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Comixology and In App Purchases

Last week Comixology released a new version of its app (hurrah). This was the first update post the recent Amazon acquisition and so was bound to be analysed deeply to see what direction and how heavy control Amazon would take with Comixology. The answer was not subtle and did not require much investigation to notice. As soon as users logged in to Comixology they were greated by a screen telling them to upgrade to the new app. When this app was opened it became clear that in-app purchases were gone. Almost the same has occurred in the Android although if you have entered your PayPal details into the Comixology website, you can make a purchase while you are in the app. For iOS you have to go to the Comixology website which there is no easy link to get to the item you are looking for.

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No Where Near As Good

No surprise here but this has made the app worse from a users experience. It really shouldn’t be so significant that you have to buy from a website (and I’m sure the website is a very good one) but the app was just seamless. You open it up, with no account sign up needed, see a recommended comic, click to buy and then it starts downloading.

Someone who has never used the app before could have a comic before you knew it. Now you have to go to a website, set up an account, buy a comic on the website and then log into your account on your device. It’s a few extra steps but it changes from encouraging people to log in and browse for new comics (during some downtime) to having to go and login to a website etc etc.

This is very similar to the kindle app process but there are big differences between comics and books. Comics are quick, short and require less commitment to buy, download and read. Books require a bigger commitment and usually people are persuaded to read a book through a tougher sale and then download it. It makes more sense to go to a website to buy books than comics, but even in spit of that fact, the Kindle app would still be better with in app purchases and the option to discover and buy books from the app.

Why Change?

The big question that of course arrives is why this change happened. There are three major theories.

1. This was always going to happen

This is the official line and according to Comixology, the web shopping experience is better with deals and sets. But evidence doesn’t really line up. The lack of discovery features that were removed from the app in a extreme hatched job (just look at the screen for when you finish a comic and the missing recommended read feature. This isn’t a polished finish which has been waiting for a while, it’s a quick remove).

2. Amazon wants all the pie!

This is the most popular theory and it makes a lot of sense. Amazon takes over the app, Amazon has the same principle with it’s kindle app, Amazon see’s Apple as a competitor, Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple money. This idea has a lot of weight considering that the Android app still allows for in app purchases (though with a system that doesn’t give money to Google) and the speed of the transition suggests that the acquisition is the major factor to do with this change.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t stating that Amazon wants to make more money, although that is one theory as well, Amazon are smart enough to know that 70% of a great volume is better than 100% or a much small quantity. Instead it is the theory that Amazon wants all the profits (even if they are reduced).

This fits in with a lot of Amazons business strategy where they seem to forgo mass profits for greater marketshare and domination. And let’s be honest, where else can you get comics from online! There are options but Comixology is/was the biggest. However, it goes against the grain of Amazons goal of providing the best customer service they can. They have made the app worse and it isn’t as good to use anymore.

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3. Amazon want a specific type of customers

This is perhaps the most interesting theory, Amazon want a specific type of customer, who shops in a specific type of way and so they will forgo some profits and push customers in a certain way for longer term goals. It’s a very interesting theory and one that we can’t really know without insider information from Amazon. However, this change does follow the patterns of other Amazon products so perhaps it makes sense that Amazon are pushing in the same direction.

What does this mean for in app purchases?

There a couple of  big question from this issue that impact iOS users and developers in general.

1. “Is Apple partially responsible?”

After all, 30% is a huge chunk of revenue from an in app purchase, especially when Apple isn’t doing much to facilitate this process, it simply provides a payment mechanism and when you contrast that with a service like PayPal, Apple’s take does seem high. Have Apple been a bit too greedy and will other developers follow suit?

2. Is it still worth pushing in app purchases?

Apple has unofficially endorsed in app purchases first by creating the option and then by featuring apps which follow such practices as creating games which time out or require you to spend extraordinary lengths of time (or pay for a small amount of in game coins). Obviously the can lead to massive revenue in certain cases but it can cost users vast sums of money (which they spend without realising). Maybe it is time for developers to push against this trend and provide good quality apps, with no in app purchases which cost a fair sum. I’m a big fan of being able to pay a developer for good work and knowing how much an app costs up front.

With more developers, including big name traditional games companies, moving to a “free with in app purchase” model, the reduction in competition amongst paid apps provides developers with a new opportunity.

Changing Comic Habits

The sad truth about this update is that I no longer log into the app at all. There are some comics that I want to read but I know I have to set up an account, log into a web page to check if they have been released etc etc etc. It has basically stopped my comic reading in it’s tracks because the app has gone from great to terrible. I don’t know if I will personally use the app again or if another company comes along offering a similar service, will I switch. Only time will tell.

Did you use Comixology? Will you in the future?

[Photo Credit: Andreas-photography via Compfight cc]

About Chris Wilson

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