Six months later, ComiXology is still broken

Amazon refuses to admit its mistake and give customers the fix they’ve been demanding

Back in March, I wrote an article about Amazon’s disastrous roll-out of the “new” ComiXology app. These changes included replacing the old ComiXology app with a Kindle app clone sporting the ComiXology color scheme and trashing the ComiXology website and forcing comics readers to buy their comics through Amazon’s central website.

A massive outcry came from all corners of the comics community—fans, publishers, creators (both pro and indie)—everyone hated what Amazon had done to the preeminent digital comics platform.

ComiXology’s responses have been remarkably tone-deaf. The first one came at the end of March:

Improved book resolution is good, but just “focusing search results to comics” is nowhere near the biggest problem with the new store. The results are still a navigational nightmare. For example, let’s say I did a search for Superman. Here’s what comes up on Amazon’s comics store:

This is sorted by Amazon’s default “featured” sort. What we have on the first page of results is almost all single issues, but not with any sort of organization. Only one graphic novel appears on that first page. If you’re someone new to comics and you want to find Superman books, Amazon’s site does you absolutely no favors.

Amazon’s sort options don’t help. You can sort by featured, price, publication date, and average customer review. No option to group by series, you can’t see what books you already own, and the publication date is digital publication date, which is different from the actual publication date.

While you do have the option to limit the search to just graphic novels, there’s still no sense of organization.

The old ComiXology site gave you these search results by series first, then graphic novels, then single issues. Everything was arranged in a nice, easy-to-browse grid view.

If you looked at a series page on the old site, here is what you had (I captured these from the Wayback Machine):

Look at how nice and organized that is. You’re presented with the series title and description, the latest releases, books available to read with a ComiXology Unlimited subscription, then omnibuses, collected editions, single issues, one-shots, and extras.

Everything easy to navigate, everything easy to find, all in one convenient location.

Now let’s look at DC’s 2016 Batman series on the new site:

Let’s break down the ways in which this is bad.

First, the obvious visual presentation is awful. Just one long, ugly list that spans the entirety of your browser window. Second, there is no “add to cart” button. You have three options for purchasing books:

  1. 1-click buy individual issues
  2. 1-click buy the entire series
  3. 1-click buy certain numbers of the “next” volumes

You can’t mix and match which “next” volumes you want to buy. You can only use these limited 1-click options.

Now let’s look at the next problem: the separation. On the old site, we had all single issues, collected editions, and omnibuses of the series available on one page. On the new site, we get three separate pages—one for single issues, one for collected editions, and one for omnibuses. This makes it very confusing for readers, as indicated by one of the reviews on the single-issue series page:

As an independent author, I publish primarily through Amazon and their series page is great—for novels. Comic books are a very different format and treating them as if they’re exactly the same displays a gross misunderstanding of the medium.

Have a look now at an example of a sales page from the old ComiXology:

Nice, clean, organized. You’re presented once again with that very attractive grid format. Each book has an “Add to Cart” blue button underneath. I can’t log in on this archived site, but if I could, then under books I’ve already purchased, that blue button would be replaced with a green “Read Now” button.

Sales organized books in a very obvious way—collected editions first, followed by single issues. Collected editions were presented first by the most popular ones and then alphabetical by series and (for the most part) chronologically within that series. Very easy to navigate, very easy to find what you were looking for.

Here’s the sales page now:

Ugly list view, no sense of organization, and which books do I own? Not even I know. The 1-click buy button appears under everything, even books I already own.

On the old site, when you clicked the “add to cart” button, the button would change to say “in cart.” And that’s it. You could keep browsing the pages and see if you wanted to add more to your cart.

On the new site, when you click the 1-click buy, it takes you to a “thank you for your purchase” screen. Doesn’t give you the option to easily go back, you have to do it manually.

In the past, I would curate these sales by adding books that interested me to my cart. Then once I was done, I’d go to the cart and see which ones I definitely wanted to buy and which ones I could hold off on.

The 1-click buy has completely disrupted this process. I now have to open several tabs if I want to curate the books before I buy. More often than not, I just don’t even bother and leave the site in frustration without buying anything.

About two months after that first update, ComiXology provided a second update:

This was basically a useless update. In two months, the biggest change was the Kindle app now had an option for filtering comics only. It was a change no one was asking for as most comics readers use the ComiXology app for reading comics.

But about a month later, we got another update:

I wrote about the old reading experience before this new update in my previous article, so refer back to that. Let’s see how the “new and improved” reader works.

First, if you go to the reader, your library is a mess. There is no series view, the books are just presented individually. If you have a large library, the library isn’t displayed accurately. Only the most recent books appear sorted alphabetically. As you scroll down, the app loads more books from your library, which makes organization a nightmare. Have a look at what I mean:

These are zoomed out to show the most possible real estate, but you’ll notice that there are several books presented alphabetically. But as I scrolled down and got to the end of that first batch, suddenly I had a new batch of A-Z books.

You’ll also notice that in addition to no series grouping, there’s no division between single issues and collections.

Now for the “new and improved” reader:

You get a single page displayed like this. What if you want to zoom in? The old ComiXology reader had its “Guided View” technology that worked in the browser as well as the app. What happens when you try that?

That’s it. It zooms in slightly and the images are blurry.

The Vertical Scroll feature they touted in that last update announcement just scrolls immediately to the next page and it’s very sensitive. If you try to scroll just to move down the page, it will go to the next page.

And if you want to jump to a specific page? Here’s what you get:

You’re asked to enter the page number. The old reader gave you a thumbnail grid of all the pages so you could see what page you were looking for. Page numbers are more of a thing with prose books. They’re almost never used with comics, so why would Amazon think “jump to page number” is a feature that anyone wanted?

The ComiXology app still remains the best aspect of the new service, but even that is a downgrade. On the old app, you had the Smart Lists feature, showing you lists of books that you recently purchased, books that you recently read, books that were unread, etc.

That’s gone now. Here’s what you get on the new app:

This isn’t bad, per se, but you don’t have the same options you had on the old app. There’s a series grouping option and that’s better(though see above for the problems with the new series sorting), but still lacking the flexibility of the Smart Lists.

Another feature the old app had was an archive option. If you wanted to streamline your collection view, you could archive books you’ve read and remove them from the main library view.

Now you have this:

You don’t have an archive option, but what you do have? “Permanently Delete.” This removes the book from your Amazon account and if you want to read it, you have to buy it again. Why would they include this option but not archive?

I’ll also note that it’s a little odd to include the “Permanently Delete” option right under the “Remove Download” option, which could easily be pressed if your finger slips. I don’t think this is intentional, but it does go to the lack of thought put into these downgrades.

Contacting ComiXology feels like an exercise in futility. I recently tweeted about an issue I had with a book and ComiXology Support reached out to me. Have a look:

I did reach out to the customer service team, as I’ve done numerous times over the past six months. The exchange always goes the same way: I tell them all the problems I’m having with the new service and how the old service was infinitely superior. And the response is some variation of the following:

I’m sorry you’ve had this problem. I’ve forwarded this exchange to our development team and they will take your feedback into account.

That’s. It.

It’s been six months since Amazon broke ComiXology. In that time, the only fixes they’ve made has been to add a new sort button to the Kindle app and a crappy browser reader that’s been in beta for almost two months.

The fix is easy. Everyone knows that what needs to be done is to restore the old site and app. And yet, Amazon continually refuses to put this obvious fix into action. I don’t know if it’s hubris or just idiocy, but whatever the case, it’s clear that Amazon doesn’t give a damn about the comic community.

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Percival Constantine

Born and raised in Chicago, now residing in Japan. I teach media and film, host podcasts, and write genre fiction. PercivalConstantine.com