From direct selling to imaginative marketing to serialisation, publishers have spent the best part of a decade looking at what indies have the freedom and chutzpah to do and learning from it. Now the industry has cottoned on to the success of webcomics. Penguin Random House has jumped on the bandwagon with its Inklore imprint, which will specialise in seeking out the most successful titles in this immensely popular format and bringing them to a print audience.
Webcomics owe a lot of their popularity to the Koren-based platform, Webtoon, owned by Naver, the same company that owns Wattpad. They are a form of graphic novel designed for reading on mobile devices, meaning they will tend to be single graphic panes appearing one below the other. The other notable thing about a platform such as Webtoon is that, like Wattpad, it is driven by indie creators like us. As I have found myself saying in this column on so many occasions, if you have any doubt whether there is really an audience of true scale for indie-written material, just spend a few minutes browsing Wattpad – or Webtoon.
Webtoon recently introduced its own to-print brand, Webtoon Unscrolled. The imprint will feature the most popular titles from the online site.
PRH clearly recognises that Webtoon and Wattpad are onto something. And they clearly get that the Gen Z audience – the audience the media sometimes portrays as turning its back on books – has a voracious appetite for what's on offer. One of the reasons publishers sometimes seem to ignore this audience is they don’t see it in the places they expect to – and so assume it doesn’t hang out anywhere. But it does exist – and PRH seem to have recognised this, directly citing the truly massive following of fan fiction site Archive Of Our Own as a reason for launching Inklore.
Talking of publishers, the UK’s Publishers Association has just launched its annual campaign to demystify the industry and encourage a more diverse cohort of people to consider working in the field. Maybe if they attract a diverse selection of the younger generation, it won’t take them quite so many years to understand that – whatever the literati might opine – millions of readers love the kind of innovative indie work found on Webtoon and Wattpad.