Several months back, the webcomics community took notice of Wowio, a site that gives access to free eBooks.
Most of that notice, unfortunately, was negative – some misreadings of the company’s policies led many to believe that they shared user’s personal data with outside corporations, a practice that, unsurprisingly, most folks would not be ok with. Given the nature of the information required to start an account – credit card data, a scan of personal ID such as a driver’s license, or a non-anonymous e-mail address – a lot of folks dismissed it as something of a scam, and turned their backs on it.
Three and a half months later, I think that is a damn shame.
Once it was made clear how the company’s policy actually worked, I got right on board. Over the next week, I downloaded the few eBooks I was actually interested in reading (less than a dozen), and then I stopped using it to acquire reading material. Instead, I started using it to support webcomics with money that was, essentially, free.
For each person who downloads an issue of a comic on Wowio, the creator gets 50 cents. That’s the reason they have such a relatively strict sign-up process – so they can make sure each new account is unique, since there really aren’t that many ways to do so over the internet.
You can only download three books a day. And I suppose a dollar and a half doesn’t seem like the hugest contribution to put in your favorite creator’s pocket. But on the other hand… it costs you two minutes to do so, and you can do it every single day. Sure, you are limited by how many different webcomic downloads are available on the site – but I just took a quick look through, and saw around 166 just from titles I recognized. $83 dollars is looking a bit more solid – even spread out between a dozen creators. Especially considering every single reader can be making the same contribution.
And in the months it takes to make those downloads, who knows how many more titles or issues will be added to the site?
I’m not holding this out there as something people have to do, not by any means. But it strikes me that Wowio got a pretty bad rap when it first hit the scene, and deserves to be recognized for the opportunity it is: a chance for people to easily give some money back to creators without spending any out of their own pockets.
I mean, let’s face it – if every webcomic made a dollar off of every single reader they had, there would be hundreds more webcomics making enough to support their creators, as opposed to the several dozen there are now. Unfortunately, getting that dollar is not only a challenge, but an impossibility, for any number of reasons. Even for those who are really devoted to the comics and want to give back, it can be hard – I read hundreds of webcomics, and if I tried to support every single one, it gets costly.
So most people tend to support one or two of their favorites. And the comics that succeed are often ok with this – they count on getting money (via merchandise, donations or otherwise) from only 10% of their readership, or maybe even less. There is nothing wrong with not being able to give that dollar out.
But for those who really want to do so anyway, but just don’t have the money, or the ability to choose which webcomic out there deserves it the most… well, therein lies the beauty of Wowio.
It takes maybe ten, twenty minutes to set up an account. All signs indicate the process of doing so is, actually, safe and secure. Once you’ve done so, another two minutes a day to download eBooks and give back a dollar fifty to some deserving creators. While you’re at it, you can enjoy the product itself! Or you can just toss it out, if all you were looking for is the chance to give back.
I’ve been keeping at it. I’ve been doing it with comics I’ve stopped reading – for all my criticism of the works of Chris Crosby a few months back, I’ve probably downloaded twenty-plus of his strip’s issue since then.
I’m going to go back to the premise one last time – this is a way for readers to contribute money to the webcomics they read for free. Ok, I get that it seems to good to be true, but it seems to work. You download eBooks, Wowio gets paid by advertisers who like being able to put their ads in each book, and some of that cash goes to the creators that deserve it.
How is that not a win-win situation for every single person involved?
If I’m not choosing of my own free will to actually purchase something from them, they don’t fucking need my credit card number. Their stated or apparent motivation for asking for it is irrelevant. They don’t need it, and I don’t need them.
Hey, that’s fine – but that is one of three methods that are options for sign up. Yes, those methods are all pretty personal ones – because otherwise a single person could open dozens of accounts, and download the same comic dozens of time, with Wowio paying the creator for each such download. And as soon as several people do the same, their entire method of operation falls apart.
I understand not wanting to share your credit card number (though I don’t see why it is that much worse to do so here than when making a purchase.) But honestly – can you think of any decent alternative for identifying users and ensuring individuals can only open one account?
The reason I don’t like Wowio is that people from Europe (i.e. me) can’t download any of the stuff. This may have changed in the last three months or so but I haven’t gone back to find out since. I can just as easily go through the archives of my favourite webcomics and then maybe buy a t-shirt if the mood strikes me. Granted, it might take a while to get here but at least then I’ll actually *have* something to wear as well, and probably funny too…
Now that is an entirely legitimate complaint, and I can definitely understand why – especially given the nature of what they offer – such an attitude would turn one off even if they later fixed it.
Wowio is still closed to Europe (and the rest of the non-US world).
They claim it is a matter of licensing, that they can’t get the authors to sign over worldwide distribution rights.
Since several authors have stated in public that they requested their work to be made available everywhere but Wowio didn’t let them do that, that story seems false.
Personally I think it is a matter of advertising. It is easier for them to sell ads in the books if they have a well-defined audience (Internet-savvy US residents).
Include a bunch of Europeans with questionable commercial ad value to local US companies and Wowio would have to start segmenting which ads get shown to what market.