As you know, we recently brought you the early news on ComicsMonkey, the new distrubtion system offered under the auspicies of Ka-Blam. We spoke with Barry Gregory, of Ka-Blam, ComicsMonkey, and IndyPlanet, for some quick answers on the overview.
Newsarama: What motivated you to get involved in distribution in this fashion?
Barry Gregory: Direct Market distribution was a part of our plan from the beginning. We considered it a phase two project. Phase one was establishing Ka-Blam as a viable printing solution for independent creator/publishers. Phase two was to create opportunities for independent creator/publishers increase their audiences and sell their products. IndyPlanet.com — our indy comics webstore — was our first phase two project. We’ve got almost 2,000 items there now, with more being added almost daily, and sales have been steadily climbing since we launched it.
We’ve had ComicsMonkey specifically on the drawing board for over a year. We had planned to launch a brief pilot program of sorts later this spring with a limited catalog and a few volunteer retailers, then take what we learned from the pilot program, retool, and have our official launch sometime in late summer or fall. But then circumstances changed and we realized we had to scrub the pilot program and move our launch up significantly. Even if it meant a rockier start than we’d like.
NRAMA: Which qualities, in your opinion, make your operation well-suited for this kind of endeavor?
BG: Well, Ka-Blam’s been around since late 2005 and we’re pretty confident in our model for digital printing. We’ve built up a pretty good reputation among independent creators and publishers. We’ve got almost 4000 registered users and it’s growing daily. So given our operating model and the reservoir of good will we have among independent creators and the volume of product we have available from them already at IndyPlanet — most of which will also be available at ComicsMonkey — we think we’re uniquely positioned to offer a print-on-demand distribution service.
It’s a daunting task and we don’t take it lightly. No one’s really done this kind of thing before, so we know there will be challenges aplenty. But no one’s in a better position to give it a go than we are.
NRAMA: What are some pitfalls that other distributors have made in the past that you believe that you can avoid?
BG: Well, eliminating advance ordering will remove a lot of the pitfalls. With a print-on-demand model there’s no advance ordering, no warehousing, no purchase orders, no shipping from suppliers. Everything is digital. We store digital printable files for each product available in the catalog and we print to order. If it’s in our catalog … it’s available NOW. You can order it today and it could be on your shelves in a week or so.
When your model relies on advance ordering you have to worry about product shipping late from suppliers, items being canceled, or delivered in a state inconsistent with what was advertised at the time you pre-sold it. None of that applies to us.
We know where some problem areas lie and we’re working to avoid those, but as the saying goes, “it’s not about what you’re sure of … it’s about what you don’t know”. At least our mistakes will be uniquely our own.
NRAMA: What will your biggest challenge be in the first sixth months?
BG: There are no shortage of challenges. We wrote the business model some time ago — it’ll change and evolve as we go, but it’s written. We’re building the site now, writing the software we’ll need to integrate comicsmonkey.com with ka-blam.com, etc. Soon, we’ll begin building the catalog and registering retailers. All that will be challenging.
But for me, I think the biggest will be managing the expectations of creator/publishers.
We’ve been thrilled by the response we’ve gotten from the independent comics community. Folks are genuinely excited about this … to the point that I worry some of them have unrealistic expectations. I believe this model will work and work well. There are many independent creators/publishers who will fare much better in our system than they have in the existing distribution system. But it’s not going to happen right out of the gate. It’s going to take time and a lot — a LOT — of work.
Our challenge will be keeping everyone focused and working towards what the model can and will be and not allowing them to get overly discouraged if the results are less than they’d hoped at the beginning.
NRAMA: A number of publishers believe that the paradigm is shifting into online delivery systems; as you see it, what is the future of comics as a print medium?
BG: Oh, I think someday in the not too distant future almost everyone will be reading their comics off of a backlit screen. I read webcomics, I love webcomics! But we’re all afflicted with a collector mentality. If we like something we want a piece of it. If we love a comic, then we want a copy, even if we already read it online. As a matter of fact, the best selling comics at IndyPlanet are the printed editions of certain webcomics.
So, I think print’s not going away any time soon. There’s still has a lot of life left in the printed page.
We’ll be speaking to Barry Gregory again in the near future.