“With the demise of the print paper industry, there isn’t a good place to find great comics anymore.” Tapas Media’s Chang Kim tells us why Tapastic Comics is the future of webcomics
Describing itself as the YouTube of web comics app, we featured the excellent Tapastic Comics in last week’s Pipedream Pull List, calling it “A slick and stylish portal for collecting webcomics into one place… the perfect way to read webcomics on an iPhone“. Keen to find out more about the story and people behind this great open publishing service for webcomic creators, we got in touch with its creators, Tapas Media and CEO and founder Chang Kim.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Tapastic. Was it a desire to make apps or comics first? Or did it start on the web?
CK: As a webcomic junkie, I was trying to find out the best way to keep up with all the great webcomics I was following. But then, I discovered that there really wasn’t a good way other than following all the individual webcomic sites separately. Some even suggested using an RSS reader, but the notion of using an RSS reader to follow comics didn’t really resonate with me. This frustration led me to do some research, where I learned that there’s actually a great deal of inefficiency in the webcomic industry, not just on the consumer/reader side but also on the publisher/creator side as well.
Basically, the key problem is that there’s no platform quite like YouTube for webcomics. Imagine the world without YouTube, where every creator of video content would have no other choice but to create and manage their own websites. It would be incredibly inefficient, and that’s precisely the state the webcomic industry is in right now. Webcomic creators have to do everything on their own — setting up and managing their own website, finding an audience, creating a community, and finding a way to monetize their content — all on their own, and to me, this simply didn’t seem scalable.
Also the lack of a centralized reading place – again something like YouTube – is hindering the mass adoption of webcomics as a medium, even though we at Tapastic see webcomics as one of the best storytelling platforms. Because there’s no “top of the mind” venue that everyone knows, it’s completely left to individual creators to establish their own brand, leading to the difficulty of building a significant audience with the exception of a few well-known brands (such as The Oatmeal). Also for the average American, with the “Sunday Newspaper” mostly becoming a thing of the past with the demise of the print paper industry, there isn’t a good place to find great comics anymore. We thought this presented a great business opportunity and started building the platform and launched the beta service in late October 2012, so now we’re about 11 months into it.
How did you go about getting the first batch of content, did you assemble a team of artists or just cherry pick your favorite from online?
CK: We started sharing our product vision with webcomic artists, starting with those in the Bay Area – it turns out that the Bay Area is home to quite a few great webcomic artists. After a lot of cold calls, we got the first 20-30 creators (David Daneman, Yuumei, Pary Shah to name a few) who we share our vision with and were willing to give it a shot, so we started with that handful of artists. And now that number has grown to 835.
Am I right in thinking readers can supply their own web comics to be published via Tapastic? How early on did you decide that would be your USP and do you exercise any kind of editorial control over content? How do artists get paid for their content and does that help elevate the quality threshold?
CK: Yes – Tapastic is an open publishing platform, so anyone can publish their work on Tapastic as long as it’s their original work. We do have a content policy regarding copyright and users can also report inappropriate content. Tapastic is a space for legitimate works of art from hard-working creators, and we’ve had very few takedown requests so far and acted on those promptly. In general, as long as the content doesn’t clearly violate our content policy, we don’t meddle with users’ content. But we do reserve full editorial rights for featured content (i.e. which content gets featured on the top banner, etc.)
In terms of payment, for select artists that we call “Primetime” creators (who are selected by meeting certain criteria around popularity and content quality), we do ads revenue share and/or pay licensing fees (”minimum guarantee”); also we’re in the process of developing a new, innovative content monetization model (which we’re really excited about and will hopefully announce soon).
Your app works brilliantly on the iPhone; do you encourage artists to format their work for the portrait screen?
CK: We think one of the biggest differentiating characteristics of webcomics is the “infinite canvas” model, as the web doesn’t have a limit on physical space like it does with paper. We think comics as a medium can take full advantage of the infinite canvas and so we encourage the creators to adopt the vertical format. For most people, vertical scrolling/swiping is the most familiar way of information consumption on the web and mobile: think blogs, Facebook, Twitter, 9gag, you name it. So a lot of our comics are using the vertical format, and the (nice) byproduct of that approach is optimized mobile support, as each panel fills the full width of the screen and doesn’t lose quality too much on mobile browsers.
What can we expect next from Tapastic? More great comics? A tablet edition? Motion comics? Interactive comics?
CK: In the spirit of Google’s self-driving car, we’re thinking of developing a self-updating webcomic series 🙂 (That’s a joke.) In seriousness, a big part of our plan is to just keep pounding on, continue building the best product and getting the best content on our platform. One particular area that we’d like to focus on more is mobile. We do support mobile today, with the mobile website (m.tapastic.com) and Android and iOS apps; but given how important mobile is for just about any content business, we’ll continue to make efforts to keep improving our mobile user experience.
Finally, where did the name come from? Is there a funny story behind it?
CK: Tapastic, the word, doesn’t mean anything – it’s just a play on word of “Tapas” (our company name is Tapas Media) and “Fantastic.” We were considering several other candidates, but Tapastic won out in the internal voting.
We’ve named our company Tapas Media, because a) we like Tapas the food and b) we’re specializing in bite-sized, snackable content on the web and mobile.