Finding ways to read comics and manga online isn’t necessarily a new concept. We have apps like ComiXology, Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe Infinite, and Shonen Jump that enable us to read content by paying for the full price of the comic up front or paying a monthly subscription fee. Other app developers look to the Webtoons and Tapas style system where users can read comics week to week without having to make a purchase (if they don’t want to). This model is something largely attributed to manga/manhwa/manhua style stories but more and more, we are seeing new styles hit these apps.
Black Sands Entertainment has taken this a step further. Utilizing the gacha system, weekly unlocks, and purchasable content, Black Sands Entertainment is opening new doors for how their comics can be accessed with a focus on black creators and creative teams. I had the awesome opportunity to speak with Manuel Godoy, president of Black Sands Entertainment and author of Black Sands.
So I know this is a brand new app, tell me a little bit about what the app is; what is the intent of the app?
Manuel Godoy: The app released on Free Comic Book Day, May 1. It’s basically the black Webtoon – it’s webtoons from black creators. We’re also looking for brown and indigenous creators as well to be on the platform. That’s the purpose of it, it’s just a way for these creators to get some spotlight because we felt like the current tools just weren’t allowing them to be discovered.
I like that description. I’m an avid Webtoon reader. What kind of genres are you going to encompass? What genres do you have on there right now and what are you planning to have in the future?
Manuel Godoy: Well, we have a lot of historical mythology-based and fantasy-based stories. Some side by sci-fi, some modern-day, romance, that’s the kind of the breakdown for what we have right now. We have barely any horror at all, and no “adult” titles. It’s all YA or Teen. But it’s a pretty wide variety, even with some titles that are very much like shonen manga.
Talking about the genres, what are some titles that – well, I’m sure you like all the titles that are on there, but what kind of titles would you say are your favorites right now that you would recommend to a new reader?
Manuel Godoy: Well, I would definitely recommend Black Sands. That’s probably the first title you’re going to see the second you get on there, and we give you 20 chapters right off the bat without having to use our system to roll for comics. We also give three chapters of every single comic on the app before you have to roll to unlock chapters. I would say for anyone trying it out for the first time that wants to see what kind of stuff we have; Flame is a really good series. Flame has a very unique look to it, it’s probably one of the most unique titles we have. Muntu Warriors is great if you just want to have a really strong, rich African vibe – it’s really stylized in a high end African vibe. Then you have Monarchs, and Monarchs is funny. So, if you like comedy and a little bit of fighting, Monarchs will crack you up.
And how does utilizing this app support the creators? How does it come back towards them?
Manuel Godoy: I think the best way that it could be described is we set up a gacha system in our app, which is very different from what places like Webtoons or Comixology have done in the past. This allows users, who tend to be from our community as well, to have free access to the app. They can go and start reading immediately, no one has to pay anything ever if they don’t want to, because we have daily missions and stuff, plus the exposure because we’re limiting the fact that you could binge through an entire series. Maybe you went on the app just to read Black Sands, but because you hit a wall, you’re going to go check out some other comics, then maybe you become a super fan of those comics and now you want to read all of these series. That’s the idea of the whole gacha system in the first place. For us, it’s a way to force engagement.
We also have a forum as well, and a lot of people have been using the forum to go and give suggestions on titles they should read. It’s very important, I feel, that people get exposure without having to do everything themselves. With Webtoons, you have to bring every single reader you ever get on that platform because they aren’t going to give you anything unless you somehow hit the jackpot and they feature you on the main page, which is very rare. Short of that happening, you’re not getting any organic growth at all, with us it’s the exact opposite, we’re forcing users to you.
I know that you’re the president and author for Black Sands, were you the app creator as well?
Manuel Godoy: We used app developers called majestic. They’ve developed a lot of fortune 500 apps and they are veteran owned, we’re veteran owned, so they gave us a deal. They’ve done a really good job because when you go on the app you’ll see it’s a really deep kind of development, it’s not simple at all. Most people say it feels more like a video game or like an RPG than a comic book app.
And for creators who see this and think, “I really like this, I really like this format.” How would they reach out to you and get involved and what would somebody who wants to create content through your app need to do?
Manuel Godoy: Well, they can apply at www.blacksandspublishing.app. They could also just DM me on Instagram and say, “Hey, I’ve got a comic book, I want it on your app, here’s a link.” One thing is, we definitely want a black, brown or indigenous person in the creative team, that’s just the mission of the app in the first place, so we want them there. It has to be somewhat family-friendly, YA is the highest we’ll go and that’s mostly because we’re planning on licensing schools next year, which means we can’t have any content that’s going to be a problem for teenagers.
Is there much you can tell me about what the plans are for the school licensing and the future in that regard?
Manuel Godoy: Yes, so we’re probably going to do an investment round at the end of this month or early next month, which is the next push for the app. During that time we’re going to raise about three million dollars, but once we’re done with that round, we’re going to hire a whole bunch of permanent staff to our company to handle some of this really high-end stuff. We’re going to have a V2 built for the app for our regular users, and then a V2 alternative made specifically for schools. That one isn’t going to have a forum or gacha system, some titles might not even be available specifically because they might be a little controversial for that age range, and everything is unlocked from the jump.
Now, it’s not set up yet, but theoretically it would work like this: a school library is given 10 passes right off the bat, they get a QR code or whatever, and then the kids can just go on their phone, download the app, use their library card and boom, they unlock the book for the semester. You just want them to read and they’re not going to go to the hard stuff until they’re comfortable. This will get them just reading in general. That’s the biggest problem I’ve heard from librarians nowadays, it’s just the fact that the kids won’t read period, and they need to get reading first before they can get them to the more academic stuff, so that’s the idea.
Photo Courtesy of Black Sands Entertainment
Manuel Godoy: Well, ad revenue share is probably something that’s going to be happening down the line, that’s a long time from now though – at least six months or more. We have to get the user numbers up and we have to set up an ad scheme that’s not annoying. I think opt-in ads would probably be best for us is like, “Hey, you get a free unlock ticket for any chapter of your choice, if you watch a 30-second ad.” So I think we can set up a really good opt-in ad service, that way we don’t have to have banners or things like that to clutter our interface and eventually, they’ll start getting a revenue share from that. Also, they just get our massive infrastructure.
We have a crazy amount of investors, people who just spend money, they don’t just hit the “like” button and follow, they spend real money at our company. So when we say one of our future titles has a Kickstarter right now, click here to support it, that can go out to 50 to 100, 000 people. That’s better than all the paid ads in the world when it comes down to it, and we could do that because we don’t have a massive catalog.
We have 50-60 titles max, so we try to manage that throughout the year by spread out a little bit, and you can go and give somebody a day and say “okay, today is your campaign’s day, we’re going to push it”, and that’s the real power of is the idea, that they get my infrastructure, because I have a lot of infrastructure set up for customers.
I’m glad you mentioned Kickstarter, because I utilize a lot of these apps. I’m definitely going to be utilizing the Black Sands app, but I also like to collect my books in physical copies. Do you plan on utilizing future physical publishing as well?
Manuel Godoy: That’s our bread and butter, that’s what we normally do in general. So this year, we’re planning on doing about 1.5 million in sales, so we sell a lot of books. We have physical books at our store Black Sands Entertainment and on Amazon. It’s also connected directly to the app too, so people can actually buy our physical books without actually leaving the app. We’ve also been taking on some novelists and testing the market to see how their books would do in our store. So far, they’re selling extremely well. Everybody that has come into our store so far has sold 300-400 copies a month. It makes us a lot of money too, but they don’t sell that much product in the first place, so that’s a huge increase in sales for them.
And for my last question, what’s the best way for new users and new readers to utilize the app?
Manuel Godoy: I always tell everybody to use the referral codes. We have a ridiculously high incentive referral process. Basically, what you get if you refer up to 10 people to the app and they use your referral code, you’re going to get like 40 chapters, 40 unlock tickets of your choice, 120 gems, which basically gives you 40 roles on the gacha, so you can get 44 chapters through that, random chapters, but you still get 44, and then 200 silver, which gets you lore cards, which are basically our trading cards.
We have trading cards in our app And that just gives you a massive amount of currency if you pull off all 10, and the people who got on with your code also get free chapters on top of that as a bonus, so I always tell them to use that. Then take your time and just enjoy the app. The app is meant to be enjoyed throughout the month,
Well, awesome. I know you mentioned your Instagram, but what kind of social media platforms can we find you or Black Sands?
Manuel Godoy: Instagram, tiktok, YouTube, and I guess Facebook are the best platforms. They’re all @BlackSandsEntertainment with no spaces. Tiktok is the one I’m the most active on, Instagram is my second most active, and then YouTube, and then Facebook. If they want to keep a real close eye on what’s going on with our company, tiktok and Instagram are the best bet. Obviously getting on our mailing list is always a good option.