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Committed: The Lie of “Banned” Digital Comics

sexAre you among the many people who read about a book being “banned” from ComiXology and assume that means it is banned and that you won’t be able to purchase it? Or have you noticed that most of these books are actually readily available from the website (and wondered why on earth they’re being called “banned”, as I did)?

Inflammatory sensationalism is a great way to get people to read things. The way it works is that you publish crazy-sounding statements which are almost true and people read because they’re worried. We’ve all seen it in places like the teasers ads for local TV news which say “Something in your home could be KILLING YOU! Watch the news in an hour for the full story…”, but the actual story is far less exciting and ultimately the conclusion is that your home isn’t killing you. While it might seem like harmless marketing on the part of the news show, for those of us watching, it is misleading and manipulative.

This is what journalists are doing when they write articles about some digital comic books being BANNED because they aren’t available on the ComiXology Apple app. You can still buy them from ComiXology website, (which is ridiculously easy to use), you just can’t buy them with the app. So how does this mean they’re banned, except in the broadest, least logical sense of the word? If I want to buy a T-shirt and it isn’t available in a store next door to my house, but it is available from a store across the street, it would be nonsensical of me to complain about it being unavailable. It would be even more nonsensical for news agencies to proliferate the story, and try to convince people that they could never buy that T-shirt. Despite all of this, it is exactly what so-called journalists do when they call a digital comic book “banned” just because they can’t buy it from one source, but can easily buy it from another.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just the hype-mongers who perpetuate this nonsense, after all, every journalist courts hysteria and click-throughs. A couple of weeks ago Print Magazine published an otherwise wonderful interview, but spoiled it all by titling it “Howard Chaykin on his lewd, depraved, banned graphic novels”. The article originally (more on that later) began by asking Chaykin how he felt about his book being “banned by ComiXology”. Nowhere did the reporter follow it up by explaining that Chaykin’s supposedly banned book is available to purchase on ComiXology’s website, but it isn’t available through the app. Obviously I’m absolutely delighted that Chaykin was interviewed, but I’m extremely disappointed in Print Magazine’s fact checking, and their rush to jump on the tedious sensationalist bandwagon of crying “banned” about books which simply aren’t. Now back to that beginning; In the two weeks since the interview went live, the author has edited the article to add a paragraph at the beginning of the article to qualify that this “ban” means that you can’t buy the book for the iPad or iPhone (i.e. if you have those devices you cannot buy the book), which still is not true. You can buy Black Kiss II for an iPad or iPhone (or any other device) from the ComiXology website. The fact that he has stooped to add that this “ban” is “much documented” is akin to saying “other places print this misleading language and so we can too.”

black-kiss-2-coverAll of this would simply be yet another example of inflammatory misinformation, but unfortunately it is misleading in that it causes people to shy away from even attempting to obtain these so-called “banned” books. When I was told about the Chaykin article, it was in the context of a conversation about what a shame it was that we couldn’t buy his books digitally (which I hastily pointed out wasn’t true). One of the comic books which I am graphic designer on is called “Sex“. From the title you can imagine that this is a book aimed at a mature audience, and I personally have no problem with the fact that you can’t buy it via the app (since on the website, there is another layer of security to ask people’s age). Unfortunately, because some journalists have named it as one of these so-called banned books, people don’t even know that they can easily get it from the ComiXology website (and have even complained to me about it) – they read that the book is banned and believe it, assuming it is unavailable digitally. However, a quick glance at the ComiXology website shows Sex” as readily available for purchase.

When did people first start talking about “banned” books which were actually readily available on the ComiXology website? It seems like a relatively recent phenomenon. Before some unhelpful reporter coined this misnomer what did we call these so-called “banned” books? We probably just called them mature-reader books, which is what they are. More often than not, when someone writes about a digital book being “banned” because it’s not on the app, I have immediately found it highlighted on the ComiXology home page with an attractive graphic as if to let people know that “yes, actually we do sell it, sorry about all the lies you’ve been reading.” I wish there were a way to see through every bit of inflammatory bollocks which is published in the name of “news”, but at least in this instance don’t believe the hype – if there’s a book you want, check the website first.

15 Comments

Hyperbole in comics?!? Stop the presses.

PowerDad (Jeff)

July 17, 2013 at 11:28 am

I remember that whole business with Saga and Brian K. Vaughan a while back. He made a stink about his comic wasn’t being available online, and then later apologized for being misinformed.

Using the same logic about “banned”, one could say that DC comics were banned from digital purchase as well, because when I first started on Comixology I couldn’t purchase any DC comics via my Kindle Fire. But you could purchase from the web, and then read them on the Kindle. At the time Comixology said it was contract related issue with DC and making their comic available for purchase from the Kindle (I could even purchase from my phone — that’s how specific it was to the Kindle). I’ve since noticed that DC comics can now be purchased from my Kindle, and thus they must have worked out the contract issues. It struck me as a weird situation, but contracts and rights in general can produce strange circumstances.

Well, these books are banned. By Apple. From being sold in app. There is a discussion to be had here about what content does not fly for Apple and who is making that decision. Comixology brought this on themselves when Saga #12 was not in the app store and they allowed the public to believe that Apple had rejected it for reasons of homosexual sex, when previous issues featuring heterosexual sex had been accepted. 24 hours later, Comixology admitted that is was they who had not submitted the issue to Apple at all. Comixology looked at that material and deemed it “unacceptable”. This is important because Comixology stands to make more money off of comics not available in-app, so that adds another level of possible sketchiness to the whole situation. We need to ask who are the gatekeepers and what decisions they are making to decide what content is unacceptable and what their criteria is.

I’m afraid that first bit doesn’t quite make sense to me, Jason. If the comic was never submitted to Apple in the first place, then it wasn’t banned by them, as they never received it.

Scott, Black Kiss 2 and Sex (the books discussed in the article) were specifically rejected by Apple. They were both available for a time then disappeared. Saga, the book I went on to discuss, was never rejected by Apple.

The thing that puzzles me is why Sex was rejected by Apple, but Saga wasn’t. I mean, most of the issues of Sex I’ve seen have been pretty tame, late night Cinemax style stuff. Saga had a straight up money shot. Why is Apple fine with what generally constitutes “hardcore pornography” but not the standard T&A that is all Sex has been (past the first issue at least)?

And how does it skew the conversation when those books are available through Comixology’s website and Apple’s iBook store but not available through Comixology’s apps because of Apple’s restrictions on in-app purchases? I just checked and Casey’s Sex is available through iBooks.

Apple’s restricting (maybe that’s a better word to use than banning) one way but allowing for sale through another way that probably benefits them more.

They love to say “banned” because some people love to tear down Apple. Whenever there’s a winner in a space, people will want to tear them down and make them look bad. That’s exactly what this is.

The books being banned from the app by Apple is bad enough. Companies keep policing adults from enjoying their entertainment because it doesn’t fit their desired image and that’s bullshit. Maybe a sentence of nuance should be appropriate, but it’s still something that deserves attention as it’s an extremely pedantic business practice that should be discouraged.

SEX and BLACK KISS 2 are some poor comics. If they’re banned from certain sites oh well. They cash in on their ‘sex’ appeal. When you actually read them, you see they certainly do suck.

This is disregarding the context of the bans. Every article ever on the subject has mentioned that is Apple who has banned them from sale and they are definitely available through comixology, among other retailers, but the reality is not so simple. Apple dictates that any digital product, service or media that might be consumed on their device be only sold through them. The app cannot link to the stores web address, it cannot suggest that the user purchase the media from the web site, the developer cannot charge more than their webstore despite having Apple’s additional cut, it can’t mention any such web store even exists, it can’t even mention that this is all due to Apple’s policies:

http://tumblr.alanquatermain.me/post/8045895465/my-review-of-the-kobo-app

Now, Comixology does not release it’s numbers, but it is rather safe to bet that most of their users consume comics through the iPad. There maybe some that use other devices, but Apple’s tablet is the definite lead. Now, suppose Joe recently was turned onto comics because of the recent DC/Marvel digital parity policies. He has only ever read digital comics and only bought them on the iPad. His comics savvy friend Steve tells him about this sexy new comic called Sex that he should check out. He searches for it on Comixology, doesn’t find it, moves on, because he has no way of knowing that there is a Comixology website or that the comic is available there. He can Google it, but expecting such effort from general consumers is…folly, for lack of a better term. Sex is effectively banned for most consumers.

Now, all comixology users should only buy from the website because it means more revenue for the publishers and creators, but that would require significant marketing push from Comixology. Unlike Amazon or Google, they can’t really afford Apple’s ire.

What you guys don’t understand is that Comixology only sells from its web site in dollars, so every time I have to buy something from the web site I have to pay a currency fee on top of it. Whereas if I buy it through one of the apps the currency is already converted.

And ridiculously when something is banned from the Apple app, it automatically gets removed from the Android one as well, even though Android has no such restrictions on its content.

I agree on principle here, but I also feel like it’s a discussion worth having that ComiXology–essentially the only game in town for digital comics from mainstream publishers–have a history now of pre-emptively withholding product that no retailer is asking them to withhold (as happened with Saga), and doing so in such a way that it affects more than one retailer (they anticipated a problem with Apple, so withheld it from all mobile platforms). It does impact the books–especially smaller titles where every sale matters and casual readers might not know to look on the website.

The author of this piece assumes multiple digital devices, including a PC. I have many, many students who own a tablet and a smartphone. period. So if it’s not on the Apple controlled apps, it effectively doesn’t exist. Sure they could find a computer and go to the Comixology site and purchase the works, but anybody who knows about consumer behavior knows that that level of extra effort for a product that they don’t even know exists or is available elsewhere when it’s not at the preferred vendor is not reasonable.

As stated in other posts, I make a point of purchasing from the website because I prefer to keep Apple from getting their 30% whenever possible. In the recent Top Shelf sale, I first looked at the list on the iPad, and then when I went to purchase on the PC, I had to adjust my budget/list because there were several additional titles like “Lost Girls” and “Chester 5000 XYV” listed there.

I can buy “Sex” on the Android app, but not “Black Kiss 2″. So being banned by Apple doesn’t always result in removal from the Android app. What would be better is if it would list the “banned” comic and have a link to buy on web or maybe just a stub entry with a link.

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