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This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about AI startups, Chatbots and Big data.

The digital boom is everywhere. People who used to sleep with paperbacks in their hands are now keeping Kindle on their side tables. After bringing music, reading and writing to the palm of your hands, the digital world is now rapidly reinventing the comic industry. According to the American Association of Publishers, the industry generated $28 billion in revenue in 2015. While the latest Pew Institute studies show that 28% of Americans now consume published material through electronic formats, there is a prevailing lack of original comics created for the mobile medium.

Among many startups that are disrupting this interesting niche, there is one that stands out as the “Netflix of graphic novels”…an app named Stela. Stela is topping the charts as a one-of-its-kind app that has a curated library of original visual content created by award-winning artists and storytellers, including graphic novels, comics, illustrated novels and other rich visual media. I got a chance to interview its CEO, Jason Juan to discuss the state and future of the digital medium.

Hira: What exactly is the Stela app? And most importantly what’s the mystery behind the name “Stela”?

Jason: Stela is a reading app with original titles covering tons of amazing stories, comics, and illustrated books. For the first time in history, all the content on Stela is originally designed specifically for mobile phones. Fresh new content can be accessed monthly with our affordable subscription model.   

Hira: What inspired you to make this idea a reality? How do you consider yourselves the “Netflix” of mobile comics?

Jason: Netflix is the subscription model we really like and it allows readers to read whatever they want, whenever they want. We believe this is what the majority of the audience in the US would like to have. Eventually, Stela will NOT be just limited to comics. We consider Stela the future bookstore or library for the mobile industry. Graphic novels and comics is the first step on that journey.   

Hira: Are you a comic reader or maker? How did it start?

Jason: We are all comic readers and makers. We discovered that the mobile space lacks real reading content that moves people. Most content is news or content that is in a poor format which is impossible to read on a mobile device. Stela wants to solve that by providing a truly premium reading experience with rich visuals and deep stories that draw readers in and lets them escape.

Hira: Are you planning to have a web portal or will this be a mobile app forever?

Jason: The web portal has recently been launched, and you can read some free chapters now at https://www.stela.com/read. The full experience is still mobile app only. We will release a subscription for the web portal soon for the people who would like to read all the content directly on browsers.

Hira: What genre of comics are you featuring the most and how are you planning to take submissions?

Jason: It is not so much about the genres, but more about the premium quality that I believe is the most important for the readers and Stela. We feature top quality content and we do take submissions from talented storytellers.

Hira: How are you managing the comic library? Is it free for all, freemium or premium?

Jason: We measure how readers react to the titles and chapters. Based on our algorithm we sort our page and content for the readers. We are also constantly growing the content weekly. Because of the high originality of the stories, our model is premium with a few chapters free to try.

Hira: Where do you see Stela in the next 5 years? What is the vision behind the app?

Jason: We would like Stela to be the place for all the premium comics, top quality illustrated books and most mobile-friendly books where every single title is 100% designed for a mobile device.

The vision is the revolution for true digital books. Each book needs to be designed to every single pixels, not just a text file, or rich text file, such as ebooks.

Hira: What stage is your app is currently at?

Jason: There are still many features we are currently building for the app. We also want to have more more premium contents, and we constantly raising the quality bar. We will also expand into various types of books such as food, drink, literature, art, and design.

Hira: I don’t see any competitor for Stela out there. Are there any? Enlighten me.

Jason: Amazon Kindle. 🙂

Our ten-year goal is to beat Kindle. In the end, each book requires a designer to design, not just a simple ebook. Stela designs every single book where readers can truly enjoy the content and not worry about font setting or background color or an uncomfortable flow.   

Hira: Who are you targeting as an audience? Male, female or both? What’s in it for girls especially as they aren’t into comics as much.

Jason: Anyone on earth who wants to read a premium quality story with rich visual graphics is our target audience. Recently we tested ad campaigns reaching out to female readers. The surprising result was that acquisition costs for new subscribers dropped drastically as female-targeted ads saw consistently high returns. Now our subscriber base is over 45% female and growing, subverting the traditional belief that girls don’t read comics.

The problem isn’t who, it’s what. Unlike traditional publishers and distributors, Stela isn’t limited to your typical comic content and genre, meaning we can provide readers with a wider range of material to suite different tastes, interests, and lifestyles – including material that appeals to a female audience. Because as cool as they are, we can’t all love super heroes and zombies. Unlike the traditionally male-dominated comic book industry, Stela’s creative staff is over 80% female, providing our audience with content from a hitherto unexplored point of view.  Stela’s creative and growth team is led by writer and illustrator Sandra Lanz – creator of the House Girls series, and VP of Development Yaling Catorcini – a veteran of both Apple and T-Mobile.

Hira: Any other comments? I’d be happy to feature!

Jason: Since computers have been invented, digital books have never been designed properly, especially any books with pictures. It has been more than 40 years and someone has to fix it. Today finally almost everyone can have a phone with Internet access if they want and all the phones are roughly the same size with about 4.5 to 5 inches of display space. All the creators finally have a standard to aim for which means each book can be now be designed without a moving target. I would like to see each book actually being designed and presented in the best format for all the phone readers to enjoy.


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Hira Saeed Hira Saeed
(@heerasaeed) Hira Saeed is a Tech Geek Girl who is a writer by passion and Social media & PR consultant by profession. Her experience ranges from remote jobs, startup entrepreneurship and consultancy to event management and senior-level marketing positions. Hira is also a community leader for Startup Weekend Karachi, public speaker and a columnist who shares her views on AI and chatbots on VentureBeat.