Strictly speaking, comiXology deals more with digital comics than webcomics. But there is a bit of overlap, at least mentally, for many people, and some of their news this week is worth discussing. Their most recent announcement is securing a deal with Drawn & Quarterly to publish their works digitally, but that news somewhat helps to mask their quieter announcement earlier in the week that they’re discontinuing their Windows app. Users will still have access to all of the content they’ve purchased, but they would have to do so via the website and/or one of the more mobile-friendly apps.
Their statement notes that they instead “recently decided to focus our development efforts on delivering a great web experience” and that the Windows app will not only not be supported, but will be actively shut down. The apps for Fire Tablet, Android and iOS devices will remain, and a user’s account can be accessed from any of those platforms.
But it circles around the idea that has largely prevented me from purchasing much through comiXology. Namely, that they can discontinue any of their services at any time. In the case of the Windows app, it makes no difference to me as I don’t use it. But for someone who does, this can be problematic. Those people have obviously chosen that platform over others for whatever reason(s) and, while they technically still have options to get to the books they’ve purchased, those options might not be viable in practice for them.
But what happens if/when comiXology shuts down all of its platforms? Either to support a unique device (they are owned by Amazon these days, you’ll recall) or they close operations entirely for some reason. Many of their users will be left without access to the books they’ve purchased.
Well, “purchased” should probably be put in scare quotes. If you actually read comiXology’s terms of service, they note:
Subject to your complete and ongoing compliance with all the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement and any applicable Supplemental Terms (including, without limitation, payment of any applicable fees, including fees for Digital Content you license), the Company grants you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sublicensable, revocable license to access the Digital Content for your personal, non-commercial use. Such license does not confer on you any ownership interest in such Digital Content. Words such as “purchase” or “sale” (and similar terms, including all tenses), as applied to Digital Content (including any Digital Content the Company makes available for free), refer to the grant to you of a limited license as described herein.
In short, when they say “purchase” they mean “rent.” You’re not actually buying comics on comiXology, you’re buying the rights to read the ones they have. Which only lasts as long as they do. And nowhere does it stipulate that your right to read those comics is via a specific channel. They could, in theory, say that all the apps are getting shut down and to read the comics you’ve purchased, you’ll have to drive to their headquarters and log in on a single computer hooked directly to their servers. Obviously, that would be a bad business move, but my point is that they never say that you’ll always have access to “your” comics in the same way you do now.
There are a number of benefits to reading comics digitally, and a lot of people take advantage of them. But while digital comics are similar to webcomics in that the owners could shut them down at any time, and you’re left with nothing, with webcomics, at least you didn’t pay for them.