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Monday, September 12, 2016

On the price of digital comics...

Something I've noticed...

Some background first. About a decade ago digital editions of print comics started to become a viable thing, as display technology and internet speeds got to the point that an adequate reading experience could be delivered. Various companies entered the field, and the clear winner, through a combination of a superior interface and strategic exclusive deals, was Comixology.

Eventually Amazon bought Comixology in 2014. The first visible effect of this was that Comixology removed the ability to buy comics directly in the reading app in Apple devices. Those purchases required using Apple's payment service, for which Apple reportedly takes at least 30% off the top. Amazon's decision not to engage in that is pretty justifiable. 30% for basically providing credit card processing is ridiculous to the point of usury. An independent Comixology trying to establish itself in the market can justify paying it for the market exposure and to provide a more easy and trusted payment service to new customers. An established Comixology backed by Amazon is getting a lot less for their 30%, especially since Amazon has its own competing on-line payments system, and you don't fund and legitimize the competition if you can avoid it. So while reading could continue on the apps on Apple phones and tablets, purchasing would have to be done through the website, payable by Amazon Payments or Paypal (I'm not sure what the situation was with in-app purchases on non-Apple devices).

The next major change was the integration of Comixology with Amazon's digital reader the Kindle. Starting late last year you could read many (but not all) digital comics bought on Amazon through Comixology. That only worked one way, though, books bought on Comixology can't be read on the Kindle. They also allowed you to merge your Comixology and Amazon accounts, although buried in the fine print there was that once you merge the accounts the ability to pay with Paypal goes away (and they've made it clear that eventually you'll have to use an Amazon account on Comixology).

So for a comic that is available on both Comixology and Amazon Kindle stores, the normal situation is this:

a) you can buy it on Amazon, which means you can read it either as a Kindle ebook (actual Kindle hardware, Kindle apps for other devices, Kindle cloud reader) or through Comixology (apps or web reader)

b) you can buy it on Comixology, which means you can read it through Comixology (apps or web reader)

So you're getting a lot more flexibility buying it through on Amazon (not that the Kindle reading experience for comics is any great shakes, especially compared to Comixology, but I assume there are situations where people will prefer to use it). They must charge a modest premium for those extra reading options. So let's compare the price, checked today, of a dozen books available on Amazon and on Comixology (and the print price, just for reference), with the difference you pay buying it on Amazon.

Title Publisher Amazon Comixology Amazon discount Print
Harley Quinn (2016-) #3 DC $2.99 $2.99 0 % $2.99
Ms. Marvel (2015-) #7 Marvel $3.62 $3.99 9 % $3.99
March: Book Three Top Shelf $7.66 $9.99 23 % $19.99
Paper Girls #9 Image $2.15 $2.99 28 % $2.99
Creepy Presents Steve Ditko Dark Horse $7.66 $10.99 30 % $19.99
Luke Cage, Hero For Hire Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1 Marvel $10.97 $16.99 35 % $75.00
Descender Vol. 2 Image $7.73 $11.99 36 % $14.99
Batman: The Killing Joke DC $7.66 $12.99 41 % $17.99
Ghosts Scholastic $5.36 $10.99 51 % $10.99
Puma Blues Dover $11.79 $23.99 51 % $29.95
From Hell Top Shelf $6.89 $14.99 54 % $35.00
Ragnarok Vol. 1: Last God Standing IDW $3.82 $9.99 62 % $24.99

So in all but one case I checked it was cheaper to buy from Amazon, usually considerably cheaper, despite the fact that you get more reading options buying from Amazon. And the one case where the price is the same? The Amazon page there notes "Price set by seller", which they use to mean "we'd sell it for less if we could, but the publisher won't let us". Presumably DC is insisting on price parity between different channels for recent periodical comics at least. Overall you would save over 40% buying those comics through Amazon instead of through Comixology, and 70% against buying them in print at cover price.

(these aren't atypical, and I couldn't find one case where the Comixology price was lower or I'd have included it)

(edit to add, someone told me that they got different prices checking Amazon, some lower, some higher, but always lower than the Comixology price. I just did some checking, and Amazon seemingly lists prices somewhat randomly, sometimes I get slightly different prices loading pages a few minutes apart, and wildly different prices, lower or higher, if I'm not logged in and using a VPN to mask my location. So exact amounts will vary, but still always lower on the service with most reading options)

Passing strange. Not sure where else you can get more for less like that (I think I've seen it sometimes with CDs, where a physical CD with a digital download is sometimes cheaper than just the digital version). I guess the business model of keeping your margins tight, even selling at a loss, until you build up the market share so you can crush your competition, and then have the ability to control the market completely is so completely ingrained in the Amazon DNA that it applies even when the competition is a wholly owned subsidiary. More to the point, I guess that Amazon prefers you buy through their site, where paying by Paypal isn't an option, so there's another middleman they can cut out completely.

Anyone have another plausible explanation for this price curiosity?

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