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Uclick rolls out improved GoComics.com

Last fall, I reviewed the new roll out of United Media’s comics.com and compared it to other major syndicate offerings, including uClick/Universal Press’ GoComics.com. Last month, uClick released a major upgrade/redesign to GoComics improving many of the features that were eclipsed by comics.com.

gocomics-mobile
uClick’s mobile friendly site.

uClick has always had one of the better comic portals in the industry. But as CEO Douglas Edwards told me, the old site was starting to show its age with several components of the site that were not integrated completely. Last fall the decision was made to rework the site from the ground up to not only fix inconsistencies, but more importantly its parent company Andrews McMeel made “a conscious decision that the future is going to be digital” and now was the time to build the infrastructure that will allow it to quickly move into markets that are just now maturing or even ones not yet invented. A good example of this is uClick’s aggressive push into mobile devices. They now offer over 25 iPhone comic apps through Apple’s App Store, a mobile device friendly gocomics.com and in the coming weeks they will announce the launch of an original mobile-only comic by a well known cartoonist (I’ll give you more details as more information comes available).

What I like most about the redesign is that it keeps the comic feature front and center of the experience without a great deal of distraction. Navigating around the site is also easier and most comics are a mere two clicks away from anywhere on the site. Like other services, uClick allows paid subscribers the ability to have comics sent to an email address, but uClick takes that one step better allowing the subscriber to create multiple collections of comics that can be sent out daily. For example, I have one set up for the features I enjoy, and another collection with features that are geared more toward my kids.

I also like that they’ve added a zoom/scale feature to allow visitors to see a larger view of a comic. Most of the time, I didn’t even bother reading the Sunday comics on Gocomics as they were nearly illegible. Older features like Bloom County were also difficult to read without the zoom feature. The new zoom increases the feature to 900 pixels. Only King Feature’s Daily Ink out zooms (1000 pixels) it. They’ve added a new feature called “Collections” that allow registered users to create a mix or mash-up of their favorite features by a theme or simply “favorites” which are then viewable by others coming to the site. Paul Richardson, uClick’s Marketing Director, tells me that this feature was added as a way to allow more interaction between comic fans. The one thing this feature lacks is the ability to comment on another collection. It seemed natural to want to discuss the collection as a whole, not just at a singular comic.

New features include more social media hooks. If you enjoy a comic, you can now post a link to it on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, MySpace!, Stumbleupon, Digg and Delicious. A quick search across Twitter found over 20 tweets about comics on gocomics.com yesterday – most of them about Father’s Day. While uClick is slowly moving into leveraging social media, they recognize that a mention of their comics in the social world is akin to a verbal endorsement of a feature which cannot be purchased with money.

Tagging and RSS feeds are still apart of the feature set. Searching by tags is still hit and miss due to a reliance on readers to create the tags. I searched on “crossover” hoping to see a good mix of cross over features and was disappointed to only find three. The RSS feed does not have the comics embedded in the feed – only a link back to the comic, which seems go against what RSS is all about. I would suggest it would be better to send the comic out with an advertisement than to only send a link. I asked about uClick’s view on opening embedding features into blogs like Comics.com now allows. Edwards explained that may still be a possibility in the future, but the more important matter is figuring out how to monetization it. In fact, that point came up several times during our interview. It was very clear that while uClick is cognizant of rapid changing internet landscape, their continued focus is how to use those changes to drive business and revenue and less about creating a feature because it’s cool or what everybody seems to be doing.

The negatives with the site are few. The new design brings with it a change in the registration policy. GoComics still requires a paid registration to see archived material (now called “Comics Genius”). Before this upgrade, one could go back about 30 days to catch up with a story-line or missed days for free. Now, a click backward in the story-line is met with a request for registration or sign-in to either a free or the paid account. While I found it annoying and a huge departure from the old site (and every other comic site), I’m told it has been very effective for increasing revenue. Edwards explained that in the first month of the new policy, there has been an increase in people registering for the free account and with more free accounts there was also an increase in paid accounts. By asking for visitors to register, uClick also learns more information about its visitors that helps them find targeted advertising that pays (them and the artists). Knowing the reasoning behind the decision, I can live with the limitation knowing that it helps support the comic creators.

It is interesting to watch how the syndicates are approaching the new digital frontier with their websites. King is still very protective; United Media is letting it all hang out; Creators, Washington Post Writers Group and Tribune Media seem to be content just to be along for the ride, but uClick/Universal Press appears to have a strategy. From where I sit, any feature launching today has about five years to battle it out for a limited newspaper slot. After that, its promise will be on the web. If I were to pick a partner with whom to launch, their digital strategy and capabilities would weigh heavily on my mind. Right now, Universal Press and uClick has the upper hand in that department.

Community Comments

#1 Tony Piro
June/22/2009
@ 10:46 am

Nice how today’s featured comic, Yenny, is basically two butts in my face.

#2 Anne Hambrock
June/22/2009
@ 11:53 am

“I’m told it has been very effective for increasing revenue”

And so it begins.

There WILL be consumers who are willing to pay for content.

#3 Tony Piro
June/22/2009
@ 1:30 pm

“There WILL be consumers who are willing to pay for content.â?

There are also consumers who will immediately be turned away by being asked to subscribe. Although you may gain more subscribers, the question is whether this is worth the loss of potential page views and the possible fans you may gain if they’re actually allowed to see the product they’re subscribing for. It’s not an easy question to answer.

By the way, if you just select the URL and hit enter, it bypasses the registration popup.

#4 Anne Hambrock
June/22/2009
@ 1:41 pm

@Tony, Yes, I understand your point but Uclick is seeing a rise in both unpaid AND paid subscriptions.

#5 Pab Sungenis
June/22/2009
@ 2:16 pm

Considering a little more than a year ago uClick’s top comic had about 2,800 subscribers and today it has well over 60,000 subscribers, I’d call that quite an increase.

#6 bill jones
June/22/2009
@ 5:04 pm

“”I also like that theyâ??ve added a zoom/scale feature to allow visitors to see a larger view of a comic.””
“”The new zoom increases the feature to 900 pixels. Only King Featureâ??s Daily Ink out zooms (1000 pixels) it.””

is this nice sharp image for paid subscribers? the 900-pixel image i am seeing using the “view larger” button in the “more” drop down menu, is actually 900 pixels wide but it is not a true 900-pixel resolution. it is considerably under-rezzed.

on the other hand, the comics.com enlarged images are at 1000 pixels or more and are perfectly sharp.

i was assuming the paid subscription was showing you a better image but then the “why upgrade” text doesn’t say anything about a higher res image.

#7 Vince LoGreco
June/23/2009
@ 12:07 pm

I have been reading comics on GoComics since I was in college. I actually signed up for the first time when they did the site redesign and have been contemplating the genius level.

#8 Haiku Ewe
June/25/2009
@ 12:52 pm

Ten dollars per year / That shouldn’t offend readers / I hope I’m worth that

#9 Henry Clausner
July/17/2009
@ 8:06 am

60,000 subscribers!…impressive,what about the foreign markets?

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