Updated on September 13, 2022
The biggest comics news as of this writing is Amazon folding Comixology into its main website. I’ve written previously about what happened; however, to summarize, Comixology is now a glorified subcategory of the Kindle section of Amazon. Most of the comics-oriented features have been stripped out of the site; the Kindle web reader is now used for reading comics, with little comics-oriented customizing. Even the mobile apps have lost some functionality, and taken on more Kindle app-like traits.
As such, Comixology is now much less user-friendly. Amazon didn’t even redirect any links for individual Comixology books to their Kindle site versions; they now just redirect to the default Comixology page, breaking all of them. A very amateurish thing to do, and a big sign Amazon doesn’t seem to care about usability. At worst, Amazon’s changes might end up either leading to a boost in piracy or discourage people from reading comics altogether (especially if they don’t want to buy paper comics). On the sole positive note, it might lead to a boost in traffic for webcomics: Webtoon is a popular app, webcomics are free, and they have fewer obnoxious barriers.
All of this also points out the downsides of digital rights management (DRM) being applied to digital comics. The old Comixology site offered DRM-free downloads for most of its non-DC/Marvel titles (in CBZ and PDF formats). Unfortunately, they’ve removed that feature with the shift to Amazon’s main site. DC and Marvel, of course, never offered DRM-free comics (being owned by Warner Bros. and Disney respectively), and likely never will.
Still, if all of Comixology’s comics were DRM-free, it wouldn’t matter much what Amazon did with the site. Users could switch to a different store, or different comic reading app.
Most of my digital comic reading’s been from the public library or subscription services. What Comixology comics I do have, I’ve already downloaded their DRM-free versions; I advise everyone to do so as soon as possible. They’re available here, under “Your Comixology Books.” However, while subscription services work well, the Comixology situation’s made me more reluctant to ever spend another dime on buying digital comics with DRM.
DRM-free digital comic stores
Below are some sources of DRM-free comics. Note most of these are smaller publishers or independent creators. I’ve written separate posts about webcomics sources and subscription-based comics services, if you’re looking for those.
The UK comic that’s home of the long-running series “Judge Dredd” offers their books for sale on their own online store, as DRM-free CBZ or PDF files. They even took the time to advertise this on their Twitter account (in a few jabs at Comixology’s changes).
DriveThruComics is one of the older digital comics stores, and offers DRM-free PDFs. Along with offering the aforementioned “2000 AD,” DriveThruComics also carries smaller publishers like Top Cow and Dynamite.
Google Play Books
Image Comics are offered via Google Play Books as DRM-free PDFs. Otherwise, most of Google Play Books’ comics carry DRM, just like Comixology.
Humble Bundle carries a rotating selection of comics, all of which are available as DRM-free downloads (usually CBZ and/or PDF formats).
Iron Circus Comics
Iron Circus Comics, the aforementioned publisher of “Poorcraft” and other graphic novels, sells DRM-free PDFs.
Oni Press offers a few DRM-free PDFs, though mostly via Humble Bundle (see above) or scattered on their main site.
Top Shelf Comics
Top Shelf, the publishers of the late John Lewis’ “March,” sells DRM-free graphic novels through its digital comics bookstore.
Some comic creators sell DRM-free digital comics on their own sites. A few I’ve found:
- Thom Zahler, the creator of “Love and Capes.”
- Stephanie Williams, the creator of the fan comic “Living Heroes” (several Black Marvel superheroes cast in a parody of 90s sitcom “Living Single”).
Alternative: Go back to paper comics?
One alternative that’s often brought up is switching back to buying paper comics. If all else fails digitally, it is an option, of course; the best sources include local comic shops, locally owned bookstores, and the public library.
However, it’s not an option available for everyone. They might not have a local comic shop, or feel comfortable going to one; some people don’t have space for storing tons of paper comics; some find digital more convenient; and so on. Thus, just rattling off “go back to paper comics” doesn’t solve digital comics’ problems, or work for everyone.
“Shreve Memorial Library Debuts Graphic Novel Collection” by Shreveport-Bossier: Louisiana’s Other Side is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)