Digital Crisis Coming?

comixology

Last week, Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool posted an article detailing what could be a major battle in the making.

When it comes to digital comics, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone dispute the idea that ComiXology is king. They are the top digital distribution platform, with sales that made up 19% of the total comics market volume in 2012.

Much of their success has been predicated on their patent-pending Guided View technology. This is the programming which allows readers to zoom in and move through a book panel-by-panel, something which allows a format originally conceived to be read in physical form to translate well to tablets. Anyone who has ever tried to read a PDF comic on a Kindle or iPad Mini knows the importance of this ability. Without it, most tablets simply don’t possess the screen size or resolution to allow for a quality reading experience.

In his article, Johnston reports that ComiXology’s hold on this technology may not last. In 2012, Marvel was granted a patent for programming which closely mirrors the Guided View technology. What makes this interesting is that Marvel applied for this patent in 2006, before ComiXology even existed.

This creates the potential for a major shakeup in the digital marketplace. If they so chose, Marvel could conceivably file suit against ComiXology for patent infringement, which would likely lead to the end of that feature’s presence as a part of their app. This would be a game-changer for several reasons.

1) The End of One-Stop Shopping

comixologylogosmallPresently, ComiXology is the avenue for digital comics purchasing. Every major publisher, including DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and more do day-and-date digital releases for all of their titles. A comic fan can log onto ComiXology at 12:01 AM on Wednesday and with but a few clicks (or quite a few, depending on the size of one’s pull list) can retrieve all of their books within minutes. If Marvel were to upset the apple cart by competing with ComiXology as a digital retailer, the shockwaves such an action would send through the digital marketplace could be catastrophic.

2) Consumer Confidence Catastrophe

Image Courtesy  Graphic Policy
Image Courtesy Graphic Policy

One of the continuing themes in debates over the future of digital is a concern over the half-life of the product. By this I mean that there are people concerned that, if and when ComiXology is no longer viable as a platform, they will lose access to all the comics purchased through the ComiXology store. If Marvel does indeed launch a competing platform, that will only advance the possibility that investing one’s time in digital comics may be setting a time bomb on top of one’s virtual collection.

3) Marketplace Monopoly

monopolymanThe market is seeing an increasing number of digital-first/only releases which are geared specifically for the guided view technology. DC’s Batman ’66 is a prime example of this. Were Marvel to force ComiXology to remove the feature from their own app, retaining sole rights to the technology, any company which wanted to make use of the inherent advantages that guided view provides (especially for those with smaller tablets such as the original Kindle Fire) would be forced to get in bed with the Mouse House of Ideas. While DC has been actively increasing staffing at DC Digital, there has been no indication that they are developing a similar technology to compete with Marvel and ComiXology. Anyone who follows the industry would readily concede that its a stretch to believe that DC would ever allow themselves to land in a situation where they are forced to pay a percentage of their digital sales to Marvel.

DC in particular is really pushing the digital side of things, as evinced by any number of recent interviews with Jim Lee and Dan Didio, so it’s doubtful that they would exit such a thriving marketplace, but they may be forced to take a step back from what guided view can provide, if for no other reason than not wanting to become an income stream for their primary competitor.

This will be an interesting battle to watch, albeit from the sidelines. We would like to hear your thoughts, however. Do you think Marvel is likely to push ComiXology out of the guided-view marketplace? What will the final outcome be? Sound off in the comments section and, as always, keep it tuned to Capeless Crusader for more as it develops.

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Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He also hosts the weekly Infinite Crossover podcast in cooperation with Fanboys Inc. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and daytime supporter of all things technical. contact: joshuadepstein@gmail.com

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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