The Tech Side of This comiXology Hoohah

By | Monday, August 29, 2011 Leave a Comment
You've likely seen the various commentaries about the retailer program from comiXology by now. Brian Hibbs' piece is probably one of the more widely circulated. People are arguing pro and con about whether or not digital is going to destroy print or whatever, but I'd like to take a moment to look at this thing from a more technical perspective.

Let me first say that I have no skin in this game. I'm not a retailer and I don't work for comiXology. I'd like to think that allows me to be a little more objective. But it also means that I don't have direct access to any of the documentation surrounding any of this. Not the contracts or the setup instructions or anything. I'm going based on the couple of shops I've seen implement the program.

When I first read about this affiliate program back in Feburary, I raised some questions about limiting it to comic retailers. After all, anyone can sign up to be an affiliate with Amazon or Mile High Comics or any of a number of other shops regardless of whether or not you do any actual selling yourself. All you really need is a web presence. A place to throw a small banner ad or something. Not infrequently, these are just banner ads that link a user back to the home page, and the computer just keeps track of where they came from.

In some cases, like Amazon or Cafe Press, they make widgets available to put on your site that allow you to call special attention to certain items. If you're actually reading this on my blog site, that rotating set of images on the right is one of Amazon's widgets. These tend to be more useful because it allows me to select items that may be of particular interest to my readers. I can put up there books by Jack Kirby, or documentaries about comics, or toys that I've bought my nephews, or whatever I feel is appropriate. With the huge selection available from someone like Amazon, this makes a lot of sense, as it narrows down what a user might be interested in before they even come to Amazon's site.

But comiXology has not done that so far as I can tell. From the shops I've looked at, it looks like all they're doing is providing a few banner ads to choose from. It doesn't look like there's even any size variation among them; you get 220 x 85 (kind of an odd size, I think) and that's it. Once a user clicks the link, they briefly see the retailer's logo, but they're otherwise just dropped into the comiXology website. (The DC specific link does head to a DC-only page, though.) No real mention the retailer again, unless the user is savvy enough to parse out the name from the resulting URLs.

That's what actually seems most odd to me. As far as I can tell, comiXology is determining which retailer referred a user over by passing the retailer name as a variable in the URL. Which is perhaps not the best way of doing things, but it's definitely serviceable. But what that also means is that you can send a user to any specific issue comiXology has online and retain the retailer referring code. Meaning that I can send you to, for example, a page with only comics by Rick Geary and it will still show where you came from. In that case, it's tied to Flying Colors' account. In < AHRef="">this case, it's tied to Third Coast Comics.

All of which means that a comic retailer could, theoretically, provide a list of all the new releases and link each one specifically to its corresponding page on comiXology. A user could jump DIRECTLY to the latest issue of Superman rather than following a generic link to the home page and having to sort through to find it on their own.

This would, of course, be annoying and time-consuming for a retailer to set-up and maintain weekly on his site. They'd have to navigate to each page individually, copy the URL and then paste that into the code on their own site. And that would have to be done for each issue. Every week. Manually. Hardly worth the effort, I'm sure.

But it would be precisely the type of thing that a cool widget like those used by Amazon could help with. Granted, retailers had very little time to really prepare for any of this, but if comiXology had made available anything beyond the three graphics, I would think someone would have used it. True, I haven't visited all 100 shops that are participating (since comiXology hasn't actually mentioned any of their new affiliates by name anywhere) but if it such a widget were done, it wouldn't be that much more difficult for a retailer to implement than the banners I'm seeing now.

All of which is to say that comiXology's affiliate program doesn't seem to be anything more than banner advertising at this point. It seems to have the potential to be more elaborate, but right now it's nothing more than a graphic with a link. And if that's all you're going to do, why not just sign up with Project Wonderful and save yourself some development costs?
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