This week, Amazon announced that its comic book platform, ComiXology, would begin offering an unlimited reading subscription for $6 per month. The service, called ComiXology Unlimited, offers thousands of comics free to read as long as you have an active subscription. It works much like Amazon's Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service.
ComiXology Unlimited immediately drew comparisons to video streaming service Netflix, as it allowed subscribers access to a vast catalog of media for a monthly price. However, that comparison proved to be inaccurate and frustrating for fans who expected to be able to binge-read all their favorite comic books.
While ComiXology Unlimited does offer thousands of comics to read, it's more for sampling than binge-reading. The first volumes of a series are usually available, but you'll have to purchase individual issues or collected editions if you want to keep on reading.
I spoke with ComiXology CEO David Steinberger about fans being disappointed that Unlimited isn't quite the Netflix for comic books they were hoping for. "I get that people want a Netflix-like subscription," he tells me. "It would be great if we could get there, but what we wanted to achieve with [ComiXology Unlimited] is enlarging the comic book reading audience first."
To be fair, Amazon never promised to make its entire catalog available with ComiXology Unlimited. The service's FAQ section claims the subscription offers "thousands of titles," but never says you can read every comic in its database with a subscription.
Comics are notorious for being an expensive endeavor, says Steinberger. "You have a few guys writing, drawing, and coloring 20 pages per month, and it's expensive. There's too much at stake for a truly unlimited subscription. We want to make more artists and get them more readers."
For $6 a month, ComiXology Unlimited is a ridiculous steal as most single issue comics cost between $0.99 and $4.99. Collected volumes cost even more, so having the ability to read the first volumes of a ton of comics for the price makes sense for comic newbies.
"I think there's something for everybody," says Steinberger. "I think people will run into content they love and will continue supporting the people creating it."
As for seasoned comic readers, Steinberger thinks Unlimited is still a great service for discovery.
"I know too many core [comic readers] that don't branch out. Unlimited makes it easy to dive right in and try a new set of series."
ComiXology plans to add more content to its Unlimited plan over time, though the company has said it'll remove comics every so often at the request of content creators. This isn't anything new, as movies and TV shows get pulled from Netflix all the time.
I, too, was initially disappointed by ComiXology Unlimited, but after spending a couple of days with it, I can see the value in having a service to curate lesser-known comics. "We spent a long time thinking about what comics people should be reading. We wanted to help smaller series get the spotlight they deserve," explains Steinberger.
If you're sick of the typical superhero comic, ComiXology Unlimited is a great way to discover unique stories that aren't all about superheroes, which you'd find with competing subscription services like Marvel Unlimited.
But, at the end of the day, comics are still expensive to buy, so I can't see the lasting appeal of a ComiXology Unlimited subscription if it's purpose is to convince readers to purchase comics.
It is useful, though, for those who are just getting started and readers who are bored with their usual rotation. My hope is that ComiXology Unlimited does eventually become Netflix for comics. Unfortunately, with comics being so costly to produce, it may be quite a long time, if ever, before that happens.
- Everything we expect to see at E3 2016