Last weekend, the first real effect of Amazon acquiring Comixology (the digital comics purchasing and reading platform) was felt: the apps were updated for iOS and Android. On Saturday, I’d thought nothing of the app updating on my Android phone, and so it wasn’t until Sunday that I realised the full implications of what had happened. In-app purchases were now straight to Comixology rather than Google Play.

The fallout

But at least I could still buy comics while in the app. The iOS version had had in-app (IAPs) completely removed, one assumes due to Apple insisting on them going through the app store. Clearly Amazon wanted to claw back the 30% that Comixology purchases paid out to either Google or Apple. However the cost to the user experience has been great.

While you can buy in-app for Android, between Amazon and Comixology no one had bothered to ensure UK buyers saw prices in sterling. As of this morning the app was still showing prices in dollars, and if a test purchase of Iron Man issue 20 was anything to go by: $3.99 was as charged as £3.99 according to the receipt emailed to me (though I had the cost reduced by some eGift Card Balance I had (and wasn’t told about):

comixology changes img 1

And no, Comixology, Amazon: $3.99 is not £3.99! (It’s more like £2.37.)

While Android readers have obviously not had huge steps of inconvenience dropped in front of them in the way iOS Comixology users now have (they’ll have to purchase on the website and then re-sync their app), I can’t see the business sense in adding barriers to purchasing a product. It’s now been made less convenient to buy comics through Comixology for the majority of device holders that use the service and has made impulse purchases on iOS less attractive.

Lack of protection

Through the dropping of using Apple’s store payments and Google Play another, I should hope, unintended consequence has taken place for Android users: we can now no longer insist on a password being entered before purchasing a comic through the app. This means the Android app is now open up to the kind of in-app purchasing abuse by children that something like Google Play enables you to prevent and I think that is ridiculous and irresponsible.

This lack of protection also means that you can’t simply stop your child from purchasing age inappropriate comics with just the simple act of having all purchases in-app password protected, at least on Android devices. Without the installation of a third party app on an Android device (which there aren’t any that I can see that would help with in-app purchases outside of Google Play), the only way you could stop a child purchasing too many or inappropriate comics would be to not save any payment details on the Comixology website and so having to always buy through the Comixology website each time for a purchase, thus creating the same problem as iOS! Or, y’know, either reading comics with your kids (which is fine for those less accomplished readers) or not let them read digital comics at all.

What a mess

In the space of a few weeks, Amazon have managed to turn Comixology from being one of the best digital comic reading experiences there is in to one of the most painful and inconvenient for a significant chunk of the device market. Unlike Gerry Conway (Punisher co-creator), I don’t believe this is a conspiracy by Amazon to get us all using Kindle Fire HDs, mainly because in theory the purchasing experience on Android hasn’t been severely crippled unless you’re a parent or someone who needs to keep impulse buys in check.

To me this all feels like Amazon wanted to get their paws on the Comixology reader to enhance their own apps, but in the meantime didn’t want to see 30% of its potential profits from the service going to competitors. I would have been far happier with this if they had just gone ahead and already merged Amazon Kindle and Comixology accounts rather than leaving us with this interim mess for Android. Not that it would improve matters for iOS users, because in-app purchases always have to go through Apple.

  • TaoKeo

    Child purchasing is another huge problem that’s not getting much attention. As you point out, with IAP you would always be asked for a password. But also, with IAP you could fund purchases with an iTunes card. Now there is no way to buy comics online without a credit card. So children and teens would have to use their parent’s credit cards. Gift cards will now be useless to them. But hey… kids don’t read comics right?

    • Emily King

      It is a frelling ridiculous situation for the whole thing to have been thrown into. And these problems need to be addressed, but like you said, “kids don’t read comics right?” which is what I feel a bunch of execs were thinking when they let this all through.

  • Alex Walsh

    I’m not entirely sure I agree with the in app purchase issue on android- if you’ve bought any age inappropriate material previously they could read that anyway? That’s what profiles are supposed to be used for on android isn’t it?

    Sounds like a mess though. Any idea what the Kindle fire HD(x) experience is like?

    • Emily King

      “I’m not entirely sure I agree with the in app purchase issue on android- if you’ve bought any age inappropriate material previously they could read that anyway? That’s what profiles are supposed to be used for on android isn’t it?”

      That’s not the scenario I was looking at. If you’ve got young teens with smartphones – no user profiles. But in theory you’d have helped them set up a Comixology account you had control over so there wouldn’t have been inappropriate purchasing in the first place, so in-app is now a problem because instead of them coming to you and asking you to input a password for a purchase, you’ve either got to do it through the website to be sure and make sure they don’t save your card details or watch the kid like a Hawk.

      No idea on Kindle Fire.

      • Alex Walsh

        I guess at some level it’s about trust. I can go to our local library and read Preacher, Girls, The Boys or any one of two dozen explicit graphic novels, as could anyone.

        I see your point now though.

        • Emily King

          Don’t worry, in the UK library cut backs will make censorship easy. (Not really happy about that.)

  • MadRobo

    The Kindle Fire OS is a customized Android kernel anyway. I doubt it’d make even more sense for them try and force people off Android just to buy a Kindle product.

    What they’re doing is not wanting to pay the 30% tithe that all other apps with IAP pay to access Apple’s customers.