The Wrong Direction: Browser-Specific Comic Sales

Marvel announced a new venue for their online comic sales: “Marvel Comics on Chrome”. If you use the Google Chrome web browser and visit chrome.marvel.com, you can buy “over 1,600 comics” at $1.99 each. You can also view, through this … well, it doesn’t really seem like an “app”, anything you’ve bought through Marvel Comics on iTunes, “though purchases made through the Chrome store may only be viewed through the Marvel Comics app on Chrome.”

Marvel Comics Chrome

This is going exactly the wrong direction, and I’m not just talking about the one-way purchase accessibility. Marvel uses ComiXology’s technology, I believe, for their comic store, yet although ComiXology is available on iTunes, browsers, and Android, Marvel has kept their digital comics from being available through the last two outlets. Now they’re trying to dictate what browser software you use?

The best part, I thought, was that it was so badly done. I visited the site using Safari on a Mac, and it let me try to read and purchase comics… only it kept erroring. If you’re going to require a particular browser, shouldn’t you do it better?

Customers want a streamlined, easy-to-use reading experience. If I pay your (too-high) prices to “buy” a digital comic, I should be able to read it in more places, not fewer. I don’t want to have to think about which program I have to open on which platform — a 20-page part of a story just isn’t worth the trouble!

The marketers are even worse. “Marvel Comics on Chrome is the next step of Marvel’s commitment to making high definition digital comics available to users anytime, anywhere,” explained Ira Rubenstein, Executive Vice President, Global Digital Media Group. You say that, but you give us the opposite.

The customer version of the announcement is trying to prevent complaints when people buy in the “wrong” place: “So keep on purchasing comics through your Marvel Comics App for iOS — then read them as you normally would on your iPad, iPhone, and/or iPod touch, and now, via the Chrome store on your desktop or laptop computer!” So I have to go somewhere else to buy comics for it if I truly want portability? What was wrong with the already-existing ComiXology interactivity? Maybe Marvel decided they didn’t want to give away any more of the cut in sales, hmm?

Customer comments on the post aren’t falling for the hype — many are asking for a way to read their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription on handhelds, another customer desire Marvel is ignoring. Those that aren’t are asking for Android access, a significant platform whose lack of access puts the lie to the “Enjoy Marvel Comics! Anytime. Anywhere.” tagline.


15 Responses to “The Wrong Direction: Browser-Specific Comic Sales”

  1. Joshua Says:

    The biggest lie in “Enjoy Marvel Comics! Anytime. Anywhere” is not in the last two words. :P

  2. EchoInside Says:

    I agree that limiting formats is silly, limiting distribution/my usage is a sure way to make me not purchase comics. I only purchase electronic versions when they’re in open formats.

    But, in this case, I think it’s a technology issue.

    I took a quick look, and it seems this site is coded heavily in HTML5 (I went to see if FireFox could handle it, and it actually pops up a message announcing that). In which case, using Safari would cause errors, yes. The problem is that browsers themselves are rather proprietary, especially in what/how much/how fast they support new web technology. IE8 for example, still manages to screw up even just CSS, which is years old.

    Coding to make up for browser compatibility issues takes a ton of time and effort… You need to consider the functionality from the start and usually downgrade to the lowest common denominator. So it might just be in this case, they chose to offer something new through the only means possible. Just giving the benefit of the doubt, in that.

  3. Johanna Says:

    How odd, that following standards makes something more restrictive, but I can appreciate that reasoning.

    Joshua, and people call me snarky!

  4. John Gallagher Says:

    Someone pointed out to me that with the comixology model, you don’t own those comics– you’re renting them. The problem seems evident when a publisher stops supporting some,or all of its partners in this type of venture.

    Universal seems to be the solution, in both software and content.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Yes, and we’ve already seen an example where Marvel pulled access to a comic that readers had bought, keeping them from viewing it. But the big American publishers don’t want to sell downloads for fear of sharing.

  6. SKleefeld Says:

    I didn’t spend hardly any time looking at Marvel’s new “app”, Johanna, but I came away with the same impression. Good to know I wasn’t just really missing something.

  7. Anthony Says:

    Still think it’d be easier for the comic companies to take a hint from the lesson the music industry learned and just sell them as DRM-free downloads (in .pdf, .cbz, whatever), vs. such silly restrictions by browser, a certain brand of smartphone OS, etc…

  8. Johanna Says:

    If I remember, it took the music industry a while to realize that’s what people wanted and would buy. Maybe we’re still in early days yet.

  9. Jake Forbes Says:

    Johanna,

    I think in this case, the direction is fine, but it’s the steps that are frustrating. The Chrome app store is part of Google’s evolution from browser to platform/OS. It’s only a matter of time before it converges with the Android store. Google/android has a bigger user base than apple/iOS, so better comics support for Google is actually a move in the right direction.

    That said, you’re right that this is a terrible time for consumers of digital collections. We’ve got Apple, Google, Amazon and, increasingly, Facebook splintering access to content, and content producers too often asking full price for crippled product and outside of music, legal options for free are shrinking. So, yeah, hard to get excited about another app that limits access, but it’s a necessary step in the right direction. Especially in light of Apple’s recent crack down on apps that sell third-party content that isnt’ available through Apple’s marketplace.

  10. david brothers Says:

    I both agree and disagree with you here. If I can mix metaphors here, I think it’s a step in the right direction (being able to purchase [or license, ugh] and read comics on a web browser) but with the wrong foot (browser specific). The best solution would be browser and platform agnostic, and this suggests to me that Marvel is looking in that direction.

    I spent a lot of time with Marvel’s Chrome service as prep for a post I’ve got coming soon, and I realized that the website is HTML5 powered, yes, but the actual comic reading experience is in plain old Adobe Flash. I think perhaps their store software (which is currently pretty buggy) requires some HTML5 routines, but the rest of it doesn’t. It could’ve been a part of their Digital Comics Unlimited Program, and in fact, if you have a sub to MDCU, you get “the majority” of the Marvel Chrome books along with it.

    As a first step goes, it isn’t bad, but it definitely needs a lot of work before it’s optimal.

  11. bjza Says:

    EchoInside said what I immediately thought. Like with Arcade Fire’s “Wilderness” experience and other experiments, this sort of temporarily browser-specific thing is going to pop up a lot over the next year(s) as the major browsers scramble to catch up. Chrome just happens to have the advantage (WebKit, youth), but in terms of the weird wild web, I think overall they’re using that advantage smartly and for everyone’s benefit. The more people hear about specification-compliant web sites that they can’t access, the more they might put pressure on their preferred browser to get its act together. But Google isn’t helping anyone when they blur the web standards issue with inherent limitedness of the Chrome store.

    In terms of mobility of purchased media, I share the same hesitation as others.

  12. James Schee Says:

    Oddly I went there in my Chrome browser and found it glitchy and super slow. I’m on a Mac, so that might be related?

    I want cross platform support, not to have to buy the same books over and over again depending on my device. I’m actually looking into getting an ereader and one of the ones I really like is the Nook.

    Mainly because it offers the ability to use any book I buy through it, on the Nook, computer Iphone/Touch, and Android.

    It also offers a feature that would scare comic publishers I bet though. A LendMe feature, that allows you to loan (for specific time frame) books you bought to a friend who also has a Nook.

  13. William George Says:

    My theory is that they’re half assing these things in the hope that everyone will stop asking them out of frustration.

  14. Martini Lab Blog — Digital Comics: it’s about the marketplace Says:

    [...] launch­ing a shop on Chrome has noth­ing to do with choos­ing a pro­pri­etary plat­form despite what some piracy advocates/​bloggers may think. Chrome is a mar­ket­place. Go to Google’s web app store and notice lots of other web apps, [...]

  15. Buddy Scalera Says:

    The Chrome browser and the Chrome App Store are relatively new. People who create content for it are also giving feedback to the system.

    People will consume content where it’s most convenient, but eventually the print version will be an expensive luxury. But by that time, the channels will have improved.

    We’re all living in beta out here.

    Buddy Scalera
    http://www.buddyscalera.com




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