New Platinum Wowio Contracts Discussed; Goodbye, Wowio

WOWIO worked for everyone: free comics for readers and real payments for creators of 50 cents a PDF download. (I previously interviewed Bill Williams of Lone Star Press about how well it worked for them.)

Then they were acquired by generally shady Platinum. Even if you don’t mind the ethics, Platinum lost over $5 million last year, mainly because their business plan appears to be “acquire comic properties, don’t publish them, hope someone gives us lots of money to make them into movies”. This is not a mature business plan.

A financial analyst speaking generally about publishers said movie and video game deals are typically seen as one-time windfalls, not a bankable business strategy. And the auditor’s going-concern warning took into account Platinum’s future business plans. Much of Platinum’s financial challenges owes to the company’s spending, which one former employee called “outrageous.”

D.J. Coffman, cartoonist and internet gadabout, was one of Platinum’s biggest supporters, because he won one of their contests (which involved them, at the end, taking his property, neglecting to pay him what they promised, and threatening him legally when he told people what was going on). Now, even he refuses the new Platinum-rewritten Wowio contact. As he points out, there are way too many unanswered questions and clauses that basically say “trust us” when the company has demonstrated it’s completely untrustworthy.

But then, company CEO Scott Rosenberg has a very long history of shady comic dealings.

Which leads me to a digression: I was talking with friends one night who hadn’t heard certain stories about unethical behavior from certain comic publishers because it happened last decade. It was fun digging up the old dirt, sure, but I also realized that some people, if they can just stick around long enough, will get a fresh start because comics doesn’t have much of a memory for these kinds of things. Which is a shame, because it’s what allows crooks to keep preying on people. Combine that with the “oh, that won’t happen to ME” egotism many have, and you have a recipe for predators to keep culling the herd.

So, anyway, it appears that the Golden Age of Wowio is over, and while it may return, it won’t be the useful tool it once us, because a gang of crooks put themselves in the middle of it.

Update: Sean Kleefeld is more optimistic than I am, although he does provide advice for users to download whatever they’re interested in quickly once the site reopens. He also has an interesting rumor, that providers will be required to line up their own advertisers. Like him, I’m not sure that’s plausible; if that’s the case, then what, exactly, is Platio providing that justifies them taking half the proceeds?

Wowio in Flux

WOWIO seemed like a magical place where everyone’s wishes got answered. Readers got free comics for download as PDF. Creators got paid 50 cents per download. It all supposedly worked due to the magic of embedded ads (which was why the service required registration and was only available in the U.S.).

Now, the site is down, with a message that they will be back in mid-July and operating globally. Brigid rounds up what news is known. Some of the numbers are quite impressive, with one small publisher claiming they’d made over $90,000 a year from the service. I hope it’s not gone for good; it was a creative approach to serving the needs of both reader and creator.

I previously interviewed Bill Williams of Lone Star Press about his company’s experiences with WOWIO.

How Wowio Works for Lone Star Press: An Interview with Bill Williams

In my thread on Free Comic Book Day rejecting webcomics, Bill Williams of Lone Star Press expressed a lack of surprise, saying

The middlemen in the print arena are afraid of getting cut out and do their best to bury the indy digital creators. I have books and comics by Bill Willingham and others available for free at WOWIO and I cannot get a press release run on a major site.

I thought this presented intriguing ground for further discussion, so I was pleased when Bill agreed to answer my questions.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Creator’s Horror Story: Losing Control of Your Work

Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space

Megan Rose Gedris is removing the almost 500 pages of her webcomic I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!! from the web on November 5.

The reason is contractual. Back in 2006, she entered into a deal with Platinum Studios (you know, the group that bought their way onto bestseller lists for Cowboys and Aliens because they wanted more Hollywood interest and destroyed a great free comic website). They aren’t giving her any income or support, so she’s going to stop benefiting them by keeping the series around for them to show off. I can’t blame her — and with so many webcomics just fading away, it’s nice to have a statement of what happened to this one (no matter how horrible the circumstance). Here’s her final section of advice:

Young creators, please know that “getting published” is not the be-all-end-all of doing comics. There are so many people in this industry who will take advantage of your eagerness to be a “real comic artist.” Yes, you DO need a lawyer, I don’t care how much you trust that publisher, how big or small. Every contract, every time. Don’t sell something for what you think is a fair price. Know what the fair price is. Know what your value is. Know what the industry standards are. If you can’t get a good deal, don’t take a bad deal and hope for the best. Don’t take a bad deal and tell yourself it’s better than no deal at all. There are so many other avenues.

There are some really bad contracts out there, sometimes coming from otherwise reputable companies. Remember, you can always negotiate, and unless someone is paying you huge amounts of money, I believe most deals should be of limited duration, with rights reversions unless the work is actively being supported. Once someone activates your “hmmm, something feels wrong here” detector, keep them on a very short leash and be willing to walk away before you lose more than you can afford to.

Cowboys & Aliens Writing Credit Dispute

Cowboys & Aliens is Universal’s bid for a big summer blockbuster. It will be in theaters July 29, 2011, but the press has already started, with a release sent out announcing the poster and a trailer debuting on Wednesday. They’ve got some big names in the cast — Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde — an easily graspable high concept, and the ability to say “from the director of Iron Man“, Jon Favreau. It’s all “based on Platinum Studios’ graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.”

Cowboys & Aliens starring Daniel Craig

Which is causing some dispute. Comic readers may remember Platinum Studios as a company better at getting hype than publishing comics and with a history of shady dealings. I best remember this particular publication, the Cowboys & Aliens comic, as something that faked its way to the top of a bestseller list by the company paying retailers to take their comic.

Now, those writing credits have gotten some negative attention.

Eight writers and writing teams have worked on Cowboys for several studios dating to 1997. … That [based on line] isn’t sitting well with writers who toiled on the screenplay years before Rosenberg’s comic — based on the film concept — came out in 2006.

The actual comic credits say that it’s written by Andrew Foley and Fred Van Lente with artwork by Luciano Lima, but it appears from the webcomic treatment that the comic was never that important to the company anyway.

Digital Copies Through Your Comic Retailer? Witchblade Experiments

According to this press release, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Witchblade, Top Cow will be providing a free digital copy of the anniversary Witchblade #144 “with every copy sold through participating retailers.”

Witchblade #144

The plan works this way: A retailer who’s agreed to participate (I’m emphasizing that for a reason — I’m not sure a lot of comic stores want to show their customers the value of digital comics) will give a customer who purchases this issue a download code, which will allow the buyer to download the same thing he just bought online through Wowio. So this adds a wrinkle to “day-and-date” simultaneous release — you can only get one if you shell out for the other.

Top Cow is doing this to “usher Witchblade into a new age of comics”. I think she’s already there — this plan, while impressive in its attempt to move forward without throwing retailers under the bus, simply mimics what many customers already do, only without the hassle of DRM and entering codes. If you only want to buy the digital version, you’ll have to wait a month. That’s when it will go on sale from the usual “digital distribution sources”.

To entice retailers to go along with the plan, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom! Freeman said, “not only will they be the exclusive place to receive one of these download codes, but we are then going to give participating retailers a credit toward future Top Cow inventory for every download credited to them by the fan.” That’s a nice incentive. I wonder how this works if you buy the issue a week or two later? Does it depend on how effective the retailer’s filing system is, or whether they still remember the code?

Do you think your retailer will participate? Would you be interested in getting a free online copy with a paid print purchase?

In Maps & Legends Wants to Sell Digital Copies Everywhere

In Maps & Legends has had a checkered history. It originally won the Zuda competition in November 2009, and it was picked up for serialization beginning in May of this year. Then, on July 1, Zuda shut down.

The creators, artist Niki Smith and writer Michael Jasper, describe the story as science fiction/contemporary fantasy, about an artist who finds herself creating a bizarre map of a world that turns out to be real. They’re promoting it for fans of The Sandman or Lost.

In an attempt to find new life for the project, following in the steps of Valentine, the digital comic is now available for purchase in just about every format possible. They’re available through both Comixology and Graphic.ly for the iPad and iPhone, or for reading online in your desktop browser. Robot Comics is publishing them for Android phones starting this week. They have a black-and-white version for the Kindle, due to the device’s limitations. You can buy and download a PDF with DriveThruComics, Wowio.com, or Scribd.

Having so many choices is great — if you buy digital comics through any major outlet, you can probably find a version at a site where you already have an account — but perhaps a tad overwhelming. At all these places, it’s 99 cents an issue, I don’t know for how many pages.

As a potential customer, I’d like to know more about what kind of release schedule they’re aiming for as well as how long they envision the series running. Am I signing on for eight issues and out, for example, or are they trying to go ongoing, which can be frustrating if nothing resolves as a result. (See for comparison House of Mystery.) The writer told me that they’re aiming for a new issue every six weeks, but that information should be on the site. It would also be nice if, given their comprehensive website, some preview of the comic was available there. If you check out all the pages, you can find this preview for the web version of Comixology, but it should be more prominent.

News Story Followup: Webcomics, Middleman, Expensive Printing

Regarding Wowio’s woes: Rumors are spreading that they’re late on paying second quarter royalties.

Update: Wowio publisher T Campbell goes into detail and recommends people get out now.

Regarding the Webcomics book review, I guess I’ll have to start reading PvP — at least this week.

Regarding the awesomeness that is Middleman: Creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach is interviewed by my old roommate Alan Sepinwall. I am very sad that the show isn’t doing well, and even sadder that we were going to see how the “Middleman developed his old-fashioned, upright persona” but now we likely won’t. I would buy this show if it went straight to DVD. I love it.

Last, the final word on Kramer’s Ergot #7, the $125 anthology: Supporter Tom Spurgeon talks with editor Sammy Harkham about its contents, contributors, and the rationale behind the price point. Among the factors: due to its size, each copy has to be bound by hand. Custom shipping boxes had to be made. And the editor wanted to do an on-site press check, so he had to fly to Singapore.




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