When I got into digital comics, I started buying just a bunch of them. Older issues can often go for one or two dollars, and older collections get down fairly low as well. Still, especially if you’re caught up and buying each week as things come out new – it gets expensive fast. We have slowed way down on this direct purchases, turning instead to the library – where you can potentially find some collected editions and lots of indie comics – and to my discovery of Marvel Unlimited.
Marvel Unlimited is an annual subscription that gets you access to a huge backlog of Marvel comics. For new comics, it has the various titles after a six-month break, so if you want newer you have to buy the titles directly, but the six-month point isn’t too long after a combined volume comes out anyway. At some point, Marvel started releasing their comics in both print and digital, and access is pretty stable for their entire line in these recent years. Stretching into their past, I think they early on digitized popular storylines and runs, and since then have been working on the slow job of digitizing everything. That means that every week, more and more comics come available on the service – both whatever comics came out six months ago, and whatever comics they got digitized this week from the backlog.
I’ve used Marvel Unlimited to read whole runs of comics or storylines for our old LitFlix project, so things like Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy and Fantastic Four. Holly hasn’t used it quite as much, but then she did read the entire mega event of Avengers vs. X-Men. We don’t do a lot of small incidental reading on the app: it tends to be spurts of reading large amounts of comics. In the years we’ve had it, I keep feeling like we get out money’s worth from it (we subscribe at the lower level rather than the full-blown merch-laden level), comparing the comics we’ve read to the amount we would have paid to buy the collected editions or comics individually.
Hmmm, this reminds me I want to read Secret Warriors still…
Anyway, recently I heard and saw and have just generally considered the new competitor: ComiXology Unlimited. ComiXology is an interesting thing. It seems to be the makers of the digital-comics-reading technology that I’ve loved so well, and which has made me pro-digital-comics. It was bought by Amazon. It runs comics from the major publishers, the notable exception being Dark Horse who run their own app. Indeed, it not only includes Marvel, but actually when I’ve logged in recently I’ve found that all my purchases of Marvel comics – made on the Marvel app – are available now in ComiXology.
Looking at the ComiXology site doesn’t necessarily answer questions about ComiXology Unlimited – they seem to be purposefully vague about what you get access to. Their payment model is monthly rather than annual, but the prices for the two services are very similar when looked at annually. So really, if I were to consider a switch, it would be about increasing access to comics overall, since price isn’t the determining factor!
So I went looking elsewhere, and so a review like this is interesting – saying it’s not the NetFlix of comics. It kind of is? It sounds like ComiXology Unlimited is more geared towards providing access to early comics in series, so getting you into and interested in titles. This is more similar to what it sounds like the Kindle Unlimited service might be like than what Marvel Unlimited sounds like. Which makes sense from a fellow Amazon company. And that NetFlix connection? It sounds like they are adding and removing titles over time, much of it based on creator/publisher negotiation. Sounds familiar. Searching around, I finally found some comics with the Unlimited banner across the cover image, so they do highlight these titles – but it also showed me how limited this Unlimited service might be!
So while the discovery aspects of ComiXology Unlimited seem interesting, I don’t know that it can compete. For one thing, checking comics out from the library has done a lot for us when it comes to discovery – as has stopping by the (collected editions & graphic novels only) comics store in town. Also, first volumes of comics tend to end up on sale more often and run cheaper than later volumes in digital form, so checking them out by buying them isn’t always onerous – and also would probably be cheaper in the long run than having a subscription to both services!
That difference in backlog is the real problem from my standpoint. For what we’ve used Marvel Unlimited for, ComiXology Unlimited just isn’t a comparable or competing product. Which is too bad, because there’s one big downside with Marvel Unlimited – it runs on a different comics viewer app interface than the normal Marvel App. So while the purchased comics on the Marvel App work just like on ComiXology, in Marvel Unlimited, it’s like a technology trying to replicate that look and feel, but not up to the same level. Sometimes comics don’t fully download, or the recommended next-comic-to-read isn’t as good, or the zoom-in reader options aren’t as solid. You can often tell you’re working with comics that were scanned, and not born digital, as well.
If we have alternatives for discovery, and the backlog can’t compare between the two, and we feel like we get value out of Marvel Unlimited – I guess I would have to say I’m happy with where we’re at with these services! I would really love to see more from ComiXology Unlimited in the future, but they’re not there yet – not for our needs anyway. Maybe finding some new, independent (like IDW or Image or Valiant) or DC (or Marvel!) comics is exactly what you’re looking for, in which case, ComiXology Unlimited (or your local library…) is for you! Or maybe a Marvel backlog is just what you need, to brush up on some Luke Cage or Infinity Gauntlet… well, then you know what to do.
And if you already use any of these services, I’d love to know what you think!