When the news broke a couple of weeks ago that Wizard Magazine was coming to an end, and that founder Gareb Shamus had launched a new, publicly owned company, we naturally had a lot of questions. Wizard World’s trading? A digital magazine? Luckily, Gareb Shamus returned our e-mail and was kind enough to sit down for an in-depth interview about the future plans for Wizard World and provides some insight on the business decisions behind them.
Before we dive into the lengthy interview, I have thank the iFanboy resident finance expert Jason Wood for his collaboration on some of the questions in this interview. We also should disclose, as usual, that iFanboy is owned by Graphic.ly, a digital comics platform that will be distributing the new Wizard World digital magazine.
With that said, I present to you iFanboy’s exclusive interview with Gareb Shamus:
iFanboy: I think part of the surprise just came from the institution, like you said, in 20 years of the magazine being around and there kind of being this ever-present kind of thing in the industry and like you said, the times are changing and the way I saw it was just that you guys were adjusting for the future, which seems to make sense.
Gareb: Right. Well, the thing that people haven’t seen, though, is right now they’ve only heard about ceasing the publishing side of it, and what people haven’t seen yet is the new product that we’re going to be launching. There’s a new product that Wizard World is going to be launching. So in people’s minds right now, yes, and there’s an institution change. Now, also when…think about even in the digital space, when AOL started, nobody thought that that thing would ever happen, and then Yahoo came along, and then Google came along, and then Apple came along, and Facebook came along, and Twitter came along, and every single time these new digital platforms emerged, no one ever thought that there would be any room for another product to come out there and take over the consumers’ minds the way they have. For us being able to create the next version of what I think people are going to be excited about is really amazing for us.
iFanboy: So why don’t you tell us what the this new product is? What can you tell us? What can fans or readers expect with this new product that you guys have been working on?
Gareb: Well, right now, there’s a lot of clutter out there. People don’t know what to buy. People don’t know what to read. People don’t know what to believe. And when you go to a store, whether it’s online or offline, it’s very intimidating for a consumer without having pre-bought the product, and they don’t know what it’s going to be about. They don’t know whether they’re going to like it or not. They’re going to need to know how to cut through that clutter.
And for 20 years I’ve been able to, and people with me that have worked for me, we’ve been able to reach out to this vast creative community and let people know what’s out there and what they should be buying and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to help people sort through the clutter out there and find the types of products that we know people are going to love.
And here’s the thing, though, about it, which is we’re going to pick and discover the kind of things that we like and expose it to the millions of people that we reach all the time.
iFanboy: So in terms of that, the things that you guys like, is the focus going to change from what it was with Wizard, where the focus was comics, but as the years went on it expanded to movies and TV and things like that. Is the new product just going to be kind of geek culture, or is it going still have a comics focus?
Gareb: Well, we’re calling ourselves…we are going to be, and we have been…we are the pioneers of pop culture. So we are going to continue the dominant influence that we’ve had on people’s taste and what people will like and what people will want and because we have the influences out there, we have the people that are the people that the companies are looking to reach, and we reach them en masse all the time. We reach the people who have the dollars that spend money on this product, and we’re going to be marketing to them every single day now.
Now, the magazine is going to be a free weekly magazine. But we have the primary audience, and we market to them 365 days a year, whether it’s online through our new visual magazine, through the events. We have a direct relationship with our audience all the time. And we are going to continue to spread our influence with this audience as to all the kinds of great products that we see, especially in the comic book and toy area.
iFanboy: You said the new product is a digital magazine, so how will people be able to get it?
Gareb: It’s going to be free, and it’s going to be weekly, and it’s going to be available everywhere. So however people are going to want to read it, whether it’s through their iPad, they’re going to be able to read it online, they’re going to be able to read it through a bunch of different mobile devices. They’re going to be able to read it through programs through applications like Graphic.ly [Disclosure: iFanboy is owned by Graphic.ly], and through a lot of the other ones, whether it’s Comixology or other platforms. Our intent is to work with everybody to get it everywhere. Because for us, we want the product to continue to be ubiquitous the way the products I’ve created in the past have been.
iFanboy: Why go with the digital magazine format and what seems to be a downloadable file that can be read through an application like Graphic.ly, or Comixology, or whatever, and not just develop a website and make a media presence like most other people have?
Gareb: I think what’s happening now in the way people are consuming content is changing dramatically and will continue to change dramatically. And I personally find, and I think a lot of other people do, that websites are pretty worthless in their ability to have an impact on an audience and we don’t want to be that, because we have a tremendous influence on our audience. Wizard magazine, even before it ceased publishing, still sold more than 95 plus percent of the comic books out there.
So it’s had a very tremendous influence on the way people purchase. But now multiply that times…when we’re going to be launching a new digital product, multiply that by many, many times our audience that is going to have access to our product all the time, anywhere. That influence is going to grow tremendously, and we reach the influencers out there, the people who actually vote with their dollars, that buy products, that want to know what they’re going to get are going to do that.
Now the format of it, getting back to that, again, when you think about how, or when I think about how people are going to be consuming products in the future, I believe that the way we’re going to be able to deliver the product is the way people are going and want to consume it. And a lot of companies are betting a lot of big dollars on a lot of these mobile devices and mobile readers and tablets and things of that nature. And we’re going to have a huge influence in the emergence of those markets by the type of product that we’re creating.
We’re not doing a digital version of the print magazine. We’re doing a brand new digital magazine that’s appropriately produced for the online world, for the digital world.
iFanboy: Are you guys radically changing the content coverage and the content kind of format, or will fans of Wizard see familiar sections or content that they’re used to?
Gareb: Well there’s no question that we’re still writing about comics and toys and games and things of that nature. However, it’s not going to be a digital version of the print product that used to be, and when people think of things like that, the first thought that comes to their mind is, “Why are things like that?” And you’re really talking about digital versions of the print product, or a glorified version of the print product, now it’s available online. But it wasn’t designed as a digital product right from the start. It was designed to create a digital version of what’s already being printed out there. What we are doing is we are creating a product specifically for the digital world, not a digital version of what I used to do in print. And when people see it, they’re going to understand what I’m talking about.
iFanboy: What will be the plan for content then? Will you have a target page count or is it going to be fluctuating and growing as the news and content permits?
Gareb: That’s the beauty of digital. We get to write as much we want. We get to show as much as we want. We don’t have the limitations of print as a canvas for us to work on.
So with Toy Fair coming up, we’re going to show lots of pictures of toys coming out. When our shows are coming up, we’re going to have lots of information. We literally get hundreds of creators at all of our shows. We’re going to see between two and three thousand different artists and creators at our events this year. That’s going to be amazing content that we’re going to have in our magazine that’s unique to us that nobody else has. They’re in our world that we can have access to.
So there’s going to be so many things that we can do to take advantage of our leverage in the market and the fact that we have the audience that are the influencers out there and the people that create the products, whether they create the movies, or the television shows or the video games, or the toys, or the comic books themselves, they’re going to be very, very interested to see what we have to say out there like they’ve always been.
iFanboy: So now, as far as more from the business side, if it’s going to be distributed for free, in the middle you have cut out the printing costs and the physical costs, but I imagine there are still costs involved with creating this magazine. Is it going to be advertising supported, or what is the business model now for the new Wizard World?
Gareb: Well, it’s absolutely supported through advertising and sponsors and people that come to our shows that want a package, opportunities. We are not a one or two weekend a year company. We are a 365 day a year on-line, off-line company. If after the show on Monday morning you came to me and said, “Hey, I’ve got something I want to do.” I can help you out.
If you went to some of these other show promoters out there, right now or the Monday after their show and said, “I need help,” they would tell you the show was over. I would give you 100 opportunities of things that we could do together. So by having events all year round, all throughout North America, by having a weekly digital product that we are going to create, by having the website and a lot of the other resources that we have, including some of the largest databases of consumers out there, we have a tremendous influence in the marketplace.
iFanboy: How has the response been to these changes and the stuff that you are doing? I imagine you have spoken to some of the publishers. I know tons of creators already attend your conventions, but is everybody on-board and excited for it?
Gareb: There are only a couple of things that really matter to us as a company. First and foremost, we have to create a product that is true to our fans because they are the ones that matter. At the end of the day they are the ones that turn to us for information, for what they should be looking at, what they should be buying. I will never waiver in my quest to make sure that we provide a great experience for our fans. So that will never waiver. That will always be our mission.
Then the second part of it is, we have been doing a lot with the talent for two decades now. So when you look at a lot of the talent that exists today, the influence that we have had on their careers, and now that we have the forums or the events and the magazine, we are not only going to have a tremendous impact on the existing talent out there, but we are going to have an even greater impact on the future talent out there. Because we can give them the exposure that they can’t get on their own. We could use our leverage in the marketplace to give the talent out there the exposure that they need for their great properties.
iFanboy: So in terms of that, you mentioned being focused on the fans and that sort of thing. How have you felt about the reception of this news and the change? Have you gotten feedback from fans? What do you feel is the fan temperature right now as far as Wizard goes?
Gareb: I think you’ll find that people that have bought Wizard magazine over the years, they have always loved the product, otherwise they wouldn’t have bought it. So they have always had it. A lot of times, if you see people that complain about it, they haven’t bought the magazine or read it in a very long time. So, I think from that perspective I don’t listen to the critics. I really don’t, because they have never actually had an impact on my life and what we do. Because they have been there since the day we started.
When we first started and Image came along and Valiant came along and all these companies popped up, people have always complained about stuff that we have covered. In the meantime, when you look at what we have done over two decades, it’s pretty extraordinary how we have been able to influence people’s taste and what we have exposed them to, and people that are working in the business that would never have been working in the business today. So from that perspective, we are just going to do what we know how to do and what we get excited about, which is exposing and discovering and presenting to people stuff that we think is going to be great.
iFanboy: I do have some questions around the business side of things, specifically around some of the changes with the company and things like that. With this recent change, you are now a public company. You took Wizard World public through what looks like a reverse merger with a company called Go Energy. Did you know the Go Energy people personally, or did you use a third party to find a shell company for the transaction?
Gareb: Basically the way reverse mergers work are, it really is irrelevant what the company did prior as long as the company that you are doing the deal with has a clean record. You definitely don’t want to get involved with a company that has a past record. That creates a very difficult situation for you moving forward. So from my perspective, it is really working with a group of investors that I have been friends with for a long time, in the process of doing the reverse merger with the company, and then using that as a vehicle for raising capital and then also getting access to the public markets.
iFanboy: So now, admittedly, I am not a finance guy, and I am very limited in my knowledge of this stuff, but my understanding from the work that I have done in technology and things like that is that many private companies really have avoided going public because of all the regulatory requirements and disclosures and the cost of compliance and things like that. So why would you want to take a small company like Wizard now into the public arena in this way?
Gareb: First of all, I am very comfortable in the public market. It’s not for a lot of people, but I am very, very comfortable in that world, as you can see just even from from me, myself, I am out there in the public all the time talking about this industry, being at the shows. So being out there in a very public way is something that I am very comfortable with, and I actually enjoy a lot. So that’s number one.
Number two is it creates a transparency for the business. So when people want to know about us, the information is all out there. We have nothing to hide. We embrace the fact that people are going to know our company and what’s going on in our company. Also, it is, like I said earlier, it’s access to the capital markets and then having the publicity that goes along with being a public company. When you think about the majority of the demographics of people who are in the financial industry as a career, a lot of them are our audience. So from our perspective and from my perspective, being a public company is something that I am very comfortable doing. I enjoy it. It’s the right move for our company at this time.
iFanboy: It’s interesting because from what I have known, a traditional IPO normally brings about a lot of that kind of buzz and marketing, and it brings in a fresh influx of capital. What you guys did doesn’t seem to be like a traditional IPO though. I don’t know if it brought you the marketing and the capital you were looking for, but what does being public specifically do for Wizard that being private wouldn’t? It just allows for people to invest in it? Is that mainly the main goal?
Gareb:Yeah, well certainly there are lots of different ways to go public. Certainly the IPO route is the one that gets the most attention out there. But when you think about the IPO market, it’s really relegated to a lot of very big companies out there. So there are a lot of other types of companies that want to get public. There are other ways to do it, whether it is through reverse mergers or self-registration. There are all kinds of different ways for companies to do that. As you can see from whatever public documents we put out there, we did raise capital for the company. There are a lot of people that are very comfortable raising capital for public companies versus private companies.
For private companies, when you take in money for a private company, there is only one thing on the mind of the investor and that is, “How do I get out?”
iFanboy: Right, the exit…
Gareb: They are putting money in, and their only thought is, “How do I get out, and when do I get out?” As a public company, you have already got the exit strategy. You already get your shares or warrants or options or however it’s structured. So there is already a clear path to your exit. It doesn’t mean that they are looking to exit or that they don’t want to go along with it, because certainly the early investors in Facebook are not looking to get out right now.
But when you are an investor, when you are putting money in, your first thought is, “How do I get out?” and, “When can I get out?” Being a public vehicle, it is a very easy way to understand where the exit is. In this particular case, we have a group of investors that are very excited about our business.
iFanboy: So there has been some speculation as to, now that you are public and there is actually Wizard stock that can be used as a way to help fund or follow through on further convention acquisitions. Is that part of your plan? To offer equity to conventions that you guys might absorb and add to the Wizard World schedule?
Gareb: Well, I can’t comment on anything specifically other than when you look at what public companies do and how they grow, typically public companies, if they are looking to grow through acquisition, do it a couple of ways. One is stock. One is debt. One is raising cash. So there are lots of different ways to do acquisitions. But certainly being a public company gives you stock as another form of capital for acquisitions.
iFanboy: So what are your goals for the company in terms of delivering shareholder value? If I was sitting here with some money, and I want to invest, and I am considering investing in Wizard World, where is that value going to come from?
iFanboy: True, yeah. [laughs]
Gareb: I laugh and I dismiss when anybody compares themselves to that show. I think it’s ridiculous that anybody can compare themselves to that show. I have heard many people use references to themselves as a version of San Diego. I don’t know how anybody could take that seriously. That show is unbelievable. So from that perspective, San Diego doesn’t have any competition. If people want to go there, they are going to go there, and if they don’t want to go there, they don’t go there. But it’s not because of anything else that anybody else is doing out there.
So that’s first of all. Second of all, when I say that we don’t have competition out there, we are doing a tour, a North American tour. When you do one event, two events, things like that, they are one-off events. They actually don’t help your business at all when you do events like that in terms of building momentum for your business or creating momentum for things. So these one-off events don’t do anything to help you build momentum for your business. Maybe they’ll help you that weekend sell some product. But there is no long term value in these one-off events. Again, I am not talking about San Diego. It’s a totally different event. That show is extraordinary, and it does a lot of other things for people.
But let me talk about these one-off events. It goes back to what I said. Monday morning, these shows can’t do anything for you. You only can create value by continually marketing and promoting to the audience and to the fans. To build up to one event, there is no long-lasting appeal to that. What we are doing is we are creating a way for people to build a lot of momentum for what they might be working on. All anybody has to do is call Renee Witterstaette or Michael Golden or Mike Grell or Bill Sienkiewicz or David Mack or Greg Horn or Ethan Van Sciver…I can go on and on.All you need to do is talk to any one of these guys that come to our tour, and they will tell you the value that gets created by building momentum from city to city and how valuable that is to be marketing 365 days a year and how impactful that is on their careers.
Then there are a lot of retailers. There are a lot of dealers. We have a lot of celebrities. All you have to do is call Adam West or Burt Ward or call Billy Dee Williams or speak to any number of people that are on our tour, that are going from city to city with us. They will let you know how valuable it is that you can create momentum from show to show that creates an everlasting appeal. Not just a one-off opportunity. So from that perspective, we are the only one doing it. It’s not just the shows. It’s all the other marketing that we do around it. It is the fact that we have millions of people that we reach all the time.
It’s a very, very valuable thing. So when we go to cities, we have a tremendous number of people that we reach out to in every one of these cities before we come to town. We know who they are, and we know what they have bought in the past. We know their taste. We know what they like, and we know how to appeal to them.
iFanboy: One question that I have about the conventions is that in the past couple of years there have been a lot of conventions that have cropped up, and I agree with you, San Diego has no comparison. But San Diego also has WonderCon and, like I mentioned, Reed has emerged. Then there are smaller shows like Emerald City Comicon, and HeroesCon and shows like that. Do you believe that the U.S. and North American comic/geek culture market can sustain the number of shows that you guys are putting in addition to all the other shows that are out there? Do you really think that the market can carry this through in a long term fashion?
Gareb: Absolutely. There is a huge capacity for events. There is no question we are nowhere near our limit. By the way, I think people should go to every show. I don’t think that people should be picking and choosing. I think the more people that go to shows, the more companies that go to these events all over the place, it is good for everybody. The more people that get excited about these shows, great. So from my perspective, the more people can do to get people excited about comics or toys or games or whatever else they are working on, the better it is for everybody. So from that perspective there is really a tremendous capacity.
When you think about creating something compelling, there is no limit to how many times people will want to go to these things. So when you are a basketball fan, and you have season tickets, you go to 40 games a year. When you are a baseball fan, and you have season tickets, you go to 80 plus games a year. Why do 50,000, people go to every single Yankee game? Because it is compelling. If it wasn’t compelling, then people wouldn’t go. So when you are talking about the event business, if you create a compelling event, people are going to go, and they are going to go twice, and they are going to go to all of them. Or they are going to go to one of them. But they are going to choose to go to the ones that they think are compelling. I know that we create very compelling events.
So getting back to competitors, we don’t have competitors because when we create a compelling event, people go. If we didn’t create a compelling event, people wouldn’t go. It has nothing to do with what other people are doing. So we always make sure that we create a compelling event. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing out there. As long as we are creating a compelling event, we know people are going to come to our shows.
iFanboy: So Wizard World, the new digital magazine, launches on February 23rd?
Gareb: Yes, February 23rd.
iFanboy: And wizardworld.com I imagine will have all the information on how people can get it and that sort of thing?
Gareb: Yeah, absolutely.