|Comics comics comics
||[Feb. 1st, 2009|03:15 pm]
Newspapers are cutting comics from their publications. Comics distributors are tightening their belts, meaning less opportunity for indie comics to get distributed.So I don't know how many (if any) of you guys keep up with business developments in syndicated and print comics, but basically they are quite possibly FUCKED at this point. |
Essentially the ONLY PART OF COMICS that has not been significantly impacted by the economic downturn (*knock on wood*) is us webcomics folks. And so a lot of now-disenfranchised syndicate and print comics guys are looking for ways to monetize their work online. Which is great! Good for them! Except many of them are either dismissive of the webcomics business model as a whole, or too lazy/frightened to try and do it themselves, or have misguided expectations of how comics should make money on the internet.
Neil Swaab has a blog post that really encapsulates every problem with syndicated cartoonists' attitude towards the web. Let's break it down, shall we?
"I know there are plenty of web comic artists who are able to subsist on the income they make from their website, but they aren't making money from their comics; they're making money from merchandise. Not to belittle web-only comic artists, but when their income is derived from t-shirts, it makes them salesmen first, artists second."
Now this is a very contentious (you might even say contemptuous) statement, and it is one that Mr. Swaab has since apologized for making (it is actually a really nice, heartfelt explanation and increased my respect of the dude immensely, check it out here on Fleen) but the real problem is that many print cartoonists honestly think this way about webcomics. Not only does it reek of sour grapes, it is dismissive of a business model that arguably works better than any other yet found for comics on the internet. As Gary explains in more detail, comics have ALWAYS derived significant portions of their income from merchandising. Saying webcartoonists are t-shirt hucksters is like saying Charles Schultz was an insurance salesman because Snoopy is on the Met Life blimp.
"not every comic artist wants to be a t-shirt salesperson"
You don't HAVE to be in order to make money off of t-shirts. Most of us these days farm out our distribution to third parties, and I see no reason why you couldn't farm out your design or merchandising to one as well. Yes, it's another middle man to deal with, but it's still a vast difference from the massive entrenched corporate structure you have to deal with in print or syndication. Don't wanna sell t-shirts? Pay someone else to do it for you. If you've got the audience (and that, really, is the key) you'll still turn a profit.
Addendum: it has been pointed out, and correctly, by many folks in the comments that the business model does not solely revolve around t-shirts either. You can sell all SORTS of stuff- books, original art, peripheral content, mittens with penises for thumbs, WHATEVER YOUR AUDIENCE IS WILLING TO BUY! And if you don't feel like designing or shipping it, you can find someone else who does.
"the t-shirt sales method is unacceptable for the reasons that an artist is not intrinsically making money off his or her comic, but is instead making money off merchandise sales and using the comic as a form of advertising for their merchandise."
I don't know what country accepts BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS as valid currency but I'm sure glad I don't live there! Money is money.
"Some might suggest allowing advertising on one's website. If it worked, that would be great, but the ad market has pretty much gone belly up, so while in theory it's wonderful, in practice it doesn't hold water."
Internet advertising is and always has been a function of the amount of traffic your website generates. Yeah, the ad market has taken a pretty steep dive in 2009, but I'm still able to cover my server bill and office expenses with it, so it remains a significant part of my income. It's too soon to just write it off.
"Personally, I see three viable options:"
okay let's hear 'em!
Option one: a subscription-based model. Comic artists will offer their new weekly comics for free, but charge for admission into their archives. This is a perfectly acceptable model, but will have to jump over the huge hurdle of getting an Internet user to pay for something that they were used to getting for free. And with so many other comics to choose from and attention spans being what they are nowadays, it seems difficult to imagine enough readers going along with it. This also could only work for comic artists who have built up enough of an audience or reputation that people would be willing to pay to visit their archives. Newer artists would have no hope in succeeding at this until they built up a large following. Still, if enough artists decided to lock up their archives at the same time so readers had no choice but to subscribe, and the technology existed to prevent illegal copying and distributing on the Web, this could be a very wonderful solution.
Ted Rall is a big fan of this idea too, but unfortunately it is completely unworkable and unrealistic. Here's why:
First of all, comics on the web are free. They always will be. The cat isn't out of the bag on this one, it's out of the bag, out the window, down the street, and up a tree mauling a bluejay. No matter how many pay-per-view comics are online, there will always be some totally free ones, and those will always outperform the non-free ones because people expect the internet to be free.
If "the technology existed to prevent illegal copying and distributing on the web" we would be living IN MAGICAL FAIRY PONY FANTASY LAND. Maybe that's also where those BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS are legal tender!
The short history of comics on the web has shown us that locking primary content (ie, comic archives) beyond a pay barrier just doesn't work as well as keeping it open and free. Bonus content like Achewood's AssetBar program may indeed be a viable income stream, but that's not what he's talking about here. He's talking about some no-doubt lovely fantasy where everything is locked behind a barrier and for some reason people are willing to pay for it. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.
Option two: interactivity. I could see the next wave of comics having more of a personal interaction with the readership by having readers sponsor them. Readers could pay money to have themselves drawn into the comics or in some way contribute to the comic itself in a capacity that allows them to get something extra from it through their funding. This could work very well for some artists but for a lot of others--including myself--this would be the antithesis of what they would be hoping to get out of their comic. The thrill of doing a comic is being able to have one's own voice and polluting it by offering it up to the masses to do with it what they will seems just plain awful. Still, for a certain type of artist, I could see the appeal and sustainability.
Readers already sponsor us, by purchasing our merchandise, clicking on our links, and telling their friends about the comic. This seems like an idea that COULD generate income, but I'm not really seeing anyone making a living off of it. Better to sell signed prints, or custom artwork (two things people are already doing successfully). I love how he simultaneously proposes this idea and then holds his nose as if someone had shat in his soup. "OH I WOULD NEVER DEIGN TO DO SOMETHING SO...SO...PEDESTRIAN, BUT SOME OTHER HEARTLESS CHURL MIGHT"
Option three: donations. This is what I see as the most viable option for the time being. Comic strip artists become the new PBS of the Internet, having monthly donation drives to support their comic. An artist has a certain target they need to hit in a given month in order to keep making comics. Say, for instance, as an artist, you decided you needed to make $1,000 a month off of your comic to keep making it. At the beginning of every month, you could host a donation drive to reach that target number. If you got to it, you'd be able to do comics for another month. If not, you'd have to quit soon. Your strip would exist based on its ability to stay popular and continue its quality. Although having to beg is never fun, I like this concept for the reason that it's simple and could be a good long-term solution. All you would need to do is convince 1,000 people a month to donate $1 in order to see your comic continue on. If your work was quality enough and people wanted to continue to read it, it's possible that this solution might work. This way, your material could still stay free on the Internet and you wouldn't have to be selling anything other than the comic itself."
Donations work, to a point. Randy Millholland famously got enough to do comics full time for a year. But donations always run the risk of decreasing over time, which means you have to become increasingly desperate and shrill to get them. Me, I'd rather make products my readers want to buy instead of asking every single one of them "hey can I have a dollar" twelve times a year for the rest of my life. I actually feel MORE "credible" selling people stuff they like instead of begging for their change. But that is just a philosophical thing, not an honest truth. If you're happy running donation drives and can make it work in the long term, more power to you! I'm just unaware of anyone successfully doing so, as of yet.
"Whatever business models alternative comic artists can come up with, the one thing that I firmly believe is that the current paradigm is dead. The world of alternative comics is going to be shrinking faster and faster in the next year as papers cut more comics and then, themselves, fold. Artists must figure out a way to monetize their work online and readers must be willing to take this journey with them."
Webcomics readers are the best readers in the entire fucking world. We are all incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have you guys supporting us, either monetarily or simply by looking at our websites and enjoying them.
But artists already have figured out how to monetize their work online, and readers have already made that journey with them. It's not the model that these print guys were expecting, but it's already in place. It's not necessarily the best one, or the only one that will ever exist, either! But it works right now, and it seems kind of weird to me to write it off without even giving it a try.
I think the core of the problem is the print guys want to maintain their status quo of mailing out comic strips and recieving a check in return. Unfortunately that just isn't how it works on the internet. You have to either do everything yourself, or find people to delegate tasks to. The point is if you've got a good core product (your comic) with a solid audience, you CAN make a living without doing all the gruntwork yourself.
The sad part, and the one thing I don't think anybody has any control over, is that I think there are some successful print comics that just can't succeed on the web, either due to their content or audience size or what have you. The flipside of that coin is true, as well- Questionable Content could NEVER POSSIBLY succeed in its present form as a syndicated strip, or even something running in local alt weeklies. You have to adapt to your medium and its potential audience, and if you can't do that then all the business acumen in the world won't help you make a living.
2009-02-01 09:17 pm (UTC)
For this post you will be credited 5,000 BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS on your sales report for this week redeemable for 250 free hugs at your next anime con.
they are called "glomps"
She's not a comics artist, but alexandraerin
has made it work on donations, sponsorships (which she made recently available) and advertising for her stuff. She keeps merch around but it's not the revenue stream. Of course, she's a serial fictionist and not a webcomics artist, but it's still there...I think people are more inclined to want to get merch from a visual medium, and they feel okay with sending her a few bucks each month in exchange for the "free" story.
See this is something I did not know about!
Serial fiction on the internet as a business is FASCINATING to me. I really need to learn more about it.
If anything, Penny Arcade is a really good example of adapting to a medium and its audience of thousands of gamers.
Child's Play, anyone?
Penny Arcade is ALSO the perfect example of two guys who knew nothing about business hiring someone who did (Robert Khoo) and becoming fucking millionaires because of it. The epitome of savvy delegation.
You are damn right and I agree with you in every point you posted in this topic.
I dunno. I kinda dig the "sell T shirts, sell prints" school of comic commerce. I like the ability to have something like that on my wall. I mean...it's not commissioned work, but it's along the same lines, isn't it Jeph? SOmeone likes your work, wants a piece of it for their own, and buys it? Why is there a problem with this?
For the same reason that Wikipedia has a hate-on for webcomics authors and their articles but doesn't see anything wrong with having good articles for published strips. ~*~~*Notability*~*~*~
I think the cat you mentioned has been having babies under my neighbor's porch. The pigeons are terrified, and the bag the cat came from is nowhere to be found. Won't somebody think of the pigeons?
I have never read something like this.
I'm a long time reader of QC, and I've read the whole thing. What got me addicted to your comic and the other webcomics I've read was the fact that the archives were free. Just one comic - of anyone's! - isn't enough to get someone hooked enough to come back. The comics I've gotten really hooked on were the ones that I could check out a couple of strips of to see if I was really that interested, and then start at the beginning and read the whole thing. The guy you're quoting is sadly mistaken if he thinks he can put the archives behind a pay gate and gain any new readers online.
Another comment in support of your points - I like your merchandise because it's connected to your comic. I do like it on its own (most of it, anyways), but really what makes me like it enough to want to buy it is the connection it has to your narrative and art. The person you are quoting who seems to think that tshirt sales are somehow not artistic in the magical fairy ethical pure "artiste" kinda way is totally wrong. Your merchandise is a way that I get to feel a part of your art; it's a sort of interactivity. Creating a cult of followers who want to be part of your creation is the dream of most artists, you and a few other webcomics artists have been lucky and awesome enough to inspire that.
My two intended points exactly.
I first found QC a few months ago and ended up reading the entire thing in a few days. There is no way I would have gotten hooked without free archives. You can't get involved with the characters solely based on the most recent strip--interested, yeah, but not INVOLVED. I would venture to say that a free archive is the most potent method of drawing in new readers, and a non-free archive could easily be a terrific way of turning them off.
Merch is fun because you saw it in the comic, not the other way around. Most of your shirts have been based on very specific strips; why would anyone want the Deathmole design if they didn't know the story behind it? I mean, yeah, the art is kind of weird and cool, but cool art isn't enough to get enough people to buy a shirt to make it worthwhile. The beauty of QC merch is that it's esoteric enough to please the readers, yet generally awesome enough for my little sister, who's never read QC, to love the LGBTerrific shirt I got her. Although, if an artist didn't have a strong fan base, they might end up using the comic to promote merchandise, I suppose.
Incidentally, you have seen http://www.someecards.com/
What a cool analysis. There are similar industries struggling with the same thing, from newspapers online to fine art and music sites. Banner ads may or may not ever take off, and I doubt the New York Times is going to sell a lot of T-Shirts (though cnn.com is selling T-shirts of their headlines!)
Just out of curiosity, how do you feel about product placement in webcomics? If a comic character "happens" to have a Diet Coke can in front of them, or a Ford "happens" to drive by? Movies have been doing it for years, sometimes annoyingly obviously, but then there's also that whole artistic integrity thing again.
Alexandra Erin, who I mentioned previously, has done voluntary, unpaid product placement (only in a particular unit of her story where gift-giving was happening) as a thank-you to a few independent creators that had advertised their merchandise with her. It was really cool, and not invasive at all, although I can't say I would like it if it always happened.
oh wow you are absolutely right, I should add that to the post!
"BULLSHIT ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY DOLLARS" is now my favorite form of currency, and I'm so linking to this entry from my LJ.
is... is this what indie bands start earning less of after they SELL OUT?
It sounds like hes just whining about it really, being dragged kicking and screaming into the world of webcomics so hes going to be a dick while he does it.
I love QC and I will support you and (many) other webcomics as best I can because you guys are freaking awesome :)
I don't think he's whining, I think he's genuinely (and justifiably) scared of his business model no longer being workable. I'd be terrified too if it suddenly looked like I wasn't gonna be able to make a living off my comic anymore. The trouble is, when you're scared you tend to make poor decisions.
"Ted Rall is a big fan of this idea too,
but unfortunately therefore it is completely unworkable and unrealistic."
"Webcomics readers are the best readers in the entire fucking world. We are all incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have you guys supporting us, either monetarily or simply by looking at our websites and enjoying them."
You're adorable when you're self-righteous.
Also: yes, yes and yes.
Ha... as popelizbet
alluded to above, so much of this post echoes my thoughts about what I do as a writer. I recently had somebody quote Ryan Sohmer at me, saying something like "Real artists don't beg." (Referring to donations.)
To me, that's like saying "Real merchants don't haggle." Sure, if you go into Wal-Mart the whole process of buying and selling has been reduced to barcodes and set numbers... the process of bargaining has become collective. But that doesn't mean the person who runs a stall at the flea market selling comics and collectibles doesn't have a real
business. The scanners and cash registers are how Wal-Mart does business, that doesn't mean they're the only way.
It's like I said in the post, ultimately money is money. If you can make a living off of donations that is COMPLETELY AWESOME. It just hasn't proven to be workable in the long term in webcomics yet.
The only way to not be a "real" artist is not to produce art.
You're a pretty awesome guy. Fact.
Yeah but people don't have to PAY to interact with MSPA. What he is talking about is "to suggest where the story should go next, please donate 99 cents."
Donating to MS Paint Adventures is the equivalent of purchasing a custom drawing from, say, Rene Engstrom.
I've not read the whole thing coz I'm in the middle of something, but people having a stick up their arse about webcomic merch as a source of income obviously know nothing about real life. To use a very specific example (that you may not be familiar with, but it's one very recent that I can think of), the comedy duo (troupe?) The Mighty Boosh did a 5-6 month tour recently, and people were bitching about them selling merchandise. They said themselves that, because of the size of most of the venues they play (moderate - small) versus the cost of getting them, their crew, and all their equipment around, paying everyone, hiring the venue, etc, they actually make a loss overall. The only way for them to break even is through merchandise and an eventual live DVD. That said, they are very involved in their merchandise and that, so it's not like they're sticking their names to just anything.
Basically, whoever is shiting on about you and other webcomic artists as being "salespeople first, artists second" is talking a pile of bollocks.
Hope that makes some sense...
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I would much rather take something home at the end of the day then just give you my money. Either way, you're going to keep making the comics (should you make the money), and if I'm wearing the funny T-shirt and someone says "Hey, where'd you get that/what's it from?" I can say "go here [insert url here]" you get a new reader and maybe another purchase. Why settle for donations to keep the comic going when you can sell things that people want and make money, not just get by (that's the ideal, at least)?
Personally, I remember when a certain webcomic artist from Ann Arbor, MI put out the first volume of his comics in print. Back then, I still read and enjoyed his work, so I bought a copy of the book and a blanket with one of the characters on it. He made money, I got something cool.
Why do you have to sell the idea (the comic)? You don't have to pay to watch a TV show when it's being broadcast (cable, premium channels, etc don't count...it isn't pay-per-view episodes), you pay for the DVD's, the memorabilia, and the (OMG) T-Shirts, etc. You have to deal with the commercials, but those keep the show going, so you deal with them. CBS doesn't ask for a donation when I watch How I Met Your Mother.
Although, yes, I do realize TV shows and networks have sponsors. My point still stands.
I must say that I largely agrees with what you're saing. Having not read the blog you're quoting I can't really say if its entirely justified to hack it apart in that way, but from the quotes you display I agree.
Another factor that has to be considered is that from my point of view, it would seem that a very large group of people are seeing this "crisis"* as something completely unexpected freak occurence of economic failure on a world wide basis. It. Is. Not.
The economics on a world wide basis has always been subject to extreme change, often largely unforseen. This is however something that should be forseen. No matter how well we construct our western world and economic powerhouse, we cannot keep the world stagnated and just stay happy. We have to evolve and go with the flow.
Of course the crisis affects newspapers who in turn cuts comics off.
But there is no guaranty that this is how it will be continuing to be for the next many years. The ability to adabt quickly and efficiently to change is instead what I beleive small largly indepented firms in any areas should bet their money on. If the market change, change with it.
Webcomics have a short history, and by now I beleive it its still to early to come with that kind of extreme generalisation that Swaab dishes out.
* "Crisis" instead of crisis, as I beleive it to be to much of a "natural" economic occurence to seriously be seen as a crisis. It is more in nature with a natural disaster that anything else, when considering the history of western economics.
I wasn't trying to "hack it apart" in the sense that THIS GUY IS JUST AN IDIOT AND A JERK AND HE SMELLS TOO, because I think Mr. Swaab is a totally nice guy and worthy of respect. I just don't think his ideas about makin' money on the web are right, is all! It is absolutely nothing personal about the man behind them.
Well said, sir. I think of it like this: You run a Grocery Store, and right next door is an Italian restaurant. The Restaurant Owner's business isn't doing great, but you're still coming out in the black, so he decides he's going to convert over and sell groceries. But when he makes the switch, he's still trying to run it like the restaurant. It's all food, right? It has to work! So you try to explain to him, here, this is how the Grocery Store Business works. Been doing it for years, you say. But HE ran the hottest restaurant in town, he was respectable! He's WAY smarter than you and he'll figure it out on his own. And then he puts himself out of business because he's trying to charge people to walk up and down the aisles, and can't understand why nobody comes to shop.
It's Apples and Potatoes, man. If your nose is stopped up enough you might not be able to tell, but they're barely similar.
hah, that's a pretty good analogy!
I know there are plenty of web comic artists who are able to subsist on the income they make from their website, but they aren't making money from their comics; they're making money from merchandise.
Somebody pointed out to Neil that money for comics artists in the papers comes from Old Navy* purchasing ad space in the papers because evidence suggests that this will result in increased sales at Old Navy stores, right? In other words, the money that comics artists in the papers get comes from sales of merchandise, it's just that webcomics folks don't have quite as many layers of indirection.
*I think there might be one or two other advertisers out there; based on the TV I watch, I don't think Old Navy represents more than about 80% of the advertising revenue that can be had in the world.
YES. This is the point I wanted to make, too.
Many musicians don't make money from ticket sales - the cost of getting to the venue, paying the staff (technicians), etc eats any profit out of ticket sales. So, instead, they make the majority of their money from t-shirt and other merchandise sales.
No one seems to have a problem with this - why is it a big deal for merchandise to be a money maker for other artists?
you're not a "real musician" unless people pay five cents to hear every individual note you make
Another option might be to produce supplementary material, like books. Maybe a fluffy mostly-irrelevant story arc, or something focusing on the perspective of a minor character... stuff that's not necessary in order for readers to enjoy the basic story of the comic, but is just a little bonus for those who want to throw down a few bucks for their favorite comic. I would definitely buy a QC book! :)
Octopus Pie releases books that are mostly the main comic with additional material. So does Jesus and Mo.
I have my OP#1 on the shelf over there. Meredith even drew me an aggravated hipster Cthulhu inside the front, since I bought on pre-order. :D
seems to be making the 'donation drive' model work, with the clever gimmick of doing extra side stories
and having the story directly influenced by the amount of money he gets in donations. So there's that example.
Yes, I was going to post about Goblins. Possibly the best donation-based income I've seen for a webcomic, because it also offers a tiny bit of interactivity (don't donate enough, Tempts Fate dies). And the goal is always exceeded three- or five-fold.
There are two interesting supplemental income revenues I'm seeing from Meredith of Octopus Pie, and Joel of Hijinks Ensue, in addition to selling t-shirts.
Meredith sells the original inked pages when her comic goes up. Going at 150 a pop, that's a pretty penny if she's updating 3 times a week. Joel has a podcast with his friends that he releases for free, but he records an additional segment that usually runs for about 30 minutes. This segment is only available on "The Vault", along wit hhi-res wallpapers and concept sketches, all of which is accessible for a month with a donation.
That said, the t-shirt model isn't going away anytime soon, and to decry it's artistic merit is to decry any creative act that isn't the creator's primary medium. You may as well decry Marilyn Manson's paintings, Leonard Nimoy's photography, and Jeph's music.
Although, Nimoy's photos do suck, in my opinion, but that doesn't decrease it's status as art.