Thursday, September 18, 2008

The iVerse Sell-Out

I haven't talked about iVerse because some of my friends are very enthusiastic about them.

Meanwhile, I have come to loathe them. Not my friends -- the company.

They're the outfit that made a deal with Apple to supply pay-per-download digital comics. A lot of people have spent numerous hours reformatting comics, writing up resumes and sending them in, only to have them bounce back for days on end because the company can't be bothered to empty its mailbox.

It took us a week to get through. (I have to try everything, so I can report on it.)

The idea is irresistible: people paying a fee to download a graphic novel or other comic to their iPhone, and iVerse splitting the dough with the creators. We all know cartoonists could use another income source.

The problem is, I ran my own company for seventeen years in one of the grittiest, toughest businesses around. During that time, I learned to smell fakery, priorities out of sequence and pretenders. My spider sense has been buzzing over iVerse for weeks.

Soliciting contributions is the heady part. It makes you feel real, and important. I've seen it with dozens of literary magazines: fanfare, solicitations, collapse. When a company has working cartoonists messing around with panel sizes and screen fills, yet doesn't understand basics about comics that a fifteen minute briefing wouldn't fix, they are players, not doers.

The application instructions want you to lay out the beginning, the middle and the end of your comic. Hello? What percentage of really good comics have an end? Did you ever read Charlie Brown? Have you ever read a comic at all?

A friend said they are young, they are techies and they are from a certain state I won't mention, but which translates as meaning they are not going to listen to advice.

There's even a way to win and still lose with people like this. They sign a bunch of people up, it'll start to work, and then a corporate interest will move in with "my way or the highway" deals: a pittance in royalties and you stay on; leave, and our lawyers make your life hell.

An acquaintance in the tech and comics field is skeptical. He regards them as wobbly at best. I suggested maybe someone from webcomics should have a stab. He didn't salivate. Why should he play knuckle ball after a successful career pioneering workarounds?

Today the iVerse blog sputtered back to life. Did it offer apologies for the jammed mailbox? Did it talk about all the webcomics that have come their way, and how much they've enjoyed them?

No. They announced a November launch, and said: 

"We’ve signed deals with some great content partners and we’re very happy to be adapting their comics into Digital titles for iPhone and iPod Touch."

"Great content providers" can only mean comics syndicates and comic book companies. "Studios" were also mentioned, suggesting still more opportunities to view cartoon reruns. Our submissions were D.O.A., meant only to furnish a head count for the sentence: "We're getting thousands of submissions a day."

There is no discussion of webcomics, jammed mailboxes or independent creators. A concept called "iVerse Originals" is discussed without detail, suggesting that those of us who lack corporate representation are to be branded, though it might simply mean they are going to commission work from some talent.

Regardless, the democratic notion of creator + distributor + royalty split is looking screwed.

I can think of plenty of reasons why this is the fault of webcomics as much as anything else, but it is the strengths of webcomics that could have given this all a wild west excitement, instead of more familiar crap from the tired houses of yesteryear. This is for the same people who go on Twitter and tell you what they had for lunch, every single day. iVerse is being run toward a big sell out pay day for the founders, and webcomic collaborators will likely get what they deserve.