zco.mx is a not-for-profit comic-sharing website for self-publishing creators and their readers.
This page is intended to give an overview of the site and a bit of the motivation for the creation of zco.mx. It's an attempt at a top-down approach, so it may be a little scattered. The main goal is to get down the key concepts.
Many people spend their leisure time on some combination of the Internet, TV, movies, video games, prose books and outdoor activities. Comics represent a humble, tiny dot on the entertainment map. Of the relatively few comic readers, only a small percent are involved in, or even aware of, small/micro/self-published books.
Self-publishing is a unique and interesting craft. Creators take pride in participating in most aspects of their work and there is a hands-on simplicity to how they create value -- as simple as print, fold and staple. The Internet is an appealing piece in the evolution of self-publishing, providing a low-cost, yet accessible and professional means to publish, promote, and distribute directly to the reader.
The Internet does have its challenges. Some self-publishers are giving it a go, but from a readers perspective, it hasn't been ideal. Each creator has their material in their own corner of the Internet. It can be difficult for readers to find and track the creators' books. And there is little consistency between websites with regards to how the content is presented and how the creator is compensated.
What if there was a site where creators could upload their content using a dead-simple interface so that material could be published in minutes? What if there was a site that presented the content in a consistent, common format and provided searching and sorting so readers could find what they want and be reading immediately?
Publishing creative works on the Internet can result in copying. The music and film industry face this and it happens with comics too. If a comic is popular enough, it will be available via P2P networks (BitTorrent or Direct Connect). Popular digital material will be shared. Pretending this doesn't happen is foolish. Pretending it can be stopped by guilting people with terms like "piracy" and "theft" is, to be frank, ignorant. Hard-core comic readers expend an enormous amount of energy acquiring, formatting, sharing and praising works. In the Internet era, enthusiasts are the creator's marketing and distributing departments.
Users sharing digital content isn't the problem, it's a solution. What's missing is a frictionless way for readers to compensate the creators.
Digital & Paper Comics
Some people suggest digital comics hurt the paper comics industry, saying it will take away from paper sales and lead to store closings. Is it not possible that digital and paper are two sides of the same coin? Maybe paper and digital sales are directly proportional: the more paper copies sold, the more digital copies sold; the more digital sales, the more paper sales.
Consider the vinyl record industry. In theory this industry should have died years ago and yet sales are higher now than they've been in decades. There are music enthusiasts that listen to digital material only, there are traditionalists that swear by vinyl, and some enjoy the benefits of both.
Leaving Money on the Table
Small/micro/self-publishers lose sales with traditional publishing methods in several ways:
- Out of print books (demand is not being met)
- Shipping costs (especially to countries outside the US)
- Poor exchange rates with the USD
By using sites like Comixology, publishers lose sales because of:
- Regional locks
- Over-priced books
- Unfair compensation 
People value a good story. Creators make them. Creators have what people want. But do self-publishing creators leverage this advantage? Do they make full use of resources available to them to capitalize on their favourable position?
Relative to paper, digital publishing requires much less resources. In terms of dollars and time, the cost of producing and distributing digital material is minimal. The Internet is ideal for self-publishers with a small budget to gain exposure and to establish a reader base.
Many people want paper copies of their favourite books. Once a reader base is established and demand for paper books determined, creators can work directly with their base to crowdfund the project via kickstarter.
Creators can benefit by generating goodwill between themselves and their readers. Below is a list of ideas to help generate goodwill.
The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Having a variety of stories, genres, and styles from different creators on one site will excite readers and generate an atmosphere of goodwill. Positive energy motivates people to give back. People can contribute in many ways: donating, blogging, making comments via social media, distributing and organizing material, and recommending the site to others. If people have faith in the site, they'll treat it like their own. By working together, everyone benefits.
Make It Convenient
Creators make it difficult for readers to discover their work if that work is spread over the Internet. It's tedious for readers to track the new releases from their favourite creators if that material is presented in different locations, some on personal blogs, some on tumblr pages, some on small/micro press sites, etc. Make accessing the material simple, convenient, and familiar. Make the experience for the reader as seamless as possible so they are excited and motivated to support creators.
Leverage File Sharing Communities
File sharing communities have been around since the 90's. They have a tried and tested method for distributing digital material. The community has momentum and numbers. Goodwill would be created if creators indulged the community by mirroring their methods by, for example, using consistent and familiar file names and formats, eg cbz, and using P2P networks (eg BitTorrent and Direct Connect)) for distribution. The community will give back. They will report mistakes and issues, such as pages out of order/missing or corrupt files. As well, creators might gain an instant readership if a work catches on.
If a site is to be effective, it has to be easy to use. If the site provides howto's for common tasks, this will ease the learning curve for creators wanting to publish. Include howto's for:
- scanning & photoshop
- information on png vs jpg vs gif
- setting up a paypal micro-payments account
- copyright licencing
To maximize the return for creators, the site would be not-for-profit. This helps create goodwill. Readers are much more likely to support creators if they know payments are going directly to creators and not to a middleman. Users should have more faith in the site if they know the site's only intention is to connect creators and readers, and not to benefit developers.
Site administrators will donate their time. The site will accept donations. They will be used to offset hosting costs and if there is any surplus, it will be put towards the site and its community. The site code will be open source and made available on github so the community has an opportunity to contribute features and bug fixes.
Most paper and digital comics use the 'buy before you try' model. The model is prevalent in the media industry. Buyers purchase a book, a movie ticket, or an album without knowing exactly what they're getting. In order to overcome the buyer's reluctance to buy something unknown, sellers rely on marketing hype. The hype is often extravagant and deceptive leading to unfulfilled expectations. Buyers become cynical and distrust publishers.
Many comics are digitized and available on P2P networks. This is appealing to readers because they can try the material before purchasing. If they find a book unfavourable, the only cost is their time. If a book is great, the reader may decide to purchase a paper copy. Either way, the reader is satisfied. The 'buy before you try' model is not as appealing when readers have an alternative.
Some indie creators use the appeal to 'try before you buy' to their advantage. They are posting work online and giving it away for free, no strings attached. Their goal is to develop a readership first and create secondary streams of income through paper copy sales, collectable items and commissions. The growing availability of quality free content on the web is making 'buy before you try' less appealing.
A 'try before you buy' method would generate a huge amount of goodwill. As stated above, comics are vying for people's leisure time and this method would allow for spontaneous consumption -- this is what the Internet excels at.
- create as much goodwill as possible
- filter brainstorming through, "what is best/ideal for the creator?"
- filter brainstorming through, "what is best/ideal for the reader?"
- keep the UI simple, allowing the creators and their works to standout
Content demographics for the site:
- webcomics (webcomics solve many of the problems listed above)
- retired minicomics (material from the 80's, 90's, 00's)
- retired webcomics (material from the 80's, 90's, 00's)
- retired strips (material from the 80's, 90's, 00's)
[ 1 ] As well books can also be digitized if a scanner or ripper follows a creator or finds a specific book of interest