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Webcomics As Business Model 200

oddjobs writes "It's not the most groundbreaking article, but the Chicago Tribune does a pretty good job of looking at the state of webcomics-as-business-model. They mention the usual suspects (Marvel, McCloud) but most hopeful is Unbound Comics, which is selling comics collected in Adobe's e-book format. Fans of the 80s book Dalgoda take note."
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Webcomics As Business Model

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  • Webcomics business?? (Score:4, Informative)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:05PM (#2877894) Homepage Journal
    I think that most webcomic writers do what they do for the fun they have drawing/writing comics. I don't think its much of a business thing. Take PVP []. Scott gets profit from writing actual comic books (although, I'm sure, he probably gets some good money from the site also).
    And then there's Sluggy Freelance [] (a GREAT comic if you people havne't read it yet) where he puts collections together and sells them as books.

    I don't think there is much profit in the webcomic business....
    • Well, in today's current net climate, you HAVE to make your webcomics somewhat of a business, if they get at all popular (PVP is one example).

      Bandwidth sure isn't free these days...

    • I think it's a matter of knowing what you want to do web comics for. As a way to get a story told with creative freedom and still be able to find an audience for the work, it's pretty ideal.

      Your audience doesn't have to go to a store or track down a copy. You don't have to pay for publishing and word of mouth can spread your web address quite quickly if the content is good.

      Speaking of which (cheesy plug in effect): []

      Any genre and any style can be represented because it's not limited to shelf space or a particular audience.

      --- Jim Zubkavich
      The Makeshift Miracle
      updated on M/W/F []

    • by drakee ( 203777 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @06:56PM (#2878923) Homepage
      Honestly, I think that is one of the things that makes web cartoons better than print-only comics: They aren't controlled by money.

      Syndicated cartoonists must adhere to some pretty strict guidelines. Their comics are printed in mainstream newspapers, where using the word "gosh" will get you angry letters from blue-haired grannies all around the country.

      Web comics are created under no such restrictions. Anything is fair game- mainstream demographics be damned! As a result, the average webcomic is much more interesting and daring (if much less polished looking) than say, Marmaduke or the Family Circus.

      Anyone can create a web comic- there is even a webhost, keenspace [], which will host anyone's comic for free.

      Art can only thrive and evolve when there are artists out there who do it purely for the sake of art. If you do it for the money, you aren't so much an artist, you are an entertainer (which isn't to say that you can't make an entertaining comic).

      Drake Emko [] (nerdy animal fun!)
      • Bingo.

        The best thing about web-based cartoons is the fact not only are you subject to less censorship, you can do things like very, very long serial stories (long serial stories was the hallmark of the best comic strips from the 1920's to 1950's). This is why Sluggy Freelance carries on that tradition--story arcs like the combo about Riff's time machine going haywire and the Stormbreaker Saga took over half a year to complete from start to finish.
  • by ender-iii ( 161623 ) <.moc.revirllun. .ta. .mada.> on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:06PM (#2877896) Homepage
    I'd pay a buck to read Spiderman #1 online.
    But then I'd have to pay a buck to read Spiderman #2.
    And then... how many Spiderman issues are there?
  • that the e-book format won't go over very well. I would like to think it would but thinking hurts and I have done too much of that today already. I have read the e-book format, and I can honestly say I hated it. There is something about being able to pick up the book (comic or otherwise) and flip through the pages. It seems a little more intimate that way. (OK, waiting for +4 funny post to follow that comment)
    • I don't really agree with you.

      For those who visit my website [], you would know that I am a big fan of the Ranma 1/2 anime and manga. Recently, I had the opportunity to obtain a complete, free, fan-translated run of the manga in GIF format. Each page was its own image, and had to be read with a web browser or image viewer like IrfanView (free) or ACDSee (not free).

      Despite the fact that I already have it in a digital format, I continue to pay for the 'legitimate' [] release of Ranma 1/2 as it comes out, month by month, at $3.95 an issue.

      When I want to re-read a story or figure out a particular reference for a fanstory, however, rather than reaching for the stack of manga... I pop in the CDR containing the digital versions. Not only is it easier for me to read than the text version, it's quicker, you don't have to hunt for issues, etc...

      I've also recently obtained the 'Complete MAD Magazine,' which is a 7 CD set containing every issue of MAD magazine between the first issue in the 50's to around 1998 if I'm correct. True, some of them are dogs, especially the newer once. My old stack of MAD's hasn't been touched since, however.

      If you have indexing of any kind, you can search on that. If not, you can search on filenames. While I think that the current e-book formats, all of which are burdened with copy-protection, are inherently flawed, they have a great deal on print books.

      I especially like the PDB (Palm) format, which can be used with or without copy protection, and allows you to read books on your organizer. With the aid of a few utilities, said PDB files can be easily converted to HTML, Star, Word, or ASCII Text.

      I don't think copy protected e-books will go over very well, but I *do* think that the e-book is only going to get more and more popular.
  • Well, I think that says it all. They should just contract out like the rest of us content providers.
  • I think you all know how this is gonna work out...the second somebody downloads it, its gonna be out on morpheus in about 3 seconds. Webcomics arent really for profit, anyhow. Some of the best comics are free (Penny-arcade, Jerkcity, UserFriendly, etc). I really doubt that this is going to work out very well.

    • Actually Penny-Arcade accepts donations from Pay Pal and From Amazon's Honor system.

      When you make a donation you get stuff, wallpaper mostly, but it's cool stuff.

      They also have mugs on Think-Geek and a book has recently been published.

      Go PA!
      • Yeh.. Penny Arcade has a much better approach to it than most places.. they give you the comic for free.. and sell things you might want and if you do decide to give them some money they give you some free stuff as a thankyou.. that much better than the comic sites that start out free, get a bunch of halfway dedicated users and then try to screw them over by switching to a totally pay system thereby alienating the original fans.. I'd even go so far as to speculate that PA probably makes more money in the long run off donations than the sites that charge for everything.. people are often more likely to give more and or more often if its of their own will.. plus the PA book idea was hella cool.. even if their publisher isn't really equiped to get it done on time..
      • I wish Jerkcity would sell stuff. I've thought quite a bit in the past about making my own JC t-shirts, but haven't worked up the gumption to actually do it, yet.

        Regardless, if they sold shirts, I'd buy 'em.
  • Merchandising... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:09PM (#2877920)
    Quoth Piro from MegaTokyo []:

    With our hosting change, our hosting expenses have also gone up dramatically. We don't really know where it will settle out at, but we are keeping our fingers crossed. Before people start asking, we will NOT be asking for donations or having a paypal donation button - MT will survive like any other good property, based on it's ability to sell a reasonable amount of merchandise. If you would like to support MT, please visit our store and buy some swag :)

    Also note Scott Kurtz from PVP [], who is selling original sketches for $300-$400 a pop on ebay.
    • by Dr. Awktagon ( 233360 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @05:22PM (#2878350) Homepage

      Before people start asking, we will NOT be asking for donations or having a paypal donation button

      I don't get these comments, it costs them money but they don't ask for any, or they ask people to buy tchotchkes which are secondary to the actual comic product.

      Why not add a PayPal button? Is it some kind of pride or something, that people might think they are begging? They don't seem to have a problem with banner ads.

      The internet makes it possible for you to say "you can pay if you want, and if you don't that's okay too". Public radio has been working like this for while, why not use the model on the internet?

      I don't read any online comics but there are some free things like TidBITS [] and heroic stories [] for which I have gotten into the habit of pay $10-20/yr for as if it was a paper subscription (hell I've read Tidbits since freakin' high school and I feel like I owe them a lot). I'd be willing to pay for stuff like /. too, I pay for stuff that adds value to my life, and I don't care if other people don't pay.

    • Quoth Piro from MegaTokyo []:
      MT wills urvive like any other good property, based on it's ability to sell a reasonable amount of merchandise. If you would like to support MT, please visit our store and buy some swag :)

      The crazy thing with MT is that the only thing they don't sell is the comic itself in dead-tree format.
  • Merchandise. (Score:5, Informative)

    by eAndroid ( 71215 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:14PM (#2877950) Homepage
    I run an online web comic. But it's the sunday funnies type, not the comic book/novel type. My business model (once up and running, sigh) is to sell merchandise.

    Thanks to Cafe Press [] this is really, really easy to do. They are legit to - I've made real money selling merch for my band. Of course with the cut they take, it had better be legit!
    • geez, you're not going to make any money if you don't even pimp your own comic!
    • Re:Merchandise. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Saeger ( 456549 )
      You should also check out []. They'll manufacture and next-day ship your stuff for you.

      They're still in beta atm, so use the "backdoor" [] to check them out instead.

      I do question their 12% royalty though -- I'd rather they be more upfront about their costs so that you could figure who is getting the shorter end of the profit stick.


  • I must say that Marvel's DotComics are great. There's no way I'd be paying out the monthly $$$ to buy Spiderman Unlimited, X-Men Unlimited and/or any other comics. I'd more likely just forget about following comics. But their DotComics lets me browse select comics for free. I have to put up with a few ads which (with the exception of one that has sound) aren't too annoying. I also get the comics a few months past their release date, but I really don't mind the delay. In return, they get another fan to their line of books and someone who's slightly more likely to buy the actual book. (In my case, probably not, but if I were the comic-buying type I'd definitely add books to my list based on the DotComics.)
  • User Friendly [] is making a decent profit from ads because they get a zillion hits a day.

    By the way, I find it hillarious that someone is selling commics in adobe e-book format. An 8 year old could write a program to decode them.
    • You dont even have to decode them (though its much easier that way). You just need someone to take screenshots and save the pages as full-color images (tif, tga, png). You could even then re-insert them into PDF or ebook format with no copy protection if you like. Only one person needs to do this, the rest can just share it.

      Judging by your sig, I'm sure you realize the point of using crappy copy-control is mostly to have a DMCA argument when attacking pirates, not to actually stop the copying in the first place.

      • Judging by your sig, I'm sure you realize the point of using crappy copy-control is mostly to have a DMCA argument when attacking pirates, not to actually stop the copying in the first place.

        Yep - double rot-13 ought to do the job ;-)

  • paying per download for comic books or any other medium will never work because you'll always have the people who pay their $1 to download and then find some way to distribute the product freely to others (i.e. Kazaa, Morpheus, etc)...

    i'd think that advertising (banner ads, those terrible pop-up ads) are still the way to go...that and having an on-line store selling merchandise, et al., related to the comic...

    but, again, as long as their are ways to freely distribute the subscription material, paying for it will never work...the content wants to be free...and will always find a way to do so....
  • They're missing it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KjetilK ( 186133 ) <> on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:18PM (#2877971) Homepage Journal

    The general idea is to charge readers a few cents for every page they view, or as McCloud put it, to charge "for initial travel through the gate," with the ultimate goal being a subscription.

    Comics is exactly the kind of thing I would use micropayments for. I would never consider a subscription. If they try to fool me into making a subscription, they will loose me. It's as simple as that.

    "Web users are not wanting to pay for what they're already getting for free," warned Strazewski.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that either. I would gladly pay for good, accessible products, that doesn't infringe on my privacy, take away my fair use rights, doesn't try to abuse my trust in any way, and make available a convientent method for making payments.

    Right now, that doesn't exist, and it seems the industry isn't going to make it happen. All the industry care about it making offers that sucks, infringe on my privacy, take away my fair use rights, and abuse my trust in every way. In addition, they all stand behind their little sand castles shouting at each other trying to make different ways of making payments that are not going to work. Instead, they should come together and agree on common, open standards.

    • I would realy like to know how micro-payments will work. Charging a penny per page is just not collectable. CC companies will not pass a $.02 charge on a credit card. If we are required a deposit, say $20.00 to open an account, how many accounts would you open??? If we ask our ISP to charge us, How do you stop spammers from reffering to casini, pr0n, etc...

      Basically do content providers get paid?

      • Each party has an account with the micropayment company. Customers only are charged when a certain minimum total is built up. Providers are only paid when enough deposits have accumulated to reach a minimum. The time difference between transactions is covered by the company's venture capital until it is self-sustaining.

        It's not complicated, but you need lots of people to buy into it to get it running.
        • Yes I agree with your point about minimums but what scares me about micro-payments is that someone opens a site and starts spamming people with embeded/popup pages, (it's been a long day and I can't think of the correct term). If micro-payments a successfull I think we would get these kind of spammers. You would not expect someone to enter his username and passwd everytime he opens your page, would you?

          Either I'm missing something or the system has to be a little better in it's design.

          • Security is always an issue, but I think that one would have to explicitly allow payments to each entity. Maybe not each time, but definitely each provider. An automatic charge incurred by spam, or even just by visiting a new page, would certainly be unacceptable.
        • only are charged when a certain minimum total is built up.

          And therefore the smart customers create a bunch of new accounts, get as many comics as they can before hitting the limit, and then switch accounts. Then, they set up an fserv on #ecomic on dalnet.

          I hate to say it, but this will happen.

    • Without going on too much of a tangent, people asked by pollsters say they go to church every week but actually they don't. []

      Likewise, of course if you ask somebody, "would you pay 3c a page for good content?" They say "well, of course, I support artists, I'd pay that even if I didn't have to bleah bleah fair use bleah bleah." It's practically a religious thing for people, like myself and, lets be frank, everyone else on Slashdot, who download gigs of Mp3s.

      However, when you actually look at the numbers for this - Penny Arcade doesn't get a tenth of a cent in micropayments per pagehit. Now, maybe some people are making that up in buying coffee mugs, whatever, the point is, when you look at how people actually behave, they don't pay the three cents per page when you demand it, they go read something else.

      Is this because PayPal is too bulky? I'm sure that that is part of it, and that if it were easier to make micropayments than half of the people who say they'd make them really would.

      Just my 0.02$ per page.
    • by Misch ( 158807 )

      I wouldn't be so sure about that either. I would gladly pay for good, accessible products, that doesn't infringe on my privacy, take away my fair use rights, doesn't try to abuse my trust in any way, and make available a convientent method for making payments.

      I did too... so I paid for it, and I got screwed. [] Lucky for me, I got screwed out of only $10 and the time I invested setting up my photo album and captions and stuff. Lots of people were using it to host images for ebay, and paid a lot more money for a lot of extra storage. They lost a lot more than I did.

  • ok (Score:1, Interesting)

    I believe this will be similar to online books, and hence, fail. When Stephen King put his book online [ ], he set the rate at one dollar to read it. One would expect the reply to be large, as paperback books run about 6 bucks nowadays. However, extensive reading of on-screen material tires the eyes and readers in the end decided that it wasn't worth it because it was too uncomfortable to read, and they'd rather have a paperback version.
    • I feel inclined to mention that Stephen King made about half a million on his Plant experiment, after expenses, which is pretty good considering 1) it was entirely a "virtual" product, 2) he screwed up a lot of stuff.

      The press (owned by big publishers mostly) said it was a failure, and King even send a letter to one newspaper (NYT perhaps it was), explaining that it wasn't really a failure, but of course they didn't publish it.

      I think his experiment was a useful step in the right direction.

  • by L-Train8 ( 70991 ) <> on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:19PM (#2877978) Homepage Journal
    Penny Arcade had a comic [] on Scott McCloud's take on micropayment systems. Basically they said micropayments are a nice idea, but they don't work now, and that's when artists need them. Bandwidth isn't free, and most sites don't sell enough merchandise to make a profit. So now, it is confined mainly to people who have a passion about it or people for whom it is just a hobby.
    • by elbobo ( 28495 )
      bollocks they don't work now. i've heard that excuse so many times now, it drives me to anger.

      the only reason "they don't work now" is because nobody can be bothered putting in a little bit of framework!

      i've had micropayments working on my blog of all things, for the last year, and they're worked wonderfully.

      basically all you need is a bit of code that only lets people view so many pages before it stops them and says "you've viewed X pages, to go further you have to pay for those ones. the best bet is to pay up a bit further so you don't see this message again in a while"

      it's not strictly micropayments, as people generally pay in lumps, but it *definately* works. i've been covering hosting costs plus a little on the side via that method for long enough to prove that it wasn't just an initial fluke.
      • basically all you need is a bit of code that only lets people view so many pages before it stops them...

        Well, it depends on your target demographic. In addition to code on your webpage, you need to have a readership that is both loyal and has credit cards. Also, you need to deal in monetary amounts that are worth the trouble and cost of accepting credit cards. But if you are a web comic with a teenage readership, most of your readership won't have credit cards. And if you are charging a penny or two for a page view, it might cost you that much in credit card transaction fees.

        I think the current implementation of micropayments works for some sites, but I don't think it scales very well. I think people will pay to support a site to which they feel they belong. Sites with a sense of community make people feel like they are contributing to something that they have a hand in creating. But once a site gets too big, whatever that point is, asking people for donations and using the honor system don't work. People feel like suckers for bankrolling a "big corporation" that doesn't appreciate or acknowledge the contributions of the readership. A brouhaha like the slashdot moderation controversy [] could decimate a site's paying user base.

        But to talk out of both sides of my mouth, the micropayments system is evolving in internet time. Since Penny Arcade posted their comic slamming Mr. McCloud's viewpoint, they went to a donation/reward system that has apparently been working well for them. Perhaps webcomic publishers will pick up the torch dropped by the venture capatilists, and drive innovation on the internet for a while.
  • ...the article didn't mention at all, esp since they host so many different comics.
  • Yeah, I'm sure our friend Dmitry would be delighted that comic artists are using this.
  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:22PM (#2878000)
    Actually, Adobe are currently hard at work on the E-Comic format.

    While it's probably a flagrant breach of the DMCA for me to talk about it, the format involves putting the panels in... now here's the cunning bit... reverse order. By using Rot-Pan, the technical name for ROTating PANels, Adobe intends to use the DMCA to prosecute anyone who simply reads them backwards.

    When questioned about using the DMCA to protect such a ludicrously simple encryption technique rather than actually make it genuinely secure, the Bush administration was quoted as saying, "Well, pretzels look simple the surface too but look how complex they really are."

    I would discuss this further but the Feds appear to be knocking at my door with a search warrant signed by yet another large corp.
  • Micropayments (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pituritus Ani ( 247728 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:23PM (#2878012) Homepage
    The article correctly points out that micropayments are one way to fund comics, but that people aren't inclined to pay anything for that which used to be free.

    Although it's over five years old, this Wired article [] has a nice summary of the challenges that faced and face the idea.

    Ccott McCloud, a prominent comics artist, shares his thoughts [] in comic form. He humorously addresses these issues from the point of view of an on-line comic artist.

  • Uhm... Webcomics as a business model? This just sounds funny. Since when does the product become/define the business model? I can understand a web business model, because doing business on the web is different than doing business in a store, or by mail order, or by phone, or by infomercials.

    When I read this, my first thought was something stupid about Microsoft. Then I realized there really isn't anything comic about their business model. They're more like a one train thought destruction device. "Must destroy ."

    I'm not saying I have anything against comics. In fact, I'm desperately in search of Lord Pumpkin. But I don't think naming a business model off of the product is right.
  • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:25PM (#2878029)
    7It's no secret that comic book publishers make zero profit on back-issue sales; that's entirely the realm of the collector. So why shouldn't Marvel, DC get into the business of providing their own back-issue archives in downloadable eBook format?

    It's perfect, really. The publisher gets paid for books they otherwise wouldn't want to reprint. They could even include new advertisements between the pages, although I'd rather pay more for an ad-less eBook myself. Fans get the back issues they want to read at a fraction of the cost and hassle. Collectors will still get top dollar for the most collectible original, physical publication. Store owners don't have to worry as much about sealing their back issues in taped bags. And the entire industry gets a low-cost kick in the butt.

    Of course, there are some losers. Store owners who earn money from non-collectible back issues will have more trouble selling those, even as the collectible back issues become more valuable to fans. Publishers may not make as much money from trade paperbacks collecting popular stories -- then again, there's really no substitute for the printed page, especially where several issues are concerned. But I think the potential increase is worth it. And, of course, the publishers themselves may have to buy back their own back issues in order to make them available online.

    Still, it would be an excellent way for Marvel to cash in on the long-running popularity of the X-Men, or DC and Batman, or Dark Horse and Aliens. I can think of plenty of fans and even not-so-fans who'd happily pay $2 per back issue of a known hit when new paper issues of unknown ones are priced at $3 apiece.
    • Maybe put the first few pages of each issue online for free (to hook the reader). Then when the reader wants more, charge them some small amount ($1 maybe). The costs to DC or Marvel would be minimal. You'd have the cost of transferring all the comics to a web-friendly format and server-related costs. But all in all it'd be cheaper than running off new reprint copies of those issues. And it wouldn't drop the price of the physical back-issues since no collector will be contented to just have a file on their hard drive. If anything, it might spark interest in some old issues and drive the price up a bit. Or even create some extra demand for the current issues. If I'm reading some two year old issues of Spiderman and I'm really getting into the storyline, I'm more likely to buy a new issue to see what's happening with the characters.

      If their costs were low enough, they could offer free/low-cost subscriptions and track member usage to target print offers. Is the user reading the "Death of Superman" storyline? Why not offer them a special online-only deal on the printed book with the entire storyline? (Kind of like an Amazon system. "People who read this comic also liked these comics/books/merchandise.")
    • Still, it would be an excellent way for Marvel to cash in on the long-running popularity of the X-Men, or DC and Batman, or Dark Horse and Aliens. I can think of plenty of fans and even not-so-fans who'd happily pay $2 per back issue of a known hit when new paper issues of unknown ones are priced at $3 apiece.
      Comic companies already do this in the form of trade paperbacks, which is like getting a dozen back issues for $15.

      I suspect there is not a lot of demand for eBook versions of comic books, it's not like there is a lot of comic book piracy out there on usenet (aside from some niche manga). Since the comic industry hasn't had to deal with piracy to the same degree as the music or book industry has, I assume most of the appeal of comics is the collectable aspect, which wouldn't be satisfied by selling by them in eBook format.

      • Comic companies already do this in the form of trade paperbacks, which is like getting a dozen back issues for $15.

        But trade paperbacks are only available for select, highly-demanded storylines. I'm talking about entire runs of popular titles being available online.

        I suspect there is not a lot of demand for eBook versions of comic books, it's not like there is a lot of comic book piracy out there on usenet (aside from some niche manga). Since the comic industry hasn't had to deal with piracy to the same degree as the music or book industry has, I assume most of the appeal of comics is the collectable aspect, which wouldn't be satisfied by selling by them in eBook format.

        The main advantages of eBooks would be portability -- having the entire book in one file, instead of 22 files for 22 pages -- and scalability -- having the pages automatically change size to fit my screen. Printability would be an added bonus. Piracy isn't a concern, except in the sense that a publisher would want to prevent individuals from (easily) making their purchased copy available to countless others online for no cost.
      • More usually, 6 issues for $20...
  • I'd say start with comics that have been out for a long time.

    Like all those #1's your grandpa used to read that are now worth a fortune.

    Shit, I might subscribe if I could read the comics I own now. They sit there doing nothing but making me money, and I haven't read a one.

    Ok, I read a few.

    [I've got a friend that claims the comic _book_ industry is a huge rip off. He worked at shows and said they gave stuff away, like to each other. This shit was supposed to be real 'collectors items']
  • . . . like an angry serpent baring its fangs, a horrific vision leapt out at him from the screen. More irritated than frightened, he clicked again. The intrusion vanished, leaving no trace behind. "Stupid pop-up ads," our hero muttered . . .
    There's a silly story here somewhere. . . .

  • Keenspace (Score:4, Informative)

    by sconest ( 188729 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:26PM (#2878038) Homepage

    What about Keenspot []?

    You don't subscribe to a particular comic but to Keenspot premium [], an ad-free version of all their comics and you get several gifts such as autographed comic books, original artwork, ...

    You still can also donate to authors through paypal [] if you want to.

    And they often seel original art through auctions

    • Re:Keenspace (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ethereal ( 13958 )

      I agree - this is the way things will really go. Think about it - you don't subscribe to the AP, a regional newsfeed, a city news feed, and a local news feed, do you? No, you just subscribe to a newspaper that contains all of them. Likewise, if all of the comics that I read regularly were in a conglomerate like that, I'd have no problem subscribing to demonstrate how much I've enjoyed Sluggy Freelance, etc. over the years. Keenspot is a good start, at least. You just have to make sure that the money really goes where it needs to go - just like in other artists conglomerates, you don't want the lion's share of the money going to Britney Spears or Scott Adams (better example: Jim Davis); you want your payment to encourage more of the innovative humor that you were looking for in the first place.

      It seems to me that the real gravy train for a comic artist would be breaking into a real paper, though. I wonder why more web comics haven't been picked up by major papers recently - they're a lot more fun than the repetitive blandness of being that is Cathy or Garfield or Family Circus (the non-disfunctional one). Although I imagine that web comic authors get used to being able to vary their use of color, number of panels, and layout on an almost daily basis, combined with intense online interaction with fans that you just wouldn't get with the printed page.

      Maybe reading Megatokyo in the morning paper is the impossible dream, but I'm not giving up hope. After all, my wife actually sat through Cowboy Bebop last night, so anything's possible :)

    • IIRC, keenspot does not pay the comic authors for their content. It benefits the authors only by providing them hosting, with the burden of having Keen's ads, sidebars, etc. So the "business model" of keenspot doesn't financially benefit the authors, and that's why they have to sell t-shirts, ask for donations, etc.

      The authors probably do get royalties on the special-offer comic books etc that keen sells.
      • Not according to the Premium servie FAQ on their site:


        OF COURSE! Just like the ad banners that run on each Keenspot page, profits from the Keenspot PREMIUM service will be split with the Keenspot cartoonists. By being a member of the PREMIUM service, you'll be putting much more money into a cartoonist's pocket than the ad banners are doing in the currently weak ad market (even if you click on them constantly!). For pennies a day, not only can you read great comics with no ads and get lots of cool extras, but you can help to support the cartoonists who's work you enjoy so much.
      • Keenspot comic creators do profit. Keenspace comic creators do not. keenspace is the minor league open to anyone. your comic does well enough and the keenspoters will offer you a space on the keenspot.
  • My favorite webcomic recently came to an end. Apparently, the author decided to get a life. *sniff* Still, I always felt that the lifestyle depicted in there hit a little too close to home.
  • The guy who does 8-Bit Theatre [] just started attempting to do the webcomic thing full-time. He's only around 20 years old, so no great risk if he fails, but I certainly expect his non-comic updates to get more amusing.

    Of course, given the nature of the comic (8BT is a webcomic that uses Final Fantasy 1 sprites), I expect Square to sue him if he starts to do okay.


  • "Astounding Space Thrills" ( is profitable by using more traditional Internet methods. A satirical science fiction adventure that takes shots at Microsoft with the villainous "Covert Redmond, CEO of Macroshaft," AST takes the format of a daily comic strip, just like those found in a newspaper. Through syndication, it appears on thousands of Web sites, in addition to its own site

    Adding that one to my bookmarks right now

  • Fantagraphics (Score:1, Interesting)

    Some of the best comics today are produced by Fantagraphics []. Not the boring superhero stuff, but more sub-culturish and mature. The artwork of Daniel Clowes [] is amazing. Rember the Ramones video he did in the 90s?

    I enjoy this in print, however if Clowes or Peter Bagge or Bill Griffith were to do an online version, I'd gladly pay.
  • Just create one or two characters that are shameless exploiters of others and use that character to hawk your wares at your site. Scott Adams' [] site has Dogbert selling anything and everything Dilbert. It seems to be a winning combination.
  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:34PM (#2878083) Homepage
    Micropayments are being touted as a replacement for ad revenue. And this SHOULD be the case. To pay a few cents to eliminate annoying ads would be worthwhile for some people, but for others who have grown very accustomed to the web being free will probably go on prefering intrusive ads.

    It also differs on the artist's needs. If he's just trying to cover his bandwidth costs, he has more options than if he's trying to use the web as his only source of income. Even with a readership in the 10's of thousands, it can still be a challenge to do much more than break even.

    Ultimately it would work best as a complimentary feature. It's less expensive from the publisher's point of view, and that should certainly be taken into account when considering the per-issue pricing scheme. But as other posters have mentioned, some value of the comic's is the collectable value as well as the content value.

    • For us that want it both free and adfree. Of course it takes some configuration, and some sites it doesn't work all that well with, but I'd say we're winning for now. Should all start to filter I suppose they'd come up with something new.

  • I'd really love to be able to get Eerie and Creepy back issues in PDF... I wonder if it'd be possible to resurrect those titles? They had some truly weird, but fun, stories.
  • by Angerson ( 121904 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:36PM (#2878092) Homepage
    I've been doing an online comic now for just over two years. I have a regular following of readers, manage to get decent traffic and the feedback I receive has generally been good. However, I have not made one dime from this venture and I can't imagine that I ever will.

    This is partly due to the fact that the online advertising model is dead and/or severely flawed. Last year I grossed (yes grossed) around $3 and my poor readers suffered a bevy of pop-ups, pop-unders and other flashing menaces. Likewise the model of pay-per-download just doesn't work -people won't pay to be mildly entertained when then they can get the same stuff for free.

    Ultimately, this caused me to abandon the comic, ending my adventure in online comics just as quickly as it began. Then something unexpected happened. People actually emailed me wondering what happened to the comic. For some unknown reason, they actually cared that my tiny contribution to the world of online comics vanished. And for me, that was enough to try and bring it back. So this February it returns.

    If there's a point to any of this, it's that not everything has to be about money. The internet can be more than a virtual marketplace, if only people are willing to work at it. Sure, I'd love to make money from this, but just knowing that people get some enjoyment out of something I do has its perks. And it's good enough for me.
    • For me, just getting feedback is a great motivation to continue with my work.

      Well, I admit I'm not quite talented as a cartoonist (I'm better off as a computer programmer ^_^), but even if I were, I know how things work here, and so I don't expect to get a dime for it. Ever.

      It's something I wanted to do for fun. That's all.
    • I'm glad to hear that you'll be bringing Angerson back. I've read and enjoyed it in the past.

      I have a webcomic too, and it is payment enough that people bother to read it and give us feedback. I look at webcartooning as kind of like starting a rock band- even though it's possible to make money at it, it is the worst sort of venture to engage in if money is your goal.

      There are simply so many web comics out there, that your chances for commercial success are very unfavorable. If you develop a payment system for your comic, why would anyone choose to pay, when they have literally tens of thousands of other comics they can see for free?

      You do it first and foremost because you have a passion for it, and you want to expose your art to appreciative people.

      Anyone who does it for the money won't last long in this field.
  • I have all my comics in boxes and boxes, baged and borded. I'm afraid to read them in case I hurt the value.... This would allow me to actually read the comics I purchased. Who am I kidding I should just sell the dang things on E-bay and get em gone...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This gives me the idea to go to eBay and start selling packages of mylar bags to use to protect online comics. Someone is bound to want to buy these. Might as well get in on the ground floor of the online comics revolution!
  • pah. count me out then. no windows no comix.
  • Comic book readers are a completely different demographic than music listeners. They A) aren't already spoiled by free comics, and B) they already pay big bucks to collect them. Buying a download and then printing it out on your own color printer is a small price to pay compared to what you *would* have paid. And besides...many of us would pay a buck to read the first Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc.

    Pop up ads *are* the way to go (until the subscription models work out). The real question is whether or not these places will get smart and not allow those using ad killers [] (such as Guard-IE [].

    If everyone used these types of programs, then no one would buy ad space.
  • by J. T. MacLeod ( 111094 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @04:42PM (#2878124)
    (Warning: This will look like a plug for a bunch of webcomics. It probably is, but I have a valid point. Mod me into oblivion of you wish.)

    The big players in the print industry seem to be the only guys getting real attention when it comes to producing "comics" on the web.

    What about the Keenspot [] or the Keenspace [keenspace] groups? They have a valid revenue model, even if they aren't making a ton of money(making money is a secondary concern to them). Heck, they're doing the opposite of the big boys: Moving from the 'net to print media. (Check for Roomies! and Superosity in your local comic store)

    Another group is , which hosts, among other comics, [] Algernons Dilemma [].

    There are the big ones you've probably heard of, PvP [] and Sluggy Freelance [] who are actually making a living on their webcomic.

    Heck, /. has Mega Tokyo [] banners!

    Personally, I'd rather these, and others, than the majority of the junk the syndicates, et al, try to push onto the web. Nevermind X-Men, give me it's Walky! []

    Disclaimer: I run a webcomic, so this story pushed my buttons :)

    J. T. MacLeod
    UBERGEEK the Comic. Umlauts be danged. []
    It's neato!
  • Apart from the cofounder's stock scam destroying any chance the company might have had at success, the article fails to mention that the writing for Stan Lee Media's "webisodes" was just awful...

    If you can imagine the most hackneyed plots, stereotypical characters, and stilted dialog of comics published 30 years ago, you've pretty much got the gist of content Stan Lee Media had to offer. Which is a shame, because they had a very talented team of artists and animators.
  • I wonder if any of these comics that are sold in pdf are indexable in anyway.. google has this cool search where they somehow highlight your search even if its a word printed in a scanned catalog image. This technology would be great for comics which are generally scanned artwork and not originally digital products.
  • Just take a look at must be 18 or over. In my opinion the best webcomic ever made. Of course its not a marvel comic or anything like that. It is a comedy strip that comes out once a week.
  • "Stupid pop-up ads," our hero muttered before leafing through another tale of wonder and disbelief.

    Hmmm -- exactly what I was wondering when I arrive d at the Tribune web site [].

  • I've been reading several keenspot []/keenspace [] comics for a while now. Their model, as far as I can tell, is to give free web space to online comic artists, along with some helpful stuff, like scripts to archive old comics and post new comics. The normal site seems to make revenue off of banner ads, but they have several other revenue making ideas, and presumably they share the profits with the artists. They print up and market collection books, or periodical issues, as well as offering premium no-ads service to people who want it.

    I have no idea how well they are doing, but I frequent: [] [] []

    and a couple others.

  • I've been thinking about the online comic book business because one day I want to start one myself. Actually it's an online animated cartoon, but I think the model would be similar. I have issues with things like "what happens if people constantly distribute copies of the animations to each other and bypass my income generator?"

    I think there are people scared of the idea of once they sell a few copies, they propogate virally and nobody pays for it. I know that has me a bit spooked, but I have a few ideas that might be useful.

    - There needs to be new content regularly. The faster, the better. That keeps people checking with the site instead of checking Morpheus every so often.

    - Sell things besides the content itself. You can transmit comics/animations/movies etc around the web, but you cannot transmit T-shirts, coffee mugs, and little figurines etc.

    - Make distributed content worth something. I want to do an animated cartoon, right? One approach is the 'to be continued...' story that requires multiple parts to get the whole thing. If somebody gets only one or two episodes, the best way to get the rest is from my site. I think comics could work this way too, admittedly they'd propogate easier though given their smaller file size.

    - Include a coupon with the content. "Mention this comic and you'll get $2 off a T-shirt, go to our site at" With this approach, even pirated works are of value because it's possible some people will buy some of your merchandise. If the ads/coupons aren't too intrusive (don't put a 30 second commercial in it! >:I ) nobody'll edit them out.

    - Consider a subscription model. Give away a few episodes, ideally so they have some type of cliffhanger that just keeps your eyes glued, and say 'for $x a year you can have unlimited access to downloads' or something like that. Even if that isn't too profitable, at least you have SOME people out there getting vids and getting them around the web.

    - Use the content as a commercial for merchandise. Do you all remember the Transformers cartoon? That cartoon was seriously a 20 minute commerical for toys disguised as a cartoon. If the artwork of the comic/cartoon is interesting and unique enough, turning it into a marketing device for t-shirts/posters/coffee mugs etc really isn't that difficult. I'll give you an example, there was a Dilbert cartoon where Dilbert had a doll of his boss sitting on his monitor. The boss asked what that was about, Dilbert replied "It lifts my spirit to have a likeness of you near by." The boss left, feeling good about what Dilbert told him. As soon as he walked out, Dilbert backhanded the doll off his monitor and said "Stop barging in while I'm working!" From what Scott Adams said in one of his books, a bunch of people wrote in wanting one of those dolls.

    I think one thing Hollywood and the Record Industry needs to learn is that they should care about the money they are getting instead of worrying about the money they aren't getting.
  • The main cost in producing webcomics seems to be bandwidth; a lot of them seem to be struggling with it. What I can definitely see happening is a lot of the smaller, no- or low- profit ones moving to P2P. Release it, send it out to a few people, it'll propagate pretty fast over Morpheus.
    • Yes, bandwidth is a huge problem for online comics. Unlike most types of content, comics exist as large, bandwidth-hogging image files. And when a cartoon site has a few years' worth of archived strips that people can look at, the GBs can really add up.

      I don't pretend to know how to make money with online comics, but I can tell you that many webcomics could cut their bandwidth bills in half by optimizing their images:

      1. Stop using GIFs! Fer crying out loud, use PNG images indexed to 256 or less colors. You don't have to worry about Unisys royalties [] or any such nonsense, and it compresses much more efficiently than GIF.

      2. If you use PNG images, further compress them with pngcrush []. It's free and doesn't degrade image quality at all.

      3. If you use JPEG, use jpegoptim [] to optimize compression losslessly. The results may not be too dramatic, but every byte counts.

      Drake Emko [] (nerdy animal fun!)
  • Toys, Shirts, key chains, stuffed animals such as Dust Puppy are where the money is.

    Personally, I think the best comics will stay free, and they'll make their dough on concrete items.

    I'm just thinking about myself and my friends, and most of us have bought a shirt or two from their favorite on-line comic. I personally have both User Frendly and GPF wear because the comics are funny enough to follow daily and the shirts are funny enough on their own, and as reference to the comic.

    A note to anyone reading this who has a web-comic: I don't care if I'm paying $15 versus $20 bucks for the shirt: take your profit for your creative output on the shirt, please! Just don't mark them up 200 percent, and I'll buy a shirt if I think it's funny enough.

  • by Civil_Disobedient ( 261825 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @06:11PM (#2878663)
    This is not going to work.

    As anyone who's ever collected comics knows, it's the scarcity of comics that helps create their demand and popularity over time, not their wide distribution. How many of you have an X-Men #94? Amazing Fantasy #15? Detective Comics #27? But if you did, you'd cherish it like an heirloom, you'd pass it to your children when they got old enough to know the difference between acid-free backing boards and regular cardboard.

    Sure, widespread distribution will help if all you want to do is read the comics, but that's not where their value comes from. The important thing is that I have an Avengers #3, and you have an Avengers #16, and if we're going to trade, yours better be in mint condition.

    There's just something very visceral and male about holding a rare comic book. What am I gonna do, have a swapable harddrive of Marvel and DC. "Hey, check out KaZaa, they've got the latest Superman story." Bah! There are some things that technology simply cannot improve on.
    • Sure, widespread distribution will help if all you want to do is read the comics, but that's not where their value comes from.


      The value of comics is the same value of books, movies, or other media. Creators want to entertain and make some money. Readers want to be entertained and are willing to pay for privledge. Readers don't care about scarcity. It doesn't matter if ten or a million copies exist, a good comic is a good comic.

      Collectors helped overinflate the comic book industry. Collectors can be thanked for the gluts of special covers, new "Issue #1"s of old series, and other stunts that drove away readers. When the bubble popped, many loyal readers were gone, leaving the industry in a shambles.

      Do comic book readers want many of those collectable comics? Sure. There is the curiosity value and the chance to re-read your old favorite. Scarcity isn't important. A reader will be quite happy with a nice reprint.

      I have a comic book collection, but I'm not a collector. I purchase comics for the love of reading them. They are good comics, so I want to share them with other comic readers. As a result, I try to keep them in good shape. But because what is important is that you can read them, not that's it's "collectable," I don't stress over minor tears, fading, folds, or wear marks.

    • I don't understand collectors. Why would you want to own something that you never look at, never even touch?

      Comics collecting started when some people realized that comics readers would get nostalgic for old issues they once read, and would be willing to pay decent (or, in the case of really ancient comics like Action Comics #1, indecent) sums of money to read them again. Then it became a game of speculation, where one collector (thinking that the price has plateaued) would sell to another (betting that the price will rise). At some point, it ceased to be about betting that some comics lover will want to reread a back issue, and became about betting that some other guy will want to resell it. It became just a big pyramid scheme.

      Meanwhile, the major studios catered to the speculators (who would actually buy ten copies of a single issue if they all had different covers) and stopped writing and drawing stories that were fun to read. Hell, at the height of the collecting bubble, Marvel and DC could have printed comics filled with blank pages (after all, once somebody has picked it up without sterile gloves and opened it, it isn't "mint condition" anymore), and idiot "collectors" would have snatched them up as long as there was a woman with breasts the size of Volkswagon beetles in spandex holding an AK-47 on the cover. Fortunately, they still had enough self-respect left to actually print stuff on the inside pages, although it was rarely readable. Then, when some collectors realized that all they were doing was selling these things to each other in circles, the market collapsed, and the studios are now stuck trying to appeal to comic readers, a group they nearly destroyed through neglect.

      In short, collectors do nothing but damage to the comics industry, subsidizing talentless hacks like Rob Liefeld, driving off readers, and generally making life miserable for the rest of us.

    • For those of you who aren't comic geeks here is a translation of the big time books mentioned above:

      X-Men #94 - Introduction of the new team including Wolverine, Collosus, Storm, NightCrawler, etc...

      Amazing Fantasy #15 - here for more [] - First appearance of Spider Man.

      Detective Comics #27 - pic [] First appearance of Batman
  • The reason webcomics will never work is because of the very nature of the thing. While actual, physical comics have been accepted as something you have to pay for, this is not the norm for web comics, and in my opinion, will never be.

    Take the following situation:

    A) Good comic guy A starts charing
    B) New comic guy B scans a few comics he drew in school and puts them up on his site.
    C) New comic guy B's comics become famous.
    D) Increased visiting.

    And that'll be on a loop.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
  • (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashkitty ( 21637 ) on Monday January 21, 2002 @11:00PM (#2880118) Homepage
    Well, I guess I should mention my site, [] here. Can't believe /. runs a story on Webcomics with out mentioning my site. Ok granted, my site is mostly comics strips where this story seems to be about comic books, but we've been around for 6 years and have a great community of cartoonists. Some have moved on to become syndicated, others have websites that have taken off.

    Anyway, we of course have been trying to deal with this making money thing for 6 years at WebComics. We've had competitors come and go (like and which all thought they could make lots of money I guess. As with most messed up web companies, the problem is very simple, they just spend too much money. The web lets you do things so efficiently and a company has to take advantage of that.

  • Why wasn't Penny Arcade featured in that article? The guys that make that comic are actually making so much money through donations that they both quit their jobs and each have a $1500-$2000 monthly salary.
  • I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Dave Farley's daily Dr. Fun [] strip. It's a Far Side style strip that is almost as old as the web (Sept 1993). Dave's business model is to not quit his day job. Bandwith is donated by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

    Another excellent web comic that uses a university to avoid bandwidth expenses is Jorge Cham's PhD [].

  • "Imagine if you went to a bookstore, asked for `Heart of Darkness' and they said, `Sorry, it's a back issue,'"

    Because of course, we know that books NEVER go out of print... :)

    I guess the person doesn't realize that once the comic market became a *collectible* market (oh, say 20-30 years ago?), fans would never stand for continual reprint after reprint of old/rare issues. The odd trade paperback collection, or reprints of very old and unique issues perhaps. Also, the demand just isn't there for every comic to be in print continuously.

  • I've been collecting comics for over 20 years now. I also drew comics years ago when they were 75c for the book instead of the $5+ that you see now. Never mind that.

    The existance of web comics (i.e. comics in some downloadable medium, say PDF) cannot co-exist with real comics without having diverse effects. If I can download a PDF of X-Men 118 for $1.50 then why is the original $25? Sure it's a collectable, but there's the rub. Let's say a few years/months off in the future Marvel decides to digitize it's entire line. Paper costs are too high and print runs are abolished. All comics are put online for you to download for a minimum fee. Of course now Marvel has a problem that they're not about to recoup any costs from comic shops for the printing since there is none. Sure it's cheap to distribute but now there are also 10,000 copies of it floating around on Morpheus and peoples websites. Where's the collectable value in that?

    Personally I'd like to have my collection in digital form and maybe that's the alternative. Just scan the whole lot of them and stash the originals away until they're worth $10,000 on eBay. The collecting of comics is what is the focus. Sure the content is important to a certain extent, but look at the rush (and increase in value) when a John Byrne, Neal Adams or Michael Turner book goes up on the block. The book has some value and that value is meant to increase because of various things. Resale value, content, character, artist/writer, scarcity, etc. Now imagine again if all books (or even some of them) were in PDF format. There's no real sense in obtaining it except for just reading and admiring the artwork. Anyone can own a copy just by downloading it and wheres the fun in that? Then what happens at conventions when your favorite writer/artist is scheduled? You print off a copy at Kinkos and bring it in to be signed?

    One thing is possible here. The expandibility of the comic book to an electronic medium. Remember when everyone bought VHS movies just to own them? Now everyone is buying DVD to get the extra content. Imagine if you could download your own PDF comic of X-Men and view it in pencil, ink, color or production mode? Maybe even have the pre-production sketches that went into the making of the comic. Now THAT would be something to own. Let's see the media extended rather than transferred.

    Anyways, whatever business model a comic company thinks they can fit into cannot measure up to the collectable value of a true comic book. The online guys that are selling content are doing so because they don't live in the same universe Marvel, DC and others do and don't distribute millions of copies each week.

    Just my 2c


I've got a bad feeling about this.