Webcomics: Formatting & Publishing

Sequential art has been a part of storytelling for as long as history. However, as the codex—or traditional book—layout became more prominent. Sequential art began to take on more of a blocked structure typically read in “Z” formation within a book, now known as the modern comic book. The movement shifted sequential art away from long canvases such as scrolls and tapestries like Bayeux Tapestry to fit inside a physical and easily accessible book. Nevertheless, the scroll has been reimagined and is now more prominent than ever in the digital era for e-books.

While the traditional format for a comic book is still prevalent in western comics and is accepted across multiple platforms without issue, the scroll or vertical strip has shot the comic market back into mainstream media. This makes it one of the most popular formats for webcomics, thanks to companies like Naver Corp, which founded Webtoon in 2004.

Now, even though novels can usually be straightforward to modify, comics are not. Determining the format of your book is often one of the first steps before creating your story since not every platform can support every format yet. Despite the current scroll format popularity, it is often recommended to begin publishing a story in the traditional “Z” block panel. This is because it is claimed to be easier to modify by artists into the scroll paneling format versus vice versa; however, opinions vary. An example can be shown by Carly Usdin’s choice to release a digital issue of her comic Heavy Vinyl in 2017 before the serialized comic in 2019.

The Serialized Webcomic vs The Comic Issue

Two out of the three most common digital publication options for online comics are known for serializing webcomics as episodes that are initially released weekly. The third option for publishing currently relates more to traditional publishing than digital. It markets digital comics primarily as issues, or volumes, with the idea of possibly having multiple issues. The current formatting options also imply a more traditional background—the lack of the scroll formatting option.


Beginning with Webtoon, as one of the pioneers of the scroll format, the platform is easily available as both a website and an app to the public for free. There are two major sections on the forum that can determine pay and usually quality—Webtoon Originals and Webtoon Canvas, previously known as the discover page. Webtoon allows everyone to freely post a comic, in any format, following the size constraints of the platform if it falls in line with the community guidelines on Canvas. Webtoon has only recently initiated a way for creators who have achieved a certain amount of foot traffic to receive funds through an ad revenue service. However, “there is no guarantee that members will receive net ad revenue as a result of their participation in the program.” Consequently, implying that the only guaranteed pay is for featured authors and artists on the Webtoon Originals section of the platform. A status that is only achievable when the company reaches out to the selected creator.


Tapas, previously known as Tapastic, is an “open publishing platform” much like Webtoon. However, making money on the platform is seemingly a much easier feat than its main competitor. The platform hosts both novels and webcomics in multiple panel formats in both free to read and premium. Both sections have opportunities to make money. The former through advertisements or donations from readers called ink. There is even a yearly event called Inksgiving around Thanksgiving to increase support from readers. Donations or tips like this are often motivated by authors on the “free to read” section because ad revenue does not pay much. Last year a user even noted that:

for Tapas, I have about 2.4k subs and 43.5 k views, and I have only earned 0.71$ in total in ad revenue alone in the past six months. — so, like most people say, don’t get excited too much or don’t expect too much on ad revenue.

(“How Much Do You Earn from Your Webtoons/Novels?” 2021)

To have a story placed in the Premium section, one just has to submit a form that pitches the story to studiotapas@tapasmedia.co, which is effectively easier than simply being noticed. Additionally, as of last year, Kakao Entertainment has purchased Tapas and Radish, a dedicated serialized story platform. It now also hosts the top 27 webcomics available on Tapas. Thus, signifying a potential merger between platforms or an increased opportunity for readership across multiple outlets, inherently demonstrating a future increase in foot traffic for revenue.

ComiXology & Kindle

Now, as of February 2022, ComiXology has merged with Amazon, making the webcomic format increasingly available on Kindle for purchase and sale. A few selected comics have even become available on Kindle Unlimited, one of the largest self-publishing platforms on the market. However, rather than the company allowing all comics to be placed on Kindle Unlimited, there is now ComiXology Unlimited. Comics can now be placed on Kindle Unlimited through KDP and on ComiXology Unlimited after acceptance of “nomination,” which can be submitted via email to support@comixology.com. However, neither sub-platform currently appears to accept the scroll paneling format and opts for the traditional “Z” block paneling for paging through an e-book. This can be noted by Usdin’s comic, Heavy Vinyl, layout on ComiXology Unlimited vs. her layout on Tapas. Now, despite having separate sections, all comics are viewable and readable on the Kindle app. However, sadly navigation or discovering a comic for readers can be difficult. Establishing a readership may be slow at first because of the new merger, despite an easier chance of revenue.

Even though each platform currently has its difficulties and obstacles to monetary gains, there are a variety of benefits as well as the potential for growth for both creators and publishers.

Controlled Digital Lending and the Internet Archive

Introduction to Controlled Digital Lending

The dramatic changes that COVID-19 elicited amongst not only the general public, but also digital services, challenged the perception of products that are deemed accessible. COVID-19 adjusted the basic foundations of commerce in which social services, such as libraries, had to find new ways to approach the spectrum of becoming more accessible. The Hachette Book Group v. Internet Archive (2020) 1:20-cv-04160 is the first lawsuit that challenged the concept of libraries being able to transition physical books into digital format. Moreover, the Hachette Book Group v. Internet Archive (2020) 1:20-cv-04160 case also explores about how an actual library should function. Specifically, the Hachette Book Group Inc v. Internet Archive (2020) 1:20-cv-04160 case looks at the delicate nature of the Controlled Digital Lending program and its capability of transferring physical cultural artifacts into a digital library format.

What is Controlled Digital Lending?

So, one might ask, what exactly is the Controlled Digital Lending program? To start off, Controlled Digital Lending is intertwined within the copyright segments of law. The program is implemented by libraries, in which, libraries are allowed to loan print books to digital patrons in a lend like print fashion. Importantly, through the Controlled Digital Lending program, libraries should adopt an own-to-loan ratio even with digitalized books. Depending on how libraries implement the Controlled Digital Lending program, they may have more leeway on their products according to copyright law. Controlled Digital Lending importantly allows libraries to grow their e-section database of literature when needed.  

Controlled Digital Lending expands further from these simplistic concepts. Firstly, in order to digitize books, libraries must acquire the physical copies legitimately whether it’s obtained through a gift or a purchase.  Through this procurement, the owners of the printed works are compensated for their financial differences. The second component of Controlled Digital Lending is the shifting of physical copies to digitalized copies. The basics of format-shifting is to make content more accessible for either research or mobile functionality. Furthermore, Controlled Digital Lending Programs allows libraries to format their physical copies into digital copies in a controlled manner. Even with digitalized books, libraries must follow the own-to-loan ratio, in retrospect to the number of physical copies they legitimately acquired. In essence, Libraries, when using the Controlled Digital Lending Program, can only issue to customers, the number of legitimately acquired copies, even if it is of digital format. Thus, when libraries want to transfer their physical copies to a digital format, they must loan the exact number of digital copies that they acquired legitimately from their physical form. This becomes a challenge for digital library groups such as the Internet Archive, to legally maneuver through the minefields of copy right infringement. With being considered a library, the Internet Archive is protected by the fair use doctrine. However, here the challenges of digital library groups such as the Internet Archive, which resides as the defendant in the Hachette Book Group v. Internet Archive are affected by the controversies of whether or not they legitimately acquired digital copies of literature work.

What is the Internet Archive?

Starting in 2006, the Internet Archive has become an important advocate for digital media and digital publishing because it is an online library that focuses on bolstering free products that range anywhere from eBooks to music. They act as a non-profit library under the 501(c)(3) exemption. This exemption makes the Internet Archive a charitable organization, in which they do not promote their own self-interests. They’ve developed the slogan “one web page for every book published.” As a result of their slogan, the Internet Archive tries to preserve cultural artifacts especially in times of crises. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet Archive sought to use the National Emergency Library method in their guidelines, as a way for digitalized materials, such as books, to become more accessible to the general public. The National Emergency Library was implemented by the Internet Archive to specifically improve the accessibility of books to researchers, teachers, and students, and so on. The program started on March 24, 2020 and ended on June 16, 2020 and disregarded the own-to-loan ratio of the Controlled Digital lending program. Through the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive digitized approximately 1.4 million books according to Jill Lepore (2020). Through the change of the library’s guidelines, they were able to provide more accessibility to those in need. This action that the Internet Archive took, allows users to freely access the necessary books for those who aren’t able to afford them. However, the controversy becomes, whether or not the Internet Archive genuinely had the right to upload these works of literature, even though the Internet Archive was digitalizing literature for public accessibility.

Due to the transferring of documents to digital format through scanning, the Internet Archive was sued by the Hachette Book Group for copy right infringement and misconduct. The Hachette Book Group claimed that the Internet Archive created massive copyright infringement by publishing works without authorization or legitimately acquiring the physical copies of Hachette, Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley’s fiction and nonfiction literature (Hachette book group members). The Hachette Book group claims this action of format shifting is done illegally and without permission.

How is the Hachette Book Group challenging the Internet Archive?

 The Hachette Book Group believes that the Internet Archive made them lose compensation over the illegally uploaded books. Hachette & company further questions the invented theory of Controlled Digital lending as to how the Internet Archive portrays it. Moreover, through this claim, the Hachette Book Group disregards the attempt of the Internet Archive to preserve cultural elements and considers the Internet Archive’s actions to be infringing upon the copyright act. The Hachette Book Group further claims that the Internet Archive exhausted its rights of the fair use doctrine with the implementation of the National Emergency Library, even though the fair use doctrine allows libraries to use portions of copyrighted literature without the permissions of the owner.

Following the claims about copyright infringement, the Hachette Book Group claims the Internet Archive is slandering the name of public libraries by misrepresenting the public through the means of how they acquire digital material. Little is still known about how the Internet Archive acquired their materials due to the case being a year old.  Furthermore, the Hachette Book Group views the Internet Archives actions as damaging the persona of public libraries and are exploiting publishers from their hard-earned money. While the Internet Archive does want people to buy the publishers books if they can, the Hachette Book Group are more worried about free riders. Through this theory, the Hachette Group argues that the Internet Archive is a creator of nothing and does not value the works of scholars. The Hachette Group further challenges the Internet Archive through their implemented National Emergency Library system. They complain that the Internet Archive change of policy towards the own-to-loan ratio, condoned the illegal acts of copyright infringement.

How the Internet Archive is responding to being sued:

In the Hachette Book Group, Inc. v. Internet Archive (2020) case no: 1:20-CV-04160-JGK, the Internet Archive responded to the Hachette Book Group by stating that were attempting to buy, collect, preserve, and share common cultural interests as any library does. The Internet Archive argues that they were backed by the funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and federal government institutions such as the Museum and Library Services. From this perspective, the Internet Archive also inclines that they are sheltered by the fair use doctrine.

Takeaways from the case:

The Hachette Book Group lobbied themselves as the group who was being harmed by the Internet Archive’s actions, suing the Archive for copyright infringement. The Internet Archive argues that its Controlled Digital Lending program allows for the format-shifting of physical copies to the digital format. The Archive further argues that they are helping to nurture those who cannot access public libraries during COVID. However, with the way the Internet Archive implemented the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive was challenged by copyright infringement and became more vulnerable to piracy, even if they were format shifting for the greater good.

The Hachette Book Group Inc v. Internet Archive (2020) 1:20-cv-04160 case is still ongoing today. The case will challenge how Open Libraries, such as the Internet Archive, transfer their physical copies to digital material. The National Emergency Library ameliorated the need for publishers to take action against the Internet Archive for their supposed misconduct. However, most importantly, this case will provide a stare decisis on whether copyright law is more important to uphold than to promote the progress of making cultural artifacts such as literature, accessible as possible in times of need.