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MIT on Comics and Micropayments 57

Snotty Pippen writes "Henry Jenkins, Chair of MIT's Comparative Media Department, has posted 'Comics and Micropayments: An Interview with Todd Allen.' Todd Allen is a professor/consultant with a book on the business of comics. The two discuss a number of online business models and web comics, ranging from the print-to-web migrants like Girl Genius and Finder to the print-to-web download of Flying Friar; the long tail as a driving source for reprints & back-issues; and PayPal's effect on micropayments. All-in-all, a fairly comprehensive round-up of the industry."
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MIT on Comics and Micropayments

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    1. Get mentioned in a book by an MIT guy
    2. Get a link from slashdot
    3. ???
    4. Profit!
    • The webcomic #3. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AltGrendel ( 175092 )
      Keep current with updates.

      Seriously, I've seen some really good comics die online because the author didn't keep a regular update scheculd. VG Cats [] almost went this way, but managed to recover.

      • I'll second that. Achewood [] seems to get away without a regular update schedule, but I can't think of any other very popular comics that do it. Sure, sure, PvP posts late at night, but it's still every day.
      • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
        Yeah, I gave up on Sluggy Freelance and Clan of the Cats, about year ago, due to low updates. Sucks for them, 'cause comics aren't easy to do but then you have Schlock Mercenary [] and Irregular Web Comics [] updating everyday for years.
  • DC and Marvel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @09:40AM (#16160320)
    DC offers little more than a few pages of previews. One occasionally hears rumblings, but DC seems to be a little on the web-phobic side, to look at their actions.

    Marvel continues to waffle. They stepped back from their web comics, then returned to them with a strategy geared more towards promotion of upcoming collected editions. Their initiative of late have been establishing a wiki and instituting some editorial blogs. On the other hand, Marvel also issued a survey about attitudes towards digital downloads, including questions on how much the consumer would be willing to pay for one. So with Marvel, they're definitely thinking about it, if not jumping to action.

    So, it looks like, as with the music industry, the established players are scared/hesitating over using these new web tube things, whilst the smaller independants are stealing a march on them. Apart from the one's mentioned, UF must be every geek's favourite example of how to make a living from offering a web comic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Those with the most to lose gamble less.
      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        And those who don't gamble never win.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kfg ( 145172 ) *
          How To Make a Fortune Gambling:

          1. Buy a lottery ticket
          2. Win!
          3. Stop buying lottery tickets

          • Lottery tickets aren't gambling once the jackpot, in dollars, exceeds the odds against.

            Then it's a perfectly legitimate risk/reward investment proposition.
            • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
              Lottery tickets aren't gambling once the jackpot, in dollars, exceeds the odds against.

              We call that a Certificate of Deposit.

            • Lottery tickets aren't gambling once the jackpot, in dollars, exceeds the odds against. Then it's a perfectly legitimate risk/reward investment proposition.

              Before your IPO, you may wish to consider the fact that the jackpot is split when there are multiple winners. Trust me, the expectation never exceeds the cost of a lottery ticket. In fact, it's usually under 25% of the cost.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                Perhaps I should have explicitly stated that I wasn't being particularly serious.

                Of course it's a ridiculous claim, posted in response to a clearly not-serious post.

            • Please. A bet can have a good expected value [] and still be a gamble. Suppose the lottery jackpot is $2 million, and each $1 lottery ticket has a million-to-one chance of winning. Then the expected value of each ticket is very good indeed. But that doesn't mean you should cash out your $100K 401K to buy lottery tickets: the expected value of your lottery tickets may be $200K, but you still only have a 1 in 10 chance of scoring the $2 million jackpot. A good bet, but not one you should make unless you can affo
            • by Moofie ( 22272 )
              You just go ahead and find me that lottery.
    • Re:DC and Marvel (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @10:34AM (#16160585) Journal
      What's stupid is I have money that'd I'd GLADLY give them to be able to get subscriptions of comic books that I enjoyed way back when I was younger. Comic fans understand (I think..but I could be wrong) that he continuation of their favorite series is based on SALES. Yes, you can download scanned comics off of bittorrent, but I'd gladly PAY to read those comics if I knew it influenced in some way the future publication of comics I want to read.

      I'm out of the collector "phase", I don't need/want boxes of comics in my basement.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      So, it looks like, as with the music industry, the established players are scared/hesitating over using these new web tube things

      And on top of that effect, DC has the disadvantage of being a subsidiary of Time Warner -- which means that even if DC thought it was a great idea, they'd have to convince their higher-ups to go for it.

    • by jafac ( 1449 )
      Here's what they're afraid of:

      Net Neutrality.

      They're afraid that what they put up on line, any competitor can freely get up there, and undercut them on prices, because reproduction costs are zero.

      As soon as Net Neutrality goes, and the content producers align themselves with the distributors in vertically integrated markets, then they'll put this stuff on line. They'll be able to control the marketing message, and competitors' content, and they'll be able to charge whatever people are willing to pay in a l
    • The Usar Freindly example, if you've been following the history:

      1. Learn to spell and draw at an 8 year old level.
      2. Post scribbles about OMG tar zip my lunix squid over ssh.
      3. Make $10 from selling a t-shirt.
      4. Employ all your parasite stoner friends in preparation for the inevitable transformation into corporate multimedia megatitan.
      6. Go back to being one guy doing scribbles, with your college roommate as your "Part time Vice President of selling manga porn ads".
      7. Profit, kinda.
  • Finder! (Score:5, Informative)

    by EReidJ ( 551124 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @09:53AM (#16160374) Homepage
    If you have not read Finder [] then you are missing the best thing going on in independent comics today. Aboriginal Sci-Fi, set in a future world with a mix of technology and industrial-age mentalities. It helps to read everything in order, and only the recent stuff is available online. If you don't want to start with the big 2-book, 14-issue trade paperback that begins the whole set (called "Sin-Eater"), let me recommend just purchasing "King of the Cats", or seeing if your local library has it. It's her best book, just four issues, and is almost guaranteed to get you hooked. I've been reading this title now for close to years, since it first started, and it's the only thing I continually come back to, month after month.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ikkonoishi ( 674762 )
      You forgot to mention NSFW.

      I prefer Schlock Mercenary [] myself which is family friendly, funny, and (this one is important) actually available in its entirety online.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        What is NSFW about Finder? (This isn't a snarky comment; I honestly am unaware of what you are referring to.) I'll concede that I haven't read much of it, but to me it certainly doesn't scream "NSFW" at first glance.

        I'll concede that Schlock is a fine comic if one enjoys a comedic twist on military SF, which, much to my surprise, I do. As long as we're recommending webcomics, my favourites are Scary Go Round [] and its precursor Bobbins [], Sinfest [], and dinosaur comics [], though the latter is certainly pushing the
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ikkonoishi ( 674762 )
          I would say its the two women yelling about being raped on the latest page, and the naked dude laying unconcious in the one before that. Might be more interesting if I actually knew what was going on.
    • I'll add a vote for Finder! Definitely a good read.

      Another good (albeit, finite) indy series that is now online is Wandering Star [] by Teri S Wood. The first four issues are online (scanned into PDF, it looks like); the rest you can buy on CD.

    • by Speare ( 84249 )
      If it helps to read everything in order, as in, get to know the characters at the beginning, but that part is not available online, how does the author expect people to get into the comic enough to buy the dead tree edition? Am I expected to read the most recent strips, decide wow it's nice but I don't understand what's going on, but if I plunk down $20 on the old junk I'm sure it will make sense and I will really dig it? This is a part of that "long tail revenue" discussion here: people want to have ac
      • by redtape ( 37014 )
        It helps, but is not necessary. Each book should be able to stand on its own. It might help to fully understand the characters if you start at the beginning, but you can pick up enough about them wherever you start.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You guys forgot "web to print". Song of Songs is made by an independant Toronto artist. He has been making the comic and posting the pages online for people to download for quite a long time. Now that the pages are all done it has been printed up and it's selling in stores around Toronto.

    It's completely independant, so it will be interesting to see how successful it is outside Toronto and internationally. []

    (I'm not affiliated with the kid in any way. Just posting AC beca
  • iTunes Analogy... (Score:3, Informative)

    by pshumate ( 1004477 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @10:34AM (#16160583) Homepage
    ...really isn't valid, from my point of view. You can download a stand-alone, complete song from iTMS for $0.99. Do most cartoonists who use micropayments give you the entire issue/volume/story for that price? I know McCloud sells the entirety of The Right Number ( []) for $0.25, but I'm not sure about other artists. If they don't sell the entire issue for a small price, the analogy falls apart, since you're not getting something stand-alone for a micropayment. I also think the iTMS analogy is invalid in that music is not a niche market, while webcomics still are, for the most part. Personally (as a webcartoonist), I don't think micropayments are a viable means of "making a living", but some cash can be made. This reminds me of a quote, either by Jerry Holkins or Jon Rosenberg, that basically stated that if someone was willing to pay $0.15 for a comic, they'd pay $3.00.
    • iTunes is perfect for selling Comics, it has a huge userbase that is willing to pay for digital content. Apple only needs a device to sell it for, the iTV is a possibility or a new handheld device.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by pshumate ( 1004477 )
        Apple already has a device to sell it for: the photo iPod. Clickwheel [] is a free comics-to-iPod service and has seen some success. Of course, your comic must be a 640x480 image, so modern comic pages wouldn't fit that well. I wouldn't like to see Apple devote a new device solely to displaying images because I don't think it'd sell that well. Of course, I know jack about business. :)
        • Hey, a friend of mine has the "Benny" Featured Comic. :) They can't sell it and add DRM to the comics, thats a key feature to make it a success. But i have to agree that we need a bigger screen for this, maybe an iPod pro or a real bookreader device. I don't need this portable device but i can understand why Apple will wait for it to offer PDF downloads. Euh, except for the CD booklets that is. ;)
  • 1. Yes, it is possible to sell comics/books/movies/music on the Internet, despite the fact that TEH NOOBZ R TEH PIR4T3ZING.
    2. Yes, it is possible to make a living selling comics/books/movies/music on the Internet.
    3. The Internet is not a dump truck
    4. The big giant media companies are not interested in sales, revenue, copyrights or customers. They want control.
    5. The only reason more stuff isn't being sold online is because big giant media companies are pricing their product "money grab" instead of "good va
  • by XorNand ( 517466 ) * on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:07AM (#16160817)
    As mentioned in the article, BitPass requires you to put a minimum of $3 into your account when you open it. Obviously this seems stupid if you only want to spend a nickel. I understand BitPass's plight--it probably costs them a minimum $0.30-0.40 in fees to process a credit card. However, If you remember the early days of Paypal, they burned through some serious VC funds by basically throwing millions at people to get them to signup. It worked and paid off in spades big time. If BitPass wants to ever be a contender, they're going to have accept the fact that they'll need to bleed money for a year or two.
    • by shmlco ( 594907 )
      What if, say, as an incentive to prepay $3 they give you $4 worth of services? Or $25 worth of service for $20?
  • Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so []:

    When I hear the word "micropayments", I reach for my revolver.
    • by nuzak ( 959558 )
      Or take this testimonial [] on micropayments from a popular online comic artist. An excerpt:

      I apologize for rambling on like this, but I thought it was important that I get all of this out of the way before I tell you that the BitPass experiment was a conclusive and absolute failure. It failed on such a tremendous level that I was surprised when we discovered new and previously unimagined ways in which it could have failed. It failed so badly that we actually lost money.

  • You know... (Score:2, Funny)

    by enc0der ( 907267 ) need more sleep when you glance at a Slashdot title and see: "MIT on Chronic and Micropayments" Skochie Bochies! :)
  • by PurifyYourMind ( 776223 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:11PM (#16161333) Homepage flesh out the end of a very long tail. ;-)
  • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:31PM (#16161472) Homepage Journal
    Just yesterday I read an announcement about a new service [] called Drive Thru Comics []. Like the interview, they're describing it in terms of iTMS.

    Not surprisingly, it's mostly small-press, but there are at least some names I recognize.
  • Good to know that Henry Jenkins now speaks as the representative for all of MIT. Even when he posts something on his personal website, rather than on his MIT-hosted site [].

    He's awesome and all, but c'mon. Maybe President Hockfield has a totally different take on webcomic micropayments. Or maybe there was a vote at the last faculty meeting to not conduct this interview.

    • He needs some business cards printed up. "Henry Jenkins, Lord of All Webcomic Payment Systems, MIT" THEN he'd be representative.
  • Micropayments (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HoboMaster ( 639861 ) on Friday September 22, 2006 @01:50PM (#16162027)
    From what I've seen (I read ~100 webcomics on a regular basis), the most successful, money-wise, webcomic artists are the ones that don't use micro-payments. Despite all the comics I read, I don't read any that require micropayments, because I could never get enough into the comic to justify it. If a comic I already enjoyed moved to micropayments, I wouldn't mine paying for it, but to pay for a comic before I know if I'll enjoy it just seems silly, especially with the huge number of free ones out there. The best approach I've seen to this was Narbonic, which had a significant portion of the early comics available for free, which got me to pay for it (though it is all free now), since I had an emotional investment in the characters.

    Really though, most webcomic artists that do it for a living use advertising and merchandise sales, and are very successful at it. I was a bit astounded at the trend toward micropayments that started about 2 years ago. The big question to me is "why?" Why automatically alienate a large portion of your potential audience when the alternative has been proven successful many times?

    My only thought is that maybe it's better for those mid-sized comics that don't have enough readers to pull in a lot of money in advertising, but I can't see that micropayments would really be much better, when it would be a significant barrier to the growth of that audience.
    • Hear, Hear!

      I love webcomics, but I get hooked by stumbling into them and reading the archive. If there are two webcomics I am interested in, and for one I have to pay 15 cents to get started and the other is free, guess which one I am going to read? If there is some reason I am pushed to try the one with the micropayments ok...but a small flash ad from Keenspot is not going to hook me for even 1 cent.

      I have been very tempted by premium subscriptions for extra content or by special x page episodes for a bu

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982