Good in app, horrible in browser
Since Amazon acquired Comixology in 2014, its wider relationship with the showcase – which during these years has remained the main focus of buy and read digital comics— was relatively indifferent. Aside from the ability to log in with your Amazon account, the two storefronts have remained largely separate. A new update this week changes that…for the worse.
Starting with this week’s wave of comic book releases mid-week, Amazon has radically revamped the experience of using the industry’s largest digital comic book storefront. Changes to the Comixology app have been largely quiet, save for the complete merger of Amazon and Comixology accounts. The updated Comixology app now promises faster downloads of comics to your library, better search filtering, and new browsing features that all in all bring the comics reading experience in line with the Comixology app on the Amazon Kindle Library reading experience. apps—plus you can read Comixology purchases in the Kindle app, and previous Kindle purchases vice versa. Comixology’s “Guided View” – a somewhat dynamic, panel-by-panel reading experience – returns, along with a basic pinch-to-zoom for deeper reading. Older releases and digital collections of classic comics might look a bit crunchy enlarged, but newly released comics look great with this feature; I tested it on this week night wing #89and Bruno Redondo and Adriano Lucas’ Dick Grayson still looks as glorious as before.
The most drastic changes – and the biggest failures – come in the browser experience. As of this week, the original native Comixology website now redirects you to Amazon Kindle Comics Showcase, a page on Amazon’s own site. While featuring Comixology iconography, it’s for all intents and purposes similar to many other on-site storefronts on Amazon – and awkwardly hard to find from the site’s homepage, tucked under “Books > Comics & Novels graphics” without a direct link. Buying comics is now the same as buying almost everything else on Amazon, and as digital purchases you get all the benefits of things like synced page tracking, so you can pick up the app where you left off on a browser.
Which you’ll probably want to do, because reading comics in Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is a Major pain in the ass. The old Comixology browser reader was functionally pretty basic, but Kindle Cloud Reader – designed more for reading e-books than primarily visual media like comics – lacks even those basic functions. Where previously readers could choose to navigate a comic book page by page or double-page spread, now the latter is forced upon you in Kindle Cloud Reader. It might be nice if there was a general zoom function like Comixology used to have, but KCR also lacks that: there’s an approximation of the old guided view that lets you zoom in on an individual panel, activated by double-clicking on a single panel. But it’s not intuitive to navigate, progresses by scrolling with the mouse wheel or using directions on a keyboard, and it’s just ugly to start on most pages, not filling the whole view of the page.
This inability to zoom outside of it is most noticeable on the larger, dual-spread pages, which KCR completely clogs. Sandwiched between massive black bars to maintain vertical ratio, there’s no way to zoom these pages apart from double-clicking for panel-by-panel approximation, but that won’t work for every artwork. double spread art in a comic book, where these formats cannot traditionally be cut into panels. It just means you’re squinting at a book instead of being able to admire the artwork, and the fact that Amazon thought the way to treat comics was to just give them the same treatment (already a bit bad! ) that books in its browser reader feels, in diplomatic terms, disrespectful to the visual nature of the medium.
The issues with Comixology’s browsing experience and loss of function extend beyond the transition to Kindle Cloud Reader. Accessing previously purchased issues is also as complicated as reading them – comic book purchases are now hidden in the drop-down list in your Amazon account, under the “Manage Your Content and Devices” tab, hidden next to other eBook and audiobook purchases. Unlike the filtering options in the Comixology app, you don’t have the choice of seeing purchases you’ve made previously on Comixology grouped with comics you may have purchased directly for Kindle, and book sorting per series becomes difficult to manage with large collections. Instead of giving each individual series in your collection its own page to store individual issues, sorting by title simply lists them in one huge block. If you try to search for individual issues through the Amazon storefront, it can also be a bug experience. I sought night wing #89 knowing that I had already bought and downloaded it to my library, but its page on Amazon just gave me the option to buy it again, although I also acknowledged that I already had it – with the only option to go and read this issue from its accessible landing page while trying to buy it again and receiving an error.
The storefront is getting even worse for international users, who can no longer subscribe to an ongoing title – ensuring they automatically get every issue purchased and added to their library on every release – a sharp change reported by Amazon would simply see users’ current series subscriptions canceled with the redesign’s arrival this week, leaving them to manually track current series. The ability to subscribe is now only a feature available to the US public, with little clarity as to whether the long-running feature will be available again beyond those borders – and readers outside of United States who remain logged in to their Amazon accounts may not visit the US storefront without it breaking:
While I’m sure Amazon sees benefits for itself in bringing comic book readers more directly to its storefront, from a user experience it’s hard to say what has been gained by this redesign. Turning the Comixology app into a Kindle app, but for comics just means you now have a mobile reading experience with all the strengths and flaws of the previous Kindle experience for comics, and nothing particularly gained in the process route, and even previously accessible basic functionality. now missing with no sign of return. The browser experience is now a significant step backwards, both for reading and buying comics – at best a clumsy way to get more people to read on other devices, and at worst a mockery of the work that made Comixology the premier digital comic book reading experience for the best part of a decade.
There has been strong backlash from users and comic book creators, with the latter particularly angry at, as Polygon reports, changes publishing options for smaller options by switching to the eBook-focused Kindle Direct Publishing program, which puts more work on comic book creators while giving them less royalties compared to the previous submission process of Comixology. And with creators and readers dissatisfied, it’s clear that Amazon and Comixology still have a lot of work to do to make the redesign work. Whether or not they will remain to be seen – io9 reached out to Comixology for comment on the reaction to the redesign’s launch, as well as whether or not previously available missing features were returned, and did not receive a response to the time of publication. . So, for now, the Internet’s largest home for legally acquisition and reading of comic books has slipped back more than a few steps, with little sign of improvement in the near future.
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