ComiXology, Content Restrictions and Customer Loyalty

AppStore comixologyLogo

 

 

Digital comics platform ComiXology recently made a very sudden change to its operating model. On Saturday April 26th 2014 the in-app storefronts stopped working, with absolutely no prior warning that this was going to happen.

Android users required an update, which replaced the old Google Play compatible storefront with one requiring their main ComiXology account have a payment method on file. Aside from the inability to use Google play credit anymore (which is a major issue for some) there was no real loss in functionality. As long as one is in a position to use the credit card or PayPal account.

iOS users, however, bore the brunt of the change. This was no mere upgrade. There was a new app that needed installing. This itself then required logging in with (or creating) a ComiXology account, to tie existing purchase to the account that would be needed going forwards…
…in the shiny new Reader-Only App.

Cue major outrage.

On a Saturday.

The poor PR and tech support (file migration was not always smooth) guys must’ve been working their socks off last weekend to deal with the aftermath of this one.

ComiXology have desperately been trying to put a positive spin on this as being ultimately good for the customers. Apple’s App Store does, it has to be said, have rather strict rules regarlding in-app purchases. Apple automatically get a 30% cut of each sale. Also, there are rules regarding what kind of content is allowed to be purchased in-app. So technically this is a good change.
Only the web store was always an option before. So if people wanted restricted content then they could do. And if someone wanted to support ComiXology directly, they always had that option.

The problem now is that choice has been taken away. You must use the webstore if you are an iOS user. You must buy directly through ComiXology, regardless of tablet platform.
If you favour in-app purchases, or if you only run through mobile store credit, you no longer have those options.

Needless to say, it has been a bit of a PR disaster for them. Their App Store average ratings (depending on country) have dropped to between one Star and one-and-a-half Stars. People are deleting the app. People are unsubscribing from other Amazon services, or at least taking the opportunity to review whether they need those subscriptions at the moment or not. And the very people who probably would have been won over in a day or so have been alienated by the overall bad handling of the whole situation.

They have severely negatively impacted their customer loyalty. There’s a chance it may just be a case of “Nerd Rage” and that it will all settle down quickly. There’s always that chance, though, that this is going to leave people with a sour taste for a long while yet. Only time (and sales figures) will tell.

Why I watch what I watch

I know my personality influences what stories I like, as well as what aspects of the stories I like. At first I thought that this was just to do with personal preference. Liking aspects that people don’t just because I have a different angle when enjoying stories. Then there were things to do with my job and the like. Empathizing more with the techie-types than the end-user types. If one side gives a rational reason for something and the rest keep waiting for “their answer” then I side with the former, even if they’re heading in the asshole direction.

More and more, though, I am realising that the nature of my personality and my history with depression and mental illness, as well as some of the circumstances leading up to them, really colour what I like about stories.

I never got the “Luke Hate” in Star Wars. Partially, I guess, because I was late to the party. I didn’t see the trilogy until my university days. Shortly after university, I felt very trapped by circumstance. No job, living with parents, growing depression. These were all things that beginning to resonate with me around the same age I finally saw Star Wars.
Feeling trapped and having people who mean well trying to tell you what to do? I’ll side with the whiney brat any day. I’ve been there. Moving past it (I hope, somewhat) now, but it’s still something I empathize with.

I love the stories where people go against authority. Most of the recent shows, especially Anime, that I have been watching centre around groups of socially-inept people banding together.

I’ve recently watched (twice) a show called Kokoro Connect, which has a group of five outsiders who formed a school club together because there wasn’t anything out there that suited them. They then get various phenomena forced upon them by a mysterious entity who is seeking to be entertained. And you see them all struggle with things like body-swapping, acting on impulse, regressing (physically) to childhood and having their thoughts shared with the group.

I loved watching the struggles of Inaba and Iori. Not because I like watching people suffer but because I can feel their pain at times. Whilst Inaba struggles with not being a natural people person, and has to learn to deal with her true emotions, Iori struggles to learn who she really is beneath all the masks she wears over her personality.
These are things I have struggled with, and continue to do so. The strain of “putting on a personality” to deal with people, even friends and family, is a very real one. I don’t struggle with it as much as Iori does, not anymore anyhow, but I know what it can be like.

Still, I find myself quite interested when I look at what I watch and read and who I empathize with. As a general rule, these are the “take crap from noone” or the “fundamentally broken” characters. These are my heroes because they are exactly how they appear or, if not, you get to see the effort and strain involved in being “somebody else”.

eBooks and “Agency Pricing”

I own a Kindle. It’s probably the greatest thing that happened to my reading habit, specifically in that it restarted it.

Don’t get me wrong, physical books are great. For long-term ownership, for lending to friends, for quickly flipping through to double-check something. For all these things they are great. But for general reading, I find an e-ink reader just far superior.
They’re portable. You can bring a collection with you easier than a single book. you can lay it down ona  table and not have it lose your place, great for reading during mealtime. Just place it on the table, read it there, only touching it to hit the page-advance key.

Pricing-wise for the books themselves, they sort suck at times.

For one thing, I dislike paying full price for a digital copy of something, especially when it carries DRM restrictions. To me, that is a rental not a purchase. So I favour cheaper eBooks. I don’t see them as a long-term investment (that’s what I buy dead-tree versions for), I see them as a long-term loan.

This is not the only reason, though. I always favoured paperbacks over hardbacks. They’re more convenient to carry around and less bulky to read. So yeah, the same reason I favour my Kindle over a physical book. I like to read, I don’t like the hassle of a bulky form factor.
It has always bugged me having to wait the extra six months or more to get something in my preferred size-class. It’s not just the price of paperbacks I favour(ed), it’s the actual medium.

Enter the eReader and the problem just escalates, especially given Agency Pricing. This is what stops the various online stores (namely Amazon) from heavily discounting popular eBooks toa  point where other stores can’t compete and that people won’t buy the paper copies.

News Flash: Some of us have Kindles specifically to avoid paper copies.

Now, there are fair reasons behind this, but it then has the slight disadvantage that is especially noticeable in long-running series.
The latest hardback-only book will have an eBook price of £7 or more. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe it is, but the rest of the series is available for under £5, which can make it hard to justify the price. Especially if you already own the book. Why pay almost twice the price of what it’ll be later this year when you already own it in one format?

Did that make no sense? I guess it wouldn’t to most people. And that’s the problem. Nobody really envisioned a case where you might want to get a cheap digital copy of a book you already own shortly after getting it.

Like maybe wanting to re-buy a convenient form-factor of something you were given as a gift?

I mean, hardback books are great to own. Hardback booked are a wonderful gift to receive. hardback book are also a bugger to read, and the opposite of portable. The idea situation is to have both. One to keep (if you like the book) one to read.
But not at these prices.

“The Publisher has set the price for this book”.
I guess the publisher wants me to read stories published by their competitors, then. Because for a DRM-encumbered platform-locked copy of a book, price is a deciding factor. It can make the difference between “impulse buy”, “maybe alter” and “not happening”.