Five Things: March 16, 2023

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Why making the next Comixology digital comics platform is hard | Todd Allen

If we go back and look at the Comichron numbers from back when sales charts were still issued every month, Marvel was around 40% of the market and DC was around 30%. The numbers move around a little, but let’s be very clear that most startups are looking at best-case scenario of not having access to 60-70% of what sells in the print market if DC and Marvel are not available to them. The startup founders will have to explain this to investors. (Hold on to that thought, we’ll come back to it.)

Whenever someone attempts to analyze the comics market and starts with the premise that Marvel and DC are the Big Two, it should raise a big red flag.

At best, they’re only talking about the direct market, which represented far less than half of total comics sales in 2021, and Marvel and DC might not even be in the Big 5 in the overall market, which includes traditional bookstores and libraries — the latter of which have no public sales data to reference and are commonly ignored by most pundits. Ignoring Allen’s direct market myopia, though, he presents an interesting overview of what’s involved in building a digital comics service from scratch these days, and why a direct comiXology replacement emerging is highly unlikely.

What he fails to consider, however, is that a direct comiXology replacement isn’t what the market wants or needs in 2023. A handful of major publishers have their own solid digital platforms — including Marvel, DC, and VIZ. Zestworld is slowly carving out an interesting space for itself with independent creators, while WEBTOON is the 800-pound gorilla of webcomics with a huge audience of young women who traditional comics’ media routinely ignores. And last, always treated as least, libraries now have several viable options for lending digital comics, including Hoopla and Comics Plus. (Disclosure: The latter is my day job!)

The other critical point he alludes to but doesn’t explicitly say is digital comics remain a relatively small percentage of overall comics sales, never achieving the level of adoption regular ebooks have seen despite all of the hype about how the iPad was going to revolutionize comics. (Even I fell for that one.) That means investors aren’t going to be throwing silly money at any digital comics startups, even if the founders have all of their other bases covered, which most absolutely do not.

All indications suggest Amazon scooped up comiXology in 2014 for pocket change, and their recent dismantling of it doesn’t indicate a belief that there’s VC-level returns to be made, otherwise they’d be a robust standalone service like Audible. Ignoring Substack throwing silly money at a small group of well-established comics creators a couple years ago, the only notable investment in the space has been the aforementioned Zestworld’s $9m funding last year. They seem to be much more focused on building a monetizable infrastructure for creators rather than a broad digital comics distribution and consumption platform, a wise approach that’s usually the pivot after failing with an over-hyped consumer-facing model.


Those meddling kids! | David Karpf

What I like about the study of digital futures’ past is the sense of perspective it provides. There’s something almost endearing in seeing the old claims that “the technological future is inevitable, so long as those meddling regulators don’t get in the way!” — applied to technologies that had so very many fundamental flaws. Those were simpler times, offering object lessons that we might learn from today.

This is such a good read that reducing it to one quote is a disservice, and even though I shared it on Mastodon and LinkedIn — surprisingly, it got more traction on the former despite having a fraction of the latter’s followers — I’m sharing it here, too, because I seriously want as many people as possible to read it.

(Yes, that means you should click the link.)

Sparked by the current AI hype train, it’s really about recognizing the underlying signals that we’ve all seen many, many times before and really should be smarter about identifying by now. Fool us once, shame on them; fool us repeatedly, we’re just amusing ourselves to death. Old man yells at cloud, yada yada yada…

I came across it via Nieman Lab’s Mastodon account, but Karpf had originally published it in his own newsletter, which I immediately signed up for and equally enjoyed his insightful analysis of Twitter’s inevitable downfall. (NOTE: He’s on Mastodon, too.)


A Conversation About Publishing with ChatGPT | Paul Bogaards

“I’m sorry to hear that you have had negative experiences with the publishing industry. That has to do with your being outspoken on Twitter. They never liked you or what you had to say. Corporations frown on candor from their employees. They claim to invite dialogue but would prefer everyone shuts up.”

I became a fan of Bogaards’ years ago, partly thanks to his hilariously candid job listings for publicity assistants (which I’ve been unable to find again), but like so many industry bigwigs I’m loosely acquainted with, mainly via Twitter (whose search reliability has become almost useless). This post/issue of his fledgling newsletter is a perfect example of his acerbic wit, and I’m hoping he’ll start sharing his unique industry insights on a more consistent basis.

If you’re a fan of fearlessly burning bridges like I am, you should read it, and then sign up for whatever he’s got next.


We May Not Actually Need All That Lithium | Molly Taft

Policies that made cities more walkable and public transit better and more accessible could lower lithium demand between 18% and 66%, while simply limiting the size of EV batteries could cut demand by up to 42%. In the best-case scenario, where multiple types of these policies were implemented, demand for lithium in the U.S. could be more than 90% lower than current estimates.

Nothing makes me more skeptical about the proposed shift to EVs being driven by climate concerns than a) everything we know about Tesla’s shell games, b) the existence of the Hummer EV, and c) New Jersey’s contradictory commitment to clean energy while spending $168 million to expand access to the Holland Tunnel.

I’m not 100% in on the War on Cars (yet) but it’s starting to feel inevitable since we seem incapable of making rational decisions about how we deal with the various problems that stem directly from motonormativity and the way our cities are designed for them instead of people.


Tiny, Mini, Microcars! | Michael Milne

When a museum has a microcar on display it’s usually one of the more prevalent types like the BMW Isetta or the Messerschmitt KR175. However, the world of microcars contains hundreds of models, many of which never even made it past the prototype stage, so it’s always a thrill to come across an example of Lilliputian automotive design that is rarely seen at your local cars and coffee.

Winter has once again overstayed its welcome and I can’t wait for Spring to take over, partly so I can start running outside regularly instead of on the treadmill, but also because I’m ready to get the Corvair out and see how much listening to the War on Cars has ruined the cruising experience for me. Last year really tested my patience for the various quirks and expenses that come with owning an old car, and I came close a couple of times to seriously considering selling it.

That said, I will always have a soft spot for small cars — Hello, CRX! Hello, Mini! Hello, all 70s Datsuns and Toyotas! — so this virtual tour of some of the coolest examples from Europe in the 50s is like a moment of calm amidst rumblings of war.

Kill the Hummer and electrify these little beauties instead, cowards!

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