Recently, the folks at Ka-Blam, one of the leaders in digital printing, decided that the shenanigans going down at Diamond Comic Distributors had gone far enough and formed their own print-on-demand company to combat the monopolizing powerhouse. Labeled ComicsMonkey, it’s a service that could offer a solution to many publishers who can no longer do business with Diamond and who want to get their work out to the public via dead trees.
Barry Gregory, a partner in the whole Ka-Blam/IndyPlanet/ComicsMonkey she-bang, was kind enough to answer a few of our burning questions about the new addition to the already well-known printer and just what it might mean for webcomics creators.
Digital Strips: How did the recent changes at Diamond affect the timing of your launch?
Barry Gregory: It certainly accelerated things. Â We had planned to launch our service sometime later this year and only after a limited pilot program and a retooling period in which we evaluated what worked and what didn’t in the pilot program. Â Now we’re just sort of jumping right in with both feet.
DS: Why the soft launch?
BG: I think of it more as a rolling launch. Â Things are going to be somewhat fluid at first. Â We’re going to be adding features and functions to the site as we go. Â POD distribution in the comics market is uncharted territory. Â We’ve got what we believe is a solid plan, but we know there will be changes along the way. Â Probably a lot of changes. Â The site itself will always be in motion, as we’ll be adding titles to the catalog constantly and if all goes well we’ll also be adding accounts consistently.
DS: When would you hope to have the service up and ready for trial?
BG: Well, there’s not going to be a trial period, when we launch we launch. We have a target date, but I’m hesitant to say it publicly because frankly I’m not sure if we’re going to meet it. Â I know this is maddeningly vague, but sooner rather than later is the best I can do.
DS: What challenges are you facing with this new venture that you maybe haven’t faced before?
BG: All of them. Â Â Seriously though, I think we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Â Independent creator/publishers are embracing POD technology. We’ve got almost 4000 registered users at Ka-Blam right now and the pace of registration is accelerating. Â Similarly, readers are embracing it. Our IndyPlanet.com webstore is doing terrific — growing much, much faster than Ka-Blam is. Â If the sales trajectory we’ve seen over the past six months or so there continues it won’t be long until we’re doing almost as much volume at IndyPlanet as we are at Ka-Blam.
The trick with ComicsMonkey will be getting retail outlets to embrace POD. Some will take to it readily, but for a lot of others it’s going to be a tough, tough sell.
DS: What kind of feedback are you looking for from the users of ComicsMonkey?
BG: That’ll be an easier question to answer once the site goes live. Â For now, we’ll take whatever constructive feedback we can get. We’ve got a pretty firm plan in place, but it’s not so rigid that we won’t adapt if a better idea comes along. Â I don’t believe in rejecting good ideas just because I didn’t think of it first.
DS: Why do you think this service will do well in a difficult economy?
BG: I don’t know that it will. Â I hope. Â I believe. Â I plan for. Â But I also know that the entire comic book industry exists to a certain degree because of expendable income. Â So far we’re not seeing a downturn at Ka-Blam at all. Â We’re growing. Â But I think it’s possible that a poor overall economy will slow our efforts in penetrating the direct market. Â I hope not, but I think it’s possible.
DS: What opportunities do you see?
BG: We offer something different. Â Not just in the way we produce comics, but in the very comics themselves. Â We’re going to be offering a huge volume of really terrific titles that simply aren’t readily available anywhere else. So for shops that are looking for something different, something exciting, new comics that they’ve never seen before … that will attract new customers to their stores … we’ve got what they’re looking for.
DS: How is this model different from others that have failed or are struggling, such as Wowio?
BG: There’s really no comparison with Wowio. Â It’s like comparing apples to roller skates. Â It’s a completely different model. Â We’re offering a large catalog of independent comics to comics shop … comics that are always available, never out of stock, and printed to order. Â No one’s tried that before. Â There has never been a large scale print-on-demand distribution system in the direct comics market.
DS: Upon first glance, it looks like your discounts are lower than those offered by Diamond. What’s the upside for a retailer to use ComicsMonkey?
BG: Well, we actually haven’t announced our discount structure yet. Â All we’ve said is what the base will be. Â We’re going to have discount tiers, free shipping options, and other incentives. Â I can tell you that for anyone who wants our product, our terms are not going be an obstacle.
The upside for a retailer is new and exciting product that they haven’t had before, new customers coming into their shops to get that product, and a new revenue stream because of it.
We like the way it sounds! Best of luck to Barry and team at ComicsMonkey, I know everyone who is sick and tired of Diamond bullying retailers around is pulling for this game-changer to really light up the boards.