Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Johanna Draper Carlson has a thoughtful post about the appropriate use of Kickstarter, and uses Lea Hernandez’s Kickstarter for The Garlicks as an example of a campaign she’s not comfortable with, because the comic doesn’t exist yet:
I am more comfortable funding a project where the work already exists, one where the creator needs print costs. This doesn’t apply to Lea’s case, but one of the reasons why is that, if rewards deliver within a couple of months, I’m protected if something happens and I don’t get what’s promised. Within 3-6 months, I have the ability to do a credit card chargeback in the worst case, if the provider flakes out. On a more personal level, it’s more rewarding to get a book or other rewards within a couple of months, as though it was similar to a preorder. Otherwise, it feels like throwing money into the wind.
In Johanna’s case, it’s a matter of not wanting to invest in something that isn’t substantially complete — because she wants to be sure she gets what she paid for. In the comments, though, it turns to a more general discussion of whether it’s appropriate to use a Kickstarter to support the artist while she is working on the project. Hernandez points out that her Kickstarter includes printing and production costs and a modest page rate paid directly to her for doing the work:
Brad Guigar has a pretty good perspective on the world of webcomics: He is the creator of the daily webcomic Evil Inc., one of the co-authors (with Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub) of the seminal book How to Make Webcomics, and the editor-in-chief of the website Webcomics.com. He was nominated for an Eisner Award for his earlier comic Phables, which has now come to an end, and he draws Courting Disaster, a weekly panel that accompanies a dating advice column. Guigar is a busy guy.
In January 2010, Guigar put Webcomics.com behind a paywall, a move that initially caused a lot of controversy. Two years later, I thought it would be interesting to talk to him about how that move worked, and about the state of webcomics in general in an increasingly diverse comics scene.
Robot 6: I want to start with a general question: Are webcomics still an important sector of the comics world? And how do you think their role and significance have changed in the past two years?
Brad Guigar: I think webcomics are the most important, most vital comics being produced today. I think the term “webcomics” has come to represent not just comics posted on the web, but rather, independent comics as a whole. The recent cresting of digital downloading is going to be one more tool — like social media was a few years ago — that webcomics will incorporate to help make independent comics thrive.
Peter Simeti, the president and publisher of Alterna Comics, sent out a mass e-mail this weekend saying “Alterna has had a rough two years” and directing readers to the company’s fund-raising page at Indie GoGo. It sounds like they have a cash flow problem:
Sales don’t come in quick enough (book distribution takes up to 6 months to pay us) and we end up accumulating over $4,000 worth of interest ever year, even though we’ve maintained a small profit for the past 3 years, that profit has been quickly eaten up by the bills we have. The worst part is, our company debt is around $28,000 – which isn’t even a lot for most small companies. But due to the fact that we can’t even make new books to spur new income – the debt has become stifling and will eventually take its toll on us within 1 to 2 years.
So unless they can raise some money pronto, they are going to go into a death spiral of debt. The amount they are trying to raise seems laughably small—$1,000, much less than most Kickstarter drives—but apparently that will keep the wolf from the door for a while. Interestingly, the lowest level of the drive consists simply of buying their books—you fork over $10, you get a $10 book as a “reward”—although a few of the listed books cost more than $10 and at least one costs less. Of course, the indie page cuts out the distributor and thus the distributor’s cut and the time lag in payment. This really goes to Simeti’s point: Alterna’s books are selling well, they just can’t get paid for them, and in a way, the Indie GoGo page is just a direct sales channel that will get a bit of juice from the added publicity of Simeti’s plea. What’s more, it’s a sales channel with some good incentives, as the rewards escalate quickly, and you can get some original art for short money. A plea for funds isn’t really a marketing plan, but maybe this is just what Alterna needs—to sell fewer books through Diamond and Amazon and more on their own.
Veteran translator Matt Thorn has been involved in the so-called manga revolution from its earliest days—he started translating for Viz in the 1990s—and now he is the editor and translator of Fantagraphics’ manga line. Matt remembers when manga publishers had standards, and translators made good money; his top price was $17 per page. “Mind you, there was no shortage of enthusiastic otaku willing to work for peanuts,” he writes. “It’s just that no respectable publisher ever seriously considered hiring such people unless they proved themselves, and even then they were paid a decent wage.” Then Stu Levy came along.
TokyoPop changed that. Why pay six bucks a page when there’s this kid here who will do something vaguely resembling a “translation” for five bucks a page? Or four? Or even three?
I was stunned when I first heard that there were kids at TokyoPop working for three bucks a page. That’s not even close to a living wage.
The practice was cynical on many levels. Obviously, it was exploitation of the translator. But it also revealed a contempt for the reader: These kids can’t tell the difference between good writing and bad, so why pay more for better writing?
I was exchanging e-mails with Sean O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of Arcana Studio, just before Borders filed for bankruptcy, so when the other shoe dropped, I asked him to talk a bit about how it affects his business. Arcana is a small publisher, and I assumed the bankruptcy would have a big effect on them. What interests me about his response is the importance of the middleman, Diamond Book Distributors, in this case.
As always, I also wanted to talk about the different ways the company gets its books out to readers, and the relative importance of the different channels. Having spent the weekend at C2E2 talking about these different factors, I was interested to hear how they directly affect a single publisher.
Brigid: How much of your revenue comes from each channel—comics shops, bookstores, online sales, digital?
Sean: While digital is an ever-growing market to keep an eye on, that part of the industry is still in its growth phase. The majority of Arcana’s current sales come from bookstores and online – still primarily through Diamond Comics and Diamond Books, Amazon, eBay and of course you can find our product in local comic shops as well. That said, we’ve made a significant turn away from the ‘floppy’ comic market and are concentrating on the graphic novel market. Digital is the next step and we’re working with Comixology, Wowio, Graphic.ly and others.
Last one left at Tokyopop, turn off the lights.
The news that Tokyopop has laid off senior editor Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl, editor Troy Lewter and manga line editor Asako Suzuki means that the beleaguered company, which has already risen from a near-death state once, is eating its seed corn. Diaz-Pryzybl was in large part responsible for the company’s most recent comeback (as was marketing director Marco Pavia, who was laid off in an earlier wave), and Suzuki’s hand could already be seen in an unusually strong March lineup of new manga.
Meanwhile, just yesterday Tokyopop Stu Levy blithely Tweeted:
Wow #GDC2011 [Game Developers Conference] is blowing my mind. Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)
To which one is tempted to reply, “I dunno, Stu. Why don’t you just leave?”
Not only does his tweet show an appalling lack of tact, but Levy’s ADD has always been the biggest obstacle to Tokyopop’s success. To give him his due, he comes up with great ideas — Tokyopop was way ahead of the curve on many things, from unflipped manga to the iPhone — but he seldom sticks with them long enough to bring them to fruition. It’s been obvious for years that he is bored with books; I remember watching him at NYAF a few years ago, dashing around with a film crew, making a mockumentary about cons. Remember that movie? No? Me either. This past summer, he sunk what must have been a boatload of cash into a bus that he (or someone) drove around the country with a bunch of college interns, promoting his America’s Greatest Otaku “reality show” (currently running on Hulu). Then he lays off one of his most experienced editors. The short-sightedness of this is mind-boggling. To make money, you have to sell something people want to buy. Tokyopop has teetered on the edge of irrelevancy for a long time, but good editors and marketers keep pulling it back. And then they lay off the editors and marketers.
The Register is a UK newspaper that that makes tech and business news a lot less boring by cloaking it in cheeky slang. An item that popped up today, iPad media apps: Stealthed hobbits thwart Google’s flaming Eye, caught my attention because it relates to the changing landscape of comics.
The point of the article is that iPad and iPhone apps are not accessible to Google and other internet search engines. This may not seem like a big deal, but in January, Apple will unveil the Mac Apps Store, and more and more content will be walled off in separate applications. I already use comiXology’s web app and the Mac version of the Kindle reader, so a Mac app is only a small step away from what I’m doing now.
It’s time for comics publishers and app developers to devote some serious thought to the question of how readers are going to find comics on their mobile devices. Already I have a hard time finding things in the app store, and the lack of a dedicated comics section makes it even worse. Unlike Google’s robust search engine (if I search for “Joseph Smith,” it knows to give me hits for “Joe Smith” as well, and it will ask me if I’m really looking for “Jo Smyth” if there are more hits for that), the iTunes store only responds to a handful of exact keywords.
As we reported last August, Phil and Kaija Foglio have signed multiple contracts to adapt their webcomic Girl Genius into a number of different formats, including novels, audiobooks, and an omnibus edition of the comic. Now we’re seeing the first fruits of this effort, as Teleread reports that Baen Books is offering the novelization of the story, Agatha H and the Airship City, as an e-book for $6. This is $1.99 less than the Kindle version and a considerable savings over the print edition, both of which will be released on January 1, according to Amazon. Unlike Kindle, Baen Books downloads are DRM-free; if you’re a sci-fi fan, you might want to check out their site, because they offer the first volumes of a lot of series for free.
Phil Foglio is also blogging about the process of producing and promoting the book at his LiveJournal, and he is asking readers who are planning to buy the book through Amazon to do so on January 12, Kaija’s birthday, in order to push the book up the best-seller chart (a la Machine of Death)—and also give his wife a nice birthday present.
Manga blogger Deb Aoki talked to Digital Manga Publishing CEO Hikaru Sasahara about his plans to change the way the manga licensing industry works, and it has broader implications than are immediately apparent.
Sasahara has created a Digital Manga Guild, in which amateurs would translate and edit manga with no upfront payment but would be promised a cut of profits should the book sell. What makes this less exploitative than, say, the Bluewater Comics model is that both the American and the Japanese publishers would also wait for their cut—no one gets paid until the books are sold. (Nowhere does Sasahara mention the production and printing end of things, but I’ll bet the printers get paid up front.)
The problem with the current system, Sasahara says, is cash flow: The Japanese licensors demand a minimum of “several thousand dollars” up front, and then the company has to pay translators, editors, and other staff when they complete their work, so the company ends up spending quite a bit before the books ever reach bookstore shelves. What Sasahara is looking for is nothing short of a complete inversion of that system, with the licensors allowing their books to go overseas with no guarantee, and the editorial staff getting no pay as well. That would be a fundamental change in the industry that could have wide-ranging implications—or not.
DC Entertainment’s twin announcements on Tuesday — the division of operations between Burbank and New York, and the end of the WildStorm and Zuda imprints — was followed by a round of interviews that provides us with a fairly good picture of what the moves mean. Here’s what we know:
DC Entertainment’s “bi-coastal realignment strategy”: Despite the silly corporate-speak, this aspect of the DC announcements is, at least on the surface, the simplest to break down. The company’s operations related to business/administration, as well as multimedia and digital content, will relocate to “a Warner Bros.-managed property” in Burbank, Calif., while the publishing division will remain in New York City. The move is expected to be complete by the end of next year.
From there, however, the details get a little murky. Although the initial press release specifically mentions “consumer products” will be part of the move, neither DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson nor DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee would say whether that was a reference to DC Direct, DC Comics’ collectibles division.
Dorothy Gambrell, creator of the webcomic Cat and Girl, tracks her income via some nicely designed bar graphs that make interesting reading for anyone curious about the webcomics model. The graphs show not only how much she makes but what she makes it on as well as big expenditures (trip to MoCCA, printing books). In one way, Gambrell is living the stereotype: Her biggest source of income in most months is T-shirt sales, although she sold a lot of books in August. Freelance work also gives her a boost. The bottom line: So far this year, she has taken in $10,087.56 from her comic, a respectable second income but not enough to live on. And that isn’t her net—she has yet to deduct taxes, PayPal fees, and other expenses. One encouraging sign is that the overall trend is up; she had a dip in July, but August was her best month yet. Sean Kleefeld analyzed the numbers a bit and figures she’ll end the year with a gross income of about $20,000.
Marc Bernabe has posted a short video of Japanese creator Shuho Sato discussing (with subtitles) why he chose to publish his comics online. That may not seem like much of a jump to American readers, but as Bernabe explains in the accompanying blog post, manga creators don’t routinely include digital rights in their publishing contracts, so they can cut a deal for digital distribution that leaves the original publisher out of the loop. What this means is that publishers have little incentive to go digital.
While PAX was making the big convention news this week, translator and blogger John Thomas stopped by the Portland, Oregon, anime con Kumoricon to catch the Dark Horse panel, and he bagged a scoop: Editors Carl Gustav Horn and Philip Simon announced that Dark Horse is bringing back two series that have been on hiatus for a while, Eden: It’s an Endless World and MPD-Psycho.
While the past two years have been tough ones for manga publishers in general, Dark Horse has been sending out signals lately that they are doing OK, most notably on their Facebook last month. In that post, they asked readers to tell them which manga they wanted to see, and apparently a consensus was reached. It doesn’t hurt that both titles made the very first New York Times “graphic books” best-seller list back in 2009, a feat that caused some puzzlement among manga readers, as neither has the sort of widespread appeal that lands series like Naruto and Black Butler on the list. While they are notorious for the slowness of their releases, Dark Horse does eventually deliver the goods, and Thomas noted that fans at the con were happy about the recent return of Bride of the Water God, which had disappeared for a while, and Dark Horse’s plans to release a volume of Gantz, a month for the next few months. Simon encouraged fans to lobby for the return of their favorites by e-mailing the company or commenting on their Facebook.
Anime News Network has picked up on a fascinating trend over on YouTube: Anime and manga fans who show off their swag to support the industry.
The manga industry’s push against scan sites, which resulted in the shutdown of OneManga, seems to have raised awareness across otakudom that watching pirated anime and reading bootleg manga online is illegal. The anime industry has been faltering for years—long before manga began to wobble in 2007—but the general tendency among fans is to blame the publishers (for high prices and bad translations), so this is an interesting shift. It also mirrors the trend of “haul videos,” in which shoppers show off the results of their latest shopping spree.
The comics website DarkBrain (warning: music and spoken dialogue) has shifted from a paid to a free model, with the option to upgrade for more adult content.
The website launched in February with 12 series of fantasy, sci-fi, action, and horror comics. There are two gimmicks: One is that it allows readers to choose PG-13 or R settings for each comic. From poking around the site, it looks like R gets you the same comic but with more blood and cussin’. The other is that the comics feature music and voice acting, and the text boxes and word balloons appear one at a time as the actors say the lines. Their PR claims that users can also customize the story itself, although it’s not clear how.
From the initial press release, it appears that some comics were offered for free while others were packaged into an online magazine called Cortex, which was priced at $4.99 per issue.
Under the new model, all comics are free at the PG level, but for a subscription fee of $4.99 per month ($24.95 for a 6-month membership), readers can access the R-rated content as well as some members-only content. The other change is that the website is now selling ads, which are only seen in the free version; members get an ad-free environment.
According one of to the site’s information pages, half of all sales goes directly back to the artists. It’s not clear how that will work under the new model.