ComiXology is undeniably the top distributor of digital comics, with a library that covers nearly every major comic book publisher in the modern digital market -- so when the company's servers crashed over the weekend with a currently ongoing outage of service, it was a major failure on the part of the digital distributor. Many users are locked out of their accounts with no estimate on when they might be able to read their purchased digital comics, the main comiXology website is currently offline and publishing partners have no way of reaching an audience that normally consumes comics through tablets and computers.
The failure started on Sunday, when Marvel announced a digital comics promotion listing 700 free #1 issues on their digital app, powered by comiXology. The 700 free #1 issues were available on Sunday with the promotion intended to last through Tuesday. However, the comiXology servers crashed shortly after the promotion launched and have continued to stay down, despite assurances from comiXology's Twitter feed that they have "Top Men working on it."
"The discussion that needs to be had for comiXology, or any platform, is that of scalability, ability to support and commitment to serving publishers on equal footing," said Image Comics Director of Business Development Ron Richards. "Unfortunately this event has shown evidence of potential emerging issues as the audience for digital comics continues to grow."
Indeed, scalability is a major factor in the digital space, as the failure of comiXology to address the issue in a timely fashion is comparable to a stoppage in delivery of physical comics by Diamond Comics Distributors, although that may still be an understatement. When comiXology is down, digital storefronts -- both in-app and in many cases on the web -- for Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, BOOM! Studios and more are inaccessible, costing companies sales in the digital realm.
"Given that we've partnered with comiXology to power the official Image Comics iOS app and our web-based digital comics storefront, a significant portion of our daily digital sales are dependent on comiXology's stability," Richards told CBR.
Not only are the storefronts inaccessible, but many users also report that they are locked out completely from their comiXology accounts, bringing up the further question of whether the digital distributor needs a separate solution in place for customers to access their purchases when not signed in to their account without a connection to the main server.
Perhaps it's not only an issue of scale and accessibility, but also an issue of communication, as some comiXology publishing partners reached by CBR at time of press stated they were not notified by comiXology about the large Marvel promotion in advance. However, digital-only publisher Monkeybrain Comics believes that the impact may not be as negative as user response would have one believe.
"Most of our sales are driven by a new issue going up and since Edison Rex #6 doesn't come out till this Wednesday, I'm sure the impact on us will be nominal at best," said Allison Baker of Monkeybrain Comics. "This outage is a little annoying but it's not end of the world. Apparently when you offer a bunch of great books made by amazing talent for free, people will come. That's great news! 700 great books might have been a bridge too far but I respect the attempt to go big! You can never really know the limits until you test them. If I know anything about the people working for comiXology, this hiccup will get fixed and won't happen again."
However, a number of questions about the advance preparation and comiXology's ability to scale remain unanswered. What steps and safeguards did comiXology take to prevent server trouble for the massive Marvel promotion? Does the company have any plans in place to keep users from being locked out of their accounts and purchases in the event of a server crash? Is there any concern that as a result of the promotion, Wednesday's digital releases will be delayed?
comiXology offered a simple "No comment" when asked these questions by CBR earlier today. Marvel Comics and DC Comics would not comment on the story, instead deferring to ComiXology.
UPDATE 3/11/2013 2:07 PM PT: The official comiXology blog has posted a statement from CEO and co-founder David Steinberger, saying the digital distributor is pausing the Marvel Comics promotion for the time being. The statement has no indication of the popularity of Marvel's promotional offer, whether it was a server or bandwidth issue, when the servers will be active again or what specific steps were taken in advance to prepare.
To our customers:
It’s been a whirlwind weekend, and we’re fresh from SXSW where Marvel Comics launched their Marvel #1 promotion featuring over 700 free comics distributed via our platform.
We expected a high degree of excitement for the Marvel initiative – and had believed ourselves prepared – but unfortunately we became overwhelmed by the immense response. We’re still struggling to keep our systems up.
The result is that you aren’t getting your comics when and where you want.
We don’t like letting you down. Our teams are working around the clock to resolve these issues so that you can have the experience you’ve come to expect.
To that end, we’re pausing the Marvel Comics #1 promotion for the time being. For those of you that want to take advantage of the offer – you will get your comics! Until we are able to reinstate this program in our systems, please click here and fill out this simple form, so you can be informed as soon as there is an update.
We’ll be communicating with you as often as we can and deeply appreciate the outpouring of support we’ve seen from our customers while we right the ship.
CEO and co-founder