Have graphic novels and comic books come of age in India? In this digital age of Snapchat and Instagram stories, the interest in reading books offline seems to be dipping. But can comic book apps engage and hook readers and help them enjoy the best of both worlds?
Bengaluru-based Thought Bubble Studios (TBS) aspires to be India's Marvel. After being in the offline comic book and graphic novels space for sometime, it aims to go digital. Here is their story, in this week’s App Friday review.
Story so far
Rajeev Tamhankar laucnhed TBSplanet.com in 2015, with the intention of creating a ‘complete planet’ of imaginary heroes, villains and events around them. A 2012 graduate from IIT Roorkee, Rajeev had earlier worked at companies like Flipkart and Xiaomi and had written a satirical book titled, Get Corporated Before You Get Fired!
While the book was well-received, he got feedback that a graphic novel version of it may have done much better. While graphic novels and comic books are extremely popular in the West, with well-established players, Rajeev believed that there was a dearth of good quality graphic novels in India. So, he started TBS Planet, which he claims is among India's largest comics and graphic novel publishers.
TBS Planet currently consists of an 18-member team. Rajeev noted that they work with a lot of freelancers in various roles and also have about 11 artists working with them. In an earlier interview with YourStory, Rajeev had mentioned,
Comic book business is quite complicated to start. You need to get the right stories, the right sketching, inking, colouring, printing, and top this with the regular business requirements of sales, distribution, marketing, logistics, finance and operations….
The workflow process in creating a comic from scratch involves multiple steps:
Once a concept is ready, the writers need to write a script around it. This is followed by a preliminary edit. The edited script is then followed by storyboarding. Based on these storyboards the illustrators get to sketching, inking, colouring and lettering. After this process, the book goes in for a final edit and is then submitted for a sample print. Once this sample gets approved, it goes for mass printing.
But now, with the intention of reaching a larger global audience, Rajeev and his team are adding alternative steps in the last two stages described above and are taking the digital route by publishing comic books on their recently launched mobile app. Rajeev noted that while offline and physical comic books will still be a focus, a digital strategy could help them achieve distribution on a much bigger scale and across geographies. Rajeev noted,
We have launched multiple superhero characters: Ved, the expert illusionist, Varun, the lord incarnation–, Dhwani, the metahuman made of soun–, Karma, the guardian of Bengaluru, Takshak, the snake man, and Yug, the timeless secret guardian.
TBS Planet also recently launched Bangalored, comic strip series based around civic issues in Bengaluru.
Revenue model and marketing
Rajeev noted that their paperback comics are currently being sold on Amazon, Flipkart, 150 railway stations, 120 bookstores and all Comic Con events. He added that their first superhero Ved, and Bangalore-based horror comic 13 Days had been No.1 bestseller on Amazon for some time. They were also official graphic novel partners for Bollywood movies like A Flying Jatt by Balaji Motion Pictures, and Shivaay by Ajay Devgn Films.
In terms of marketing, Rajeev noted that they had partnered with players like Reliance Jio’s JioChat app and also UC Web to engage with readers. Earlier this year, TBS Planet had launched a crowdfunding campaign to generate interest for their comic books. Rajeev noted,
We have raised over Rs 1 lakh in the campaign, and donors from senior profiles in Flipkart, Ebay, Paytm and Xiaomi contributed towards the amount.
Currently bootstrapped, Rajeev noted that TBS Planet is in the process of closing a round of funding from multiple investors. The goal is to focus more on a digital strategy and launch in more languages.
The reading experience
The TBS comic app currently consists of a limited number of titles that one can access and read. The app has a friendly user interface, which is sometimes even more functional than Amazon’s Kindle reading experience. Since the app has been designed exclusively for comic books users can keep switching between landscape and portrait mode at will, based on their preference. I personally found landscape mode more convenient, as the text was more easily visible in most cases.
On downloading the app for the first time users are given a quick in-app tutorial of how they can navigate across pages and also zoom in and out of pages as they please. In terms of content, TBS lets users access some of the books for free and make micro-payments for some of their other more recent titles. Users can also view a preview of the premium books, to help them make an informed decision before making the purchase.
Users can also access their digital bookshelf as they please and add or remove books. Once purchased, books can be deleted and downloaded again. This is a useful feature, which makes it easy to access books across multiple devices.
Rajeev also noted that they aim to launch in regional languages like Hindi soon. Also to keep the readers on their app engaged, they aim to launch a ‘Snapchat stories’ like feature where exclusive bite-sized content will be added onto the app every 24 hours.
Sector overview and future plans
NPD BookScan, which tracks print sales across about 85 percent of the book trade, recently reported that graphic novel sales in 2016 increased by 12 percent over the previous year. In fact, comics is one of the only few categories in adult fiction in which print sales were up. Amazon’s Kindle, which is among the leading players in the digital publishing space, lets creators push graphic novels on their platform.
Compared to the West, the Indian graphic novel market is still in its early days. Orange Radius and TBS Planet are among the popular names here. Marvel and DC Comics are two of the most popular players in this space globally and they have mobile apps in addition to their offline models.
On their future plans with TBS Planet, Rajeev said that they aim to venture into more digital avenues, like the global leaders. He said,
We are starting with graphic novels and comic books, but have plans to soon venture into animation, videos and games.
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