Wowio Says “All Debts Paid”

I’d lost track of Wowio. Once it changed owners twice, and it quit paying publishers to put comics online for free, it didn’t offer much for me to pay attention to. Publishers pulled their works, so as a reader, there wasn’t material for me to look at. And as a reporter, “we’re still not paying people” isn’t much of a story.

So bless Sean Kleefeld for teasing out the latest news, by following the company’s current owner on Twitter. Sean quotes Wowio owner Brian Altounian as saying:

every publisher was paid entirely and I even added an interest payment on top of it as a good-faith gesture to apologize for the delays in payment.

Based on that, Sean says, “To my understanding, Wowio is now debt-free.” Me, I hope that’s true. The debts dated from June 2008, and that’s a long time for an artist to wait for funds. And given that a year ago Altounian had no plans to pay, I’m glad he changed his mind.

Wowio No Longer Owned by Platinum

Flashback Universe posts an interview with Brian Altounian, CEO and President of Wowio. In it, he reveals that the company is no longer owned by Platinum:

Platinum … has narrowed its focus this year to be strictly on its core film and television business. I personally formed a holding company that acquired 100% of WOWIO from Platinum on July 1 of this year.

Wowio had been acquired by Platinum about a year ago, so that didn’t last long. (And the combination was generally unsuccessful.) Practically, I’m not sure how much of a change this actually is, since Altounian is still President and Chief Operating Officer of Platinum, and he was the one defending the company when people pointed out that they still owed creators money from June 2008. That debt has still not, to my knowledge, been paid. The interview didn’t ask Altounian about financial matters.

Altounian is now plugging the “richer experience” of including audio and video as additional content in their ebook PDFs. He concludes by promising a brighter future:

[W]e are exploring additional media elements such as audiobook and other formats for our readers to broaden their collection of material. We are exploring new revenue-generating opportunities for our publishing partners. We are looking at new corporate sponsorships, and we recently launched a new non-profit initiative that will expand our readership greatly. Look for new announcements to come out over the next couple of months.

Given the number of times the company has said “trust us, good things are coming”, it appears that even though, on paper, the leadership may be different, it’s the same old Wowio.

Remember Wowio?

Me neither. But Sean Kleefeld reminded me.

To recap: A year ago, Wowio was something of an online success story, making thousands of dollars for participating publishers. Six months ago, Wowio was acquired by Platinum, a dodgy company with a shady track record. The changes they implemented, including eliminating most of the free PDFs, were unpopular. Then the payments stopped.

Now, if I’m reading Sean’s post correctly, Platinum hasn’t ever caught up with the Wowio obligations and has no definite date on which they’ll be able to. The company president, Brian Altounian, said (over Twitter, of all things) that they had to get more investment money since there wasn’t enough revenue coming in, and investors didn’t want to pay “old debt”. Given Platinum’s track record, I wonder how likely it is that anyone wants to pump more money into the company, especially given the current economic environment.

Most fascinating about Sean’s post is that Altounian shows up in the comments to spar with him. Understandably, the official doesn’t like people pointing out what bad shape his company’s in or how low the readership has dropped, but the explanation boils down to “you don’t understand how big business works; we’re trying our best”. Sean responds:

… it’s a superiorly bad business decision to either A) buy a company which owes any amount of debt with no plan for repayment, or B) buy a company with no knowledge of the debt it already has. I’m not familiar with the due diligence that may have been done on your part, certainly, but the only other option I’m seeing is amoral … I simply do not understand how a business run so poorly can continue to operate.

In a followup at Digital Strips, Brigid Alverson reviews the Wowio site as a new reader.

Wowio Traffic Declines; Now Same as When Closed

Sean Kleefeld notes that, per TeleRead‘s Alexa figures, Wowio’s traffic now is about what it was when the site was shuttered during the handover to Platinum. This has not been a successful acquisition.

Wowio Still Not Paying Publishers

Wowio, the troubled online publisher, is over three weeks late paying publishers their earnings for second quarter 2008 (which ended in June, assuming they use a standard calendar). Their Editorial Director told a publisher that she didn’t know when fees would be going out, but to apologize for the delay, they’d pay an extra 2.5 – 5% late fee when the money did arrive.

5% of nothing is still nothing. “We’ll make up for our delay by giving you more when we finally do pay you,” sounds like a con man’s trick to keep the fish on the hook.

Wowio Restricts Content, Loses Another Publisher

Brain Scan Studios wanted to release their comic Serial, about real-life serial killers, through Wowio, only to be turned down due to content. Now, although the publisher calls it “censorship”, Wowio (owned by Platinum Studios) has every right to decline to carry titles if they feel they aren’t a good match for their readership.

However, if they’re bumping some titles and others are choosing to leave (via) because of decreased downloads and feeling “uncomfortable” about the new ownership, how many are they going to be left with?

Warning, snark approaching: which value do you think will go to zero first, titles offered or readers?

Wowio Gives Free Gift

When Wowio was down for its ownership transfer earlier this year, I said I wanted to be notified when they returned. Because of that, I got an email with a link promising a free gift. It’s an almost 14-MB download of an 87-page sampler. The contents are

  • Wowio Overview — “introduces the highlights and features that’ll help you make the most of your Wowio experience”
  • The Adventures of Tymm: Alien Circus #1 — a 50-page Platinum kids’ comic, ending “to be continued”
  • The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County — the 1865 Mark Twain book, with illustrations

The overview section is two pages of “we’re great.” I found it interesting that the options discussed are “read online for free” or “purchase and download”. They’re trying to eliminate the previous model of “download for free”, it appears.

If you want to see for yourself, that link doesn’t appear to be restricted or protected. Unfortunately, their mass mailing didn’t include an “unsubscribe” link, which I thought was standard in such emails.

Wowio Returns; Customers Unhappy, Going Elsewhere

Now webcomic provider Wowio is owned by Platinum. How have things changed? Let’s look at a couple of customer reviews.

Sean Kleefeld discovered that some of the books he had planned to download for free will now cost money. They can still be read for free, but only if you’re online, thus removing a lot of the convenience. Moving the price from “free” to “$3.99″ per issue is quite an adjustment. $3.99 is not a deal compared to standard comic pricing, especially considering you don’t get a printed copy. Add in that Plowio is trying to charge for books that are available for free elsewhere, and it looks a lot like gouging.

Willow at Seeking Avalon found that some of the books she was reading are no longer available for download at all, at any price. She goes on to complain (justifiably) about unreadable screens and poor quality. She’s also found a lot of material has disappeared from her pre-Platinum Wowio library. Put together all this poor customer service, and it’s driving her to investigate competitors. That’s got to be the opposite of what Platinum wanted, but that’s what you get when you make the contracts less favorable to contributors. A number of publishers have left the site as a result, or because they don’t want to be involved with a company with such a bad reputation.

Platinum has upped the number of their books available at Wowio, but since they’re charging the same price for online as they do for the print books, I think it’s pretty obvious they Don’t Get It when it comes to online. (Regardless of how many comments Wowio employee Gerry makes in response to critical posts.)




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