As you may have noticed if you read The Outhouse, Bleeding Cool, or The Beat (and if you're not reading all three regularly, shame on you), there's something of a scandal going on with Graphic.ly, the former sort-of digital comics company that was recently acquired by e-book publisher Blurb. Well, it's not quite an acquisition. Key members of the Graphic.ly team including founder Micah Baldwin are heading to Blurb, and Blurb will most likely use them to get into the digital comics field, but the actual status of Graphic.ly as a company is unclear. Here's what Baldwin had to say to TechCrunch:
None of the assets per se are coming over, but we are talking to publishers who were on Graphicly. We are hopeful that Graphicly users will take their content and manage it with Blurb, and maybe print their books there, too.
At the end of the day, it appears that the company will shut down, and anyone it owes money to will be added to a list of creditors that may or may not be paid at some point in the future. Unfortunately, the people Graphic.ly owes money to appears to include many of the creators and small publishers that used the company to make their digital comics available, at least according to reports originating mainly on Bleeding Cool.
This first became apparent in a report from BC on Tuesday, as the acquisition story was breaking, which published a statement from creator Dave Dellecese. Here's an excerpt:
I had always noticed that Grahicly’s sales charts each month for our book, Holidaze, always added up to more than their online ‘dashboard’ was stating. I inquired and was told that it wouldn’t be fixed as they were working on a new site and to just go with the sales charts.
I had inquired about getting a disbursement of money we were owed back in the Fall from our sales and was asked to hold off until the new Graphicly site launched. We waited and well into 2014, the site hadn’t launched. I spent the next few months making inquiries via phone and social media about it with no responses. I’ve found out only recently that there just hasn’t been anyone at the company to respond to any of this as it’s gotten smaller and smaller and closer to ‘the end.’
After The Outhouse covered the story that same day, Dellecese emailed us to add:
I just saw your article on the Graphicly closure and the ambiguous nature of whether creators will be paid. I can tell you as one of those creators, that is not the case. In fact, an email from Graphicly came today in response to my inquiry about payment and the response was: "I regret to inform you that we have closed our doors and are unable to provide any payments. I'm personally very sorry about this."
This comes after months of inquiries via email and social media going unanswered regarding getting disbursements for money earned.
Previous to that, any request for disbursement of funds, or questions regarding why Graphicly's 'digital dashboard' numbers of money earned didn't match with the actual numbers of sales reports (sales reports would always show more earned than Graphicly's 'dashboard' would tell creators) was met with Micah Baldwin or another staff member saying to just 'wait until the new site relaunches.' The new Graphicly site never came and any further requests went unanswered for months until the announcement of the closure.
Sounds kind of shady, but it's just one person, right? It would seem not. Bleeding Cool has stayed on the case, and on Wednesday, they published another report, this time from former Graphic.ly employee Owen Wears. Here's the most relevant paragraph:
The reason I felt compelled to write in regards to the story you published about how much Graphicly owes and to whom is because of what myself, and the other members of the conversion team, were told after Graphicly decided to “close its doors.” Things do not line up, they do not jive with what Micah seems to have been saying about Graphicly’s relationship with Blurb. In an email that we received at midnight on April the 11th from now former CEO David Fox explained that the merger with Blurb had completely failed and that all members of Graphicly’s staff were to drop what they were doing and walk away. Were went unpaid for our last seven days of work and were denied all severance. From what I have read recently it sounds like Micah managed to sell himself to Blurb along with other key elements of the company. To me this sounds like Blurb has acquired some, if not all, of the software we used to convert comics into eBooks. I can’t imagine that came cheap. Having seen the results of Micah’s flagrantly disturbing accounting practices, I’d be inclined to say he and several other key execs have walked away with a pile of cash, not to mention jobs, at the expense of the creators Graphicly serviced. All the Colorado based employees were left out in the cold without so much as an apology. Someone is making a profit off of this nonsense and it is at the expense of the people who actually built the company.
But it was on Friday that Johnston really lowered the boom. According to the latest report, the Colorado Attorney General's Office wants people who have a grievance with Graphic.ly to fill out a complaint here: https://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/consumerfraudcomplaint. The article also continues to catalog those grievances.
From Th3rd World Studios:
They had not paid us since Q2 of 2013. Their “reporting” system, if it could ever be called that, was always months behind and stopped working altogether January of this past year.
Steve Morris over at The Beat is on the case now as well. The Beat has a statement from Marc Ellerby:
I published Ellerbisms with them in January 2013, a few months after the paperback came out. It’s done quite well, reaching #2 in the UK Kindle chart for graphic novels. Despite this, I have never received any payment from Graphicly despite repeated emails of enquiry.
And Mike Garley:
I’ve never received ANY money from sales. The analytics were poor and made tracking sales difficult so it was difficult to prove anything and they [Graphicly] were always aloof through email.
It's a good thing comics fandom has people like Johnston and Morris to rely on. It's been five days since this story broke, but there hasn't been a peep out of "mainstream" sites like CBR or Newsarama about the payment issues, much less the even bigger tech blogs that first broke the Graphic.ly acquisition story.
Of course, it could be that Graphic.ly simply doesn't want to deal with these issues in public. Maybe they have a plan to pay creators. Baldwin did refute the claims from Wears published in one of those Bleeding Cool articles, but hasn't commented on the financial issues yet. If he does, we'll let you know.