Google. With that in mind, here is the new breakdown when a sale is made through the Comixology website.

Comixology – $1.50

Publishers $0.51 – $0.75

Creative Team $0.75 – $0.99

These numbers are focused primarily on his creator-owned work like Skullkickers at Image. However, both DC Comics and Marvel typically offer royalties based upon sales. The percentages and language of these agreements are not publicly available. The impact of digital marketplaces is. The percent going to creative teams from each sale may not have been as high, but the percent decrease incurred from a sale in the App Store or Google Play Store was the same.

No matter who the publisher was, creators were losing money, significant money, due to the 30% cut from Apple and Google. Although the motivation for this change was almost certainly based on increased profits for Comixology and their new parent company, Amazon, it also benefits comic creators in a big way. The removal of Apple and Google increases the share provided to creators and publishers by more than 40%. For many, that can mean the difference in making rent and getting groceries.

Whatever the motivation for this change was, its effects should be good for comics. That will depend on how many customers who currently use in-app purchasing convert to using the Comixology website. Assuming the net loss of revenue is less than 30%, then the overall effect will be positive. Comics creators are already making their opinions on this change known and it’s positive. Nick Spencer (Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Morning Glories) has been very vocal on Twitter, so has Chris Roberson (Edison Rex, iZombie, publisher of MonkeyBrain).

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There is no doubt that this changes can make a significant impact on the writers and artists who create comics for a living. For those the creators on a digital-only title like Li’l Gotham or Adventures of Superman, it equates to about a 42% increase in pay. The only downside to this transition is that it creates additional work for the consumer. That work can be boiled down to three or four more steps, a series of tasks that can be summarized in seconds. A few seconds of effort from comic fans has the ability to make a large impact on the livelihoods of comic creators.

I won’t say that digital comic readers have no right to be upset or disgruntled at this change. Everyone has a right to their own taste and preferences. These changes will have other impacts as well. It’s possible that it will deter potential new readers or frustrate casual readers who have are only aware of the medium through Comixology. For consumers who are not engaged with topics like creator rights and royalties in comics, this change will be perceived as largely negative.

However, if you buy digital comics and are interested in supporting the artists and writers who create comics, then there’s no reason to complain about this change. The policies for in-app purchases through Apple and Google were not only detracting from Comixology and publisher profits, they were taking money away from creators. The truth is that the additional cost of 30 seconds time means that a significant portion of digital purchases are going directly to the people who make comics.

If you care about creators, this is a good thing. ‘Nuff said.


About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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