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Comixology announces unlimited subscription service — with limits

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Comixology Unlimited will feature a library of the beginnings of some great comics

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Comixology, the internet's foremost outlet for digital comics, announced its first subscription-based unlimited comics service today.

For a $5.99 monthly fee, Comixology Unlimited allows subscribers access to a library of comics from several of America's largest indie publishers — Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, BOOM! Studios, Oni Press, Archie Comics, Valiant Entertainment, Fantagraphics Books, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenoscope, Action Lab and Aspen Comics. For that price, subscribers can download and read any comic with the Comixology Unlimited label instead of paying for them piecemeal. The service also offers a 30-day free trial.

"It sounds silly but our mission is to make everyone on the planet a comics fan," Comixology CEO David Steinberger told Entertainment Weekly. "That’s really hard to do by just throwing them into the middle of 100,000 comic books. It’s a lot easier if people have a very low risk opportunity to discover comics for themselves and just really take their time with the catalog."

He's not wrong. As the biggest digital comics outlet on the web, Comixology's library is dauntingly huge. EW likens Comixology Unlimited to "Netflix for comic books" — not the first time this phrase has been used for a subscription-based comics service. It will even front the user with recommendations in various ways, "including search filters, home page curation, introductions to various publishers, and even editorial guides." But if Comixology Unlimited is like Netflix, it's also borrowed some of the streaming service's most obvious flaws. Namely, it's limited library.

Comixology Unlimited's biggest omissions, Marvel and DC Comics, are also its most expected ones. Marvel already has its own "Unlimited" service, for one thing, and the Big Two of American comics are also conspicuously absent from other Comixology initiatives like DRM free offline backups. (If anything, Comixology Unlimited just makes the fact that DC Comics does not offer a digital comics subscription service all the more glaring.)

And on the surface, the comics included in Comixology Unlimited seem like a brilliant swathe of titles for new readers, as advertised. Subscribers will instantly gain access to books like Bitch Planet, Descender, The Wicked + The Divine (all of which made our best comics of 2015 list), Saga, Sex Criminals, Scott Pilgrim, Hellboy, The Complete Peanuts, Lumberjanes and Adventure Time.

But on a closer look, what's actually available from the majority of these series is merely the first story arc or at most the first few volumes. Enough to wet a reader's whistle, to give them an idea of whether they'd like to read more, but a very far cry from a service such as Marvel Unlimited, which offers hundreds of full series runs and continually updates with more issues (as long as they're at least six months from hitting physical shelves).

If those users do want to read more, they'll presumably have to go back to buying piecemeal. Like Netflix, Comixology Unlimited will cycle books in and out of its library, and much like Netflix, this seems like more of an annoyance than anything else.

Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple's incredibly popular space epic, has 36 issues and five collected editions so far, with a sixth on the way. Only the first six issues are on Comixology Unlimited. If a reader gets hooked enough through the subscription service to buy the rest of the comic, will they log in one day to find that Saga has rotated out of Unlimited and they are no longer able to read the beginning of a series they love?

Comixology Unlimited seems more like a tasting service than a true subscription-based content library. That's not necessarily bad, but it's perhaps a little different than potential subscribers might expect from the word "unlimited."