ComicsMonkey Will Be A Game Changer If We Keep Our Heads
[private]So yesterday the Ka-Blam folks announced that they’ll be rolling out their ComicsMonkey service through which users of their Print On Demand service can distribute their books to direct market comics stores. Given the recent news about Diamond Distribution’s new restrictions and what that could mean for small press publishers, people seem to be very excited about this news. Twitter’s already begun to ring with enthusiastic responses to what ComicsMonkey promises.
But I immediately worry about us small publishers letting our excitement lead us to unrealistic expectations. Don’t get me wrong–I sincerely believe in POD as a real game changer in publishing. Full disclosure: I partnered with the Ka-Blam folks with my Sugary Serials project for this very reason. I think a webcomics/POD publishing model is/could be the next big thing. It allows us smaller operations to function with less overhead and reach wider audiences than currently serviced by the Direct Market. It’s a very exciting time in comics publishing, no doubt about it. But we can’t let our enthusiasm get the best of us.
So here are a few things that I suggest in order to sober us up:
Ka-Blam is a business.
Yes, they offer services that are a huge boon to small press publishers, and they deeply and genuinely believe in supporting us indy guys and gals. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not trying to operate a viable business. It’s not a charity–they don’t owe us anything in the way of an easy business model for wealth and fame. Of course this means that they also have to provide us with terrific service and quality product, but let’s not forget that it’s not going to automatically make our little-known projects unqualified successes. Their service could help us reach a wider audience, but it doesn’t guarantee huge sales, and neither are they responsible if no one decides to purchase our books. Look at their business model–they offer low-print run and fulfillment services directly online and soon to direct market comic book shops. They don’t offer any promotional or advertising services, and nowhere did I read any promises of specific sales figures. How well your book sells still depends on you, the small press publisher. Yes, they’re making it much easier, but it still falls on us to make great content and get the word out about it.
This is only the beginning.
This is typically used as a slogan for optimism, but I also point at it as a way to remind us that there will inevitably be hiccups and missteps along the way as they develop their model to make it lean and mean. I’m not trying to burst any bubbles, and I certainly would never suggest that there are any flaws in the plan or that the Ka-Blam guys are bound to screw up. They’re competent and dedicated people. I’ve staked my reputation on them with other creators, and I’ll do so publicly. They’re truly good people. But the cruel reality is that new ventures like this are going to have some problems along the way, both in terms of setting up infrastructure and fixing unforeseen complications that arise. Too often we let our excitement turn to outright animosity when things get a little buggy with a new service. It’s just going to happen. If you encounter a problem with a service or product, and you’re an early adopter, you have the responsibility to be patient with it. As He-Man once said, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
The service will only be as good as the people who use it.
It’s simplicity itself to use the Ka-Blam/IndyPlanet services, yet that often invites folks to avail themselves of it without fully investigating how it works. You have to know how to make a TIFF file. You have to know how to organize them in a way that makes sense for a printer. You have to be able to output your files according to their specifications for listing on the IndyPlanet website. You have to be able to write a pithy and catchy summary of your comic in order to invite a potential customer to try it out. The good news is the Ka-Blam folks have been kind enough to provide guidelines on how to use their services, and it’s our own fault if we don’t take time to read and understand them.
Here’s where to get the print specifications for printing with Ka-Blam.
Here’s information on how selling on IndyPlanet works.
It’s still printing, and there will be turnaround times.
I’ll try to nutshell this process for those who don’t understand how their POD service works. You submit your TIFF files to them along with title, page count, and PayPal address info. Then they process these files on their end in order to determine that they’re formatted properly for their printers, and whether or not they’re the proper size/resolution for the specifications you set in your order. Even when everything is submitted properly, this can take a few weeks or more. Why? Because in terms of manpower, they’re a small operation. In order to keep their business cost-effective while also keeping their printing prices so low and still maintain quality control, they simply have to run on what would be considered a skeleton crew in an offset operation. There’s only so much they can do in a day.
My answer to this is to try to place every order with them two months or more before I need the books. Yes, they offer expedited service, but I don’t like to use it. Not because of anything they have done, but because usually if I’m submitting a project needing a rapid turnaround time, it means I’ve rushed through the process of preparing the book in the first place. This means that I’ll most likely have typos and other errors in the book that I won’t catch until I get my printed copies. If you wait until the last second to order your book, there’s no chance of fixing any errors in time for whatever event you plan to attend. In my opininon, it’s just good sense to have a 6-month cycle in getting a book printed: 3 months for careful proofing and file prep, and 3 months to allow for print time.
Before you email me, I do understand that there will be times when you just find yourself against a wall with a print deadline. And in those cases you can and should avail yourself of the expedited services that Ka-Blam offers. All I’m suggesting is that we all apply a little more foresight to our POD publishing schedules, in order to better use the services offered.
Some people have reported next-day shipments of orders placed on the IndyPlanet site. But this is entirely different than placing an order for a new print job with Ka-Blam. One advantage of their service is that once your book is printed the digital files are kept on their servers from then on, and if you place any re-orders (or if someone purchases the book through IndyPlanet), they can just call up those files and crank out a book rather fast. But let’s not confuse this with placing an initial print job. Submitting brand-new files for a book and listing it on IndyPlanet takes a few weeks to a month or two. And before anyone cries “BUH” and rolls their eyes, this is still faster than going through the Diamond/Offset route that we were stuck with before.
It’s still comics stores.
While I’m thrilled about the prospect of getting my baby, The Front, into comics stores, I have to maintain a little skepticism about how much this will add up in terms of sales. I admit ignorance as to how many comics stores exist that support/stock indy comics and service the readers of said books, but from the sampling I’ve had in my area, they’re still predominantly the places that primarily service the fans of Captain America and Batman. I’m hopeful but unsure of how much of an impact some of our comics would do in that environment. As Mark and I have groused in earlier A&S Podcasts, that audience is being serviced with Marvel and DC books, and their dollars are stretched to the limit with each event crossover. Not trying to be a buzzkill here–just making a case to be cautious in our optimism.
The last point is the most important one, I think. It still falls on us to make good work. Like I said earlier, this is no guarantee of success for each of us indy creators. Yes, this levels the playing field quite a bit, and it’s very, very exciting. However, it does not promise that your comic will suddenly become an instant smash hit of comics stores and the internet. You still have to create an engaging cast of characters and an interesting story in order to win audience support. You still have to market the work well. Your success still depends on you. If anything, I think the ComicsMonkey service merely removes one more excuse we creators have from being successful.
This one’s gone on long enough, and I hope to explore this more in Art & Story Alive! episode 51. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all of this.