Not so Wowio? Online Publisher Raising Questions

Things Not So Sunny at Wowio?

For the last few days, word has been bubbling through the back channels that Wowio, the online comics publisher (recently acquired by Platinum Studios) is late in paying a large number of creators and publishers their second quarter payments.

Wowio, as Newsarama readers will recall, is a website where readers can read comics for free online (or download pdfs for a small fee), and the creators received payments based on pageviews, with the money to pay creators coming from advertising. Some creators became converts and evangelists for the service early on, reporting large royalty checks. Over time, many creators and even publishers joined with the service, finding it a viable alternative to reaching a new, or larger audience than print.

In July, Platinum Studios announced it was in negotiations to acquire Wowio, which led, according to some creators, to a substantial changes in their contracts with the company which many felt would result in greatly reduced royalty checks. Other changes included new limitations on content that could be shown, which reportedly caused some creators to pull up stakes.

Steve Horton is a creator who signed on with Wowio in 2007 and has seen the good and the bad, and is now pulling his work down from the site. Horton agreed to speak with us about his experience.

Newsarama: Steve, how long have you been with Wowio?

Steve Horton: Since April 2007. I was one of the first. Originally I just reprinted my webcomic Grounded Angel there, and made a surprising amount of money.

NRAMA: Why did you choose to publish online with Wowio in the first place?

SH: I was exploring new paid avenues for Grounded Angel, as we had completed an entire graphic novel's worth of material and hadn't seen much return from it.

I then had the bright idea to reprint work from other creators on Wowio and pay them 90%. I'd make a bit of money, and I'd get to see some cool reprints and original projects from creators I loved.

NRAMA: How were conditions with the original owners of Wowio?

SH: We had heard some bad stories about their spokesperson Mike Miller, but the actual bosses of Wowio (and Mike, as it turned out) treated us just fine.

Well, there was one thing that got under our skin. In January, they cut rates in half for new publishers. We (Smashout Comics) continued paying people 90%, not 50%, so there was virtually no reason to sign on as a new publisher instead of signing with me or Bill Williams at Lone Star or Mike Penny at Dakuwaka, who were also doing the subcontracting thing.

In March, Wowio demanded we not only redo our contracts with creators to match their new publisher rate, but we had to make it retroactive to January, or they'd drop us.

Naturally, we weren't happy. Soon after that, they were weeks late on the Q1 payout due to an issue with sponsors. It was these issues that eventually led to the Platinum buyout, as I understand it.

NRAMA: Did the conditions/terms change at Wowio when it was acquired by Platinum?

SH: Yes. Their contract addendum basically cut everyone's earnings by 95% by removing most free downloads in favor of a paid download/weak ad model. That, and the fact that we don't like Platinum Studios, led Smashout not to sign the addendum. That left only getting paid for Q2, due Aug 15 (and not paid as of Thursday) and then be done with them forever.

NRAMA: How is your payment schedule set up through Wowio?

SH: Six weeks after the end of the quarter.

NRAMA: Were payments made on time with the original owners?

SH: Q1's lateness was all Wowio. Q2 was Wowio as well, but Platinum has said that the buyout is responsible for the delay.

NRAMA: And how are payments on time with Wowio now?

SH: We have the option of wire transfer, PayPal or check.

NRAMA: Currently, how much are you owed by Wowio?

SH: A bit over $7,300. $1,700 to my company and the rest to other creators. (Including money toward the care of Bill Mantlo, for which I waived my fee.)

NRAMA: Has there been any communication from Wowio about the late payments?

SH: Yes. Originally Wowio editor Kristin Ellison said there was a long list of payees to get through and that people would be paid on a regular basis. She seems to have not been made aware of the whole story, though, as I tracked down Brian Altounian at Platinum, who blamed the delay on the transition in ownership. He said payouts would hopefully resume by week's end.

I've talked to about 30 publishers, and one was paid last week. The others weren't.

NRAMA: Are you exploring alternatives?

SH: Yes, one very promising alternative is nearly a go - Clickwheel, edited by Tim Demeter, and almost all the former Smashout Comics creators are making the jump.

Newsarama Note: Newsarama has contacted Wowio and Platinum for comment and further information. Nothing had been received by press time.

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