Keenspot.com, an entertainment Web site offering free access to more than 50 exclusive, serialized Web comics, may be a useful example of how an online comics venture can support a budding book publishing program.
Chris Crosby, CEO of Keenspot.com and a cartoonist, told PW that after experimenting with selling three graphic novel titles through the site in 2002, the site will publish 11 books over the next four months, with plans to release at least 20 titles in 2005. First printings are 3,000 to 6,000 copies. Keenspot books will be distributed to the book trade by CDS. The books are compiled from the content of Keenspot's many popular Web comics. Crosby said the site may publish as many as 40 titles in 2005 if the program does well.
In addition, in October the site is launching a separate graphic novel imprint called Blatant, which will publish comics works unrelated to Keenspot's Web comic content. The first book to be released from the imprint will be Blatant Bush by Mike Leffel and Bob Scott. The book is described by Crosby as "the Fahrenheit 9/11 of graphic novels."
Keenspot.com was launched in 2000 by Crosby, his mother, Teri (now CFO and a co-owner), and Darren Bleuel (co-CEO) and Nate Stone (CTO), co-owners of a computer programming company. Crosby and Bleuel are Keenspot cartoonists as well. Bleuel and Stone handle the technical side; Crosby directs publishing and online merchandising, retailing and fulfillment.
Keenspot's 2003 revenues were up 81%, to $188,467, and recently Crosby moved the business into a 40,000-sq.-ft. former school building in Cresband, S.Dak., and in the process added a shipping department. Crosby said while the majority of Keenspot's sales come from online advertising, "book and merchandising revenue are quickly rivaling it." Net profits are split 50/50 with the Keenspot cartoonists, who are signed exclusively to the site. New cartoonists are invited to join the site by a majority vote of ownership.
Crosby said the site's average reader is "generally young, obsessed with video games, manga/anime and comics that cater to that culture." The books are chosen, Crosby explained, from the site's most popular Web comics--Exploitation Now by Michael Poe, RPG World by Ian Jones-Quartey, Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida and others--as well as "cult favorites," like You Damn Kid by Owen Dunne.
Later this year, the site's book program will offer several books based on Keenspot Web comics, with all-new content just for the book--among them the fantasy Scary Go Round by U.K. cartoonist John Allison and Basil Flint, P.I. by John Troutman, a manga-style detective comedy.
And while Keenspot claims to have two million unique monthly viewers, Crosby said, "We don't rely on our Web audience to sell through our books in stores, but there's definitely an overlap." He added, "We do everything we can to direct our millions of readers to the stores that carry Keenspot titles. We love bookstores."