How Graphicly paves the way for self-published digital comics

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While technology has certainly made it easier to self-publish comics or graphic novels, the same is not true when it comes to digital distribution – or getting “indie” comics self-published in several online stores so that people can buy them.

The lack of affordable distribution options for self-published comics makes it difficult for creators to turn their work into a business. But with more than 300,000 self-publishing creators expected to start selling their own comics and graphic novels in 2012, the digital comics startup Graphically sees a huge opportunity for growth.

In addition to Graphicly’s web and Facebook distribution channels, the company recently opened up its platform for self-published comic creators to sell their work in several different digital bookstores, including Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon’s Kindle store, Android Market, Barnes & Noble, and more. Creators pay an up-front “conversion fee” for each comic they want to distribute and keep most or all of the revenue depending on the distribution channel. Sales made through Graphicly’s online store or integrated Facebook store are free, but sales through channels like the iBookstore still incur a revenue share fee.

Considering the extremely high costs associated with making a single self-published comic book series available across all of the aforementioned stores/platforms, Graphicly’s “distribution as a service” model makes perfect sense for most self-publishers. The company estimates that it can implement a new comic in all appropriate distribution channels within a week of receiving a PDF file of the book itself.

Self-published comic book creators also have access to a useful set of analytics tools, which measure things like average book reading time, total number of readers, platform used by users, social activity and much more. This type of information will certainly be useful to self-publishers with limited resources for marketing and promotion. And since analytics tools measure a customer’s behavior, it could dramatically change the way stories are told, according to Graphicly CEO Micah Baldwin.

“From our first tests with the analytics tools, we found that most people read an average of 3-4 minutes for each complete comic before putting it down,” Baldwin said in an interview with VentureBeat.

Having been a serious comic book reader for decades, I’ve determined that this length is roughly how long people need something to read while sitting on the toilet. And though Baldwin jokingly agreed, he went on to explain how future creators might want to release a new issue after three or four pages rather than the current industry standard of 22 pages per monthly comic.

“The only reason 22 pages is the standard length for a comic is that most artists can usually finish drawing one page a day…So, 22 pages spread over the whole month, they would have plenty of time to end the whole issue,” he said.

For example, if a self-published comic book creator has determined that people only read five pages at a time based on Graphicly’s analytics, that could change distribution frequency. This in turn could improve reader engagement, which could impact sales.

Why Graphicly’s Self-Publishing Model Will Disrupt the Comics Industry

Previously, Graphicly focused on its own distribution channel for a handful of major comic book publishers like Image, Marvel, and IDW, as well as a variety of smaller and creator-owned publishers. The distribution channel can be integrated within a Facebook business page or official site, giving it an edge over competitors like comiXology as it combines publishers’ marketing efforts with Graphicly’s own promotional efforts. . Graphically generates revenue by taking a share of each comic book sale, similar to how Apple and Amazon do with their respective digital bookstores.

The inherent problem with this strategy is that people inevitably favor the platform with the most “comprehensive” collection of media in its library, which often contains exclusive content not available to competitors. For example, Netflix has the largest library of streaming video content and the largest number of streaming video subscribers. As for digital comics, comixology has the largest content selection of any major publisher and possibly the largest customer base among digital comics distribution channels. While Graphicly has more content available by a many more editors, it’s still missing DC Comics inventory, which accounts for the majority of all comic book sales (digital and print). And since digital purchases are only stored on each distributor’s platform, it’s likely that people will end up choosing the platform with the most comprehensive selection of content available for purchase.

Rather than compete solely with comiXology or others like it, Graphicly decided to change its business model. The startup will continue to offer popular comics within its own distribution channel for publishers with high sales volume and taking a percentage of the revenue. But now, small publishers and self-published creators will pay a base fee for each comic ($150 per book) they want to distribute through Graphicly and keep all revenue.

“The beauty of this model is that we don’t need DC Comics to be successful,” Baldwin said. “I hope DC and other major publishers will eventually see the value in Graphicly’s distribution and analytics,” which will bring them on board, he added.

Essentially, if you can generate at least $150 in sales from your self-published comic, you earn a return — excluding any other operating costs. And since the Graphicly platform makes the book available in all major digital bookstores, it improves the possibilities for increased sales. Compared to printing costs, “conversion fees” are also a cheaper means of distribution, allowing more independent creators to publish books. (It should be noted that Baldwin said the $150 fee is “beta pricing” and will likely be changed to better suit the needs of each smaller publisher as the platform grows. .)

The new publishing platform is available to current Graphicly publishers, with a full rollout coming in the coming weeks.

The Boulder, Colorado-based startup closed a $3 million funding round in January 2011 led by DFJ Mercury, with participation from 500 startups, Dundee VC, Ludlow Ventures and individual angel investors. The company was incubated by TechStars and previously raised $1.2 million from DFJ Mercury and others. It has 20 employees and has raised a total of $4.2 million to date.

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Lisa M. Horner