After Jeff Kinney failed to get his cartoons picked up by a newspaper syndicate, he posted his content online instead.
Within a year of its debut, Kinney had 12 million readers for the online version of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which follows the story of the comically awkward pre-teen Greg Heffley using a lively, graphic novel format.
As his legions of fans already know, Kinney’s success as a cyber sensation has also made him a huge force in that most traditional of venues, the printed book. The fifth volume in his “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” book series, “The Ugly Truth,” was released last month with a first printing of 5 million copies, selling more than 375,000 copies on its first day of sale. The “Wimpy Kid” series is a fixture on national bestseller lists, and the books have been sold in more than 37 countries in 35 languages. A “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie premiered this year, and a second film adaptation will hit theaters next March.
For Kinney, there’s no real reason to choose between new media and the traditional variety, since his various media platforms seem to be mutually enriching each other.
“I think of them as two completely different markets,” Kinney said of his online readers and his book readers. “Having it online for free hasn’t limited the market for the books.”
Before the first “Wimpy Kid” book was published in 2007, the story gained a readership online at funbrain.com, where it still appears.
When Kinney landed a multi-book deal for “Wimpy Kid” with publisher Harry N. Abrams in 2006, “I insisted that it had to stay online. I could see the tremendous reach of the web,” Kinney said in an interview from his home in southern Massachusetts.
These days, despite his success as an author, Kinney continues to pioneer new Internet content as the full-time design director of a Boston-based Internet publishing company where he started poptropica.com in 2007.
As described on its web site, poptropica.com is a place where children “create a ‘Poptropican’ character to travel the many islands of Poptropica and use gaming literacy to enjoy a narrative that is often rooted in factual history.”
Kinney puts it a simpler way. “We aspire to tell great stories,” he said of poptropica.com, which draws 10 million unique visitors each month.
Why has an internationally successful author kept his day job?
“The potential for the web site is just boundless,” Kinney said. “I want to continue to be a part of that. I also like the rhythm of a 9-to-5 job. I like to have as normal a life as possible.”
Once his shift is done, Kinney returns home to a wife and two sons – a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old.
Although his sons will continue to grow, Kinney has reached a different decision about Greg Heffley, the “wimpy kid” of the book series who, in “The Ugly Truth,” finds himself at the uncomfortable edge of puberty.
As the series goes forward, said Kinney, Greg’s age will remain the same.