One of the biggest ongoing stories in the world of publishing and distribution is the shift from the traditional top-down publishing system that we all know and sometimes love, to a more decentralized model where creators and fans can connect directly. In the comic world, this has manifested through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, creator support platforms like Patreon, and in the emerging world of mobile digital comics (Webtoon, Tapas, etc.) that base at least part of their strategy on monetizing user-generated content.
This week, I’m looking at a few new developments in the space that caught my eye: the first, a new source of content fueling an already hot space, and the second, one of the cornerstones of the creators who got caught trying to do the right thing the wrong way.
Wattpad supercharges Webtoon. Wattpad has so far been a phenomenon adjacent to geek culture rather than a focus of our attention, but that’s about to change. The primarily prose-focused digital content site has been around since 2006, offering snack stories and serialized fiction for mobile readers. Wattpad was scooped up for $600 million last year by Naver, the same Korean tech giant that owns Webtoon, in part because the Toronto-based company really chose to build large-scale fan communities around the content of kind.
Why should comic people care? One of the reasons Naver bought Wattpad is to link this powerful engagement engine to its already great webtoon service, giving the cartoon community a new source of material to adapt and creating synergies between the two huge databases. fans of (mainly) young women.
Naver also saw an opportunity to combine the two companies’ potential in the media space by pouring $100 million into Wattpad Webtoon Studios, which produces more than a dozen titles in movies, streaming, anime, and comics. other media. The popular Netflix series We all died hereadapted from a webtoon of the same name, and Through my windowfrom a popular Italian Wattpad series, are just a few drops in what is sure to be a massive stream of new content adapted from this two-headed monster in the years to come.
Wattpad and Webtoon, through their studio collaboration Wattpad Webtoon, also have big plans in the world of dead tree publishing. Last November, the company announced Webtoon Unscrolled, a print initiative led by former DC exec Bobbie Chase that specializes in the lucrative middle years and YA graphic novel space (see “Webtoon Announces New graphic novel program”). Webtoon Unscrolled has announced the release of 12 titles that are expected to ship in the fall, including tower of god by SIU, which has 3.5 million subscribers and 4.5 billion plays worldwide, and true beauty by Yaongyi, which has 6.5 million subscribers and 5.1 billion plays, as well as Doom Breaker, Cursed Princess Club, Boyfriendsand Everything is fine (for more, see “ICv2 Interview: Ashleigh Gardner, SVP Publishing”).
In many cases, the breakout work on these platforms has emerged organically from the large community of user-creators. Allen Lau, CEO of Wattpad, and Junkoo Kim, CEO of Webtoon see providing creators with ways to monetize their work, whether on the platform through paid subscriptions, through media and game licensing deals, or through publishing, as one of their primary goals. Watch this place.
Hit them when they’re down. Meanwhile, one of the venerable pillars of the bottom-up economy has recently been shaken to its foundations. Kickstarter, just had its third best year in a row publisher of comics (the site raised $30 million for comic book projects in 2021), stepped on a landmine when it announced plans to explore new solutions based on blockchain technology in December.
Blockchain, as most readers probably know by now, is the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin as well as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that have sold $40 billion in 2021. As with any rush to gold, the crypto and NFT market is full of trendy outfits, quick price outfits, and plenty of outright scams. Additionally, the technological base that provides the security and decentralized governance structures touted by crypto enthusiasts also consumes a lot of energy and resources.
The thing is, blockchain technology doesn’t technically require that much energy. The Bitcoin and Ethereum chain, the chain used for many NFTs and other projects, is based on an algorithm that requires a lot of computing power (and therefore a lot of juice), but other chains use a different formula which is both faster and much more efficient. These chains, including Solana and Celo, don’t just compensate for the energy they consume; they basically use a lot less power in the first place. In fact, they consume far less power than many other common computing, manufacturing, and distribution tasks.
You would think that people who complain about the ecological impact of blockchain would be delighted to see major players going out of their way to adopt solutions that specifically and substantially address their concerns, as Kickstarter did by choosing Celo. . Unfortunately, the anti-blockchain bus has left the station, and while this reasonable and important environmental consideration serves as a rallying cry for naysayers, the real issue is one of identity. Blockchain, you see, is an industry dominated by creepy techno-bros, scammers, charlatans and opportunists, so any effort to implement blockchain by anyone, for whatever purpose, is presumed to be a evidence of corrupt intent.
I understand the impulse to be rebuffed by the “other” tribe, but it’s really a reductive and counterproductive thought. If you’re worried about the industry being dominated by sleazy people, but you put any good actor who tries to get into the business to shame, then the only people in the industry will continue to be sleazeballs and nothing will happen. will improve. Kickstarter, which is licensed as a public benefit corporation and has done tremendous good for the comics community over the past decade, apparently still hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt for its intentions in the matter. , and frankly didn’t help himself with snoopy communications about his plans.
Last week, Kickstarter COO Sean Leow tried to put things right. an interview on The Beatwhere he explained that the company was primarily interested in using blockchain for payment security, decentralization, and a very cool feature called Smart Contracts, which allows split payments to any number of rights holders on a property to occur automatically with every transaction.
These are school scenarios for the implementation of blockchain in companies. Kickstarter would be irresponsible towards its community as well as its investors not to explore them. Tying these types of use cases to the more fraudulent aspects of crypto and NFTs is like complaining about school buses and ambulances because you think guys who drive Humvees are assholes. Yes, all of these vehicles are based on the same problematic technology that is improving. No, they are not the same.
Nevertheless, the Community has spoken, and, because Kickstarter didn’t initially make themselves heard, the company not only had to back down like mad, but has already given ground to new and rising competitors like Zoop.
Kickstarter discovered one thing the hard way: live from the bottom up, die from the bottom up.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ICv2.com editorial team.
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.