Comic sales are down as readers abandon print

Comic book and graphic novel sales fell 6.5% in 2017 from a 2016 high of $1.015 billion. Graphic novels brought in $570 million while comic books brought in about $350 million.

A report posted to Comichron notes that comic stores are still the biggest source for revenue while $90 million is attributable to digital downloads.

“After a multiyear growth run, the comics shop market gave back some of its gains in 2017, with lackluster response to new periodical offerings and, consequently, graphic novel sales,” wrote Comichron’s John Jackson Miller. “The third quarter of 2017 saw the worst of the year-over-year declines, leading into what has turned out to be a stronger spring for stores in 2018.”

In a pattern that is now familiar in publishing, kids comics and graphic novels helped buoy the market. The same thing is happening regularly in the book market with kids titles selling briskly in print while adults abandon softcovers and hardcovers for digital downloads. While the “floppy” comic book is still clearly popular, the digital download is outpacing subscription sales but it still minuscule in comparison to print.

Interestingly, Comichron breaks up sales into comics, graphics novels, and digital downloads and it would be enlightening to compare digital sales broken up by book style. That said, it’s fascinating to see the medium change as consumption models shift to devices.

Knotel acquires 42Floors in order to build the blockchain of property

Another day, another blockchain project. This time sources are reporting that Knotel – an office space rental service in Manhattan – has acquired 42Floors, a commercial real estate search engine in order to, according to founder Amol Sarva, get “access to data and technology on over 10 billion square feet of office space, driving further liquidity to Knotel’s marketplace while also accelerating its plans for a blockchain platform.”

The deal is not yet complete.

Knotel is building the Agile HQ platform, a way to rent office space for a few hours or a few months without getting stuck in a lease. The company has 1 million square feet of space in New York, San Francisco, London, and Berlin and it raised $100 million in funding. The company claims it has more has more buildings in New York than WeWork.

“42Floors built a powerful tool to organize a dark market that hasn’t changed in a hundred years,” said Amol Sarva, CEO of Knotel. “It’s still backroom and bilateral while the rest of the world is becoming digital and standardized. This is what leads to transactions that take months to close with a dozen middlemen – no reliable information. You can buy a house faster than you can rent a floor. Partnering together will help give owners and customers what they both want: truth.”

The reported 42Floors acquisition enables the company to bring new properties onto its platform and could let non-blockchain-based contracts move to the blockchain.

UPDATE – Text changed to reflect the type of business and ICO plans.

Hu-manity wants to create a health data marketplace with help from blockchain

Imagine a world where you could sell your medical information to a drug company on your terms for a specific purpose like a drug trial. Then imagine you could restrict the company from using that data for anything else, including selling it to other medical data brokers, and enforcing those ownership rules on the blockchain.

That’s what Hu-manity.co, a data ownership startup wants to do and they are putting the pieces in place to create a data marketplace. This is not an easy problem to solve, but co-founder and CEO Richie Etwaru, sees it as a crucial cultural shift in how we treat data.

Etwaru, who wrote a book on using the blockchain and smart contracts in a business context called Blockchain Trust Companies, sees the blockchain as just a small piece of a much broader solution. It can provide a rules engine and enforcement mechanism, but he doesn’t see this as the gist of the company at all.

For Etwaru and Hu-manity it’s about viewing your data as your property, and giving you legal control of it. “We’re starting with the idea that your data is your digital property, and we are allowing you to have the equivalent of a title, like you have for your car,” he explained.

You may be wondering how they can bring this notion to business, which after all has been allowed to use your data for some time without your explicit permission, never mind pay you for it under a set of specific contractual terms. To achieve that, Hu-manity wants to create large pools of users that would make it attractive to the data buyers.

“We are pooling large communities together to be able to notify corporations that don’t respect digital data streams of property, because they take a very business centric view of regulations to opt out, then invite them back into a property centric view of data within the new terms and conditions defined by the marketplace,” he said.

They are starting with health data because Etwaru says that this data is often sold for medical studies, whether you know it or not — albeit with PII removed. The other thing besides market pressure, which could drive companies like big pharma to make contracts with individuals to buy their data, is that they get much better data when they understand the whole patient. Even if they could figure out who the patient is, and it’s becoming increasingly possible with digital fingerprinting, they are legally prohibited from contacting an individual to correct the record or to get a better understanding of their history.

Hu-manity plays a couple of roles here according to Etwaru, For starters, they are attaching a traceable title number to the data. Then they plan to set up the marketplace and help put the seller and buyer together, all the while providing a track and trace mechanism that allows the data owner to ensure their data is being used in a way they wish. In that sense, they are acting as a broker between buyer and seller.

Interestingly, Etwaru admits there is no set market value for this data, at least as of yet, although he believes an individual’s medical data sets could sell for between $200-$400. For now, the company is working with a group of economists to determine the best way to approach pricing. He doesn’t believe it’s a good idea for individuals to negotiate their own terms, and that we should let these market cooperatives determine the value. His company will take 25 percent of the selling price as a brokerage fee, regardless of how it ultimately works.

The company was founded last spring and has raised $5.5 million on a $50 million valuation. There are many issues to work out before that happens, and many ways to stumble along the way, but the company has a compelling vision and it will be interesting to see if it can pull this together and gain market traction.

Watch Blue Origin’s most critical rocket launch right here

The launch is scheduled for 11:00 am EDT on July 18, 2018.

Blue Origin is about to perform a critical rocket test. For the first time, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company will send its New Shepard rocket to its red line at the edge of space and then fire the escape motor on the capsule that will carry passengers. If this test goes well, Blue Origin’s New Shepard program could become operational as early as this year.

This is the ninth mission for the New Shepard program and the third time this reusable rocket was used.

About 20 seconds (and 100 feet) after the New Shepard booster and the crew capsule separates, the motor on the capsule will fire with 70K foot pounds of thrust, sending the capsule 50,000 km higher than it has gone before. After the motor fires, parachutes will hopefully deploy, allowing the capsule to return safely to solid ground. Separately, the booster will hopefully return to Earth and land so it can be reused again.

Inside the capsule is a crash dummy loaded with instruments to measure the forces of the rocket launch. Bezos dubbed the dummy “Mannequin Skywalker” because even the richest man in modern history is a nerd. Mannequin Skywalker will experience around 3Gs during the launch, a Blue Origin representative said.

Kik launches beta product after $100 million ICO

Kik made waves last year after a successful $100 million ICO. Now the company has released its first beta product related to its Kin token. Called Kinit, it’s a simple wallet that enables users to earn, store, and spend its tokens.

“Kinit is a fun, easy way to earn Kin, a new cryptocurrency made for your digital life. Earning Kin is just like playing a game, only better, because you get rewarded for completing fun daily activities like surveys, quizzes, interactive videos and more,” reads the Google Play Store description. You can download the app for Android here.

The Kin token is unique for a few reasons. First it is not a traditional ERC-20 token and is instead uses Ethereum for liquidity and the on the Stellar network to improve transaction speed. Further, the company is spending a great deal – about $3 million – to get developers to develop on the token through its KinEcosystem site. The Kinit app is the first effort to get normal users to adopt the tool.

The app makes it possible for users to generate a few dollars in value per day and then exchange those dollars for gift cards and perks. According to CCN, Kik has created a product without a business model and instead it wants to drive the adoption of the token through giveaways.

“Kinit is the first publicly available app dedicated to Kin. Our goal with Kinit is to get Kin into more consumers’ hands. It’s a major step towards making crypto truly consumer-friendly through fun and engaging experiences, and we plan to learn and iterate based on real-world user behavior. We’re excited to get even more people earning and spending Kin — all on the Kin Blockchain,” wrote Rod McLeod, Kik’s VP of communications. The app currently asks you to complete surveys in order to get discounts and gift card codes for products.

With the rise of the product-less ICO it’s clear that Kik has the right idea. By encouraging usage they drive up the token price and token velocity and by launching a general beta full of cutesy imagery and text they are able to avoid the hard questions about developer adoption until far into the future. While the KinIt app is probably not what most Kin holders wanted to see, it’s at least an interim solution while the team builds out sturdier systems.

Y Combinator to give $10K to 100 grads of its online Startup School

Y Combinator wants to lure more companies into the funnel for its accelerator while democratizing free access to startup knowledge. It’s simultaneously moving up and down market to conquer the acceleration space, with both its recent Series A program for more mature startups and $1 million in grants for high potential founders from its extra-early-stage online course.

Today the entrepreneurship academy announced that the third year of its Startup School program will begin August 27, offering a 10-week set of lectures on how to build, grow and monetize a startup. More than 13,000 companies signed up last year, with 2,800 of the best receiving a YC alumni mentor, and 1,587 completing the program with an online Demo Day. It proved a powerful feeder, leading to 38 being admitted to YC’s core accelerator program that charges 7 percent equity for $120,000 in funding. Those included patent law firm Cognition IP, customer feedback platform Thematic and internet service provider Necto.

Startup School 2017’s participants came from around the world

But this year, YC is going to give 100 high-potential companies that complete the course a $10,000 grant for no equity in return. The cash comes from YC’s own bank account, filled from exits of its portfolio companies over the years and other revenue streams. These prizes could pique the interest of more founders around the world and keep them committed to following through with the self-directed learning. Interested companies can sign up here.

“Useful advice around how to grow products, how to sell, all the mechanics for starting a startup . . . there’s unending demand for that,” says Geoff Ralston, a YC partner and founder of RocketMail that was acquired and became Yahoo Mail. “In some countries it’s the only career path available,” he declares with a bit of the hyperbole Silicon Valley is known for. “In the U.S., it’s become way more mainstream than it ever was years ago.”

The last two years’ Startup School programs have included lectures from WhatsApp’s Jan Koum and Box’s Aaron Levie on how to build a product, Stripe’s Patrick Collison and Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann on hiring and culture, and investors Marc Andreessen and Ron Conway on how to raise money. YC won’t be running the program in partnership with Stanford University like last year, but still hopes to reach as many companies.

Box CEO Aaron Levie gives a Startup School lecture on building product

Getting the most out of Startup School requires putting a lot in. I watched every lecture, took notes, attended all the office hours, and participated in the online community, and it was all worth it,” said Cognition IP co-founder Bryant Lee. “The learning experience will save you a ton of time down the road.”

Beyond the lectures and shot at the grants, YC will be offering participants more than $50,000 in credits to Amazon Web Services and other enterprise tools, plus discounted payment processing from Stripe. Graduates will also receive an online meeting with a YC partner later in the year to help them prep for applying to the core accelerator. Ralston says YC is already accustomed to vetting thousands of applications, so he’s confident it can sift through the Startup School students to find the gems.

The program effectively creates a vacuum that sucks in startups so YC can start forging a relationship with them. That’s critical, as it needs access to the best companies to make its program profitable since so many early-stage startups are destined to fail or end up generating paltry returns as acqui-hires by bigger corporations.

Startup School founders may be paired with a mentor like YC alum Christian Van Der Henst of Platzi for weekly online office hours

When asked if the “school” might delude some young wantrepreneurs, convincing them to abandon traditional higher learning or safer jobs to launch a company, Ralston countered, saying “I have to reject the idea that knowledge about what it takes to start a startup is weaponized or dangerous to people. I think there are way larger risks in the dynamicism and changes in the wold today than the risks of trying to start a startup or work at a startup and learn an incredible set of skills that are valuable in life or business.” At the very least, having their startup blow up in their face should build character.

“It can be tough for people if and when their startup doesn’t work out,” Ralston concludes. “But it can be tough when you work at a company for 10 years and get fired and don’t know where to go from there.”

Microsoft to launch new Xbox hardware next month

Microsoft is teasing new Xbox hardware and accessories will launch at Gamescom in Germany next month. Details are limited. The word comes from a Microsoft blog post about the event in which it lists the date and time of the August 21 event, which will feature “lots of news, all-new Xbox hardware and accessories, and features on upcoming titles.”

Don’t expect the successor to the Xbox One, though.

There are several options here and most signs point to a new Xbox Elite controller. Rumors have been swirling that the updated controller will feature USB-C charging, Windows 10 compatibility and updated mechanisms for the triggers and buttons. The timing is right, too. If announced in the middle of August, Microsoft will have plenty of time to get the expensive controller into retail stores for the holiday season.

Microsoft just released the 4K Xbox One X last year. This model is still competitive with the latest PlayStation 4. A lower price, or a redesigned low-end Xbox One S, could also be on tap.

Whatever is announced on August 21 at Gamescom, we’ll pass along the word.