An Awesome Digital Comics Interview With Graphicly’s Becky Jewell

Right before the lovely Thanksgiving holiday Becky Jewell, Graphicly’s comic book guru, and I had a nice little talk about Graphicly and their awesome digital publishing services. For anyone who’s been keeping track, all of the individual creators I’ve been interviewing have worked with Graphicly to some extent, so if you’re thinking about diving into the self-publishing comics scene, keep reading, Becky lays it all on the line!

I Speak Comics: Hey Becky, so for those readers that aren’t aware, Graphicly is all about helping creators publish their books digitally. You got your start in comics, but now you’re looking to make the jump into the larger book market. What sort of options do you offer?

Becky Jewell: We have three major services that we offer to both established publishers and indie creatives.

1. Our free service puts books on our web store at www.graphicly.com/store as well as our game/app on Facebook. Creators have full power over deciding how their books are priced on our store, and they can also panelize books as they choose, which offers fans an elegant reading experience.

2. Our second-tier service places books on Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and the Nook. This service is our $150-per-book model, and it also includes the free option as well.

All we need is a PDF, and we convert this PDF to epub files which are compatible with these major three marketplaces.

3. We also offer an app-creation service which develops an app ‘shell’ which houses a series of books or issues. Readers can subscribe to these apps and the newest issues will be automatically delivered to their device each month.

The Walking Dead on Graphicly

ISC: With regards to your guys’ services, can you tell me which is the most popular?

BJ: Oh gosh, our most popular that we do the most sales from it would probably be our middle service, with a tie of highest sales between iBookstore or Kindle Fire. And web – web would be up there for very popular series, like The Walking Dead.

ISC: Well I’m really interested in the independent comic creators, the guys that don’t have a big back catalog of their own work, what can you offer these new creators?

BJ: Our model has shifted across the years. We used to offer a Graphicly app which was available on Android and Apple devices, and comic fans could purchase indie books through it.

But since our model shifted to the epub model, what we offer now is instead of having indie creators on a tiny app called Graphicly that nobody knows about, creators can have their book on Amazon and they can have it on Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, and the Apple iBookstore.

Some indies were a little bit recalcitrant about the whole epub business in the beginning. They were asking, “Why don’t you have an indie app? Why aren’t you catering to indies more?” and now I think that indie publishers are beginning to understand the benefit of having their books on these large platforms. It’s good for many indies because it puts their work right in the comic book section of Amazon, placing their books right alongside big titles.

Part of our day-to-day jobs at Graphicly is taking care of indie creators, and at the same time taking care of larger titles from DC and Image. That’s the benefit of our services – everyone is given the same distribution powers. I think that some independent creators have been a little bit hesitant about it for some reason. It may be because it can be very hard to sell that many books to recoup our initial conversion cost.

ISC: When creators decide to publish through your Ebooks service, the step up from web publishing, which platforms do you send it out to?

BJ: Well the big three are iBookstore, and that’s on i0s devices –  iPad, iPhone- and that’s very popular. I didn’t actually realize how popular it was until we started using it. Then there’s Kindle Fire, Nook from Barnes and Nobles, a Canadian reader called Kobo.

ISC: And do customers get the web service connections as well as the eBook markets? Because it looks like the Web Service actually hits some markets that the eBooks doesn’t.

BJ: Yes! Our web service is always free and it’s actually covered under the eBooks conversion process. So unless someone absolutely does not want their comic on the web for some reason, that is always part of the package.

The web service makes books available on the web and through a widget that can be embedded anywhere. This, as you may be able to guess, covers a lot of marketplaces.

ISC: Now let’s talk about the apps. I’m a little confused on what you guys are offering. I imagine that this “branded experience” is actually, instead of people going to a Graphicly app that no one’s ever heard about, they get their own app that no one’s ever heard about.

BJ: That’s quite on target, though it all depends on how you market yourself! I think that it’s very hard for indie creators to develop the app and then have people find it because the way to find it on an Android device or Apple Newsstand, where it’s housed, you have to search directly for it. So, if you’re looking for an indie book, you have to know the exact name of the book in order to find it. It can be advantageous for some creators who have a lot of fans, or especially ravenous fans.

The app model works best for larger pubs or pubs who market widely. For instance, we publish The Walking Dead through its own app and Game of Thrones has its own as well, and both of these titles, which already have huge followings, definitely benefit from it, gaining large subscriber bases and fan follows. It’s a very elegant experience, and a lot of our indie creators who have purchased it really seem  to like it, I just think that it’s a little difficult for some people to search for the apps and find them correctly.

ISC: Now this is interesting, you mentioned Game of Thrones, now doesn’t Dynamite publish those books? What’s the relationship between Graphicly and Dynamite? Wouldn’t they just have their own Dynamite app?

BJ: Some of these comic book publishing companies don’t have conversion houses that convert their pdf or digital files into epub files, which is a very difficult and finicky process. We’ve been doing it for a year, and it takes a team of 20 of us all day every day to figure it out.

That’s our service. That’s our model and that’s what we do for people. I think that companies like Image and Dynamite might open their own conversion services within their publishing house, but it would take a lot of technology, time, and a lot of specialized web developers, which we have, and we’ve grown over the years. It’s very specialized work.

ISC: What do creators think about Graphicly? Have you gotten any specific feedback from your clients?

Becky Cloonan’s Wolves

BJ: One person who really understood our model is Becky Cloonan. She’s an awesome artist and she’s used our model and our service to distribute a few of her smaller books through the web and epubs. One of her books on Graphicly, Wolves, has done well.

We have creators like Becky who really do understand what we’re trying to do and they take one look at our service and they’re like “I get it. This is valuable to me.” Additionally, they’re able to use our conversion tools and they can modify the experience of their own artwork. They can take their comic book and put it in our system and sort of orchestrate the panelizations and the sequence of the reading. We allow our creators to take full responsibility and full directorship of that. A lot of creative people really enjoy that.

ISC: A lot of creators use your services, maybe not to make money on their comics, but to create a space as a sort of online portfolio. I’ve talked to creators who see Graphicly’s web service as essentially a marketing tool. How do you guys feel about that?

BJ: We definitely have noticed that our webstore is more of a promotional tool than a sales tool. I think what’s helpful about the webstore and the service being on the web is our tool allows them to see the analytics and the breakdown of sales through each platform. Creators can take a look and notice that they sold 4 books on Kindle Fire, 3 on the Nook, and 7 on the web. I think that’s a useful tool as far as testing the waters for their fanbase.

What many creators may end up doing is discovering that they have a large digital followership and then they’ll print their book, or use the Graphicly web book as a tie-in with a Kickstarter campaign. More and more creators of ours seem to be saying: “If this book is successful on the internet and I can get enough people to like it there, maybe it’ll be worth printing, or worth sending on to Amazon.”

ISC: How do you feel about digital comics as a medium? Where is it going?

BJ: Well for Graphicly, we definitely see digital comics as a niche genre that’s allowed us to move into publishing books in general online and through eReading devices. I think that the comics experience, digitally, is very fun for many people. I think a lot of people enjoy the digital social experience around comics. It’s just fun! However, there’s still the part where comics fans enjoy the retail experience of comics – actually going in to a store, flipping through books, chatting with that weird comic book guy. You know.

Where I see it in the future? Right now, ebooks are often seen as a mostly supplemental source of income for publishers who have successful hard copy books, though this isn’t always true. Books in general have been selling a lot on eReading devices. Just recently, ‘hardcover’ books on Kindle Fire outsold the same books in brick-and-mortar retailers. This year was the first time that ever happened. Even though comics are niche, I think they can get to this point as well. And that is very exciting.

There’s also enhanced reading experiences on the horizon for comics. We’ve already seen motion comics and enhanced books, but I think there is a huge opening for enhanced comics on ereading devices to be explored.

ISC: We have our comics on Graphicly, but where are you guys going? I know you started in comics, but with digital books growing by leaps and bound every year, are you looking to move more into that market? Is there any commitment to the comic creator crowd?

BJ: I think while we have a deep commitment to the comic book fanbase and world, we are definitely moving toward the larger book market. But what our widget, what our tool is good at doing, is managing images through the web, and orchestrating an elegant experience of large areas of artwork. Naturally, we got our start in comics, but we’re looking to move on to children’s books and cookbooks. We look at novels occasionally, but again, our tool was built from comics and it manages images beautifully. It is made for art, and it makes art look fantastic.

Our company is very very dedicated to comics – we love comics, our sister site is iFanboy.com, and many of our employees who have been here since day one don’t know much about the larger book world, but we are excited to branch out into new territory.

Our CEO is very progressive with how he thinks about the future of our company. He sees us moving toward providing conversion services for the larger book world, and really just helping creators with distributing any book, anywhere, instantly. We don’t consider ourselves to be a competitor with Comixology. We’re for everybody and all kinds of books. We are sort of a whole new animal, but we got our start in comics and we are endlessly grateful for that.

Becky Jewell is the queen of public relations and customer support at Graphicly.com. You can follow her on Twitter @beckyjewell and she’s got some incredible art on display, and for sale, at her website

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