Interview with Chang Kim, CEO and Founder of Tapastic

We interview Chang Kim about Tapastic, the webcomic equivalent of YouTube.

“You go to a site like YouTube and consume a single episode and there are recommendations that help you discover more and more and you spend a lot of time there discovering all this great content. There’s nothing like that for webcomics.”

That was how Chang Kim realized that he needed to create Tapastic (the name is a portmanteau of tapas and fantastic), the mobile app/website for reading and publishing webcomics. As founder and CEO of Tapastic he developed a platform for comic readers to easily find and follow new comics while also increasing the amount of money artists can make from their work. His previous platform building experience includes co-founding and running TNC, the only Korean blogging service acquired by Google, and working as a project manager for Blogger.

DEN OF GEEK: Thanks for talking with us today. I’ve been reading some of the series on the app and am really enjoying them.  Can you tell our readers more about Tapastic?

CHANG KIM: Thanks for checking out the website. We call it “YouTube for comics” in the sense that comic creators and artists can set up and start publishing their serialized webcomics and build their audience for free on our website. We started last year in October and since then we’ve grown very fast; we now have over 19,000 episodes [comic strips] from more than 900 creators. Our episode volume is growing roughly 20% every month.

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We’ve been growing pretty fast and we put the emphasis on the content and the artists because we’re trying to build a platform here. Our rule is to always make it easy for the publishers. We started by conveying our vision to attract comic artists to start publishing on our site; now we go to conventions and events and comic creators know our brand. We hear, “Oh I like your vision,” and “I like what you’re doing,” so that’s been pretty fantastic.

We have a great community. In our Facebook group there’s a daily conversation between the artists; they’re sharing tips with each other and spreading creativity. They’re awesome.

Why does Tapastic uses the word “episode” instead of “comic?”

In the U.S. especially, a lot of people have a notion that “comics” means superheroes or the collectable market. We think comics can be much more. I gave a speech at a college and asked the students how many people read comics or webcomics and a few of them raised their hands. I asked how many of them were familiar with The Oatmeal [a popular webcomic] and a lot of people were aware of it and reading it. I think people are open to reading comics; the definition of a comic is a great story represent in a visual format.

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We avoid using the word “comics” because people have the notion of superhero comics and it’s very restrictive. What we’re trying to do is create this open platform; we’re accepting great storytellers working in a visual format. A lot of our stories have a mainstream appeal; anyone and everyone can look at our content and definitely relate to it. We’re expanding the notion of comics by building this platform.

How is this content delivery system different than an RSS feed or other webcomic services that have been out there? What do you bring to the table that’s new for readers and comic creators?

Imagine if there was no YouTube and every person who has creator content has to build their own website and manage it. That doesn’t work out very well and that’s what the comic industry is like these days, especially for webcomics. Because there’s no good platform to publish their content, a typical experience for comic creators is that they start blogs and Tumblrs or build their own websites.

A lot of people have their own websites, but that’s not their forte so a lot of times their websites aren’t looking great and aren’t user friendly for readers. A lot of comic artists have to spend a long time running their sites because there’s coding to do and sometimes they have to hire a designer to build an ideal website. All these things take time from their core activity, which is to create content. And even after that, they have massive difficulty building the audience and getting noticed. There’s a discovery problem, a maintenance problem and also the monetization problem as well.

As a single website manager or publisher the amount of money you can make through advertising is very small because when you start out the advertising rate, the cpm [the cost per 1000 estimated views of the ad] is extremely low. So there’s a bunch of problems associated with running your own website and that’s where Tapastic comes in. You don’t have to worry anything about building your own website, you don’t have to worry anything about managing, and you don’t have to worry anything about Google trends or mobile optimization because we do everything. We provide technology and platforms so that individual creators don’t have to worry anything about bigger things and can focus on what they do best which is creating content.

We do provide an RSS feed, but we also have in-app and e-mail notifications where readers have the option to subscribe to series and get updates when there’s a new episode.

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Earlier you mentioned monetization for creators. How do you do that and are you planning any sort of special paid content planned?

Right now we don’t have a premium section so everything is for free. The biggest reason is that we started a year ago and we wanted to focus on growth. We didn’t want to put anything between our readers and the content.  The monetization we have right now is ads. We put a couple ads per page in an unobtrusive way. We have the ads and do an ad revenue share with the publishers.

Sometime next year we plan on launching a premium section where readers will probably have to pay for some content and that money is going to support the artists. Creating a comic is a lot of work and takes time and we want to make sure the creators have a way to make money in addition to entertaining. The publishers will likely have two options; to continue publishing for free and be ad supported or put their content on the premium section. We’re thinking about what the best way to monetize the content directly is.  

Tapastic offers something that I haven’t seen before, which is a translation service for creators. What languages do you offer? What percentage of your comics is translated?

Right now we offer translation services for select artists for Korean and French. Some of our internal staff are bilingual and know French or Korean.

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Another reason [why we offer services] for Korean and French is that they have some really awesome indie artists and comic artists and we’re going through the Korean and French market and see what series can do well here. It’s not always easy for the artists to translate their works, so we provide a translation service for them. The artists love their idea of their work being seen by people in North America because their readers are naturally restricted by the number of people that speak French or Korean and now they have more people that can see their awesome work.

Number-wise we have about 20 Korean series and roughly the same for French. The majority of our content is coming from the U.S., but going forward we’re definitely interested in bringing in more talented artists and introducing their work to the North American market.

You recently announced a partnership with mobile developer Com2uS to create the first webcomic based on a sports mobile game. Could you tell us more about the Golf Star tie-in webcomic and how this partnership came to be?

Our user demographic has a lot of overlap with a gaming audience. We have a lot of gaming related comic series and the people reading comics on our app are also playing games. When people download a mobile game, it’s just the game. There’s usually no story behind it or other original content. What we did was create an original comic series around the mobile game. One of our creators [Mir.k] created a whole comic series based around the four game characters and a new story [to go along with it].

The game has a large number of users and they can follow a link in the game over to the comics to check out the series. For those that haven’t downloaded the game yet, a Tapastic user can read the comic on their mobile device and click a link to download the game from the app store.  A lot of mobile gaming companies are interested in doing some co-marketing and creating original content and we’re a great fit because so many of our readers are gamers as well.

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