Headquartered in Norway, new company InkyPen recently hit the gaming headlines when it was announced that it would soon be partnering with the Nintendo Switch, to allow users the opportunity to access thousands of comic books for a monthly subscription fee. It’s an interesting revenue model at a time when the industry is leaning increasingly towards user-based incomes and away from traditional advertising formats. We began by asking the Company’s CEO to introduce us to InkyPen’s background:
“InkyPen is a self-funded company that began life in a shared office with a bunch of local indie game development companies,” says Ronan Thomas Huggard, CEO for InkyPen. “I had rented an office the size of a broom cupboard a little over a year ago, where I was moonlighting from my day job in broadcast technology with the goal of creating a new games company. At that point I was approached by the CEO of Rain Games, creator of the indie hit Teslagrad, with an idea around comics. We iterated a while and realised that between us we had all the skills and connections needed to make this kind of content play happen, so we got to work.”
“With regards to being a publisher: we are not a publisher, nor do we want to be. Rather, InkPen partners with publishers and content creators themselves who licence their content to us and we then make available on Nintendo Switch. We are in the business of making sure people get fair access to all the great content out there so creating our own content wouldn’t help with that.”
Ronan Thomas Huggard. Photo: LinkedIn
The Nintendo Switch, and the Nintendo company more generally, is emerging as a key player in new forms of digital media. From Pokemon GO, to multi-platform publishing, we’ve looked many times on the FIPP website at how the company is pioneering a new wave of interactive storytelling. For InkyPen, the Nintendo Switch provides just as enticing a shop-window as the Apple or Android news-stands.
“We chose the Switch for a bunch of reasons,” says Huggard. “One of which was that we’re mainly from the gaming industry so it made sense to go for a platform that we know and love already as well as being portable with a sizeable screen. Another is that other marketplaces are crowded so it’s nice to focus on the platform where we are confident we can create the best experience on that platform before moving on. That said, we will roll out on other platforms and your subscription will carry over.”
That last point about multi-channel access is an important one, as it has so far courted mild controversy within the industry. Initially believed to be a Nintendo Switch exclusive play, Huggard recently revealed to the press that the subscription service would soon be rolled out to other channels following its November release on the Switch, although additional deals are yet to be secured.
Nonetheless, the product has been described as the Switch’s first App, and that represents an important stepping stone for the gaming device and indeed for Nintendo.
“From a practical perspective it’s very similar to a game. Nintendo were very open to this sort of idea because they are a very forward looking company. If you look at Nintendo you can see that they have innovated in a way no others have with the portable but powerful Switch. We also have history with Nintendo being an offshoot of Rain Games so many of us already knew and liked working with them. Something new is never going to be easy to make happen but I get the impression Nintendo are very open to ideas so long as they are good and you can show that you can deliver.”
For InkyPen, the subscription model seems to have been a desirable choice. Users pay to access its content-library of comic books on a monthly basis, in the same way you would a Netflix or an Apple Music. For Huggard, subscription-based content models present an opportunity for growth at a time when people’s interest in advertising is dwindling.
“Our revenue comes from user subscriptions at $7.99 per month. The lion’s share of our revenue goes to Publishers/Content Creators and then we have to cover all our costs but of course we hope we have enough to maintain, grow and improve the service.”
“It’s really about creating the model that works best for both users and content creators. There is no one size fits all but we work with comic book artists and we all love comics ourselves so that was our focus. People love to binge on content and don’t like taking out their wallets every time they want to try something. People also don’t like ads which also don’t raise enough revenue to pay everyone properly anyway so the only logical conclusion was a full catalogue subscription service. It’s a classic example of building something we wanted because it doesn’t exist (everywhere else you either have to pay extra for some content or have too limited a selection).”
“We are purely focused on digital comics. Our catalogue will expand and we will eventually go onto other platforms but our offering is simple: Our users subscribe monthly and we just focus all our energy on getting the best content and means of reading it into your hands.”
What’s worth noting is that since we first spoke to InkyPen a rival player has come into being. Izeno, a platform that also intends to provide a comic book subscription service on both the Nintendo Switch and other platforms such as Nvidia Shield, Sony and Android television services, will attempt to launch ahead of InkyPen, in October. This further highlights the changing nature of today’s digital content model, offering a real-time example of progress in one of its most pioneering fields. Loyalty increasingly appears to be being given to paying subscribers, while distribution channels are simply viewed as individual routes to that market.
Since it would be extremely difficult for me to end this article with any other sentiment: Begun, the comic book subscription wars have.
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