The 800-pound gorilla of the online retail world just got a comic-book sidekick.
On Thursday Amazon announced it's buying Comixology, the leader in the digital-comic-book world. Comixology's technology powers not only the company's own popular Comics app and web store, but also the main comic-reading apps by Marvel and DC.
Comic fans may groan about the sale--it's always sad when a plucky, groundbreaking start-up is bought out by a corporate giant--but Amazon's track record with purchases is actually pretty good. The company has bought Zappos, Goodreads, Woot, and Audible, all of which continue to operate more or less as they did before, rather than being integrated into Amazon.com.
"Amazon has a long history with subsidiaries like Goodreads, Zappos, Audible and IMDb, of helping them grow and, over time, learning from each other and improving together," Comixology's Chip Mosher told me in an email.
The two companies "share a passion for making comics and graphic novels easy to enjoy anywhere on any device," Mosher wrote. "Our goal is to build on each other's strengths and create the best service for all comic and graphic novel readers on any platform with comics content for every age, gender and demographic."
The digital-comics reading experience on Kindle is definitely not as good as the one offered by Comixology, so that's one area where Comixology's technology could upgrade Amazon's experience. But the companies are probably a good fit in terms of their audiences: While Comixology offers "digital trade" collections, its stock-in-trade is single monthly issues from most of the major comics distributors, and its audience is more likely to think of themselves as comics fans.
Amazon's reach is much broader than Comixology's, and the company will be able to take advantage of Comixology's relationships within the comics industry as well as its reading technology, which was developed explicitly for the visual storytelling medium.
Comixology also has a strong presence worldwide, because the comics industry is less encumbered with region-specific contracts. Amazon's international presence has been spotty in many areas, but in comics the company should have a leg up.
In a direct message to Comixology readers, CEO and co-founder David Steinberger said, "We have long had the goal of making every person on the planet a comics fan. With Amazon's help, this crazy goal is more possible than ever before... ComiXology will retain its identity as an Amazon subsidiary and we're not anywhere near done 'taking comics further.'"
Traditional book publishers have long expressed concerns about Amazon's huge dominance of book sales. In the comics market, the dynamic is somewhat different. The comic publishers have stronger, more identifiable brands than most book publishers, owing to their strong stocks of intellectual property and (in the case of Marvel and DC) frequent crossovers between characters in their shared universes.
And while Marvel continues to use Comixology's technology for its main app, it's also been actively developing its Marvel Unlimited app, giving it a strong option if it decides to distance itself somewhat from Comixology and Amazon.
So in the end, this acquisition might not mean a lot for Comixology users--but it might mean a major upgrade in the comics-reading experience for Amazon customers who've never heard of Comixology. And that's probably good for comics in general. But then again, who knows? As Dr. Manhattan taught us, nothing ever really ends.