About a year ago, I wrote a piece about that somewhat nebulous area between webcomics and digital comics. Comic apps for mobile devices that weren’t really webcomics but weren’t really digital comics either. I ended the piece wondering whether the business model would work or not.
This week, Stēla raised their monthly fee from $5.00 to $9.99 after changing their name to Stēla Unlimited. There’s nothing inherently wrong with raising prices, of course, but considering they only launched in February, that does suggest they were initially way off base on what kind of revenue they would be generating. That they essentially doubled the price after only four months, my guess is that they expected to have twice as many people downloading the app.
That could be attributed to wild optimism. One does need to be optimistic to launch any new venture, naturally, and that excitement can distort one’s perception of how well received it might actually be. If that’s the case here, then kudos to them for getting on a more realistic footing fairly quickly.
On the other hand, the miscalculation might not be from optimism so much as it is from just poor planning. The person(s) in charge of figuring out how much they should charge either made a grievous math error or had some really bad data to work with. In either case, it would seem as if someone wasn’t doing their job(s) very well.
The other factor to consider here, though, is that co-founder and original Editor-in-Chief Ryan Yount also left the company this week. He’s not publicly said why, and there could be any number of reasons, but after only four months, the app’s success (or lack thereof, depending on your expectations) probably isn’t one of them. But since his resignation comes so close to the price increase and name change, it’s hard to believe the two aren’t connected. However, if I offered any of my ideas, they’d all be idle speculation based on nothing but guesswork.
That said, it certainly doesn’t look promising. People don’t create companies and apps without a great deal of passion, and they typically don’t abandon them without a lot of reluctance to admit things didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped. That doesn’t happen in four months. Yount could conceivably be stepping down for personal reasons—for example, caring for a sick relative or securing a more financially stable position to take care of immediate money concerns. But coupled with the other changes, that suggests there were internal problems of some sort.
In any event, we’re left waiting on the sidelines to see what happens with the company overall. Being an Android user, it’s hard for me to keep track of their Apple-only app but I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes out for what I can. No one has really cracked the digital/webcomic-app-for-mobile nut yet, and I’d certainly be curious to see what specific issues Stēla has had trouble with and how they dealt with them.