Acquired by new owners in June 2009, Wowio.com, a formerly financially troubled Web site offering downloadable and online comics and prose e-books, has managed to pay off its creditors and revamp its business plan around digital distribution and online syndication. Now the site has agreements to begin offering more than 200,000 downloadable e-books through a deal with the Ingram Content Group that starts November 1.
The new owner of Wowio.com, Brian Altounian, was previously president and COO of Wowio's former parent company, Platinum Studios—a controversial firm with a history of financial problems and creator complaints—that specialized in acquiring comics to turn into films while publishing the comics online. In addition, Altounian has acquired DrunkDuck.com, a Web comics site and community that was also owned by Platinum, and he has also bought Wevolt, a social media site that specializes in online comics. However, while Altounian acknowledged that he still sits on the Platinum Studios board of directors, he told PW that "Platinum has no involvement of any kind in Wowio."
A startup digital vendor founded in 2006 in Los Angeles, Wowio offers online and downloadable PDFs of prose works in addition to a large number of graphic novels. The site originally offered consumers free access to online e-books that were supposed to generate revenue from advertising sponsors recruited by the site. While many publishers were initially pleased with the revenue from the site, there were rumors that publishers were being paid out of Wowio's investment funds and not from advertising, and Altounian acknowledges that was true. In 2008 Wowio was acquired by Platinum Studios, which changed the terms of Wowio's contracts, spurring a new round of complaints about Platinum.
But that's all in the past, Altounian said, emphasizing that he's working to make Wowio's business model "sustainable." Before the Ingram deal, the site offered roughly 6,000 titles from about 199 publishers. Beginning in November, Ingram spokesperson Keel Hunt confirmed that Ingram Content Group will act as Wowio's "back-end" for downloads, giving the site access to e-books from Random House, Harlequin, McGraw-Hill, Kensington, and others. Currently, Wowio offers consumers downloadable PDFs; prices are set by publishers, who receive 100% of the sale price.
The site will continue to offer e-books for free supported by sponsorships and promotions intended to drive consumer traffic to the site in order to sell other e-books. "We give sponsored books away to reach a larger audience. More traffic means more commerce on the site," said Altounian, who cites sponsorship/promotional deals with IMG Financial Group, Pepsi, MTV, Fandango, Verizon, and others. In addition, through its BookShare technology, Wowio offers another targeted promotion that allows sponsors to place a book on their Web sites in order to give their customers free access to it as a reward or a benefit. The sponsorship/free e-book promotion gives publishers access to Wowio's online audience, Altounian explained, while the BookShare deal lets publishers reward their own customers.
The site is also launching what it is calling @Brand, a campaign to turn Wowio into a "one stop" conduit for all kinds of content connected to a branded title, author, or publisher. Altounian said @Brand will offer links to a Wowio storefront or offer direct links to vendors like Amazon.
And add Pop Galaxy to the Wowio mix—it's a new site that launched October 18 and hosts original and book-related video content. With the sites he's acquired, Altounian said he can help a creator launch a Web comic on DrunkDuck; promote it on Wevolt; and if it develops an audience, sell it in book form through Wowio.com. "We're offering broad digital distribution and we can be used as a soundboard and move properties to the next level and to monetization," Altounian said.
Terry Nantier, publisher of the graphic novel house NBM, is a new Wowio user. He said he was optimistic about the site after a free-access sponsored promotion for his titles and was waiting to see how well the site builds traffic. Arthur Klebanoff, publisher of e-book house Rosetta Books, which has been a Wowio publisher for a while, said much the same.
While he is the majority owner of Wowio, Altounian has created Alliance Acquisitions, a company that holds a minority stake in the site, with other investors. He emphasized that publishers on Wowio have been paid "on time for a year. We've learned from the missteps made by Platinum. The publishing community can be forgiving when you finally deliver. Now we're out to find new ways to make money for everyone involved."