Though the market for digital comics has so far centered mainly the ultra-trendy products created by Apple, the market for comics on digital devices has room to grow out yet. At least that's what Graphic.ly CEO Micah Baldwin is banking on. Since being announced six months ago, the digital comics startup has anchored itself with a desktop interface driven by Adobe AIR technology and promoted itself on the strength of a partnership with software giant Microsoft. This morning, Graphic.ly delivered on that partnership with the announcement of a debut App specifically built for reading comics on Windows 7 run devices, including computers, notebooks and eventually phones and tablets once they hit the market. Baldwin spoke to CBR News about what the new application can do, what Windows-based technology can do to expand the digital comics marketplace further to the general public and how, as a first step in building original digital content, Graphic.ly is reaching out to creators from DC's recently shut down Zuda Comics site.
"At first, it'll be available just on our site," Baldwin said of the Window 7 application's immediate availability. "But the nice thing about having Microsoft as a partner is that some of the potential distribution partners out there get quite large, quite fast. I think you'll start to see the full size of this over the next few months. Our hope is that initially it'll be just on the site, but soon we'll be sending it out to the other Microsoft outlets. The next logical phase associated with a partnership like Microsoft is to find distribution partners, whether it's on laptops and PCs or the coming tablets – which, clearly, there will be many Microsoft-driven tablets. That's why we put this up. We really want to focus on touch and build out something that's easily portable and easily usable on a tablet or a netbook."
While Graphic.ly already has an iPhone application available in addition to its desktop interface and will soon offer an iPad app to distribute titles from publishers including Archaia, BOOM! Studios, Top Cow Productions and more, Baldwin said that their Windows 7 app was designed to offer some of the best options for readability and interactivity on the market. "What we tried to do in the My Collection and My Store section was emulate the Netflix application, where, if you look at their mobile application, it's much more of a ribbon format in how you view movies – a kind of left-to-right drag mentality. We copied that type of flow. The reader is obviously very similar to a lot of the iPad readers with a right/left touch function, and center touch can do some things. But you can click on a character and learn more about them or comment. There's a lot more touchability built into it, which is something that when we started Adobe didn't have built in to AIR. There was no multi-touch capabilities where Windows had it.
"Given that our mantra has been 'Comics are cool for everybody,' we wanted to make sure that everybody regardless of the platform they were using would be able to read comic books."
That wide-range of consumers is why Baldwin believes that Windows users will be vital for growing the digital comics business outside of users already plugged in to both the tech and comics scenes. "If you take iPhones and iPads and iPod Touch's all together, you've probably got less than a third of all the desktops out there in the world. So just in terms of sheer numbers, there's more opportunity to present a Windows-based application and for people to play with it. It's the same thing with AIR, which covers Mac and Windows. Between those two applications, we cover every laptop and desktop in existence. And building this into a native Windows App gives you greater flexibility and the functionality we want to provide."
Asked whether Graphic.ly has plans to put a version of their Windows 7 app into any O.E.M. software packages – the collections of third party software that come standard with many new computers – Baldwin simply said, "We are absolutely exploring that. That alone would make the value of this relationship 100% more valuable. And that's similar to our relationship to Adobe, where we're in their beta of AIR on Android, and that will lead us to opportunities to synch up with anything launched on Android. We want to do anything to help reach the mainstream."
In the meantime, while the company waits for more of its applications across many platforms to hit current and new mobile devices, Graphic.ly is looking to expand its content base starting with an outreach to independent creators left without a platform in the wake of DC's webcomics competition site Zuda being shut down. And to accomplish this, they're partnering with a major player in the online art world: deviantArt.
"We've had a lot of conversation and internal thought around the shutdown of Zuda Comics," Baldwin explained. 'I'm really good friends with Angelo [Sotira] of deviantArt, and he and I were talking about the different Groups and how many comic creators have deviantArt profiles. So what we're going to do is start a Group on deviantArt for Zuda Comic creators to come, and we're opening our doors to make a place for them to go. Any Zuda creator that wants can give me a call directly and talk about the potential of distribution on the Graphic.ly platform. We might do something more formal, but for now we just want to make a place for Zuda creators to land."
He went on to say that seeing what content relationships could be built with Zuda creators stands as a first step towards using platforms usually centered on re-releasing print comics online as a base for new digital comics stories to make it to mobile devices. "deviantArt is great for this because a lot of creators are already there, and there are all the social features of the site. What we'll be able to do is leverage that relationship by setting up the Group to let everybody join and get to know everyone there. Then we'll go through our standard curation process and reach out to the displaced winners to figure out whether they're interested in distribution on Graphic.ly. I don't want to step on any relationships they've got with DC, but we're very open to independent comics. For us, that's the next big thing, and working with established folks like the Zuda guys is the best first step."
Of course, Zuda isn't the only area of catalogue expansion Graphic.ly hopes to employ. While Baldwin has been outspoken about his desire to see an open standard for digital comics that can move between devices and platforms, he does know that making as many comics available to purchase through the Graphic.ly system is a vital step in making the platform relevant to readers. "For us, the next phase of digital isn't competing on the number of books we have. It's by increasing and improving on the overall experience. Working with Microsoft gives us an opportunity there, not only because of the technology, but also because of the inherent relationships Microsoft has that a small firm like us wouldn't normally have" he said. "We do have more books coming out. In the press release, we mention Archaia, and though we don't have any books from them in the system yet, that is coming. We have independent guys we're trying to help out and some not-so independent players as well. I think you'll see that our catalogue – while it won't be as big as comiXology's, I think it'll be half as big by Comic-Con [International]. And we hope to accelerate that much more quickly thereafter."
Graphic.ly's Windows 7 application for touch devices is available for download on their homepage now. For more news on the future of digital comics, keep it locked to CBR.