This week saw digital comic publisher Graphicly announce that they have been acquired by Blurb, a book publisher who will be subsequently folding the comics section of Graphicly. The question, however, is if the move means that the many creators – self-publishers and small-press – who used Graphicly will be paid the money that the company owes them, or if the acquisition effectively ends this avenue for small-press comics.
Note: Graphicly have not yet responded to my requests for comment.
Over the last few years, Graphicly have slowly been shutting down their comic-related operations – you may remember that they used to own iFanboy, but withdrew from the site last year. They have since downplayed their comics work frequently, as their attention seems to have shifted internally from one purpose to another. This week’s news marks a final step away from being involved in comics, as the announcement states that within thirty days they’ll have withdrawn all their comics content.
Publishers have been told by the company that they will be added to a list creditors, and will ultimately be paid off with the money raised from the acquisition. But what’s interesting is that, as far as I’m aware, many creators and small-press publishers haven’t actually been paid by Graphicly at any point in their existence.
Speaking to Marc Ellerby, the writer/artist who also co-founded Great Beast Comics in the UK – which offer books by well-known people like Isabel Greenberg, Robert Ball, Adam Cadwell and Dan Berry - he told me:
I published Ellerbisms with them in January 2013, a few months after the paperback came out. It’s done quite well, reaching #2 in the UK Kindle chart for graphic novels. Despite this, I have never received any payment from Graphicly despite repeated emails of enquiry.
This was backed up by several other sources, including this piece over at Bleeding Cool by Rich Johnston. A common theme amongst writers, artists and publishers on social media was that they had never seen any money from Graphicly. From the piece by Johnson, Dave Dellocese says:
While it wasn’t monumental cash we’re talking about, I will say it’s disappointing. Graphicly’s whole pitch was ‘one fee’ to them for conversions to various platforms and anything you sell is your profit (After fees like iTunes, Nook, etc). While it may not have been mortgage money in our case, there was money spent to do this and the money we earned in return remained in limbo.
The idea of Graphicly was that the people making comics paid a one-off fee to host their comics there, and Graphicly would provide a boost of attention for them – the more places people can find your comics, the more places people have a chance to buy and read your comics. Every sale you then made would go straight to you, without Graphicly skimming anything from the top.
In terms of attention and spotlight, writer Mike Garley told me that publishing on Graphicly had been a success for him:
I published a couple of issue #1s (VS Comics and Dead Roots) through Graphicly in December 2012. The process was problematic as well as being fairly costly from the get-go. I was hoping that the increased exposure would help get my comics in front of more people, and in fairness I was pretty happy to hear how many people picked up copies.
Anybody seeing your comics is good news, but -
BUT – and it’s a big but – I’ve never received ANY money from sales. The analytics were poor and made tracking sales difficult so it was difficult to prove anything and they [Graphicly] were always aloof through email.
With no real way to chase the matter I stopped using their services.
Which mirrors previous statements in the Bleeding Cool article – the system for tracking how many sales you make through Graphicly wasn’t functioning in any kind of coherent fashion for the people tracking them. As a result Graphicly were able to downplay any requests for owed money.
That is, if they responded to you at all – as Ellerby says:
In general, there was zero contact from the company.
With the acquisition from Blurb now taking place, there have been suggestions that Blurb will now use the assets from Graphicly and venture into digital comics themselves – although the company currently denies this, a second Bleeding Cool article (who are being typically strong in their reporting of creators rights issues) suggests that there is more going on than we’re being told.
Regardless of what Blurb may be intending though, let’s focus on Graphicly. The common experience being stated over Twitter and on comment threads responding to the news is that many people who hosted their comics there never saw a penny. Digital comics are a developing industry, and we have companies like ComiXology, Sequential and Madefire trying to establish and grow a market. We’re also seeing initiatives like Thrillbent and Monkeybrain offer small-press writers and artists the chance to hit a bigger market, grow an audience, and find a little funding.
We also seem to be in a time where nobody knows if Graphicly will pay the money they owe to a large number of creators. As Garley now says:
As much as I hate to say it, I doubt that anyone will see any money from them now.
There is every chance that Graphicly will come out in the following weeks and compensate people fairly. There’s every chance they won’t. Please let The Beat know your own experiences with Graphicly, whether they be positive or negative.