Featured Article

Comixology vets return with their own publishing company

DSTLRY arrives with creator equity and a focus on collectability

Comment

Chip Mosher and David Steinberger by Tula Lotay
Image Credits: Tula Lotay, DSTLRY

Comixology was genuinely a gamechanger. Before the platform came along, I knew very few people who had ever read a comic on a phone or tablet. There was entirely too much friction in the process to prioritize screens over print. The app proved a viable option, courtesy of a stocked store and a clever UI that both embraced and adapted the sequential form.

In 2014, Amazon gobbled up the startup, as it continued a Galactus-style buffet through the publishing world. There’s plenty of cause to be concerned when a major corporation acquires a beloved startup (particularly one in the habit of…let’s just say cornering markets), but the retail giant proved mostly a good steward, launching a subscription service in 2016 and its own in-house publisher two years later.

The last few years were less kind, however. Amazon’s push to integrate the brand into its exciting service was an unforced error that’s eroded more than a decade of good will. More recently, Comixology has reportedly been disproportionately impacted by mass layoffs, leading many wondering if it’s past the point of no return.

Co-founder and one-time CEO David Steinberger and former head of content Chip Mosher can claim credit for much of the good that came out of the service. The pair had become — as my friend Heidi MacDonald puts it — the public face of Comixology. But no one sells a company to a monolith like Amazon without understanding that there’s a reasonable chance things might eventually go pear shaped.

Steinberger left Comixology in February of last year to help Amazon launch a new internal business he said he had been pitching for some time. The project remains in stealth.

“We had a great run,” Steinberger says of his time at the company. “I learned a lot from Amazon. I feel like when you sell a company, it’s not yours anymore. Eventually you’re ready to let it go.”

Not long after, both he and Mosher would leave Amazon entirely. “We had a great eight-year run,” says Mosher. “Comixology Unlimited, Comixology Originals. We got to support a ton of different shows and events: Though Bubble, CXC, SPX, TCAF. We got to do a hell of a lot of good stuff in the comics community and learned a whole hell of a lot.”

The pair reunited not long after their respective exoduses, launching a new company that has remained in stealth until this morning. In spite of a name that screams Web 2.0 whiskey app, DSTLRY finds Mosher and Steinberger embracing the comic roots. The firm describes itself as a “next-generation comics publisher,” with feet in both digital and print publishing.

Mosher quickly pushes back on the suggestion that this a less than ideal moment to enter the print publishing business. “I violently disagree,” he says. “I think this is a great time to start a new company. Bookscan did a presentation in February, where they said that most people are going to be retrenching into older IP, not doing stuff, not taking risks. Whenever you have a marketplace where no one is taking risks, I think it’s the best time to come out and do something new.

DSTLRY prides itself on a creator-first approach, offering “Founding Creators” equity in the firm. The list at launch includes:

Scott Snyder (Batman, Wytches), Tula Lotay (Barnstormers), James Tynion IV (Something Is Killing the Children, The Joker War), Junko Mizuno (Pure Trance, Ravina the Witch?), Ram V (Detective Comics, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr), Mirka Andolfo (Sweet Paprika, Mercy), Joëlle Jones (Lady Killer, Catwoman), Jock (Batman: One Dark Knight, Wytches), Becky Cloonan (Wonder Woman, Batgirls), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Joker), Elsa Charretier (Love Everlasting, November), Stephanie Phillips (Grim, Harley Quinn), Lee Garbett (Spider-Man, Skyward), Marc Bernardin (Adora and the Distance, Star Trek: Picard) and Founding Editor Will Dennis (Y: The Last Man, Snow Angels).

More writers and artists will be announced before year’s end. An additional 3% equity will be portioned out to additional creators who join up in the first three years, based on the performance on their individual series.

Print issues buck the standard comics single issue floppy, with a larger design and 45 pages. Mosher says the company will distribute books to “all the comic shops in North America and beyond,” with news around its specific partners coming down the road.

Unsurprisingly, digital is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle here. DSTLRY’s books will be available through its marketplace and available in its app. The company considers resale to be the real secret sauce on that side, however. It’s offering that aspect of the marketplace without NFT and blockchain technologies, which have become highly controversial topics among cartoonists, among others.

“The idea was, how do you take the best parts of whatever you want to call web3 or NFTs and then make that work,” says Steinberger. “That allows us to have things like provable ownership, the capability to resell something and an actual perpetual royalty back to creators as those things get sold. You don’t need the environmental impact of a public blockchain to do that. You don’t need to have crypto in a wallet to do that.”

The other (largely unspoken) aspect to all of this is something that’s propped up the big two comics companies for years: IP. One doesn’t need to look any further than the investors backing the company (DSTLRY has yet to announce a dollar amount). Publishers Kodansha USA and Groupe Delcourt are joined by gaming vet John Schappert, Michael Vorhaus of Vorhaus Advisors and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced the G.I. Joe movies, among others. Those three will also serve as advisors.

“Everything we’re doing tries to align the creators to bring epic work to publish with us, because that’s where you start,” says Mosher. “The [IP factory] idea is a non-starter for us. We are making great works that will sell well as comic books, first and foremost. The rest of it is gravy.”

More TechCrunch

Scale AI has raised a $1 billion Series F round from a slew of big-name institutional and corporate investors including Amazon and Meta.

Data-labeling startup Scale AI raises $1B as valuation doubles to $13.8B

The new coalition, Tech Against Scams, will work together to find ways to fight back against the tools used by scammers and to better educate the public against financial scams.

Meta, Match, Coinbase and others team up to fight online fraud and crypto scams

It’s a wrap: European Union lawmakers have given the final approval to set up the bloc’s flagship, risk-based regulations for artificial intelligence.

EU Council gives final nod to set up risk-based regulations for AI

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €285M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons