Recently, I signed up for Comixology, an online digital comics store that allows one to buy and read a selection of some comics from various companies, including DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Archie, etc.
Comixology’s store relies on Flash. On the plus side, this means not being reliant on a particular operating system (it’s Linux-friendly) nor a particular brand of cell phone (read: iPhone-and-iPad-only). On the minus side, it might’ve explained some of the issues I faced: a pair of “magnify” arrows on a pop-up menu didn’t keep the page enlarged, reverting back to its normal size after a few seconds. Pressing the space bar, however, worked fine. The digital comic image quality was quite excellent.
Purchases made are supposed to show up under “My Comics,” however, new purchases wouldn’t appear until I logged out and logged back in. Purchases are organized by the title of the comic (and its general logo, with an indicator how many issues are under each).
As for selection, Comixology has lots of companies (though one big one is missing: Marvel), but the selection leaves something to be desired. Due to not wanting to offend brick-and-mortar comic shops, the companies seem skittish on releasing digital comics either on the same date as paper ones or a fuller selection. Thus, the Archie comics were months-to-several-years old for the most part, as were various DC comics. Pricing was cheaper than paper ones, by a dollar or two. Archie recently did announce same-day digital for their comics (having few brick-and-mortar comic shops to offend—mine doesn’t carry them at all), so hopefully this also will extend to Comixology (vs. only the proprietary Archie iOS app).
As for the digital comics themselves, it seems the comic companies have learned nothing from the music industry (or fear offending their physical retailers), and insist on releasing digital comics in the most locked down manner possible. In Comixology’s case, you can read the comics online via a Flash-based interface in a web browser, or via an app for iOS devices (read: iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad). Not particularly open format-wise, nor do you actually get to own the comics (via a file on your computer)—you’re basically paying to “rent” them indefinitely. No indication what’ll happen to your purchases if, say, Comixology goes under. (An option to download the comic as a .PDF/.CBR/.CBZ file to your computer would be much better a solution, even if they feel compelled to charge an extra fee for such). Other competitors seem to have similar proprietary issues with their digital comics. Between this and the selection available, digital comics have a long way to go before things reflect the current state of digital music sales. *Legal* digital comics, of course—illegally, it’d be simpler to download (from Usenet/BitTorrent) any recent comic in a .CBR or .CBZ format, keep the file on one’s own computer, view it on any number of devices, and not worry about a digital comic store going under/not being Linux-friendly/only catering to Apple device owners.
Of course, the Usenet scenario for digital comics is the current situation for digital music stores like Amazon.com (where I can buy MP3s without digital-rights management, have a wide range of current material to choose from, and be able to use the MP3s how I wish on any of my devices), and Amazon seems to be doing just fine (as are the record companies, their teeth-gnashing aside). I feel the Amazon.com model is the way to go for digital comics’ future—mixing the advantages of downloading from Usenet (wide selections, no DRM, files in an open format, etc.) with the virtues of, well, actually being legal and compensating the writers and artists.
UPDATE (1/24/11): Via a Twitter tweet I received from Comixology, I’m told that Marvel *is* available, but only via the iOS app. There’s also an Android app now available. Better, I guess, even if the above proprietary problems remain.