Five Things: December 9, 2021

Between a long overdue vacation and Thanksgiving, I was on a short unannounced break, but I’m back! Sign up to get this as a fancy email newsletter every other Thursday: As in Guillotine


Webtoon’s North American CEO Ken Kim on the Platform’s Staggering Growth, Reach and Connections with the U.S. Comics Market | Rob Salkowitz

“Last month for Forbes, I spoke to Webtoon founder and global CEO Jungkoo Kim about the company’s massive international footprint, which generated more than $1.2 billion last year (about the same as the entire U.S. comics industry put together). Here for the first time, Webtoon North America CEO Ken Kim discusses issues directly impacting the US comics business, including new initiatives to bring million-selling Webtoon content to bookstores, comic shops, screens and gaming consoles.”

The biggest player in digital comics, at least from an audience perspective, isn’t comiXology nor VIZ, it’s webcomics giant WEBTOON, which claims “72 million passionate readers around the world,” nearly 20% of whom are in the US, according to Kim. They’ve made a variety of notable moves recently to diversify their reach and revenues, and the latest is Unscrolled, their own print publishing operation.

Offering print versions of popular webcomics is neither new nor innovative, but it was especially disappointing to learn that WEBTOON has no plans to make the digital editions of these print editions available to libraries (not addressed in the interview, but I was told explicitly by a contact there). This means even more digital content libraries won’t have access to as comics offerings rapidly expand, including comiXology exclusives, Substack exclusives, and probably Zestworld, the latest player to enter the fray. They all claim to want to reach readers in new ways, but every new angle manages to find a way to marginalize libraries and their patrons.

I don’t usually call out fluffy profiles like this, but unlike its new sister company Wattpad, WEBTOON hasn’t received much coverage in US media yet, and it’s unlikely we’ll see any deep insights about them anytime soon, so Kim’s comments make for an interesting read.


Let’s talk Systemic Market Failures: What the Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster Merger Means for Libraries | Jennie Rose Halperin & Daniel Takash

“Libraries must play a central role in this policy debate, advocating for better terms and laws collectively, supporting small presses and publishers, as well as uplifting the work of mid-list authors who may not meet the threshold set by the DOJ’s lawsuit.”

Public libraries’ inability to define a common platform for engaging publishers re: ebooks, and their “rock and a hard place” of prioritizing demand over curation (which largely benefits the “Big 5” in general, and bestsellers in particular), obscures their frustratingly opaque but valuable financial and marketing contributions to the trade publishing industry.

The American Library Association (ALA) has been unable to find an effective angle to push publishers for fairer terms, and other industry organizations range from disinterested, conflicted, and/or openly antagonistic (especially re: copyright), so I’m intrigued by what Library Futures is trying to do to fill the gap. If you’re not following their work—similar to what I was doing at the Panorama Project, but with a broader, more interesting scope, and even more independence—I’d encourage you to do so.

PS: Library Futures’ executive director, Jennie Rose Halperin, and I will be doing a webinar for IBPA members next month on “Engaging New Readers with Ebooks in Public Libraries.” Excited to work with her on it, and to engage smaller publishers who may not fully understand libraries, but don’t view them as the enemy.


How To Fight Book Bans and Challenges: An Anti-Censorship Tool Kit | Kelly Jensen

“Censorship also happens, though, when materials never get the opportunity to be included in a collection… A book that may be an essential addition to shelves never gets purchased because the person in charge of making said purchase bows to fear or intimidation or the possibility of either.”

The ALA says there have been 155 unique censorship incidents since June 1, a number Jensen rightfully challenges as most likely too low considering a lot of these efforts fly under the national radar and aren’t reported on at all. This toolkit not only offers some excellent advice on how to deal with this situation on the local level, but it also offers excellent context for understanding what’s actually happening in the first place.


Banning Comics: It’s 1948 Again | Carol Tilley

“These issues, whether in 1948 or 2021, do not make for easy conversations and some adults would rather maintain or revert the status quo rather than talk.”

The wave of obviously coordinated and disingenuous challenges of books in schools and libraries has been both disappointing and unsurprising, the predictable next step in this country’s slow-motion return to overt white supremacist control. It’s always helpful to see events like this in an historical context, too—not that we do a good job of ever learning from history—and Tilley, one of my favorite comics historians, does a good job here.


Best Southern Albums of 2021 | THE BITTER SOUTHERNER

“In this crazy, hazy year of in-between, our listening habits have swayed back and forth a bit. Maybe sway is the key word here. Our list is filled with blues, folk, rap, and pop, but we think you’ll feel a soul-filled groove throughout these records. There’s also a little more mandolin and fiddle than usual. Finally, we feel confident you are going to fall in love with some bands you didn’t even know existed. The treat we all need. Right?”

While I was born and raised in NYC and have now comfortably settled in northern NJ, I’m really more of a Southerner at heart. That’s partly thanks to my mother’s side of the family originating in the South and me spending a few summers in Baton Rouge as a kid, and partly due to my adult love affair with New Orleans, which eventually spread to encompass the whole region.

I first discovered The Bitter Southerner a few years ago, when a pocket friend* recommended a bourbon recipe of theirs, and their About page spoke directly to me:

“But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.”

I despise simplistic stereotypes about the South—particularly the idea that it’s more racist than the North(east)—and The Bitter Southerner‘s diverse perspective on what it means to be Southern immediately made me feel welcome. I always discover something new on their annual album list and am equally excited when something I was already into makes the cut, like recent Sweet Soul Revival fave, Leon Bridges. They have a Spotify playlist if that’s your platform of choice, but I’ll need to make my own on YouTube Music and see what surprises they have in store for me this year. (EDIT: YTM playlist is a go.)

*Pocket Friend is a term I picked up from Twitter at some point, referring to people you only know on there and have never met in person, but are pretty much real friends, too.

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