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Talking with Tim Gibson about ComiXology

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On April 10, 2014, Amazon acquired digital comic platform ComiXology. The comic book community has reacted in a variety of ways to this news and many of the details of the acquisition are forthcoming. Tim Gibson, creator of the series Moth City, has proven his craft and the potential of the digital comic reading experience. We spoke with Tim about what this acquisition means to comic book creators as well as his thoughts on the merger as it impacts the medium.

All-Comic.com: Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. First and foremost, as a comic book creator, and more specifically a creator of digitally formatted comic books, what are you are thinking when you see this news?

Tim Gibson: My first thought was “What’s going to happen to all my reviews?!” Moth City #1 is edging up on 500 reviews with a four star average, and Amazon uses a whole other system, so that freaked me out.

Then I thought of all the independent fiction authors, not just the stars like Huge Howley but mere mortals, who are actually making a living off selling e-books to a very large readership. I liked the second thought better.

I think the formatting thing could be interesting, digital native comics like mine tend to be very large files due to the sheer number of pages. Amazon has always been a bit old-fashioned when it came to hi-resolution, image heavy books, which essentially would force books like mine into a much lower royalty band. Hopefully they follow ComiXology’s lead on that one.

What is your mindset as someone invested in comics as a fan/consumer? Do you have any thoughts on how this may impact the medium?

Tim Gibson: I think for the better. It could give comics exposure to those funny people who only read books without pictures. And it might calm the nerves of comic fans who always wondered what would happen to their Spider-Man e-comics if ComiXology disappeared.

If it makes it easier to make a living off independent comics, then that’ll be good for everyone, leading to more variety and voices in the medium, which we need.

Does this type of announcement elicit a general sense of positive or negative feeling, or does that depend on fine-print elements we have yet to see?

Tim Gibson: It’ll depend a lot on how the put it together, but I’m optimistic.

In your opinion, are the affects of this acquisition likely to stay within the digital sphere with regard to how such a move may impact the medium, or do you see Amazon’s involvement with ComiXology as having the potential to affect print comics or comic shops?

Tim Gibson: As a creator I’ve always wanted ComiXology to partner with a Print on Demand company like KaBlam to offer in-app ordering of comics. Amazon has a large POD beast in Createspace, so who knows.<

With Moth City and The Reservior, the panels work in a way that fit the digital format incredibly well. The books are designed for the digital reading experience. If Amazon does provide a Print-On-Demand option, what does that do for books that were not made to be printed? Does it alter how you might create going forward?

Tim Gibson: The Print on Demand thing is something that I would love, but it’s not necessarily around the corner. But if it happened I presume that the uploader would have two versions of their books with the distributor; a digital file optimized for e-readers, and one optimized for printing technology. They’d be linked behind the scenes, and my files would just have far more differences than others.

In terms of Digital Native, or Turbo-Comics like Moth City and others that you might find at Thrillbent, mine would probably transition easier than most because I was always mindful of print. A lot of creators choose to go ‘full-digital’ to squeeze every creative opportunity out of the medium. I wouldn’t know how you’d print something like The Eighth Seal without a lot of layout work first.

In thinking about Amazon’s independent creator platform as compared to ComiXology Submit, there is a curious situation. ComiXology, in an attempt to provide great content to its customers and avoid diluting the Submit brand, play a bit of editorial control or ‘gatekeeper’ in a sense. Amazon seems to have a looser set of parameters in limiting creators from selling through their platform. Do you think Amazon will adopt ComiXology’s method, or do you think there might be a greater number of independent creator works made available?

Tim Gibson: I think the mainstream comic audience is still very cautious about independent comics. Perhaps they think there will be a tidal wave of rubbish and they won’t be able to find their X-Men issues in the pile of badly drawn paranormal romance e-zines and memoirs. But you know, that’s why we have search functions.

Amazon has an open-door policy when it comes to fiction work, and they rely on their sophisticated suggestion engine, reader history and sales charts to make sure the good stuff gets in front of people who would like it and the bad stuff gets buried. Most people don’t even know that they’re reading a self-published book anymore. ComiXology is getting better at that stuff, their system seems to get smarter every month, but it’s still very much a bespoke sales system. There’s a lot of power in being featured on the front page, or in a promotion, but it’s harder for the artists themselves to create momentum.

Maybe with fresh investment ComiXology will be able to expand their Submit staff and consider more work with a faster turnover, but I suspect they’ll continue to take a firm line on quality, if not on content.

Does having more comics in publication help in the end or does it dilute from the product?

Tim Gibson: I think the internet proves that more is better if you create systems to find the things that are relevant to you. That said, there might be an awkward ‘the sky is falling’ phase like there has been whenever there’s a creative disruption that opens the door to more people (desktop printers and clipart/personal blogs/garages bands).

Do you expect that we could see both, with Submit almost acting as it’s own branch, but creators could also publish separately under a more general submission scenario?

Tim Gibson: Possibly. Like ‘Submit’ or ComiXology as a badge of pride, or a mark of quality? Maybe.

Amazon has created the Kindle e-reader for books as well as the Kindle Fire for video and games. Do you see a possibility for a tablet e-reader crafted specifically for the comic book?

Tim Gibson: I’m pretty happy with my retina iPad, and I’ve heard that iPad minis work well with guided view books, so I’m not sure if size is as much of a problem as resolution is. I’m sure they could improve their Fire range, and I’m certain they will continue to do so. As a consumer, what I’m really waiting for is fast-refreshing colour e-ink with a switch-on backlight. I’ve got a Kindle Paperwhite as well, and I definitely appreciate not staring at a luminous screen when I’m relaxing.

What’s the most important element of ComiXology’s current model to you as either a creator or consumer that you feel must remain constant?

Tim Gibson: Their singular focus on comics, their great staff and support (from both the customer and creator sides), their comic reading technology and their dominance of the iOS platform via the ComiXology App.

Flash forward a year. What is one thing you would like to see Amazon do for digital comics or the comic book medium through this acquisition?

Tim Gibson: I would like to see the deal expose comics to more people, and encourage a more diverse range comic creators to publish their work. I’d love to see more webcomics being available to people who probably never knew they existed, and would never ‘appointment-view’ a page at a website every week.

Conversely, what is one thing you would like to see from ComiXology now that they are part of Amazon?

Tim Gibson: Amazon authors have access to minute by minute sales and ranking stats, and are thus encouraged to engage more in the business side of writing (marketing and sales etc) because they can see the actual results. At the moment ComiXology data is released quarterly, and you really have no way of knowing what works, or how to optimize your efforts. Sounds kinda boring, but that’d be great.

Other than that, I want ComiXology 2015 to look very similar to ComiXolgy 2014.

Big thanks to Tim for talking with us about this. It is definitely going to be interesting to see how things proceed from here. I think we are all anxious to see what changes are in store and are hopefully for what this type of move can mean for the comic book medium. Be sure to follow Tim Gibson on Twitter and check out Moth City and The Reservoir.

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