Comics and Diversifying Your Platforms

“Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”

This is a common saying that gets passed around, but I think too few people actually stop to think about what this concept means.  Particularly for indie creators, whether they’re creating games, comics, or otherwise, there seems to be a general trust that goes towards third party businesses as far as making your content available.  Unfortunately, the risk for betrayal is somewhat high and may catch the more naïve off-guard.  Today, I would like to analyze this statement a bit, particularly as it pertains to comics.  Why comics?  Well, I will tell you why.

For those not heavily part of the indie comic scene, Tapas (formerly branded as Tapastic) is one of the most popular hosting sites available right now.  It offers content creators an easy to use platform to post their works, receive feedback, and generally do all the things one would expect a host to be able to do.  Over the past year or so, Tapas has changed focus to their mobile app and its premium content.  In the last few days, Tapas went a step further and redesigned their site.  Their initial choices in the design were to push the premium related content to the top of the page, and forcing the entirely free content to the bottom.  While criticism and feedback have since prompted them to change this, I think it is important one stops to think about this.

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First off, at the end of the day, one must remember Tapas is a business whose goal is one thing: to make money.  As such, it is hard to fault them for wanting to push their premium content.  After all, even if they were a non-profit business, employees, servers, and the like all cost money to maintain.  One also cannot fault the premium content creators either, as they are putting their heart and souls into their projects just as much as any other indie creator.

However, when one considers this in the larger picture, it becomes clear Tapas is pushing an antithesis of what the comic community generally wants: more visibility for indie creators.  Instead of promoting a wide variety of comics, the promotion goes to the most successful and who will make the company money.  Again, while no crime, for the average creator this probably defeats the purpose of why they joined the site.

This is not to mention that, while possibly unintentional on Tapas’ part, their wording choices for how they now view creators is a bit telling of their future business model.  In a post from April 17th, 2017 regarding their updated terms and policies, Tapas said the following:

“Many of the terms introduced along with the Tapas app concern purchases and content we’ve published, versus the self-published, user-generated content we previously focused on almost exclusively. Self-publishing and UGC are not going away, and we remain dedicated to supporting independent creators – we’re simply expanding to offer more professional titles as well.”

In this statement, Tapas makes a clear distinction between self-published creators and “professional” creators; in other words, creators who don’t make them money and creators who do.  This, combined with their initial choices for the redesign, clearly demonstrates that Tapas not only wishes to offer more “professional” titles, but probably promote it imminently more than the “self-published” creators too.  Though certainly a sound business decision, this does leave a lot of indie creators at an impasse.

Thus, let us turn back to the original idea: not putting all your eggs in one basket.  For those who have been using Tapas as their main and only site for their comic, this change suddenly threatens their presence and ability to gain an audience.  Though they may work just as hard as premium content creators, there is a large chance that their work will get buried by these creators simply because of how the business will choose to market.  In the end, this makes it harder for newer creators to even get their foot in the door, let alone have hopes of becoming well-known at some point.

Consequently and in retrospect, diversifying where and how you deliver your content as a creator is extremely important.  For comics, there are numerous other hosting choices such as LINE Webtoon or Smackjeeves, where a creator can try to gain footing.  There is also the option of hosting the comic on your own website, whether it be professionally designed or an impromptu hosting site using blog rolls.  There a ton of options for creators, and there is no real one right choice.  What is important, though, is that you make your comic available in more than one location.  In this way, you will always be protected when a company makes business decisions that aren’t beneficial to your content.  Yes, it is admittedly a lot of work to manage multiple mirrors.  However, the safety net it provides is one that will save stress later, such as in this recent incident with Tapas.

This, of course, applies to other creative mediums as well.  In your love and passion for your content, always remember that it is partially a business.  It is almost always a wiser decision to diversify yourself to protect from an unknown future, and it isn’t a crime to remember using a third party shouldn’t be only beneficial to the third party.  So please post in lots of places and try numerous different things.  One day those third parties you rely on may not be there, and you will have to deal with that future.

 

Tapas/Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapas’ front page showcasing the premium content rolls.

Starting an Etsy Shop: Three Things to Know

Very, very recently I opened up an Etsy shop to sell jewelry and plushies.  My reason for doing such is simple: I had already made jewelry a few years back to sell at an Artist Alley, had lots of backstock left, and finally felt it was time to sell the rest off.  This is my first time selling online, so I would not claim to be an expert on it, nor am I an expert on Etsy.  However, the things I wish to talk about today do not require expert knowledge.  Rather, they are just things that, while researching starting an Etsy shop, were not mentioned or were poorly explained.

The goal of this post is not to instruct you on taking good product photos, how to tag your product to get it found, or anything of that nature.  There are already hundreds of other posts online about those aspects by people who would know better than I.  I, instead, wish to tell you of three aspects to starting your shop.  These are aspects that are manageable, but caught me by surprise when I started.  I hope that this article can help someone else be better prepared for starting their shop.

  1. Be ready to list items immediately when starting your shop.

I generally like to take the time to prepare and plan before fully investing myself in something.  For a site like Etsy, this would include starting a shop without listing items.  This would be done in effort to achieve two things.  On the one hand, I would get a chance to familiarize myself with the interface and not run around like a chicken with its head cut off when something first sells.  On the other hand, I could also better assess what customization options there are for the shop so I could quickly make the store look decent.

Suffice it to say, one of the shop creation screens flat out wants you to start by listing some items.  I certainly understand Etsy’s reasoning: they want to discourage people opening up empty shops that take up shop names.  However, as I was not expecting this, I had to hold off on my shop creation for a week, because I was just simply unprepared to list items at that exact moment.

So, going in, my suggestion is to set several hours aside when starting a shop.  Have your product pictures prepared and, just in general, be prepared to list at least one item.

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  1. If you are a US seller, Etsy can auto calculate the shipping.

Another aspect of my personality is I always think about what to charge.  Do I need to fold in shipping costs into the product price?  How much should I calculate for packaging?  While shipping is readily mentioned in a lot of articles, from my experience at least, a lot of the information is different from article to article.  Etsy itself also has articles about things like Shipping Profiles, but I feel it does a poor job tying everything together.  Inevitably, I started opening my shop with little idea about what was going on for shipping and decided I’d have to cross that bridge when I got there.

To my surprise and relief, you can just have Etsy auto calculate the shipping if you are a US seller.  That being the case, you do not need to worry about folding shipping costs into the product price.  This also makes it easier to sell internationally. Now, of course, Etsy does offer the ability to offer free shipping, and you CAN fold in the shipping cost into the product price, but the point is it’s not necessary.  Etsy even lets you set a handling fee, so you can absorb your packaging costs into there.

Keep in mind for calculated shipping to work, you do need to be able to measure your package, as well as weigh it.  However, if you can get those measurements, shipping aspects of product planning become a breeze and nothing to get in a tizzy over.

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  1. If you are going to sell to people in Europe, be aware EU consumer protection laws force you have to offer returns and to reveal your identity.

Now first off, I am no expert on the particular laws involved, so the specific nuances to them are out of my league.  However, upon creating my shop, I did read up on what Etsy provided about them, and was disappointed I had seen a severe lack of mention of them in my previous research.

To put it bluntly, regardless of where you’re selling from, consumers in Europe are given certain protections that you still have to adhere to.  One such protection is you must accept returns (14 day minimum from them receiving the item).  Now, before you panic, Etsy policies let you state the return shipping cost is on the consumer, so you don’t need to worry about that.  In retrospect, it’s not a huge deal since it doesn’t really cost you anything to offer returns, and returns will keep your customer base happy.

The issue that was more concerning for me was the second part: you are required to identify yourself with name and address so that the consumer knows who you are.  As someone who values a certain level of anonymity, this definitely made me nervous.  Though Etsy does state that anyone outside Europe cannot see that information, I can understand why that would still deter some people.  Now for me, I bit the bullet and decided international selling was more important than anonymity.  However, it is something to keep in mind if you wanted to maintain a more shadow presence while selling internationally.

Of course, you circumvent this by not selling to Europe, but that is of course potentially lost sales.  In the end, this is one you’re gonna have to decide for yourself about what you value more.  Keep in mind there are more EU consumer protection laws than what I have mentioned, but these are the two I felt affected me on a personal level.

 

That’s about all I have to say on the matter.  I’m sure there are articles that do mention these things somewhere out there and I probably just missed them.  Nevertheless, I also think the articles discussing tags and photos are more abundant, so it can’t hurt the world to have another article that talks about these lesser mentioned aspects of creating a shop.  I hope this has left at least someone better prepared to start, perhaps someone like myself who does worry about these sorts of detailed aspects to selling.  I also hope I haven’t deterred anyone from selling on Etsy either, because the process of setting up a shop is easier than it seems.

With that, I wish all future potential sellers good luck, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

Etsy is © to Etsy Inc.

Image 1: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s new listing screen.

Image 2: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s Shipping Profiles setup.

Multi-device vs. Specialization: Company Edition Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 everyone~!  Yesterday, I discussed why and how webcomic platform Tapastic is alienating users by focusing mostly on its mobile app.  In this post, we’re going to take a look at Discord, whose company practices handle different devices in an opposite manner.  I will also put together a conclusion about the overall effect this has on users, whether good or bad.

 

Discord

More briefly, let’s now compare DiscordDiscord is a messenger service in a similar matter to TeamSpeak and Skype.  Users can create their own chat server or join someone else’s.  Each server offers numerous amounts of customizability, allowing users to create various channels for different topics and even have Voice channels.  It is a quickly growing platform, at the moment, with a very dedicated team.

That being said, besides industry, there is a huge difference between Discord and Tapastic: the former is vastly cross-device.  Want to use Discord in a browser?  You can do that.  As a separate application on your computer?  Yup, it even has a Linux version.  Want to use on mobile?  Go right ahead, there’s an app (well, unless you’re a Windows phone user like me…).

The point is, Discord has made itself vastly available so users can access it via whatever their chat preference is.  From my experience at least, all the different platforms run similarly smooth, so there’s no loss of features or support.  It is also extremely easy to be a guest in anyone’s server, so there’s not even a need to make an account.  If you choose to make an account, however, the process is easy, and opens up several features to enhance the core experience.

Now, there are features Discord just very recently put behind a paywall, with its version called Nitro.  However, these features are very minor, and include elements like the ability to have an animated avatar or have a badge for supporting Discord.  The most major locked feature is the larger file transfer size; by default, Discord has a limit of 8MB, whereas Nitro will get you a whopping 50MB.  With services like Google Drive and OneDrive, this seems a minor inconvenience.  The inevitable impression of Nitro so far is indeed what the team stated their goal was: it offers cosmetic changes, but the core experience remains the same.

At the end, this cross-device ability makes Discord a very user friendly service.  One is not limited by their device, so it allows almost the biggest user-base possible to use the service.  The features that are locked are not done so in a way that gives one device priority over another.  This accessibility and great support make the experience of using Discord very enjoyable.  Thusly, one is kept using the service, since it not only fulfills a desire, but does so in a thorough manner.

discordexample

 

Conclusion

As I have argued above, Tapastic’s focus on a single device has basically broken much of its user-base in half.  It denies creators and readers a fulfilling experience, whether they have the Tapas mobile app or not.  It is especially sad compared to a service like Discord who is so multi-device it can be accessed from most places.  Now, there are those who would make a valid point in saying that the industry makes a difference.  If Discord wasn’t accessible like it is, it would be an unusable chat service.  Tapastic, in comparison, is not limited by that so can afford to specialize.  To that, I say, however, is what harm would it do if Tapastic was more readily available equally on multiple devices?  Even if the company can survive without it, it could only please more of its user-base if it gave its desktop version more attention.

All in all, it is my conclusion that a company focused too much on one device is doing itself and its users a disservice.  It makes the experience unenjoyable for a good size of their user-base, and inevitably turns them away.  This is, of course, undesirable as there is always competition that would be eager to snap up those users.  I believe such a practice quickly puts a company on a riskier path that may indeed lead to their demise, whether it be now or ten years for now.  While the phrase has been harmfully used in the past, “the customer is always right” developed from the sheer fact a company should pay attention to its customers lest they leave.

 

So please, if you own or want to start a company, remember that all devices need attention if you want your users to have the fullest experience.  Company loyalty cannot be relied in the face of someone else who offers a better experience.

 

Discord is © to Hammer & Chisel Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From my test Discord server for developer testing.

Multi-device vs. Specialization: Company Edition Pt. 1

Over this past week while working on administrative tasks for StArt Faire, it became necessary for me to analyze the best use for two different platforms.  However, I was overtaken by a feeling of the stark difference between the company practices.  Namely, where the companies focus device wise and how that affects me as a user, not only in my enjoyment but in my desire to even use the platform.  Thus, my goal today is to write down my thoughts about these stark differences.  Please keep in mind that the platforms I’m about to compare are from widely different industries.  Nonetheless, they are the best representatives for what I’m about to talk about.  Let us continue on this journey as I compare Tapastic and Discord.

 

Tapastic

For those unfamiliar with the webcomic industry, as far as mass hosting goes, Tapastic is one of the hugest platforms out there right now.  It offers numerous of the expected services such as: easy uploading of comics, the ability to schedule releases, the ability to comment on others’ comics, an upvote/downvote system for those comments, etc..  There is also a good sized user-base from which creators can gain readers, so it is one of the go-to sites all around.

That being said, after some internal changes in 2016, Tapastic became extremely focused on its mobile app called Tapas.  The change in focus was extreme enough that Tapastic even made a new Twitter account to reflect this change.

taptwitteraccount

Under normal circumstances, an app is usually not a bad thing.  In fact, it is becoming more common for creators to make sure their content is mobile friendly, as a huge chunk of their views comes from mobile users.  Unfortunately, however, Tapastic’s change of focus was so thorough that their desktop version is now severely neglected.

Their mobile app has numerous features you cannot even access via their site.  For example, the mobile app allows writers to post regular novels, and include paywalls for their content.  Comic creators can also use these paywalls for their content and, unfortunately, there is no way as of yet to get past these on a desktop.  Even more recently Tapastic added a tipping feature where one can watch ads, gain coins, and then give them to creators they wish to support.  Of course, as is the theme, this is something you can only do via the mobile app.

Now it’s quite easy to say, “Just get the app.”  The unfortunate fact of the matter is many people do not have access to compatible mobile devices.  This is not to mention the numerous people who may not like reading from their phones or tablets for a variety of reasons, whether it be text size, screen brightness, etc..  Yet, Tapastic has made the mobile app a near essential component to use their platform to the fullest.  For those who are skeptical that Tapastic really is neglecting its desktop version, at the time this post was written, the Twitter link at the footer of the site still links to their old Twitter account.  I don’t know about you, but a company who cannot even be bothered to check their links is one that is not being very attentive.

The unfortunate consequence of this mobile focus is that Tapastic is ruining the experience on desktop.  Readers who are desktop oriented cannot financially support the creators they like, nor can they even read some of the comics that are exclusive to the Tapas app.  Inevitably, this shows a lack of care for creators, in my opinion, as this essentially cheats creators out of fans and financial support they might otherwise have.  These lack of desktop features likewise affect readers, as with an increasing exclusivity for the app, readers are left with less content to peruse.  The end result is the desktop version becomes increasingly unenjoyable; between the desktop site breaking for long periods of time and the knowledge that you’re missing out on a lot of features, it is just a discouraging experience to use Tapastic on a computer.

At the end, this specialization of focus ruins a lot of the experience.  It can be no wonder why a good chunk of the user-base is leaving for LINE Webtoon, whose desktop version is friendlier in several respects (though does suffer its own issues).

 

So how does this relate and compare to Discord’s company practices?  Tune into the blog tomorrow where I will discuss how Discord chooses to handle various devices.  I will also conclude this segment with the next post, and specify why the differing industries don’t make a difference~!

 

Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapastic’s old Twitter account.