By Dan Moren
October 29, 2015 11:12 AM PT
Marvel Unlimited: Friend or foe?!
Rarely do I get into new services with the same fervor with which I’ve embraced Marvel Unlimited over the last few months.1 As someone who hasn’t regularly read comics since his teenage years, Marvel Unlimited provides exactly what I’m looking for: a monthly subscription fee that covers pretty much all of my comic-reading needs (for Marvel titles, of course). I’m not likely to head down to my local comic book store and pick up single issues2, and buying individual issues from Comixology, much as I like keeping up with the current releases, is just too pricey for my blood. So an all-you-can-eat service is just what the Doctor (Strange) ordered.
But, much as I love the service, the iOS app needs some serious work. Over the last few months, I’ve come across a few major improvements that I’d really love for Marvel to make to turn Unlimited from a service with great content and a crummy app into something that’s Fantastic (Four) all around.
Number one with a bullet. I’ve started following a number of current series—Thor, Captain Marvel, and Rocket Raccoon, just to name a few—but the biggest pain is that I have to fire up the app every week to check if there’s a new issue for one of the many, many series I’m reading.
There’s a simple, time-honored solution to this: the pull list. Many comic book shops offer this service, which is essentially a brick-and-mortar subscription service where you tell the shop which series you want to have “pulled” each week, and they have them ready and waiting for you when you walk into the store. Not only is it a convenience, but it also offers the kind of personalization you’d expect from, oh, an app.
In my ideal dreamworld scenario, I’d be able to subscribe to a series, then get a push notification when a new issue is available. Frankly, this should have been a day one feature.1 I’m sure Marvel is happy to have me scanning the virtual shelves every week, and browsing them has certainly caused me to add more series that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but I’d probably still do this even if I got my comics delivered automatically.
I tend to read comics on my iPad, but on occasion all I’ve got on me is my iPhone. Unfortunately, much of the app seems to ignore any pretense of syncing. On the app’s main page, for example, is a Recently Read section: on my iPad, it’s full of titles. On my iPhone, nada. (It even goes so far as to shame me by proclaiming that I should read some comics. I’m trying, Marvel Unlimited!) The lack of recognition for that makes it that much harder when I want to pick up on my iPhone where I left off on my iPad, or vice versa.
Moreover, even if I do load up the same comic—say, by adding it to My Library, which means I can “easily” find it on both devices—it would be nice if reading on the subsequent device would jump to the page where I left off, rather than having to swipe through a ton of slowly-loading images. Come on: I’m reading comics in the 21st century; in real life, I could do this with a bookmark.
I haven’t entirely wrapped my head around Marvel Unlimited’s My Library feature. It’s not quite Netflix’s My List queue, and it’s also poorly organized for a medium that largely depends on series. It’s really just an alphabetical list of issues that you’ve selected; at the very least, it should be broken down by series, since it starts to get unwieldy after you’ve added about a dozen issues.
Adding stuff to your library could be improved too. Let’s say I jump into Ms. Marvel—excellent, by the way, and you should all be reading it—and want to add all the issues to My Library. That means going through and adding each one-by-one, which is tiring.
More to the point, there doesn’t even really seem to be a reason to add stuff to my library. Once you get more than a few titles in your library, finding something specific there isn’t much easier than finding it via the app’s Browse interface again. So why should I even bother? The one real advantage, as far as I can tell, is that it’s the only thing that actually does sync between my devices.
It’d be great if there were more categorization in my library too—and I don’t just mean by genre, or author, and so on. For example, I’d love to see my library divided up into my history—comics that have been read—and my queue of those that are still to read. GoodReads does something similar, but since all the content here is in the app, Marvel Unlimited has the virtue of being able to automatically tell when you’ve finished reading something.
Better than the rest
None of this is to take away from how much I use and enjoy the content of Marvel Unlimited. Without it, I doubt I would be reading much more than the odd comic book collection. (Marvel also tries to push single issue purchases in the Unlimited app, which I don’t entirely get. I mean, I’m not going to buy movies through Netflix.)
The main trade off of Marvel Universe is that issues appear about six months after they debut.2 And I’m okay with that: for the moment, I realize that Marvel doesn’t want to cannibalize sales of its issues in the week that they go on sale by having day-and-date launches, and wants enough lagtime that people won’t just hold off on purchases thinking that they’ll be on Marvel Unlimited in short order. I expect it may change at some point in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.
But if you’re going to establish that as the tradeoff, then don’t hamper your service in all those other ways. End of the day, Marvel’s still getting at least $70 a year or so out of its Unlimited customers—probably more than many folks spend on comics. And they’re not losing money from me not purchasing single issues, because I’m not going to be doing that otherwise. So let me get my money’s worth by making the experience better.
As I said, though, I love the app. And perhaps the biggest kudos that I give Marvel on this score is that I now desperately want DC Comics to make a similar service. I would very happily shell out a similar amount to keep tabs on Batgirl, Green Lantern, the Flash, and the rest of the Justice League. As much as I want the Marvel Unlimited app experience to improve, it’s still far and away better than what its main competitor has to offer. Perhaps, DC, you need to (Avengers!) assemble a team to look into it.
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