Clickwheel - Making up Ground in the Online Comics World

Clickwheel - Making up Ground

Wowio was a revolutionary service, allowing comic fans to legally download comics for free, and still paying creators through ad-support. Then they fell behind in payments, were purchased by Platinum Studios, and that great payment plan seems to have fallen through.

Clickwheel.net is a relatively new service, allowing comic fans to legally download comics for free, and still paying some creators through ad-support. They focus on having comics made to view on iPods and more recently iPhones, but also offer PDF and CBR versions for viewing on a computer. With “taps” seemingly playing in the distance for Wowio, Clickwheel is chugging along, making moves, and even picking up some of the pieces. We followed up with Clickwheel.net’s Editor-in-Chief Tim Demeter about Clickwheel’s plans, how the events at Wowio are affecting them, some of Tim’s own work, and another tease of a big announcement coming in just a couple weeks.

Newsarama: Tim, quite frankly, Wowio is having problems, and losing readers and creators alike. Have you been watching their business, and learning anything from it?

Tim Demeter: For sure. When it comes to something as uncharted as digital distribution, all of us in the game are feeling things out day by day. There’s no proven model here and Clickwheel is having success with a model others claimed didn’t work so maybe Wowio was just a little too far ahead of the curve with free ad-supported downloads. It’s certainly something I’d like to see work.

One thing I have had reinforced for me though is the huge importance of keeping promises and to do that you need a sustainable business plan. It’s a lesson Clickwheel learned early on and something I’ve made absolutely sure is now company policy. It is true that I am dealing with a large number of Wowio expatriates right now and while I am not offering the types of immediate riches that some creators made with Wowio, I am offering a way for people to monetize their digital comics in such a way that will not require me to pull the plug because some third party has dropped out and one that will allow me to pay the creators what they are owed and pay it on time.

NRAMA: Clickwheel has expanded beyond the initial goal of easily-viewable-on-iPod comics, and includes animated comics and even PDFs and CBRs for viewing on a computer. Why expand that way so quickly?

TD: I’d expand more quickly if I could! Working not only in the online venue but also in the mobile venue means you have to stay agile or die. Things change quickly in these arenas and if you can’t change with them you’ll be left in the dust. In the case of the two of the examples you cite, we got into PDFs a few years ago once iTunes started supporting them which meant we could distribute them through the store, which seemed a natural extension of our iPod focus. CBR’s grew out of the PDFs. As our PDF comics started to grow in popularity a large number of fans were emailing me or commenting on the forums that they wanted CBR support. I’m very big on customer service and if enough of our fans ask for something they get it.

NRAMA: 2000AD can be downloaded as a CBR, but your submission guidelines only mention PDF, iPod Comics, and Animatics. Are there any plans to allow creators to use the CBR format?

TD: Those guidelines need to be updated, CBRs are available to users now. All of our formats are open to all users except our iPhone reader. That content I am regulating for the moment as something of a ‘best of Clickwheel.’ Our site traffic has gone up 800% because of the iPhone app and due to that volume I’m keeping the reigns tight until we release few more updates. In time, that format will be open to all comers as well though.

NRAMA: You currently pay some creators through your commissioned work model. Are there any plans to expand that, and offer a monetizing solution for more creators?

TD: I certainly hope so. Right now the commissioned model is very much like what Wowio was doing- we hand it out for free and monetize it in other ways. I have yet to find the magic equation to turn those commissions into the dollars needed to grow the program, but I’d certainly like to. In the meantime I have a budget to fund these projects regardless and will continue to do so as I search for said magic equation. My next commissioned piece is another installment of Gambling Souls from Steve Horton and Sam Romero so look for that soon. I saw some new pages just this morning and they are HOT.

NRAMA: How has growth been, as far as creators and audience? What are some ways you hope to expand further?

TD: I’d say that 800% growth number is pretty good wouldn’t you?

On a day-to-day basis our plan is simply to offer quality content via stable, easy to use technology. Long term we’re thinking WAY bigger though. Clickwheel will continue to roll out completely new products in the realm of digital comics for fans and creators alike just as soon as we can dream them up and get them live.

I’m also in the process of adding literally 100’s of comics to Clickwheel from self-starters and established pros alike. There is a bump in the Clickwheel catalog coming like the site has never seen – including when we launched and when we added 2000AD.

NRAMA: Some animatics are being distributed on the iTunes store. Is there any plan (or hope) to launch something similar, the much talked about "iTunes for comics" covering all the books offered on Clickwheel?

TD: It’s my hope that Clickwheel itself will become the iTunes of comics. It would be great to offer more content via the iTunes store as well but we’re at Apple’s mercy there. If any of your readers would like to see comics made available on iTunes they should let Apple know about it!

In the meantime, our iPhone app is dangerously close to realizing that potential. It requires the user to have an iPhone or iPod Touch so it’s not that be all end all solution but we’re getting there.

NRAMA: Can you divulge what kind of numbers you're seeing for the paid subscription to 2000AD's weekly series?

TD: Nope!

NRAMA: How do you see Clickwheel fitting in to the greater comics market? Is digital distribution a supplement to the traditional printed market, or do you think it will eventually replace it?

TD: I get asked this one a lot these days so I think that says something right there. However, no I don’t see digital distribution replacing the printed market entirely. It may take a bite out of it, especially the monthlies, but I don’t think the printed comic will ever go away, nor would I want it to. Printed comics will always be around in some form but in 20 years or so buying a comic could be analogous to buying vinyl now – it’s a collector’s market only.

NRAMA: What are you working on personally? Your webcomic Reckless Life has been re-invented this year as Bustout Odds. Then, it never actually launched past a single page, and you've now announced it will once again be Reckless Life. What? Why go back to the previous name? Have you abandoned the work you started on BO, or repurposed it for RL? Most importantly, does this mean Chance Gray has gone before ever arriving?

TD: It’s hilarious that you think anyone cares what a suit like me is up to creatively but I’ll bite. Yes, Reckless Life ended about a year ago and I planned to relaunch a retconned version of RL as Bustout Odds. My motivation at the time was to retool and refresh some things about the comic to make it a better sell to publishers. One year later the simple fact of the matter is I wouldn’t have time to do a full comic length comic even if someone did pick it up so that logic is a bit flawed. I miss creating badly though and I want to get back to it as soon as I can and don’t want to mess around with establishing a new status quo. At the end of the day, Bustout Odds was intended as a new version of Reckless Life. Now instead Reckless Life will be infused a lot of the ideas I was going to bring to Bustout Odds (part of this is I came up with a really clever way to do that) so it’s really half a dozen of one and six of the other anyways. I am junking five pages of Bustout Odds but you’ll still see Chance Gray. Sort of. You’ll see. Hell, I may still even call it Bustout Odds, but it will pick up right where Reckless Life left off. Literally.

NRAMA: Will fans find the new RL stories on Clickwheel? Graphic Smash? Your own self-hosted site?

TD: All of the above, though you’ll see RL on Clickwheel first.

NRAMA: Finally, last time you spoke with us you mentioned something big coming September 17th. As that's fast approaching, can you give any details or at least hints yet?

TD: I can tell you that I will be in London that week for the launch and if I’m hopping across the pond it’s probably a big deal. I will say this, it’s not an addition to Clickwheel. It is a completely new site that serves a whole separate function but it will still work with Clickwheel. I’ll be happy to spill my guts about the whole thing to you guys once I get back to the states.

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