Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wowio: Not Quite So Free Any More

Wowio re-opened it's doors at noon Central Time today, after being closed for the better part of a month during which time they were bought out by Platinum. I quickly logged in to see what was different, and didn't see much new initially. As far as I could tell, all (or nearly all) of the books that had been available before were still there and it didn't look like much new content had been added beyond the handful of updates that would've normally gone up over the course of a month. I did see a few minor layout changes under the Account Information section, but those could have occurred earlier -- it's not a section of the site I frequented much.

So, at first blush, the site appeared pretty much exactly as I had left it. One of the books I had in my download queue was even still listed as waiting to be downloaded! So I looked a little more carefully at some of the titles I was interested in before to see if they had added the latest issue. And that's when I noticed what was updated...
The free books that were being subsidized by advertising? Not quite so free any more. You still have the option to read it for free online, but this calls up a Wowio-specific in-browser reader that, while it behaves somewhat like Adobe Acrobat, prevents users from looking at the comics without being logged in. If you want a copy of the comic in question saved to your hard drive -- where you might transfer it from one device to another, or try printing a copy -- it will cost you. Issues that I'd already downloaded for free and have sitting on my computer now cost as much as $3.95 an issue.

Public domain material, like Dick Briefer's Frankenstein and Joe Kubert's Out of This World Adventures, now run $.99 a piece. (These books and many others, I might add, are not only freely available here, but I believe is where Wowio is getting their copies from!) A number of other books I've seen are priced at $1.50, and I've seen a few at $3.95, not all of which are longer graphic novels. Obviously, this leads to some questions about pricing.

Having gone through several of the titles available, it seems to me that pricing is decided by the original publisher. Given that the PD material is presented by Wowio for a standard price, and that everything else is at least equal to that, I would further guess that Wowio has set a base price of $.99 for each book and that anything above and beyond that is up to the original publisher, presumably meaning that any money paid for a downloaded comic above $.99 is funneled more or less directly to the original publisher. So that in the screen shot example above, Free Lunch Comics gets one penny every time somebody downloads one of their comics. Whether or not they get anything else beyond that from Wowio, I don't know, but I'm guessing not. Their entire profit base from a Wowio venture is likely coming from that one penny (or whatever) per download.

And that oft-cited $40,000 grand per year? That would mean you'd need 40,000 downloads. Possible, certainly, but I can't imagine that being commonplace for titles that, by and large, don't feature already established, well-known characters. The biggest ones I can think of that were on the site before were the crew from Star Trek, but it seems that Checker Book Publishing has all of their books removed from the site now. Indeed, now that Wowio has instituted a pricing scheme on the books, I think it's only common sense to figure out that the number of books being downloaded is going to go down.

(As an aside, I notice that Plantinum, not surprisingly, has a good deal more books available through Wowio than before. More interesting, though, is that they are priced exactly the same as the print versions. Let me just hazard a guess that the number of digital downloads of Fred Van Lente's Hot Shot and Mighty Girl at $14.99 a pop is going to be fairly small. Further, if Plantinum is counting on Wowio to be a cash cow for them because of this type of pricing for books that have effectively already been paid for and profited on, I think they're in for a very rude awakening!)

Now, since the books (from what I can tell) are still all available to read for free online, there's still a good chance for a small/indie publisher to get some exposure through Wowio. It's certainly no guarantee, though, of tidy profits just by eliminating that whole messiness with printing and such. Since I never consider myself a good gauge of public opinion, I will be curious to see what users' reactions to this are, and whether or not they change their online reading habits because of this. Do people switch to reading the books online? Do they fork over some change to get digital downloads? Do they just leave entirely in favor of (in some cases) finding the same content available for free elsewhere? (Beyond just the PD material -- The Dreamer is available on Lora Innes' web site and Mr. Scootles is available through Drunk Duck for examples.) I'm not sure where Wowio will be one year from now, but I'll definitely be interested to watch and find out!

5 comments:

Gerry Manacsa said...

Thanks for your thoughtful discussion of the new WOWIO.

I wanted to note that registration is not required for the free online reader — anyone can view the books online without being logged on.

That being said, the registration process is dramatically simplified over the earlier version. We heard the many requests asking for an easier process, and now your name and email address are all you need for membership. Once logged on, you get access to additional features like being eligible for free PDF downloads and other members-only goodies.

We've been working hard to get all this new stuff online in the short time since we paused, but we haven't stopped now that we're back online. Stay tuned and you'll be seeing more features (and, of course, more content new and old) in the coming months.

[disclaimer: I'm speaking for myself only, not for my employer WOWIO]

Anonymous said...

The sponsored downloads are not gone, but they are more rare. EA Sports bought me a copy of an issue of FLARE. Darn nice of them!

I am a comic book publisher with less material on WOWIO for the relaunch. Some of the freelancers with an ownership stake in the books I published did not want anything to do with Platinum in any guise.

I do not know what success WOWIO will have going forward, but in two days, I made in downloads what I made all of last month in sales on Drive Thru Comics.

I ran into several people at the SD show who were aiming to be the iTunes of comics. They have a lot of work in front of them. I would expect that WOWIO will have more competition in the near future from sites like Clickwheel. WOWIO proved that they could give away books and comics on line. Has anyone proved that they could sell that digital material online?

Bill Williams
Lone Star Press

Nic Wilkinson said...

Thanks for this article. I found it through a mention on Comics Reporter

There seem to be a lot of conflicting opinions and wild claims about the relaunch, and for a creator new to the industry this kind of measured discussion is very useful.

I am also keeping a close eye on www.mybook.com as this seems as if it may now be a better bet in terms of visibility for smaller creators.

It does not have a money making model in place as yet, but as you say in your article it is probably only fairly well known characters who are going to be making any money worth mentioning from Wowio in any case.

Anonymous said...

The prices are only there to show you how much money you would have spent had the sponser not payed for it. They refer to it as gifting or some such nonsense.
Anyway it's pretty much the same as before only now there arent X marks going through the prices so it gets a bit more confusing. But its all still free to download so go for it.

Anonymous said...

Actually you do have to pay sometimes but you can read them for free and also you can actually save the pages in the wowio reader so really you dont need to download a pdf at all. But take advantage of this oversight quickly because they are bound to notice it before long.