The webcomics blog about webcomics

In Case You Missed It

So Rich Stevens turned 35 a few weeks back and celebrated by sharing gifts with you, the members of the world that are not Rich Stevens. These included special pricing on merch and free shipping, but also an ebook for free download containing a whole mess¹ of his comics.

Then earlier this week, he shifted tactics, making a second ebook of comics, this time specifically for the iPad, utilizing the brand-new iBooks Author app, again for free. Free turned out to be a critical distinction, as charging for it would open up the can o’ worms that is Apple’s iBooks Author EULA which would require a large cut of revenue to Apple as well as their permission to distribute it through their store. He may well be the first person out of the gate with a release produced via iBooks Author; certainly anybody that got their hands on the tool day-of-release is still waiting for Apple’s approval to sell content.

Rich Stevens don’t got time to screw around waiting for corporate approvals — guy gets an idea Monday, experiment launches Tuesday, Thursday he writes up his impressions.

Some 10,000+ downloads later, his most important conclusion may be that a significant number of readers out there would love to have a delivered-in-chunks, read-at-once model for their webcomics. Sifting through RSS feeds, remembering to hit sites, making time to read one of each of X number of strips per day², relying on bandwidth or signal at the time — for a large number of people (and probably growing as tablet use spikes upward) will find a bursty delivery, followed by the opportunity to read ten or fifteen minutes worth on the train, waiting for an appointment, or over lunch (wherever you happen to bef … I think the iPad part of this is key) to be an optimal experience.

This first delivery dropped a month’s worth of strips, leading to an easy magazine metaphor; should Apple find some way to have a rolling approval for this kind of distribution (instead of requiring pre-approval for each “issue”), and likely if they can permit creators to keep more of the fruits of their labor (30% is somewhere between usury and science fiction), this could be the first iteration of that Next Big Thing that forward-looking webcomickers have their eyes on³.

There will be further experiments and refinements — Stevens knows that fast turnaround and incremental improvements reach a good final state much faster and cheaper than trying to get to 100% on the first go — which process requires input. One key question (from my perspective as a non-iPad owner) would be how to adapt this model away from a single platform; I don’t have an answer and wouldn’t expect Stevens to have one yet either, considering the entire thing is about three days old. But if you have thoughts on the matter, the discussion is taking place on Google+. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

¹ One of the more obscure English measurements.

² For me, X ranges as high as 75 or 80 and as low as mid-30s, depending on the day.

³ In my opinion, one of the most useful things that Scott Kurtz has done via his occasional participation in print vs web shitfights is to very publicly never lose sight of the fact that webcomics as we now know there are a transitional mode of distribution. There will be a next thing, whether it’s some form of e-magazine, or the only slightly hyperbolic direct-to-brain HyperComics that get thrown around from time to time.

Not permitting webcomickers to fall into the trap of print comickers who don’t see a way to adapt is crucially helpful; just living with an understanding that business model and technological change are a given gives the current (and more likely, the next) generation of comics creators a better chance at not being left behind by those changes than some of their predecessors have proved to be.

You have some minor but substantial inaccuracies in your comments about iBooks Author.

The 30% cut and “permission” (approval, really) to distribute your book through the iBookstore applies ANY book sold through the iBookstore, not just .ibooks files generated by iBooks Author.

The EULA only stipulates that — if you want to SELL your .ibooks file — you can only do so exclusively through the iBookstore. You can’t sell it on your website or any other websites that sell .iba files (none of which exist anyway).

(The difference with what you said is subtle, but significant.)

That 30% includes hosting and payment processing, so saying it’s “somewhere between usury and science fiction” is kind of silly, and also a little bit ill-informed. Amazon charged MORE before the iPad came along (they lowered it to match), and Google Editions was announced at 37% (“63% royalty” as they called it) but lowered to match Apple. (30% is also identical to the cut Apple charges for apps in the iOS Appstore.)

Payment processing alone on, say, a $1.49 eBook would be 34¢ under a regular Paypal account (22%) or 0.12–13¢ (8%) with a microtransaction account.

Hosting doesn’t count for that much, but the ePub editions of Multiplex I’m working on come in at over 40 megabytes. 10,000 copies of that would be 400 GB, or over half my bandwidth. Not that I would sell even remotely that many. (Diesel Sweeties’s iBooks is unusually small because of the 8-bit art, I think.)

You also can’t ignore the fact that unless you want the extra interactivity that separates the iBooks format from standard ePub (which the iBooks also accepts), you can just submit ePub to the iBookstore if you want it there (under the same terms) and retain the right to sell your eBook anywhere you like. And traditional comics flat-out don’t need that kind of interactivity.

Whoops. A correction to my correction. Editing slip-up, sorry:

The publisher’s portion of standard revenue split with Google eBooks’s is actually 48%; it wasn’t changed to match Apple’s 70%. The 63% I mentioned was for Google Editions, which is a different service.

Point being, though, out of the major eBookstores, Apple’s offering is hardly the worst. Still bad? Maybe. But you can also see your own book through your own store and keep 100% of it… less payment processing.

[…] let me just point you towards some nicely informative (verging on rebuttal) comments from Gordon McAlpin regarding my characterization of iBooks Author’s EULA yesterday. He may […]

[…] like Rich Stevens’s recent foray into free e-books (not to be confused with his future foray into free e-books), Guigar’s testing waters, […]

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