Aside from a sparse number of wild success stories, the outlook for comics creators on the Web has been dismal ever since the early days of dial-up. It usually involves laboring over your art for hours, failing at deadlines, begging your handful of readers for cash, and not getting it.
But recently a number of comics aggregators are starting to find success — not just with readers, but with actual money coming in. Webtoon and Tapas.io have redefined the webcomic market, so much so that “webtoon” is starting to overtake “webcomic” as the commonly used term for a comic book that is published online. They did it with a renewed emphasis on mobile readers (Tapas succeeded where Quibi failed) and a new business model.
Publishers Weekly posted a profile on Tapas this week, where they explained the formula. In a typical Tapas comic, panels are presented in a vertical format meant for scrolling. Stories are released in “chapters,” with the first one being free. You can’t read the rest, however, unless you spend “ink,” or Tapas’ digital currency and translation of real money. It works a lot like a FTP app, because it kind of is one. But it means writers and artists who publish on the Web can actually live off their pursuits, and in some cases the stories are being published in bookstores. Tapas founder and CEO Chang Kim told PW “In print, stories can have a slow buildup, but our series need to hook readers from the first chapter, because people are quick to decide if a story is for them or not.”
If there’s one problem Tapas hasn’t solved, it’s accessibility and mass appeal. What I often noticed with the old webcomic aggregator sites is that a specific crowd’s tastes would often dominate the voting process and the top 50 picks on the front page would only serve one niche audience. (Once the furries found a site, werewolf-people were all you’d get.) And a glance at Tapas’ offerings looks like the same comic repeated over and over: lots and lots of manga-inspired romance novels for giggly teenagers with titles like “My Secretly Hot Husband!” Kim admits in the article the majority of Tapas readers are women age 18-24. “That wasn’t our intention, as we have a lot of content that appeals to males as well.” This is not immediately apparent and it takes some serious searching to find.
The userbase on Tapas has grown every year, and Kim sees even bigger things in the company’s future: more print books, partnerships with publishers like Boom and Vault Comics, and possibly even animated adaptions. We’ll see what the future holds (just keep “My Secretly Hot Husband” off Netflix).