Graphicly Folds – Will Creators be Paid What They’re Owed?

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.

graphicly

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marks a final step away from being involved in comics, as the announcement states that within thirty days they’ll have withdrawn all their comics content.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.

Comments

  1. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    Sad, on both sides. I rly liked Graphicly initially, but when you open the flood gates the quality dips and they did not have my favorite publishers on board.
    there was alot of crap on there and i found myself only buying a few comics on it so i stopped using it.

  2. I’m not sure if different information is being told to different people, from what I’ve read and from what I’ve gotten directly from Micah there are a couple of things that should be pointed out:

    1) This was NOT an acquisition of Graphicly as a company or of any intellectual property Graphicly may have owned. This was an acquisition of talent. There’s a big difference that people with more knowledge of the law that I can speak to. To my understanding this protects Blurb from having to pay for any debt incurred by the former company since they didn’t actually buy anything.

    2) Graphicly has shut down. It’s also broke. So nobody is getting paid. Whether or not they filed for bankruptcy is something I have not seen reported. There is no ultimate pay off somewhere down the line. If you were owed money, you’re most likely out of luck.

  3. johnrobiethecat says:

    “2) Graphicly has shut down. It’s also broke. So nobody is getting paid. Whether or not they filed for bankruptcy is something I have not seen reported. There is no ultimate pay off somewhere down the line. If you were owed money, you’re most likely out of luck.”

    Actually, Apple , Amazon, Kobo, Nook and others got paid so that there has to be a paper trail and receipts when it gets investigated which it should be the case if fraud laws are enforced. Like with Comixology, there seems to some mentality in this industry that comic creators rights and payments of copyrighted material is their call and however they like to work the books and rules will just be fine in the eyes of the law. Comixology and Amazon will be the next headline for dubious practices and mystery payment systems in the coming months to be sure. If you own the copyright and payments aren’t made for your published work that entities profit from , there are options and you should be paid, the distributors of content (Apple, Amazon, etc) and Graphicly were.

  4. Sure. I’d love to see someone follow the money and see what happened. I hate the fact that my partners and I spent YEARS creating our book only to now look back at the last two years and have no idea how many sales were actually made. I’d also encourage anyone who used the service to make sure that their book or property isn’t still listed on iBooks or Amazon. Ours was until just the other day when I contacted Micah directly and he removed it. My point was just to re-iterate how they presented it to me directly, and what appears to be their official position.

  5. johnrobiethecat says:

    “Sure. I’d love to see someone follow the money and see what happened. I hate the fact that my partners and I spent YEARS creating our book only to now look back at the last two years and have no idea how many sales were actually made. I’d also encourage anyone who used the service to make sure that their book or property isn’t still listed on iBooks or Amazon.”

    Kind of bums me out that tech companies seem so sure they can get away with something like that. They overvalue themselves and undervalue everybody else. Still Amazon & Apple made money , they can’t be off the hook that easily. Of course, their phone numbers and contact info are just as obscure as Graphicly’s. Hopefully people can organize together and fight this kind of swindling.

  6. akachris says:

    By acquiring Grapic.ly’s talent and especially Micah Baldwin, Blurb has also acquired the reputation and taint of Graphic.ly’s shoddy business practices. All comic book creators and authors should consider boycotting Blurb until they excise themselves of their recently acquired “talent” and publicly disclose their processes and procedures regards payments and royalties.

    Ideally, the creator portion of all monies received from Amazon, Apple or any other electronic distributor should be deposited into bank/escrow account separate from other company funds, and any distributions can only be made to creators and authors, and not to the company.

    The company should have a clear and regularly scheduled payment schedule [monthly or quarterly] with a definitive formula on how payments are calculated. Usually, publishers and distributors keep a running total with a reserve for returns [not sure what the case is with e-books].

    All these things should be clearly laid out in the publishing contract along with stipulations regards auditing sales reports and royalty calculations.

  7. Glad I wrote them off when they changed to that “flat fee” bullshit.

    I just hope Comixology doesn’t get shady like this now that they’re under Amazon, the Wal-Mart of the internet!

    Also, click my link and buy my stuff. :P

  8. Count me in as yet another creator who never received any concise reports, nor any payment, from Graphicly.

    Sometimes I wonder why we even try as self-publishers in this busines…

  9. johnrobiethecat says:

    “Count me in as yet another creator who never received any concise reports, nor any payment, from Graphicly.
    Sometimes I wonder why we even try as self-publishers in this busines…”

    I would say hang in there… We are early in the age of digital comics and the snake oil salesman are having their day. Its now up to the law to deal with them (& make sure that they do). Graphicly and Comixology are swindlers – using lawyers and tech greed schemes to exploit other peoples hard work , going along with shady business practices and fine print contracts that allow them to bail has become the norm in comics. Then milk that advantage when selling their businesses that only profited them in the end. But it also their legacy of being con men. Who would want to do business with people like that again. PayPal, Gumroad and setting up your own website is a good business practice for now. Maybe Stripe ot aother payment systems will get more evolved and easier, The more you live away from the corporate beasts and set up your own shop, the better.

    Digital comics are accepted now, its now time to find a crook proof business model which everybody can sell their content and keep more than 90-95% of the profit with the difference being whatever payment system takes, not 30%-50% for being on a store with ulterior motives. Graphicly and Comixology (along with Apple Amazon etc who colluded with them) have nixed themselves in this market via their greed, you can find a way to sell your pdf without them calling the shots. Its the network to sell is what’s needed and the belief that it can be done without a corporation calling the shots.

  10. Alan Spinney says:

    @johnrobiethecat; I’ve just listed my new self published comic with Gumroad. So far, I am impressed with their approach and their business model. And the CEO himself responded to a ‘how to’ question I emailed to Gumroad yesterday!

  11. johnrobiethecat says:

    “@johnrobiethecat; I’ve just listed my new self published comic with Gumroad. So far, I am impressed with their approach and their business model. And the CEO himself responded to a ‘how to’ question I emailed to Gumroad yesterday!”

    @ alan…Nice!… I like Gumroad (as they are now). They are well set up for a good way to sell comics and even take care of distributing the pdf to the client as well. It’s clear and logical. I discovered them accidentally on Tumblr (which sounds like the network along with Twitter to sell these things). Everything seems reasonable. And you get paid directly to your bank account (in 2 weeks, not 3 months) after the $10 mark.

    Who knows, they could fold too but their business model seems understandable to me since both sides make money right away.The customer is set right after the transaction is complete and has his comic downloaded to his or her care, not sitting in the ether somewhere. If the Gumroad ever gets flakey and plays games, then the creator should be off to the next payment/distribution model that will appear on the horizon, with 5-8% cut being the max, not that 30-50% bull to a digital distributors like Comixology, Amazon, Apple etc want just so you can appear on their reader or get lost in their stores.. Maybe those percentages are the realities for print and Diamond distribution, but for a digital pdf? No way!

    The best revenge against this kind of exploitation is working out a real path towards a living with what’s out there now, especially that they have tried to burn the digital forest. When it regrows, perhaps creators will make small to reasonable/good livings directly from their work instead of being lulled to a lesser deal and mysterioso terms by a big company’s promise of exposure and “bigness”. And hopefully better, more honest comics will come with it.

    Stay strong guys!

  12. I always liked Graphicly’s platform – it was easy to use and the customer support was good (at least for me). My books have done well through them but I’ve only ever been paid out once. There’s still a chunk of change in my account that I have not received and am expecting to get before they phase-out to Blurb.

  13. It’s a sad story, the idea of Graphicly was good, I wanted them to succeed.

    A reminder that if you are selling books on someone else’s platform you are de facto at a disadvantage; as this story unfolds it becomes easier to see why. When authors have no direct control over sales tracking, pay a commission fee, for a virtual product that they made, but have little options on actual pricing, while the cost to the distributor(s) is minimal, the power is clearly not in the hand of authors.

    Yet it is somehow ironic to find so many “self-publishing companies”.
    Self publishing schemes raised hopes for independent authors, but enabled new middlemen to cash in on artists efforts. I wonder if independent content creators wouldn’t be better-off actually self-publishing. DIY everything, cut out the middlemen, that is indeed the essence of self publishing. Develop on HTML5, set up a store on your own, self-hosted platform, format your books and your files yourself. All this is possible. You still have to find the right company to facilitate virtual payment, and make your books stand out in the mass of production.
    Using distributors is fine but should’t be central to your book selling strategy; if any one of the big players disappear, or change their terms (e.g., because they can, in a monopoly) you won’t be as badly affected.

  14. Harold White says:

    Gumroad is a great alternative, but it doesn’t accept Paypal and you have to wait what? 30 days for your payment to be released? Don’t get me wrong, I like Gumroad, but these little details is what makes me want to look towards Sellfy.

Trackbacks

  1. […] reported by Steve Morris, the shutdown of Graphicly, the once competitive digital comics service, has left a lot of unpaid […]

  2. […] Morris, writing for the Beat, has more details regarding Graphicly’s closure and the comics creators who have yet to receive […]

  3. […] Dellecese and representatives of Th3rd World Studios, as well as a former Graphicly employee. At The Beat, Marc Ellerby and Mike Garley told similar stories, and Eric Grissom and Dara Naraghi added their […]

  4. […] also had our challenges, such as problems with companies like Graphicly (documented here: http://comicsbeat.com/graphicly-folds-will-creators-be-paid-what-theyre-owed/ ), delays (due to people, including us, understandingly having to prioritise paid work), and lower […]

  5. […] inherent DRM, not unlike the one employed by the ill-fated JManga and the pre-2012 version of the recently-shuttered […]

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