As the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette sees the huge online retailer continue to block and/or delay sales of some of the publisher’s books, two smaller startups in the industry are merging forces. Blurb, which lets authors self-publish and print their books, is buying Graphicly, a platform that lets authors publish and distribute e-books, with a specific focus on image-heavy content like comics and photography.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but Micah Baldwin, the founder of Graphicly, tells us that the outcome “was a positive one for everybody”. Graphicly, founded in 2009, had raised some $7 million since 2010, Baldwin tells me, with investors including Chris Sacca, 500 Startups and Mercury Fund, among others.
This is an acquihire, with the six employees who formed Graphicly joining Blurb. As part of that process, Graphicly will be shutting down in the next 30 days.
“None of the assets per se are coming over, but we are talking to publishers who were on Graphicly,” says Baldwin. “We are hopeful that Graphicly users will take their content and manage it with Blurb, and maybe print their books there, too.”
He says that all publishers will be able to go to their dashboards for the next 30 days and port their content into Blurb, or whatever platform they choose.
We had first gotten wind of Graphicly in acquisition talks with different parties back in February of this year, with interested parties including a couple of larger publishers, a book distribution platform, and Blurb.
The sale comes at a time of consolidation for other independent publishing and distribution platforms. In April, Amazon acquired digital comic and graphic novel distributor Comixology (which, unlike Blurb, worked with a lot of large print publishers to migrate to digital formats). A month before that, Dropbox had acquired Readmill.
For its part, Blurb earlier this month acquired MagPub from HP to extend its catalog from books to magazines. In that context, it makes a lot of sense for them to pick up Graphicly and its expertise specifically in comic book magazines.
Baldwin says that Blurb’s interest in Graphicly stemmed from a couple of different areas.
Although the company had expanded from print into e-books as far back as 2012, Baldwin describes that business as somewhat “nascent” particularly in Graphicly’s forte of illustrated books.
“Our focus on self publishing [for illustrated content] married up very well with what they do, and will help them grow their bigger digital business more rapidly,” he says. “The combination gives authors and writers the ability to do everything.”
He points specifically to how Graphicly’s own storefront has been instrumental in getting more people to look at and share the content created on that platform. “We figured out how to use digital as a marketing vehicle, and how to use it to connect with your fans,” he says.
In that vein, Baldwin himself says that he will be focused at Blurb on how to integrated its print and digital offerings better. That will include thinking of ways of distributing, say, chapters of books as a way of drumming up interest in the full work being printed and distributed.
“Long term, who knows but short term it could be as simple as sending a chapter digitally every week to your readers as a way to help selling the complete printed book,” he says.
In a sense, this is taking a page from the old days of publishing, when the likes of Charles Dickens and other Victorian novelists serialised their books in magazines (which also hints to how Blurb may employ MagPub as well).
Graphicly, Baldwin tells me, had 10,000 publishers on its platform, with some 20,000 titles published on its platform and had around $2 million in revenues.
Meanwhile, Blurb, which has raised just under $22 million, is profitable, expecting to make around $100 million this year and has seen some 2 million authors and “creators” (who could be amateurs printing books of granddad’s early life) publish 10 million books through Blurb. You can see a list of titles in Blurb’s catalog here; it’s notable that there is a strong leaning there already to picture-based books.
With contrasting sizes like that, it’s natural to wonder whether Blurb’s acquisition of Graphicly points to the challenges of building out sustainable e-book platforms on much smaller margins than the printed publishing industry that preceded them.
Blurb has talked in the past about being an acquisition target itself, or possibly going public.
But Baldwin believes that now more than ever there needs to be a place for independent distributors and publishers. He cites the standoff between Amazon and Hachette as one example of how that outcome will largely benefit either one big player or another… but not necessarily the author.
“As Amazon grows it’s harder for authors to control their destiny,” he says. “We are 100% committed to offering a self-publishing platform that is extremely positive for authors/publishers. They continue to own their content, their destiny and their fans. You lose all of that with the bigger, more established marketplaces.”
It’s worth noting that Graphicly had, and Blurb does, allow its authors to distribute with bigger entities like Amazon and Apple.
One other thing that moving into Blurb will do is to give those graphic authors who had been with Graphicly the potential to expand much more internationally.
“One-third of Graphicly’s business was outside of the U.S. and Blurb has a significant business in the rest of the world,” Baldwin says. “Six months before Graphicly was sold we started to sell books in Amazon China. So I am interested to see how that develops.”
Headline updated to clarify this is not a full acquisition of all Graphicly’s assets but a talent acquisition.