Crowdfunding is not just a pillar of the emerging creative economy, it’s also a tried-and-true solution for bringing comics projects to fruition. Kickstarter, the incumbent leader in the space, helped books get funded to the tune of $30 million last year, which would probably put the platform in the top 10 list domestic publishers by revenue if it were a publisher. That kind of success tends to draw a crowd: in this case, a rising startup called Zoop, an alternative to Kickstarter focused exclusively on comics, offering some value-adds for creators overwhelmed by all the non-creative aspects of running a crowdfunding campaign.
Zoop launched last year and has been picking up momentum with a couple of high profile projects, including the currently-running Ukraine benefit comic anthology, an artist edition featuring the work of the late John Paul Leon, and a campaign launching today for a comic called Axe-Wielder Jon by Nick Pitarra. Pitarra is using Zoop to host his comics imprint, Karoshi Comics, as a way to bolster financing for his independent publishing efforts while maintaining creative and commercial control of his properties.
“The creator economy is really about taking your career into your own hands,” says Zoop cofounder and CEO Jordan Plosky. “Lots of projects today are digital, but at a certain point, you want to put out a physical product, and that requires money to cover production costs. That’s where crowdfunding comes in.”
As with Kickstarter, Zoop lets users pledge to support projects at various levels, which promise different “rewards” including, perhaps, a digital version of the book, a paperbound print edition, a hardcover, a signed edition, and bonuses like custom prints, variant covers or original artwork. When projects hit their funding target, the funds are released to the creators, who then have the responsibility to fulfill their project on a timely basis. This model allows highly targeted projects that might get rejected from mainstream publishers to come to life with the support of the specific fans of that project or creator, and cements a tight, direct bond between the creator and the audience.
Seeing the comics industry paralyzed by distribution and retail issues during the first wave of COVID in 2020, Plosky, who had launched and sold his first company, digital comics platform Comic Blitz, started thinking of ways to update the crowdfunding model to streamline the process for getting creator projects to market. He and cofounder Eric Moss scraped together some friend-and-family investment, scoped out the technology, and launched the app in July, 2021.
Plosky says he’d taken note of the success of Kickstarter but kept hearing some familiar complaints: raising awareness through marketing is outside the skillset or comfort-zone of some creators; fulfillment is time- and labor-intensive; managing various reward tiers can be complicated for creators and funders, and it can be difficult to get Kickstarted books into standard distribution channels.
“Zoop has a full-service offering that takes many of the issues of running a crowdfunding campaign off the creator’s plate, so they can focus on producing their work,” says Plosky. For creators who already have an active following, Zoop can offer marketing and promotional support, shipping and logistics, and a simplified a-la-carte ordering system so backers can choose the rewards that they want when they back a project.
This “white glove” service comes at a cost, as Zoop claims a bigger chunk of the campaign receipts for the extra features. The company also recently introduced a self-service tier with pricing comparable to Kickstarter.
Zoop’s fortunes took a positive turn in late 2021, after Kickstarter announced a controversial plan to explore blockchain technology. This generated outrage among a vocal segment of independent comics creators, who have a litany of complaints against NFTs and crypto, and led to some of them dropping the platform altogether. Zoop, which has not announced any blockchain or crypto plans, took the opportunity to move from invitation-only to a more open submission model, and has seen an increase in projects and traffic as a result.
Despite the competition, Plosky believes there’s room in the market for different approaches to crowdfunding, pointing out that Kickstarter provides a platform for many kinds of creator projects from games to technology products to other merchandise, while Zoop is laser-focused on comics publishing.
Buoyed by recent successes, Plosky says Zoop is “bursting with new ideas,” particularly on solutions to get crowdfunded projects into standard distribution channels so creators can expand their reach beyond their circle of backers. However, the company is still bottlenecked by general supply chain issues facing the rest of the publishing industry, including paper shortages and printing delays, so they are taking their time, growing organically, and making incremental upgrades.
Plosky says Zoop will soon be seeking new rounds of funding to scale up, and introduce new features for creators and backers. Like the projects it supports, Zoop’s fortunes now depend on the enthusiasms of the crowd.