Will Amazon Do To Comic Shops What It Did To Book Stores?

Big news today in the comics publishing world: Amazon has purchased Comixology, the largest retailer of digital comics. So what does that mean for your local comic book store?

Amazon is certainly already competing with brick and mortar comic book stores; they sell both physical comics (often with sizable discounts on trade paperbacks) and Kindle editions of comic books. But the Comixology purchase means that Amazon is looking to be the major player in digital comics distribution (especially when it comes to single issues of comics), and that digital comics may be seeing a much wider audience than they've enjoyed through Comixology and other platforms so far.

Comixology is already a significant concern for comics retailers. Some shops have opted to work with it, participating in the platform's storefront affiliate program, which enables retailers to sell digital comics from their brick and mortar stores. And, as publishers have increasingly made digital editions of their comics available the same day as the print comics, Comixology has seen growing financial success. Apple announced that the Comixology app for iPad and iPhone was the highest-grossing non-game app of 2013.

So what does Amazon's acquisition mean? For now, all Comixology CEO David Steinberger is just saying that Comixology will become an Amazon subsidiary and continue to operate as its own platform. But with Amazon behind Comixology, chances are that we'll be seeing digital comics getting into the hands of more and more people. Hopefully, that means more people reading comics overall—and more creators seeing their comics purchased and read even if they don't have a print distributor.

But as with prose books, not everyone is going to want to make the switch from paper to digital. Some people simply prefer the experience of reading on paper, and many folks collect single issues of comics—although it will be interesting to see if the latter changes with the rise of digital comics. And there's a social aspect to comic book stores that is distinct from what you see in a bookstore. The weekly ritual of going to the shop on Wednesdays to discuss the latest issue with your fellow readers won't be replicated by the mere availability of digital comics. Still, it will be interesting to see what Amazon plans to do in the digital comics space and how retailers feel about the purchase.

It will also be interesting if we see competitors in the digital comics space rise in the wake of this announcement. Comixology is the top digital comics platform; its major competitor, Graphicly, switched its focus to ebooks instead of digital comics alone. This purchase means that Amazon has essentially created a digital comics monopoly, but the field of comics is populated by creators who are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to the digital space. Many cartoonists have had immense success releasing their comics on PDF—often using Kickstarter as a preorder system—as well as through platforms like Comixology and Amazon. As Amazon moves more into the digital comics space, the reactions of those creators—whether they find Comixology/Amazon useful going forward—could have a major impact on the landscape.

Message from the CEO [Comixology]