On Business: Amazon/comiXology

By | Monday, December 07, 2015 Leave a Comment
Johanna Draper Carlson caught a quiet update comiXology rolled out last week: that you can now merge your Amazon and comiXology accounts. Amazon, you'll recall, bought comiXology in the first half of 2014, and soon thereafter removed the ability to purchase new comics through the comiXology iOS app; a user has to log into the website and make purchases there. This was clearly done to avoid the 30% purchase fee Apple was charging. Otherwise, however, Amazon has outwardly seemed to leave comiXology alone until now.

The merging of the two accounts, as Carlson notes, will save some money in terms of system maintenance and updates. But I strongly suspect that's an ancillary benefit for Amazon. In comiXology's FAQ, they note: "This is the first step toward using only Amazon accounts to sign in, which will allow us to use even more Amazon muscle to the benefit of comiXology customers." I think that "Amazon muscle" is the key piece here.

See, even though Amazon is generally thought of as a massive online retailer, that's not their game. For as many books (and other items) as they sell, they don't make very much money. That's how/why they can offer comparatively low prices on just about everything, and free shipping under many circumstances. They simply are not in the business of making money through retailing. As Rob Salkowitz noted when Amazon began testing a brick-and-mortar presence last month, "the profits are in cloud services, the massive data centers that run industrial-strength infrastructure for businesses and provide the processing power to connect mobile apps with back-end customer data."

So what Amazon is doing with comiXology is not so much a consolidation of IT resrouces, but a consolidation of data systems. They're looking to connect which comics you purchase through comiXology with everything you've ever ordered through Amazon. If you've ever ordered from Amazon, they've already got a consumer profile of you. But now, by tying that to your comiXology purchases, they'll have a more robust picture. How do you purchasing habits on comiXology compare with those on Amazon? Do you always buy the digital version of comics first, and then purchase a hardcover edition later? Do you read only Marvel comics online, and purchase manga through Amazon? Do the action figures you buy come from the same comics you typically read? When do you do your comics shopping relative to when you do other online shopping?

Amazon isn't in competition with Best Buy or Walmart or your local mom-and-pop bookstore. They're in competition with Google and Apple and Facebook. And I don't say that as a value judgement, just so you're aware as a consumer what the implications are. As mentioned on comiXology's site, every account will eventually have to get merged so it's not something you can avoid as a comiXology customer; you're option, as it is with Amazon currently, would be to opt out of their business entirely. But doing so would essentially eliminate many, if not most, of the comics you've "purchased" through them. (You can download some comics, certainly, but the majority -- notably Marvel's and DC's titles -- are not available in such a fashion.)

Keep all this in mind the next time you see Amazon make a major purchase like that. Being a better retailer isn't the goal itself, it's just a means to an end.
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