SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Digital comics marketplace and reading app Madefire has made a long-awaited debut on Android, the company announced Thursday on the first day of Comic-Con International: San Diego.
"Access is the new ownership," Madefire's chief executive and co-founder Ben Wolstenholme told CNET from the show floor. The free-to-download Madefire Android app (Google Play) promises an enormous untapped market for the company. Given that Google's mobile platform has more than 1 billion users worldwide on phones and tablets, its absence on Android was notable.
Wolstenholme said that Madefire focused on other form-factors before Android because it was already on iOS. In addition to iPhones and iPads, the company already has built native apps for Xbox, Windows 8, and the Web.
"We built for Xbox because it's the only platform that's going to work in the front room," he said. Madefire debuted four years ago but has focused on much slower growth than its better-known competitor, Comixology.
Like Madefire, Comixology is a digital comics marketplace and reading app, but it quickly grew to be the de facto comics app. With nearly every North American and many European publishers using Comixology to publish their books online, Amazon scooped up the startup earlier this year.
Even with Madefire not available on Android, Wolstenholme said the company has seen great success with its Motion Books technology. It's similar to Comixology Guided View, which takes readers from one panel to the next, but it allows for more layered artwork and sounds. A DC digital comic collaboration with Madefire based on the Batman: Arkham video game series series that allowed for a choose-your-own-adventure style of storytelling had "hundreds of thousands" of downloads, Wolstenholme said.
Although Madefire doesn't have the publishing deals that Comixology does, it still allows in-app purchases, a feature that Amazon removed from Comixology on iOS and in part from Android. It also allows aspiring creators to publish their comics "in minutes," Wolstenholme said, while Comixology's similar feature takes "six months."
The Create tool debuted last week in a partnership with the enormous online art community website DeviantArt. It lets artists publish their books on Madefire "in minutes," said Wolstenholme, with little overhead, and for free. Madefire only takes a cut when Create users charge for their books.
"From my lens, Madefire is creator-first," DeviantArt co-founder Angelo Sotira told CNET. With Madefire, he said, "you're back in control. It's the traditional feel of comics, and then there's the motion," if you want it.
Madefire will be developing new comics with Fox Digital Entertainment based on their Maze Runner film, debuting this coming fall.
Comics publishers large and small can opt in to Madefire's new Print feature, which allows the reader to download the book and store it on their local hard drive.
However, Print is not available for all Madefire comics, since publishers must agree to activate the feature. Some of the better-known comics publishers that have agreed to do so include IDW, Valiant, Oni Press, Top Cow, and Liquid Comics, but that list lacks the biggest two comics publishers in North America: Marvel and DC.
Wolstenholme declined to answer questions about per-platform usage, but did note that readership is split pretty evenly between Web and mobile. Madefire is funded by True Ventures' Toni Schneider and Bill Woodward of Anthem Ventures. Its board is made up of tech and comics notables, including Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, former Apple senior vice-president of applications Sina Tamaddon, Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, and comics legend Bill Sienkiewicz.
Gibbons said that he supports Madefire in part because of its technological differences from its competitors. "Everybody else has put a horse on a skateboard. We have built a sports car," he said.
Madefire faces an uphill battle, with Comixology dominating the marketplace. But its apparent willingness to listen to what creators want could give it the room to carve out a different niche.