ComiXology and the future of digital

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan of digital. There are a few reasons for this. One is convenience — having everything at your fingertips as opposed to digging through boxes or shelves makes it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for or just to browse. Another is space. As I mentioned when I talked about digitizing my movie library, I live in Japan and as such, space is a premium. While my area tends to have a lower cost of living than what most people think of Japan, space is still difficult to come by and your chances of finding a big house if you aren’t rolling in cash is pretty slim. A third reason is security. Say you have a ton of books and your house burns down — those books are gone. But if you have digital books, you can back them up in a cloud.

Now this brings us to the point of this post and that’s digital comics. ComiXology is the big dog in terms of digital comics and they have a pretty nice looking app and the guided viewing mode is very cool, zooming in on different panels one at a time.

There is a big problem with digital comics, and digital movies for that matter. The issue of digital rights management or DRM. When you go down to the store and buy a comic book, that comic book is yours. You own it. When you pay the same amount for the same comic on the ComiXology app, you do not own the comic. What you have bought is a license. And it’s a license ComiXology reserves the right to revoke at any time for any reason.

So you’ve paid the same amount of money for the same product, the only difference is the method in which it’s presented. And in one case, you own it. In another, you’ve just paid for a right to view the material, you do not own it. What happens if ComiXology goes out of business? You’ve lost your money and the product you paid for.

Not too long ago, someone created a script that would allow people to back up their ComiXology purchases to CBR or CBZ (archive files that can be read with a comic book reading program). It was posted on Reddit and ComiXology asked for it to be removed. Which they have a right to do. But the problem here is that ComiXology is basically telling me, “you may have bought our product, but it’s not yours. We still own it. All you’ve bought is our permission to look at it, and we can revoke that permission at any time. Without giving you a refund.”

Imagine if you went into a store and the cashier told you, “by the way, we can come into your house at any time and take this back. We don’t have to warn you in advance and we don’t have to give you a refund, because you do not technically own this product.”

Seems pretty draconian to me.

I get that piracy is a big problem. I understand the argument to fight piracy, but my belief is one of the primary reasons people resort to piracy is because it’s just more convenient. When Napster came out on the scene, iTunes didn’t exist. And when iTunes came along, there was still lots of stuff that couldn’t be found. So, people who would have been willing to pay, but they found it easier to just steal.

I’m a humanist, I believe people are mostly good. I think if you give a person the ability to steal something or to pay for it and both options are easy, then most people will pay for it (yes, you’ll get people who will steal, but I do believe these are the minority).

And in the case of ComiXology, it’s not like going digital created comic book piracy. It was around before then in the form of scanners. And a vast majority of comic book piracy is still old-fashioned scanning.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying piracy is right. What I am saying is that imposing draconian restrictions and basically telling your customers, “we own these products and once you’ve paid for them, all you’ve paid for is our permission to use them. You cannot resell them. You cannot keep them. They are ours, not yours.” It’s another way of screwing the consumer.

I basically stopped reading comics when I came to Japan and aside from a few select titles, I’ve more or less stayed gone. I don’t want to get invested in these things only to have them taken away at a moment’s notice. If I can’t have a way to back them up, what good are they?

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