An interview with Micah Baldwin from Graphicly
Micah Baldwin was gracious enough to do an interview with Comics Forge this week. And this is what he had to say about where they are, where they are going, and that is next for Graphicly.
When you closed down the mobile applications why did you say storefront? That had a lot of people confused and they wrote wonderful things about graphicly then moved on, what did you really close and why did you pivot with your business?
We took down the mobile marketplace apps. The web store still thrives at http://graphicly.com/store. It was a calculated move with two goals in mind.
1) Unless you are Marvel, DC or Image, putting your book in a store (digital or otherwise) will not guarantee sales. Creators have to own their own destiny, and Graphicly is focused on providing a set of tools to help creators do just that. We are providing fishing poles, not lakes.
2) We want great story to be seen. As long as we are a marketplace, it is impossible to sustain the market place unless the comic also sells. Take a look at Comixology, the leading digital comics store. How many independents are featured? How many publishers do they have? 40? 50? Maybe. We have more than 2,500 currently. When is the last time you have seen a new indie publisher added to their catalog? We are adding hundreds monthly.
I don’t mean to pick on Comixology, as they are doing a great job as a store. We just have little interest in building a small business. I mean even if they achieved 100 million downloads of their app (I would doubt that they are past 10 million), it would still pale in comparison to the combined reach of Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.
Our pivot was to provide fishing poles to creators, and give them huge lakes with hundreds of millions of fish swimming in them. And, to extend this metaphor even further…to help them understand what kind of bait to hook those fish with…ok, that’s stretching it pretty far.
2. What would you state the rate of digital comic book consumption is right now?
I assume you mean status of digital comics? Digital comics are becoming an effective way for publishers to extend revenue streams and attract “sort of” new readers. For creators and mid-sized publishers, digital can be a significant way to lower cost and reach a larger, more mainstream audience. We have seen unheard of creators sell thousands of books that Diamond or a large publisher would have turned away. We have seen creators get deals from large publishers because of the success of their digital books.
For mid-sized publishers, digital can be a god send. The difficulty now is understanding that digital comics bring a different mentality and set of skills for marketing. You no longer can pluck someone out of the retail space and expect them to excel.
The major players in the ebook space, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble all understand the power of the comic, and have either built a file format that is specific to the genre, or have struck interesting deals. It is interesting, for example, that DC is not available within the Comixology app on Kindle. Clearly this is an outcropping of the deal that DC did directly with Amazon, and should be a wake up call to digital comic purchasers. For example, what happens if Apple decides that all books, magazines, comics, etc must go through iBooks or Newsstand? What happens to Zinio or Comixology then? It is an interesting time for digital comics, and certainly for publishers and creators.
How is graphicly doing with the new publishers platform you have built?
Extremely well. We have seen hundreds of publishers and creators join the platform monthly; converted books just tipped into the thousands last month (on a per month basis), and continue to grow at a 25% month over month rate. We have deals with many of the major publishers, and have more than 2,500 publishers in the system. We had 300 on February 1, and we are just past 10,000 total books in the system (we were at 6,000 on Feb 1).
More importantly, we are continuing to iterate on the product and expand the tool set. We are about a week away from releasing an InDesign plug-in that will allow publishers to go straight from InDesign to full conversion. You will be able to create your panels and reading flow in InDesign, and it will automagically be read and converted in the Graphicly platform, so that’s exciting. It’ll make integrating conversion into the workflow super simple.
We are also adding 4 new marketplaces, including libraries and two foreign markets (the far east).
Have you seen a difference in sales based on the e-book reader that customers are using, if yes can you quantify it, which reader is more popular with comic book folk?
Yes, every market is very different. Right now, Apple is by far the top-seller, with Barnes and Noble coming in at number two.
With IVerse and Comixology in the market place, what role do you see Graphicly having in the industry that is not being addressed by those two companies?
Both of those companies are focused on their own marketplaces, and served a purpose for a long-time given the ebook readers didn’t allow for fixed layout books nor were in color. Basically, it was impossible to use an e-reader to effectively sell, read or enjoy a comic. With the iPad, Fire and color NOOK, that is no longer the case. Add that to Kindle’s focus on their Panel View, and Barnes and Noble agreement with Marvel, as well as Apple adding a Graphic Novels and Comics section, its clear that the major players are finding comics interesting enough to spend time with them. What that means in the long-term? I don’t know. But given the vast majority of readers that we have spoken with and surveyed don’t use any type of panel view on the tablet, and tablets have reached a tipping point…it seems that the time when a unique non-branded digital comic book reader was useful may be passing.
Lets also not forget Facebook. We are currently the only way to read, share and sell comics on Facebook. There is an intrinsic value to being able to promote your book to potentially 1 billion people. For example, we know that every time an action is taken on a book in Facebook approximately 2,000 people see it. Tell me a better, cheaper and easier way to have that many people see your book?
Have you seen a greater adoption to also getting other types of books into the ebook market place?
Yes. About 30% or so of books converted through the Graphicly platform are non-comics. Here are some examples: http://graphicly.com/various-genres
Have you done anything with some of the new ideas for voice over’s, rich content, embedded movies, and other ways of enhancing the ebook experience? Do you plan on doing this in the future much like proposals and ideas coming from all over the industry right now?
Yes. All of that is available through the web and Facebook currently. We will have the ability for publishers and creators to add “extra” content when the marketplaces support it. There is a new version of ePub coming — epub3 — that has audio/video hooks that will make it much simpler to make an enhanced book. Here is an example of a book that is embedded on my blog (This is one of the formats books get converted into through Graphicly): http://learntoduck.com/comic that includes extras (under the explore button).
What do you see as the biggest challenge for comic book readers right now in the digital market? Are people finding what they want, when they want, and able to use it on any device or has the market split too much amongst the competitors?
There are two different issues at hand. One is for the collectors, the folks that are buying “Wednesdays” or periodicals, and folks that just want to read a great story.
If I am a collector, then using a single aggregator like iVerse or Comixology makes sense, but both do not have everything that I might be looking for. It would seem if I am buying a monthly book, that a subscription in the Newsstand makes sense. All my books aggregated in one folder on my iPad, easy to find and automatically there every month. If Kindle or Barnes and Noble do something similar then I am getting access across all platforms via those apps. At the end of the day, its just a preference issue for the collector.
For the enthusiast — lets say someone just saw a Batman movie, so I head over to iTunes and do a search for Batman.
The 6 top iPhone/iPad apps are games (no DC or Comixology app among them), three books about Batman (but no comics). I go to Amazon, and the first result is Year One. The Kindle store is all Batman Graphic Novels. No apps, no games, etc.
Books belong in a bookstore, and it will always be easier to find books in a book store. In addition, enthusiasts don’t care about monthly periodicals. They want stories. Complete stories. The comic specific apps don’t give you that. iBooks, Kindle and NOOK do, and across all platforms.
What does a creator need to do to get a comic book ready for your business? Is there a link to templates or other standards that are needed for digital conversion?
The entire process is 5 steps, Upload a PDF. Add some metadata about the book. Order and crop the pages. Direct the reading experience. Choose the marketplaces. Boom. Done. We handle all the hard labor.
What is next for Graphicly?
More of the same. We are looking to continue to add tools to the platform to help publishers and creators successfully grow their market share. I think the next big undertaking will be to build out education and services around marketing to help accelerate that goal for publishers.
Anything you want to add for people to know?
We have always found it funny that people believe that we “left comics.” We never left comics; we just took them to the next level. The forward-thinking creators and publishers recognized that and have taken advantage of the platform, some to great success.