Digital Comics - In Maps & Legends

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elae

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So! Some of you may remember that last year I teamed up with a writer and we won the November Zuda competition run by DC Comics with our series IN MAPS & LEGENDS. We were serialized with them for a short month or two before the imprint was shuttered and most of its series set adrift.

Well, our rights were returned, and my collaborator and I have decided to dive into the world of digital comics. Not webcomics-- we're not updating in single-age increments on a website. We've teamed up with a number of distributors and have made our comic available in 22-page issues, which should be coming out every 6 weeks. Each issue will be $.99.

We're releasing as widely as possible, on iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Android phones, Kindle, web and desktop readers and as PDF downloads. If you want the full list of distributors and where you can get it, check out our press release.

So I thought I'd start a thread to share what I've learned over the past few months of developing IN MAPS & LEGENDS for digital release! If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to answer. I figure I'll keep you guys updated on which devices seem to be most popular with comics readers, since I know this is still a Very New Thing and it's growing at a huge rate, with comiXology now releasing so much of DC/Marvel/other publishers on their apps.

Anything you want to know?
Why we didn't go exclusive with one distributor?
How we chose the $.99 price point?
Thoughts on our release schedule?
Layout concerns, especially when so many will be reading on phones?
How our contracts work? (in rough terms, of course).
Information on other comics releasing digitally? (I'd love to hear about more if you guys have any recommendations).

I can answer specific formatting questions too, if you'd like-- how to make a zip file (html & specific file sizes) for uploading a comic to Kindle/Amazon, that kinda thing.

Oh, and on that note-- if anyone knows how to get a formatted comic into more ebook stores, PLEASE let me know! :) We tried Smashwords but they can't really handle image-heavy ebooks and it didn't work. I'd love to make IN MAPS & LEGENDS available on nooks and Sony ereaders if we can figure out a way into their marketplaces.

And if you buy a copy of Issue 1, let me know what you think! And let me know which distributor you went with, since I'm curious about how those stats will balance out. ;)
 

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Can't go wrong at $0.99! That's within my price range!

Easy buy with PayPal, easy download from DriveThruComics.

-Derek
 
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elae

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Can't go wrong at $0.99! That's within my price range!

Easy buy with PayPal, easy download from DriveThruComics.

-Derek

Thanks! That's the idea, haha. A dollar doesn't seem to be too intimidating a price point.
 

Candra H

Liking the sound of your story, elae. I purchased the first issue as a pdf via drivethru using paypal. Simple and easy and at .99, a bargain!

At some point I might be asking you some of those questions you listed. I didn't realise there could be a difference between webcomics and digital comics so I learned something new today.
 

Michelle Maibelle

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Good luck... If I were making a comic, I'd do it exactly the same way.

Do you run ads in the comic, or are you planning to if the story gets popular?
 

elae

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Liking the sound of your story, elae. I purchased the first issue as a pdf via drivethru using paypal. Simple and easy and at .99, a bargain!

At some point I might be asking you some of those questions you listed. I didn't realise there could be a difference between webcomics and digital comics so I learned something new today.

Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. Speaking of which, I should go and edit my first post so it actually has a mention of what IN MAPS & LEGENDS is *about*...

As for the terms webcomics vs digital comics, here's how I think about it:

"Digital comics" seems to be the term that's been adopted to refer to comics formatted to be read on various digital devices: phones, ereaders, tablets, and the like. They're released as issues (or complete graphic novels) for sale, so they're different in that way from a free, one-page-a-week webcomic that you host on your own site.

I'd say that's the biggest difference. Many readers seem unwilling to pay for something they're reading in a web browser, but are fine purchasing from ebook marketplaces. The Scott Pilgrim comics were the top-grossing book app in the Apple store, for example. The percentage of the population with smart phones or ereaders is small, of course, but it hasn't stopped growing (as writers on on AW can attest to!). These are readers already comfortable with the idea of paying $.99 for downloaded content-- I think a lot of casual internet surfers/webcomics readers would balk at that, because we have the idea that internet = free with ads. Unfortunately that system doesn't really guarantee much compensation for the artists. Apps and digital comics seem to be making that a bit more commonplace.

Good luck... If I were making a comic, I'd do it exactly the same way.

Do you run ads in the comic, or are you planning to if the story gets popular?

We don't have any ads, no-- just a few Project Wonderful ads in the website footer, none in the comic itself. I can't think of any digital comics I've read with ads... have you seen some?
 

Michelle Maibelle

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I haven't seen any in digital comics, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a shot if the opportunity is there.
 

elae

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Issue #2 (of 9) is out now! So I thought it'd be a good time to do a quick round-up of how our release of issue 1 went.

So issue 1 came out at the beginning of September, with a good number of distributors. Since then, we've made IN MAPS & LEGENDS available on Barnes & Noble's nook e-reader, plus a few more PDF and flash-based web readers. Now, I can't give exact sales numbers-- because we don't know them ourselves. Many of our distributors only report sales quarterly, so we've had to guess based on number of ratings in some cases (like on Comixology), but I imagine (/hope!) there are plenty of people that just don't bother to rate what they read. Other sites are more vague-- our free preview for Android phones has "100-500 downloads", and issue 1 has sold "<50" times. That's a pretty wide range in both cases.

Other distributors are exact. This is a digital transaction, there are no returns-- why shouldn't publishers be able to see those numbers update live? This is something I really think needs to (and ultimately will) improve. A few of our distributors are great at providing this- Kindle, of course, along with DriveThruComics. Graphic.ly has this built in; they've designed a whole FB-like experience, where members comment and interact-- and you get status updates on who has bought what.

Perhaps related, in the first month we made over 50 sales-- and the majority were through those three who live-update sales numbers. So we could have sold twice that, but we won't know til the end of the quarter. Fingers crossed. ;) It's not a huge number, but for a debut issue by two pretty-much-nobodies, it's not bad.

A few reflections on digital comics:
A number of our distributors were very rigid in the formats they accept, and more often, they were very rigid in wanting every page to be exactly the same dimension. Now, this wasn't a *huge* deal for us-- we just have a vertical cover (vs our horizontal, screen-fitting pages) because non-standard covers get kind of shafted (and ultimately overlooked by readers). So for the ones who are rigid, we just made a horizontal version.

But. That kind of mindset is, to me, antiquated. Yes, it makes sense that there are huge amounts of DC & Marvel & other floppy comics being uploaded to these distributors. They're all a standard size, and every page is the same shape as the last. But these are digital comics, and as hundreds of webcomics have proven, you do not need to limit yourself when you have a screen to display your work. More and more people will be creating comics specifically for these devices, not for print. My buddy Kevin's comic, SPOILERS, would look *great* on an iPad-- it's a 21-chapter scroll, and practically seems made for a tablet. http://xkcd.com/ changes dimensions every update, as does http://dresdencodak.com/. Most comic-on-phone adaptations use pans, zooms, all sorts of techniques to shift from panel to panel... so why does the base image have to be the same rectangle? I think that's something a few of the distributors really need to consider. (Not all, of course! Some have proven themselves to be very creative and open.)

What else... one of the most time consuming parts of this has just been all the formatting! Every site wants a different sized pdf or tifs with layers. Issue 2 went pretty smoothly, but there was some chaos with issue 1 when we were just figuring it all out!
 
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elae

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I mentioned how some distributors are strict in that all pages must be the same size-- here's a screenshot to better illustrate what I mean and how that can be a frustrating issue.

LongboxMaps.jpg


Which covers are you going to skip right over when you're scrolling through them? The itsy short ones. A system like this assumes that all GNs/comics are formatted the same way, which we all know they aren't. Publishers who have different-sized covers should just be able to provide an image with those dimensions to use as a stand-in cover.

Comixology partially resolves this in their web-reader. Anyone who distributes through them is asked to provide a square image to represent the series. Now, the individual issues themselves run into the same teeny-cover problem, but that's something you can work around by providing a vertically formatted cover while the rest of the pages are whatever size you want.

Granted, it is still pretty early in the digital comics world, so hopefully some of these issues will be ironed out. Just something to keep in mind for any of you thinking of going this route!
 

elae

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Issue #3 (of 9) is out now! Which means it's time for a round-up of how things are going so far. Woo!

So I posted in mid October that we'd made ~50 sales in our first month. We just finished month 3, and are only a few sales away from the 250 mark! That's certainly not a bad increase in my book. We've been releasing an issue every 6 weeks (Sept 1, Oct 13, Dec 1), and despite having no releases in November it's been our best month so far as we continue to get our name out more and more. At this rate I'm thinking we could reach 1000 sales in a few more months. A girl can hope! (And I know these numbers & the corresponding income are hardly anything, but hey. I can still be pleased!)

One huge leap we took was when Barnes & Noble opened up PubIt to self-published books, much like Amazon's Kindle already had available. Sales on the Nook have been far beyond our expectations-- possible due to the number of people wanting to read comics on the new Nook Color? Not sure! In any case, 79 of our sales in November were from Nook owners alone, outshining every other distributor we work with. So graphic novel creators, don't underestimate the eReaders out there! I know some in this forum have expressed interest in Comixology, but I strongly recommend not signing an exclusive contract-- you'll be casting aside a huge, paying readership.

Oh, and if your reason for not wanting to put your comic up on Kindle/Nook is that it will in greyscale-- remember that there are Kindle/Nook apps for *everything*-- phones, computers, tablets... and plenty of people use them instead of the e-ink reader itself. They'll see it in full color, as will anyone with the Nook Color. We just up the contrast for our Kindle/Nook files so that the greyscale versions will still read clearly. (I also make all the lettering a bit larger, but that's a separate issue.)

Some interesting things for the future-- the tablet market is currently dominated pretty securely by the iPad, as there's not yet any real competition available. But Notion Ink's Adam tablet should be out in a month or two (from what I hear), and it seems to have an eagerly-waiting audience. The cool part is that Adam is shipping with Longbox, which we joined up with last month, already installed. So maybe we'll get a few sales from those who snag the tablet as it comes out.

Related in that new tech = new potential readers-- since we're available with Graphic.ly that means we're also available on the new Windows Phone. I don't actually know anyone who has one, but I've seen enough blatant in-show advertisements on TV lately (Bones, Castle) to figure it'll take off well enough, heh. I don't think our Graphic.ly statements say which devices (desktop, iPod, Windows phone, etc) get which sales, which is a shame. It doesn't really effect anything on my end but I'd be interested in the numbers.

I'm kinda excited about the huge number of new tablet & ereader owners that will appear around the holidays. Every brand new gadget owner equals someone who's looking for media to put on it.

Whew.
 
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veinglory

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I do hope that one day a digital comic will come out in landscape. What I like about comics is how you can scan and then scrutinise. Looking at a portait art on my computer doesn't work as well... just a thought.
 

elae

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elae

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Glad to hear it! Let me know if you'd like me to mention a few other landscape comics; I'd be happy to share.
 

elae

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Sorry for the delay! I've been working on thumbnailing issue 4.

Here's some non-vertical-format digital & webcomics I know of, in all sorts of genres because I'm not sure what ya like.

Valentine
http://www.valentinethecomic.com/ - Web, iPhone, Android phones, ePub, Kindle. There's also a physical graphic novel on the way.
French soldiers in 1812 meet the fantastical realms.

Of the Zuda comics (where IMAL got its start), I'm particularly a fan of:

Bayou
https://comics.comixology.com/#/series/2632 - Web, iphone/pad
A dark fairytale set in the deep south, where a young girl tries to save her father from being lynched.

Deadly
https://comics.comixology.com/#/issue/2974/Deadly-1 - Web, iphone/pad
Dystopian Australia. A man stumbles upon a young boy who can somehow breath the toxic air and survive in the mutated landscape.

Mouse Guard
http://chrome.graphicly.com/series/mouse-guard-fall-1152 OR http://comics.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?cPath=4931 - Web or PDF
Medieval mice, fans of Redwall will like it.

Webcomics:

ReMIND: http://www.remindblog.com/
A girl and her cat and a local myth about lizard-people.

The Bean http://www.beanleafpress.com/
12 year boy that lives in a inn with a bunch of ogres-- they're currently going through and coloring all the pages, but most are still b&w.

Carpe Chaos http://carpechaos.com/ - web (flash viewer), ipod
Science fiction space opera with lots of alien races.

Abominable Charles Christopher http://www.abominable.cc/
An adorable silent yeti and his chattering animal companions. Heart-wrenching at times.

Godsend http://www.godsend.shatterlands.com/comix/
A failed prophecy. Really gorgeous art.

Hope you like one or two!
 

elae

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Just wanted to update with a link to a tutorial Mike Jasper (the writer of IM&L) put together about formatting comic ePubs. He's got a template you can download and tweak to fit your own project. ePubs are the format of choice for publishing through Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader, and sales there have been GREAT for us.

Digital Comics: Formatting Your Comic for Nook (ePub)

He's considering doing a similar write-up on formatting for the Kindle, so if anyone's interested let us know!
 

elae

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Here's that Kindle formatting tutorial I promised! Kindle is one of the easiest ebook formats to do, I've found. All you need is some basic familiarity with html.

Digital Comics: Formatting Your Comic for the Kindle


IMAL_04_DTCcover.jpg


Issue 4 of IN MAPS & LEGENDS came out Wednesday!
We've tried to keep to an issue-every-6-weeks schedule, but we gave ourselves a little extra time due to the holidays. Sorry for the delay! :)

With Bartamus’ world falling apart around them, LaVonne, Jeremy, and Antawn venture deeper into unknown territory, while Kait travels into the darkness between worlds — and she’s no longer alone.

When issue 3 came out, we'd just reached 250 sales, and were celebrating. And now? We're sliding over the 1000 mark! HUGE thanks to everyone who's bought an issue. Digital comics still aren't going to make anyone rich, but it feels great to know that that many people are reading (and hopefully enjoying) IM&L.
Part of the big leap in our numbers was that we finally heard a sales report from Comixology, which has jumped up to second place in our distributors chart. Like I've mentioned before, quite a few only give us quarterly reports, which means we're never really sure where we stand... I'm still not sure why they won't move to live-stats, ala Kindle/Nook/DriveThruComics, and plenty of other creators seem frustrated by it too. (see Mark Millar, the guy who had 8 of the top 10 best selling comics on the app last year-- and who still has no idea what that MEANS, numbers-wise. The rest of the thread has a lot of misunderstandings about digital formats and distributors, though.)

We're constantly evaluating our distributors, and if we've made 0 sales we've likely dropped them. A few are slower, less responsive, some have technical glitches that never seem to get repaired... but there are also distributors who are gaining a stronger foothold and expanding. Comixology started out iPhone-only, then added iPad, browser-capability, and is now also available as an Android app. Graphic.ly used to be only an iPhone app or installed program on your desktop, but now they have a browser reader and Chrome, Android, and Windows Phone apps. If you read IN MAPS & LEGENDS on the Graphic.ly desktop app, you can "wipe away" the colors to see the inked version of the page.

While it's great to be a part of these slick, mainstream-focused apps, we're proud that we're doing this on our own, just an artist and a writer making comics because they want to. And Illustrated Section opened up a week or two ago, with just that mindset. IS is a creator-operated digital store collecting PDFs of indie comics and picture books. There are quite a few webcomics collections up as well. I haven't seen sale stats from IS yet, and since they're small and just starting out I'm not expecting huge numbers, but it's nice to be a part of something focused entirely on promoting creator-owned work.
We've also gotten IM&L into the Apple iBooks app (through LibreDigital) and Google's eBookstore, and are working to get on in the Kobo ereader store.

Mike and I also did a podcast with Webcomic Beacon last month all about digital comics and formatting, and CBR's Robot 6 named us Digital Creators of the Year with VALENTINE's Alex de Campi, which was quite the honor!
 

elae

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Thanks Eliza & Axler!



Issue 5 of IN MAPS & LEGENDS is out today!

Stranded on her strange new world, Kait questions a man who seems to hold all the answers. Meanwhile, her friends face inhuman assassins, violent hurricanes, and sudden tidal waves. And a frail old man makes one last, desperate stand against his enemies.

250513628.png


Here are some direct links to e-reader editions:
Issue 5 on Kindle
Issue 5 on Nook
Issue 5 as PDF
Though it's also on iBooks, iPhone/iPad/Android apps & more.

With issue 5, we're over our half-way mark! Only four more to go. It's been an incredibly busy half-year so far, and I won't deny that part of me is looking forward to a break, haha. At this rate I'm thinking we'll get the final issue (#9) out by October.

There was a definite sales dip after the holidays were over and all those new tablet/ereader owners slowed down their purchasing rate, but we certainly aren't going anywhere. Having a backlist of issues really helps propel sales; I think readers are much more willing to take a chance on an independent digital comic when they can see you're in it for the long run, and won't leave them hanging without ever ending the story. I can list a dozen (indie) digital comics that only released their first issue, and I think some readers have been burnt too many times. (On a similar note, I think it's equally important to be clear how long your series will run-- a 3-10 issue run can be a much more appealing commitment than an ongoing epic with no end in sight.)



Since there's six weeks between issues, we try and come up with ways to keep the current issues fresh and in people's minds. Repackaging is a common way of doing this, and in our case we decided to release a "combo pack" of issues 1-4. For those unfamiliar with ebook prices, basically, Kindle/Nook pay a lower percentage if you price your ebook between $.99-$2.98 (or over $10). The sweet spot they "encourage" is between $2.99 and $9.99, and you get 65/70% of each sale. (This is pretty much how Amazon strongarms publishers because they have such a huge monopoly on the ebook scene and want to regulate the prices.)

We normally sell IM&L issues for $.99 each, but because of the % change, we actually make more by selling a $2.99-3.49 combo than we would by selling 4 individual $.99 issues. So it's a good deal for everyone, and expands our "catalog" on the sites! Last month on Nook we sold 14 of the combo and made more than the 60+ sales of issue 1.

Should I keep giving a run-down of how things are going for us? As a creator I really appreciated Alex de Campi's similar updates regarding VALENTINE, but I dunno if my posts are anywhere as useful. :) Let me know.
 
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Royal Mercury

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here, here!

This is a fascinating thread. I've been trying to figure out how to monetize my animation and stories. The web model is hard to work, but I think your digital comics may show the way.
 

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We don't have any ads, no-- just a few Project Wonderful ads in the website footer, none in the comic itself. I can't think of any digital comics I've read with ads... have you seen some?

Yes, actually, including in Comixology. However, they're always ads for the publisher's other titles, or for the print version of the same comic. Every issue of Ex Machina in Comixology ends with an advertisement for the printed trade paperback editions. Most of the Image comics end with ads for other Image titles. I've never seen third-party advertisements that I can think of.
 

elae

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here, here!

This is a fascinating thread. I've been trying to figure out how to monetize my animation and stories. The web model is hard to work, but I think your digital comics may show the way.

I only just found this thread and I think it's fascinating! Please do continue to post about your experiences... and congratulations on your achievements!

Glad to hear it-- more updates soon then. :)

Yes, actually, including in Comixology. However, they're always ads for the publisher's other titles, or for the print version of the same comic. Every issue of Ex Machina in Comixology ends with an advertisement for the printed trade paperback editions. Most of the Image comics end with ads for other Image titles. I've never seen third-party advertisements that I can think of.

Ah, good call-- I was referring to third party ads, but yeah, publisher-related ads aren't that uncommon. For a while one version of ours did have a similar final ad page (one of the distributors required all files to be 23+ pages, and our issues are 22).
I haven't seen ads for Coke Zero or the latest big-name movie or anything like that, though.
 
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