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3 Trends Most Likely to Impact Future of Newspaper Cartoons

While we all sit around trying to think of what the newspaper based cartooning industry is going to look like in the next 5-10 years, I’ve found three stories that I believe indicate factors and trends that will have a big impact on print cartooning.

Firstly Gannett newspapers are looking to reduce their paper size from 48 inches to 44 inches. Keep in mind this is right after a two year conversion from 52 inches to 48. While the story only centers on the impact of such a move for logistics, one has to wonder what kind of impact that will have on the funny page. I suspect that as more papers make these types of changes, comics will have to be dropped – I can’t see them shrinking anymore and still be legible to the older generation that still buys newspapers.

Another trend to watch for is the emergence of more free dailies in the US. Europe’s free newspaper market makes up 50% of the market, whereas here in the US they only account for 6%. Free dailies are typically tabloid size and work better for the younger urban demographic who read the papers while commuting on mass transit. Free dailies tend to have less syndicated material and concentrate on local content.

Nizen describes free dailies as, “The Internet in print.” He says people are used to getting their news for free and haven’t developed the habit of paying for it. Younger readers, the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic, normally get their news from the Internet or TV. Larsen says even though people pay for Internet access or cable service, people still perceive it as essentially free.

All agree that the strength of free dailies, no matter the size of the market, is that they’re hyper-local. Whether it is reporting on the outcome of a city council meeting or news about the latest hot dance club, the free daily provides information that influences readers in their daily lives.

They also agree that people want a quick read. They don’t have the time to sit down in the morning with their coffee to read a paper cover to cover as people once did, says Del Favero. City Paper normally publishes 24 pages and would probably top out at 48, he says. Nizen believes people won’t spend more than 15 or 20 minutes reading news today, but they want to feel like they have at least a little news.

While syndicated material will be around for a long while, will we see a reemergence of the need for papers to hire a cartoonist or at least buy more local cartoons – to provide local content to differentiate themselves from other news sources?

And lastly, in an editorial over on Market Watch, John Dvorak postulates that the internet is going to kill off “bloated newspapers.

The reason is simple: In an online world, there are too many bloated newspapers.

What needs to be addressed is the simple concept of redundancy. A search in Google News demonstrates the extent of problem. A hot story of any sort might have 1,000 to 2,000 links from 1,000 to 2,000 news outlets.

More often than not, many of the 1,000 to 2,000 stories are the same Associated Press or Reuters reports. In a few rare instances, there will be some additional material contributed by local reporters.

As more newspapers make the mistake of eliminating reporting jobs, they fall into the pit of redundancy with nothing special to offer. There are no foreign correspondents anymore. There are hardly any stringers on the site of a breaking story anymore.

The only papers or news organizations that can expect to survive will be those with lots of original content available only at their individual sites. The operations that rely more on universally available news feeds will be at the mercy of a fickle public — one that doesn’t care where they read a particular story, especially if it is the exact same story with the exact same headline.

Again, the trend may indicate that paper’s need for more local, original content to differential themselves.

All of these make an assumption that publishers and editors will understand the value of comics and want to keep them in their paper. I’m afraid that as the older generation dies out and is replaced by a younger generation who is more likely to peruse through YouTube than they are a comics page that print comics will diminish and disappear entirely.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
September/27/2007
@ 4:20 am

I’ve been following the trend of free dailies in the US lately. Some of them are published by a larger daily paper (i.e. Dallas Morning News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) and is nothing more than a stripped down version of the larger, 50-cents paper.

At least one free-daily has a cartoonist on staff: Nate Beeler of the Examiner in D.C. And yeah, I think some of them are willing to have a cartoonist do freelance editorial cartoons (mostly local) for them.

Some of them do run syndicated comics, although it’s no more than 10.

#2 Charles Brubaker
September/27/2007
@ 4:21 am

Just to clarify, I meant that free dailies that has comics usually only has less than 10 titles in their lineup.

#3 Mike Cope
September/27/2007
@ 7:00 am

Interesting read, Alan … Especially that last sentence!

#4 Dawn Douglass
September/27/2007
@ 8:03 am

The future of “newspaper” comics:
http://www.bordersmedia.com/features/pages/brevity.asp

#5 josh
September/27/2007
@ 10:13 am

While I agree that newspaper comics will be handled differently in the future, I doubt they’ll go away. When I worked at a bookstore, we sold lots of book collections of comic strips. Who was doing most of the buying? Kids!

Not only that, zines and graphic novels are becoming more accepted in literary circles.

There is still demand for comics on the printed page. It’s just the way they are packaged that will have to change. That’s the message I took from the quoted articles, anyway.

#6 Tony Murphy
September/27/2007
@ 12:06 pm

There’s another aspect to this which has affected my strip “It’s All About You.”

While most free dailies who run comics use syndicated strips, some, such as “Metro” in New York and Boston, use un-syndicated material in their bid to attract younger readers. Metro, a Swedish-based company with about 40 papers throughout Europe and three in the U.S. (in NY, Boston and Philly), started running It’s All About You in May 2004 — at that point it had been passed up by syndicates multiple times. In September 2004 it started running in Boston Metro as well.

This means that the new growth of free dailies — created by traditional newspapers’ loss of advertisers — provided a forum, at least in NY & Boston, for unsyndicated material, i.e., strips that for whatever reason were deemed unmarketable for a national newspaper market. Metro doesn’t have a comics page but runs one strip only on the op-ed page. After two years of It’s All About You, it switched to Swedish phenomenon “Rocky” but after a month settled on “Hutch Owen,” created by indie comics cartoonist Tom Hart.

A big theme in Hutch Owen is a critique of consumer culture — again, something the syndicates might see as unmarketable. However, the strip has been going strong in Metro for over a year. In the meantime, It’s All About You has been picked up for syndication by Washington Post Writers Group.

Since as mentioned earlier, free dailies can be hyper-local, they might provide a forum for cartoonists who want to do local strips. That’s what the late Phil Frank was doing with Farley, and it was immensely popular in the Bay Area where I grew up. In fact, when he and I talked, he often promoted doing local strips as a way to get published, and sort of scratched his head over the fact that more people (including me) don’t attempt such a thing. I kind of backed into it with Metro, even though my strip isn’t local per se.

This is just one aspect. Free dailies can be as frustrating as regular papers — some have just decided they don’t need comics. But I think in some cases it can be a way to break in.

#7 Danny Burleson
September/27/2007
@ 1:02 pm

I don’t think syndicated/print comic strips/panels have to disappear entirely. But I honestly believe within the next couple decades the newspaper industry will “all of a sudden” not have room for a comics page as we know it. Which means the syndicates need to start hedging their bets now.

As morbid as it is, the baby boomer generation is fading, and how often do we hear, “Local paper drops Garfield; entire retirement community protests. EDITORS NOTE: Garfield will return on Monday.”

Once the baby boomers are mostly gone, we’re left with a majority of people that don’t read the paper. Once that happens, papers will probably get very little flak for removing the old strips. Unfortunately, I doubt this will automatically open the doors for new strips to jump in. Instead, I think the papers will question why they’re running the comics at all.

#8 Brian Fairrington
September/27/2007
@ 3:35 pm

“As morbid as it is, the baby boomer generation is fading…” I’d like to correct that statement if I may. I think you meant to say the WWII Generation is fading. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 thru the early 1960’s making the oldest group just turning 60 and the tail end of that generation in their mid 40’s.

As someone who comes from the generation that followed, Gen X born 1973, I have seen newspaper readership fade (including my own habits) and replaced with a steady interent news diet.

With regard to this group of articles that Alan has discussed, this brings up and interesting point. Each daily newspaper represented an individual market where the same content could be reprinted and read by the local readership without regard to what others in another markets were reading. This is why traditional syndication worked. Take the same comic strip and sell it (try at least) to 2000 individual markets.

However, the internet represents one giant market. So it would appear that this is counter to the traditional syndication model. One person can view all markets with a click of a mouse. So how are syndicates going to sell to newspapers of the future whose online content is the same content as another newspaper? It appears the only those with original content will survive right? How are you going to survive with a comic strip that only has ONE SALE?

#9 Brian Fairrington
September/27/2007
@ 3:46 pm

Correction in my last post: I misspelled internet as “interent” and used “and” instead of “an” in a sentence. I hate typing in these little boxes, please forgive my incompetence.

#10 Alan Gardner
September/27/2007
@ 4:02 pm

I think the syndicate model has devalued cartoons to the point that editors will probably refuse to pay a decent amount for even local material. So even if you could cobble together several “one sale” outlets, you’re probably not going to get paid well.

Brian, I’ve increased the size of the text box for comments. Spell check is still aways off, however. :)

#11 Tony Murphy
September/27/2007
@ 7:03 pm

Alan: Your point is definitely well-taken…but for beginning cartoonists, half the battle sometimes is just getting into print, period. And doing so absolutely increases the chances of either getting more chances to get into print and/or being syndicated.

Metro paid well and I know of other local situations where the cartoonist was paid well. You’re right that the syndicate model has made many editors think they don’t have to pay a lot for comic strips — but some know that the trade-off for a strip that is only in one place is that it’s exclusive, and papers have paid more for that. As you point out, it is FAR from certain that they will.

In the meantime — meaning, on our way to getting paid more — it’s good to have a gig.

#12 Charles Brubaker
September/27/2007
@ 7:25 pm

Ted Rall did a good cartoon on this where they blamed newspapers for putting stuff on the internet FOR FREE.

As Rall wrote somewhere in his blog (I’m paraphrasing): “Cartoonists have to do something about the rise of the internet, or there will be NO professional cartooning (re: making a living drawing cartoons) in the future.”

There are probably thousands of webcomics, and of those, only 10 or 20 actually earns money for it.

#13 Chris
September/27/2007
@ 7:36 pm

There’s always online syndication. I know that it’s not as good as print, but presumably cartoonists who are syndicated on the web (the most prominent example right now is Scott Nickel) are paid by the online syndicate (uClick or whoever), who are in turn paid by advertisers rather than newspapers.

#14 Anne Hambrock
September/27/2007
@ 9:01 pm

I have to say this is all pretty depressing for folks who have spent 15 years pursuing syndication. If all the papers stop running comics or fold entirely within 5 years of having achieved said syndication, I think that is called “irony”.

#15 Garey Mckee
September/27/2007
@ 9:35 pm

Anne, there will always be a market. It just might not be in the form we’re currently accustomed to.

As morbid as it is, the baby boomer generation is fading, and how often do we hear, â??Local paper drops Garfield; entire retirement community protests. EDITORS NOTE: Garfield will return on Monday.â?

LMAO! Now THAT’S funny!

#16 Anne Hambrock
September/28/2007
@ 6:50 am

I know there will always be some kind of a market – I just worry that it won’t be a profitable one.
With all the stuff you can get for free on the internet, why pay for anything? Even comics available through online subscrption services can be found on some papers’ websites for free every day – why pay for a subscription?

I know the napster thing changed the way people download music from the internet and now we have itunes, but from what I’ve read something like upwards of %75 of music downloads are still illegal and those artists are still not getting paid by the vast majority of those enjoying their music.

#17 Rod
September/28/2007
@ 9:01 am

Hey nice piece Alan. I think it’s largely accurate. “I canâ??t see them shrinking anymore and still be legible to the older generation that still buys newspapers.” And I thought I was sarcastic:>)

Tony, I hold with Chomsky’s model that a newspaper is a device to deliver customers to advertisers. As you say the free news-sheets target a younger audience, so naturally the majority of 50-years-plus-old syndicated strips just won’t be welcome. The local free paper here in Edinburgh has 2 strips neither of which is syndicated and both of which are from a modern youngish perspective. I think you’re right, that for the right material, it’s potentially a good and growing market.

#18 Dave K.
September/28/2007
@ 9:28 am

I wonder how many people became hooked on comics when they were kids? I know that I did. In fact, I think the first words I ever read were a “Peanuts” cartoon during the sixties. My local newspaper did not carry Peanuts, but my sister bought many of the books (which I still have!). I then started reading the other comics in my local newspaper. There are two points to be drawn here: First, even though we did not have Peanuts in the paper, my family still went out to buy the books. Second, in my first exposure to comics, I considered them free. Just like many strips today on the net. Obviously, as I got older I realized they weren’t free, and that newspapers cost money. However, I believe that model is not that different from what we are seeing today on the net. Yes, things are considered free by many readers. But people will pay for quality.
The syndicates are doing a horrible job of advertising your comics. I found out about the new “Retail” and “Non-sequitor” books from threads on this site. I subscribe to both sites that syndicate these cartoons, and neither let me know about these books. If they can’t get this advertising across to a cartoon fanatic such as myself, how can they possibly hope to draw in new readers that would be willing to spend money?
The net is here to stay, and newspapers will probably continue to decline in the traditional sense. Artists and the syndicates have to figure out how to make it work for them. Clever advertising can get these cartoons out. Perhaps not everyone will have a Christmas special like Peanuts did in the sixties to help sales, but there has to be a better way of getting word out to a vast, potential audience.
Sorry about the rant!

#19 josh
September/28/2007
@ 10:13 am

I agree with Anne’s point about chasing syndication, only to have it crumble right in front of you. It’s a scary notion. Fortunately, I think that once you have an audience willing to pay to see your work, you can translate that into other ventures. You’re a known quantity.

I don’t agree with most that illegal downloads of music have hurt recording artists. I would venture to say that it has helped many previously unknown musicians gain an audience that would have been hesitant to lay down $10-20 for a CD – or even known that particular band existed. Bands make a large portion of their income from touring – the albums are a way to increase the audience for the next tour. (I know this isn’t true all the time, but in many cases it is.)

There are so many unknowns when it comes to making money in art. For instance, if I read one more article about “person has great idea, puts it online, makes a million dollars” I think I will tear the paper up. It’s become a cliche. I know I’m still searching for my own way, but I remain optimistic.

#20 Pab Sungenis
September/28/2007
@ 3:42 pm

Even those of us who are paid for online syndication aren’t paid “well.” Very few new cartoonists are making money nowadays.

Of course, most of us do it for love, as a creative enema of sorts, or because we’re stubborn. The money isn’t important. However, I WOULD like to have more people able to see my work, which means print. However, since I’m not a lowest-common-denominator person, that’s never going to happen.

#21 Rich Diesslin
September/28/2007
@ 4:03 pm

I have nothing to add, but thanks to you all for your insights into this. This has been the most interesting thread in awhile and why I love this blog!

#22 Mike Witmer
September/28/2007
@ 5:06 pm

â??Cartoonists have to do something about the rise of the internet, or there will be NO professional cartooning (re: making a living drawing cartoons) in the future.â?

This quote says it all if you ask me. But I think it has to start before cartoonist’s level. When syndicate sites are giving their strips away for free, how can we (the artists) demand money?

#23 Greg Spence
September/28/2007
@ 7:48 pm

â??Cartoonists have to do something about the rise of the internet, or there will be NO professional cartooning (re: making a living drawing cartoons) in the future.â?

Yeah, this quote really does say it all. I realize Charles Brubaker was paraphrasing, so I probably shouldn’t read too much into the specific wording, but… it sounds like Ted Rall (and those who sympathize with him) are viewing the internet as if it were a renegade child who needs a good spanking. “Joe Smith’s kid is really out of control! Somebody ought to do something about him!”

Even if I’m misinterpreting that, it’d be hard to misinterpret the general reaction on this blog whenever internet distribution or webcomics is mentioned. I swear, just after typing that dirty “w” word, I could hear the collective “HISSSSSSSSS!!!!” from here.

But the internet isn’t going away. That is the simple reality of it. And on the internet, TONS of content is distributed for free, in all manner of art forms — music, film, books, poetry, journalism, painting, drawing — and you know what? Most practitioners of these arts view this incredible means of distribution as a blessing. With apologies to josh’s post above, “if I see another article about a best-selling band who got their start giving their music away on MySpace, I’m gonna tear my paper to shreds!”

So why is it that many daily newspaper comic strip artists cringe at the mere mention of the web? Is it because of its sink-or-swim nature? That without a syndicate-and-subscription model, you would need to create a product of such quality that it will convince viewers to seek YOU out daily, rather than being hand-delivered to the audience as part of a larger package?

Charles Brubaker went on to say:

There are probably thousands of webcomics, and of those, only 10 or 20 actually earns money for it.

And I don’t know what to say except that this is flat out wrong. Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant 10 or 20 webcomic artists earn enough money to make a living, it’s still a very, very low estimate. Certainly not as many webcartoonists make a living from their passion as print cartoonists do, but over the past few years, the trend is that more and more are. Can the same be said for print cartoonists? Since no one would argue that comic pages are only getting smaller with the passing of time, I doubt it.

Listen. Rome is burning. You can either change your name to Nero and pick up your fiddle, or you can start exploring your options and see if you can’t do better elsewhere.

I’ve re-read what I’ve just written and I admit it sounds pretty negative and snarky – apologies. I don’t believe it is hopeless. If I had to sum it up, I’d say that two things are immediately necessary to save the comic strip tradition: A willingness to take greater chances with content, and an acceptance of the changes that will be necessary to adapt in a world where the newspaper is no longer King (or even Prince) of the daily media.

#24 Garey Mckee
September/28/2007
@ 8:08 pm

“This quote says it all if you ask me. But I think it has to start before cartoonistâ??s level. When syndicate sites are giving their strips away for free, how can we (the artists) demand money?”

But syndicate sites are still making money through advertising space on their sites as well as pop up ads. And how do you make those pop ups and ads go away? By purchasing a subscription to the site. Either way the syndicate’s site is still making money. So no, those strips are not being given away.

#25 Charles Brubaker
September/29/2007
@ 1:22 am

“Either way the syndicateâ??s site is still making money”

Maybe, but is it enough to pay their cartoonists more?

#26 Anne Hambrock
September/29/2007
@ 11:19 am

I hear a lot of talk about whether or not any artist can really make good money from their art and one thing that always seems to come up is this idea that we should just all be really happy for the exposure. I don’t remember anyone telling doctors that the satisfaction of healing people should be reward enough for them and they should be content not to be paid. For many, many people the arts are not a hobby, they are a chosen profession. We, as artists have a right to want just compensation for what we do – every artist that goes on the web “just for the great exposure” makes it tougher for those of us who want more than that. I have to believe that, since the syndicates get such a big cut of a comic strip’s revenue, it is in their best interest to really, really crack this internet business model and see that they and their artists do well out of it. If papers are really in as much trouble as this thread would suggest, I hope it happens soon.

#27 Garey Mckee
September/29/2007
@ 4:49 pm

I’m curious to know how many cartoonists here have another day job. Even newly syndicated cartoonists, depending on how many markets their work starts out in, probably don’t generate enough revenue to live off of soley from their work? Should syndication secure your financial security? It seems that is reserved for the very few cartoonists whose work is popular enough to spread over several markets. Quite honestly I think it’s unrealistic to think otherwise.

#28 Garey Mckee
September/29/2007
@ 4:53 pm

I should clarify. By “very few cartoonists whose work is popular enough to spread over several markets,” I mean that relatively from the rather large pool of unsyndicated cartoonists out there.

#29 Josh McDonald
September/30/2007
@ 6:18 pm

I’d also be curious to know how many syndicated cartoonists keep a second job… since I’m sure many of us hopefuls cling to some idea that Syndication means Job Security.

And I wonder, too, if anyone has any thoughts on the future of professional cartooning on the web? Over the years I’ve come across the odd web-mag actually willing to pay for some comics for their site; though finding, pitching, and securing such opportunities can be a full-time-plus job in itself.

#30 Garey Mckee
October/1/2007
@ 12:49 am

Well by looking at my own strip it should be obvious what my day job is LOL. I generate a modest additional income from cartooning and illustration. But as I said, I think it’s unrealistic to rely on a comic strip syndication for any sort of security.

#31 Rick Stromoski
October/1/2007
@ 6:09 am

It all depends on the markest your feature appears in. You can be in 150 small markets and still have to get a day job or you can be in 50 large makets and be quite comfortable. Most syndicated features creators have other oulets for income, some do a second strip, some freelance illustration, licensing, greeting cards etc. Myself I have work in advertising illustration, greeting cards and fabric print licensing, childrens book illustration, magazine illustration, magazine gags as well as my daily strip. It helps to diversify and if you have a good rep that’s an added bonus.

#32 chris jones
December/31/2008
@ 3:11 pm

Cartoonists are a dime a dozen. It’s proven. The syndicates receive thousands of potential strips every year! Sure, not many make it. And of those, how many are making really good money? Why? Because they aren’t unique. Syndicates are looking for strips that reach the demographics of newspaper buyers.

Unfortunately for newspapers, they’re not reaching new readers. Newspaper publishers have to get with the program and realize that newspapers are only going to be good for pointing readers to their own websites. Give away FREE snippets of stories – teasers. Broadsheet formats are ridiculous- they eat up newsprint, they’re inconvenient, and they’re not eco-friendly.

The big problem with many cartoonists…
Most are basing their creative on the old static newspaper technology – mainly because that’s what they’re familiar with. Why not take advantage of the new media? Motion, on-demand, ready for youtube. There’s the ability to target the message based on the readers’ wants (“what’s in it for me”). With online, you can have the same cartoon with a different punchline that can change depending on the time of day or where the reader is from. Even targeting different ethnic groups.

I think that the style of “the funnies” is changing already. Look at how many of those “powerpoint- style” jokes get circulated around. So how do you make money from those? They have to be advertising pieces. Embed an advertiser’s name in the joke and if they’re good, let the readers pass them on to others. Here’s an example: I saw a video of a baby break dancing on Youtube. Sounds ho-hum, but then I saw that I was one of over 3 MILLION people that had viewed it!! Can you imagine how a tasty that is to an advertiser?

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