Posted: August 01, 2010
Tech startup: Graphic.ly Inc.Eric Peterson
Company: Graphic.ly Inc.
INITIAL LIGHT BULB: British comic-book fanatic Kevin Mann had a vision for an online comic reader with a social-networking component. Calling it Take Comics, the Captain Britain-obsessed Mann applied and was accepted into last year's TechStars incubator program in Boulder.
There Mann met Micah Baldwin of Boulder search provider Lijit Networks. Baldwin served as a mentor for the program, and the pair immediately clicked. "It became clear we both thought the idea was great and that we'd have a lot of fun working together," Baldwin says.
Last August, Baldwin left Lijit and joined Take Comics as CEO. In January, the company closed on Series A funding and changed its name to Graphic.ly. In February, it took some of that funding and acquired iFanboy, an online comics portal.
The company currently employs 20 people at its Boulder headquarters and offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Mann's home base in northeastern England. (He's been unable to permanently relocate due to immigration issues.)
IN A NUTSHELL: "The fundamental idea has never changed," Baldwin says. "It's to facilitate reading comics online and talking about it with your friends."
To this end, Graphic.ly is developing free software that allows users to read comic books on just about every available platform. The desktop version was in a "public alpha" mode until recently, and the iPhone app has been available since earlier in the year. The schedule called for the company to have additional apps for the iPad, Windows Mobile 7, and Google Android by last month's Comic-Con convention in San Diego. "We're the only company trying to get on every platform," Baldwin says.
Graphic.ly's free-to-download application features a social-networking component, and users can embed comments into the comic books so their friends or the public at large can click through numbered icons for opinions and insights.
But Baldwin is aiming to appeal to a broader market than just teenage fanboys. "We're out to make comic books cool for everybody. We're not building a system solely for collectors."
Currently, Graphic.ly has deals with 20 comic-book publishers, majors and independents who control a combined 95 percent of the market. (Of the heavyweights, Marvel is on Graphic.ly's roster, but Time Warner's DC "isn't talking to anyone," Baldwin says.) The companies can sell titles of their choosing through Graphic.ly's interface and set the price - typically 99 cents to $1.99. "It's very much like iTunes," Baldwin says of the model.
The publisher of "Wanted," Century City, Calif.-based Top Cow Productions Inc., has about 10 digital partners, including Graphic.ly. Launched in January, Top Cow's digital comics "are a really nice ancillary revenue stream for us," says Publisher Filip Sablik. "It's still a fraction of what we do in print."
Sablik likes the "slow and steady" sales curve of digital titles, the opposite of the boom-and-bust curve for print editions. "My hope is eventually it will replace the spinner racks that used to be in grocery stores and drug stores," Sablik says. "We've kind of lost that feeder system."
"I've been really, really happy with Graphic.ly," adds Sablik, commending their social approach. "They have a lot of unique features ... and their panel-to-panel view reads very naturally. They're doing a lot of things right."
THE MARKET: The comic-book market has been estimated at $6 billion worldwide. Baldwin is quick to note that this figure does not include myriad merchandising and licensing opportunities. "I think there's a lot of opportunity around comic books," he says.
FINANCING: After its seeding at TechStars as Take Comics, Graphic.ly simultaneously changed its name and closed on a $1.2 million Series A round led by Houston-based DFJ Mercury in early 2010.
where: boulder | FOUNDED: 2009 | www.graphic.ly
"The thing that's really interesting about comic books is that people think they're just about superheroes. They're more story-driven now."
- Graphic.ly CEO Micah Baldwin
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com