I have a book in my comiXology wishlist. It’s the first She-Ra graphic novel. Looks great, I love the show and this fits an extra piece of canon in there. I have a comics budget and I couldn’t quite stretch to the 8.99 it costs. I put it on my wish list and figured I’d come back later.
On Wednesday the book was 8.99.
Today it’s 12.99.
With no warning or announcement, Comixology have rolled out a 66% price hike in the UK and Europe wide. The assumption is that this is to begin to recoup the amount they’ve lost subsidizing the industry over the last few years. The assumption is that this is yet another way that Brexit the eternal foot-to-own-bollocks of the UK has found another way to make this island smaller, more expensive and less joyful. The assumption is that this is just the way of late stage capitalism and we should all just shrug, accept it and move on.
That’ll probably happen. The fact the comics press have rolled out one whole article about it certainly seems to suggest it’s less important than the Black Cat’s new armour or the persistent rum ours that DC are about to retire every single one of their lead characters and replace them. Got to get the clicks, right?
That doesn’t just correct the subsidies talked about in the Bleeding Cool article. That’s a 1:1 parity. Here’s how BC breaks it down:
(A quick aside: Hate on them all you want but they are the only site that bothered to report on this.)
To put it all in dollar terms, right now ComiXology UK is charging $6.44 for a $4.99 comic, despite not incurring shipping costs. When last week they charged Brits $3.86 for a $4.99 comic. They have been subsidizing the pound’s collapse for some time.
That, by itself, is bad. But the manner in which this has been rolled out is bluntly offensive. There’s been no warning, no statement, no explanation beyond a bland ‘We take lots of factors into account’. Just an eyeblink and suddenly the money that got me 4 comics last week gets me 2 this week.
I’m a comics reader. I’ve worked in marketing. I’ve done my time in customer care. This is genuinely one of the absolute worst ways to deal with customer relations I’ve ever seen. At best, it presents as cowardly. Hiding from the audience you know is furious and hoping none of them will notice. At worst? It’s arrogant. The same people who paid £4 last week can pay £6 this week.
So far, that second response seems to be the one they’re getting. As part of the Amazon mitochondrial network. Comixology is simultaneously super available and remarkably difficult to talk to. Tweets and DMs (polite ones, you know me) go unanswered. There’s no press release. No statement. But there is a message. Whether it’s one Comixology wants to send isn’t for me to say. But by not saying anything, they’re saying this loud and clear.
You’re not a big enough market to care about.
Because it’s not just this multi-currency price hike. Comixology run a service called Unlimited which is, in essence, a fire hose. You pay a flat fee a month and can access tens of thousands of books. It’s brilliant the sort of library you can lose yourself in for months.
It’s not available in the UK. And as of one day ago, the same account that won’t answer questions about this was responding to queries about that with bland ‘no plans at this time but thanks for your interest!’ tweets.
So, to be clear, the week is closing with digital comics now more expensive to lease than physical comics are to buy, with no explanation or warning in a country where Unlimited isn’t available and exactly one article has been written about it.
In the dictionary under slow clap, there’s a picture of this.
I want to say this may help retailers, and it might. But retailers are hurting worse than this particular arm of the Amazon Mechalith ever could. Multiple stores are cutting their shelf copies to the bone and because the reordering system in comics is a joke told by a shrieking god to a sleeping giant in a rainstorm, there’s no certainty anything you want will actually be in print. And now, if you want to lease it digitally, it costs more than the physical copy you may not be able to get.
I used to work in this industry. I don’t miss it. But God does it make me sad on days like this.
This is going to hurt everything and everyone. Customers have seen their budgets cut in half, smaller titles that could find homes online will now continually lose out to the big names, retailers will be under more pressure, companies will get risk averse. This will shrink the industry. Demonstrably hurt it. And the only outcome that suggests it might not? Is one where we all shrug, accept that we really do live inside a commerce system that’s dead but somehow still moving and start saving up for the next issue of our favorite title. But hey maybe it’s one our local retailer has risked a measurable percentage of their own profit margin to buy a shelf copy of. Living the DREAM.
So what do we take home from this? Two things:
-Pre order titles you want. Yes I know it means you basically have to be psychic. I’m sorry. This system is broken and shouldn’t have lasted this long yet here we are.
-Choose between what comforts you and what excites you. And get ready for it to be a very tough choice.