Wizard World Jumps Off Printed Page and Into Digital Age

9/19/11Follow @jpruth

There has never been a better time to be a self-professed geek. Gareb Shamus, CEO and founder of New York’s Wizard World, is out to feed fans of comic books and superhero movies more of the news and content they crave. What began some 20 years ago with Wizard magazine, a publication devoted to the latest happenings in the realm of superheroes, has evolved into an online destination for the broader pop culture market. “My specialty has been identifying things that I think are going to be popular one day,” Shamus says. “We’re going to be doing that a lot more now.”

Wizard World (OTC:WIZD) produces online news and hosts more than a dozen conventions across the country dedicated to fandom of heroes and more. While the company is akin to an Entertainment Weekly covering comic book, science fiction, and fantasy titles, many other players also seek to serve this audience. For example, four-year-old comiXology in New York provides a digital comic book platform for DC Comics, which produces titles about Batman and Superman, and Marvel, the home of the X-Men and Iron Man. Shamus says he welcomes others who introduce the public to superheroes. “If they can get people excited about our industry, then we’re going to benefit from it,” he says.

Fans who get introduced to comic books through other sources are likely to discover Wizard World, he says. “We’re [like] the New York Yankees, Bruce Springsteen, and U2,” Shamus says. “When we do something compelling, our fans show up and it doesn’t matter who is playing down the street.”

Shamus says his company helps call attention to independent comic book publishers as well as the big players, DC Comics and Marvel. Now Wizard World offers content about popular fiction beyond superheroes, which includes video games, toys, science fiction, and fantasy. “When you look across all these different genres, we are the pop-fi brand,” Shamus says.

Pop-fi, Shamus’s shorthand for popular fiction, is Wizard World’s new way of encompassing more content. By widening the scope of his company, Shamus wants to attract more readers to the website and visitors to his conventions. According to Wizard World’s regulatory filings, the company generated $3 million in revenue for the year ended December 31, 2010 from its conventions, up from $2.1 million in 2009. Wizard World operated at a net loss of some $27,000 in 2010 compared with a net loss of more than $829,000 in 2009. The company ran eight live events in 2010 compared with three in 2009. Wizard World plans to host conventions in 12 cities this year and wants to increase its online traffic by delivering more multimedia content from its live events.

Superheroes, space captains, and their ilk are enjoying a renaissance these days with the public that has embraced characters that were once primarily loved by dedicated fans. “Movies and TV shows have broadened the audience dramatically,” Shamus says.

Much like Peter Parker gaining powers through a spider bite, Wizard World has gone through its own recent transformations. The company went public via a reverse merger completed last December with GoEnergy, an exploration-stage mining company, and currently trades on the Pink Sheets. In January, Wizard World’s print publications, Wizard and ToyFare magazines, ceased production.

Wizard magazine, which launched the company in 1991, featured news on the comic book industry including movies and other media based on heroes while ToyFare, which began in 1997, produced stories on collectible action figures and statues. Shamus says the move to an all-online format was necessary given the changes in the media industry. “There have been huge dynamic shifts in terms of how people consume content,” he says. Wizard World’s digital strategy, he says, gives the company direct access to its consumers as opposed to shipping print publications through distributors. “I didn’t want to have any intermediaries between us and our fans,” Shamus says.

His company now offers its content through its website and its weekly digital Wizard World magazine that is available through an iPad app released in March. “We are working on our iPhone and Android apps,” Shamus says.

Gareb Shamus (center) spends his days hanging out with Spider-Man and his amazing friends. (photo by Geek Propaganda)

Wizard World conventions, Shamus says, give fans access to the creators at comic book and gaming companies as well as stars of genre movies and television shows. The company runs conventions in such cities as New York, Boston, Anaheim, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. “It’s about creating a footprint locally but being able to market nationally,” Shamus says. That geographic spread, he says, lets his company connect advertisers and sponsors with this diverse audience in combination with the Web-based content. “We can deliver a 365-day-a-year experience where we reach people in-person and online,” he says.

Though there’s plenty of competition, Shamus says the depth of Wizard World’s reach is difficult to match. Wizard World has built up a large volume of consumer data through fans who subscribed to its news and attendees who come to the company’s conventions. “We have over one million people in our database,” he says. “We can clearly identify these people demographically. A lot of people in our world don’t have those resources.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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