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Challenges of creating an online comic business model

Many of you know that TDC regular Dawn Douglass has spent years and a small fortune on creating a viable business model for cartoonists to make money on the web. She’s asking for feedback to a recent blog post about how cartoonists feel about her latest plan.

For some months now, I’ve been trying to get venture capital in order to create and launch a cartoon website. I have ideas for it that nobody else is doing and while several people have been very interested in my business plan, it always comes down to potential investors wanting me to prove FIRST that people will pay for cartoons in a Web culture that demands that everything be free.

Most of the VCs I talk to won’t even consider a pay model. They want all the cartoons to be free, saying we can add advertising later, after traffic goes way up, as the way to monetize the site. I won’t do it this way, and here’s why:

Community Comments

#1 Dawn Douglass
March/12/2008
@ 9:25 am

Thanks, Alan, for the post. I’ve been getting lots of response from it.

Once again, you didn’t get my name right. It’s two s’s. ;)

#2 Dawn Douglass
March/12/2008
@ 12:03 pm

Btw, there seems to be some confusion that INKswig2008 is just for editorial cartoonists. It’s not. If you have a comic strip and want to have your characters talk about anything regarding the election, then that works, too.

I just caution that if your strip isn’t currently “political” it would be best to do something even handed and don’t “take sides,” otherwise you could wind up alienating half your audience.

#3 Rich Diesslin
March/12/2008
@ 12:28 pm

I applaud your efforts and entrepreneurship in trying to find a win-win for creators and readers on the net!

#4 Garey Mckee
March/12/2008
@ 2:02 pm

It’s so crazy that these venture capitalists sing the same old website swan song of adding advertising to turn a profit after site traffic goes up. Yes let’s just take the same model that doesn’t work and has proven to fail hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times and just stick with that. I feel Dawn’s pain in trying to convince people otherwise.

Frankly, I don’t see a comics site as one that would ever generate enough traffic to make ad revenue viable. It makes me all the more curious as to Dawn’s model.

#5 Rick Stromoski
March/13/2008
@ 7:47 am

Below is a link to a conference video that talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how ventures like Google, ebay & Wikipedia are really outgrowths of our natural human instinct to work as a group.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/216

#6 Dawn Douglass
March/13/2008
@ 9:19 am

Thanks, Rich and Garey.

To Rick’s point, our permanent site will have a feature that a lot of you aren’t going to like, at first glance. And that’s okay. Anybody who participates in INKswig doesn’t HAVE to allow it.

But the reality is, people want to manipulate content. Like this says, we want to be a part of the group and of the process. At Swig, we’re going to allow readers to take cartoonists’ art and write in their own word balloons — but ONLY if they are “generic” gags. This won’t be for character-driven strips. It would be wrong for people to put word’s (often obscene, no doubt) in established character’s mouths.

This will mostly be for panel gags, like when there’s a generic mother or geek or boss. And it will be clearly noted who drew the gag and who contributed the words. Anonymity will not be allowed on either side, in order to cut down on that obscene stuff, as well as hateful attacks, and so on.

The thing we are going to allow for chacter-driven strips is language translations. Cartoons are very accessible and universally loved. I think people around the world should be sharing them, so that we can get to know each other better. So INKswig will allow people to translate cartoons into whatever language they wish. Then when the copies sell, the translator will make money, as well as the cartoonist.

Wouldn’t you like to read the cartoons that Chinese and Japanese and Indian and African and…artists make? I sure would.

#7 Rich Diesslin
March/13/2008
@ 9:52 am

Is this every panel gag, or just selected ones? Seems okay to do with with a sample set or sub set, not sure if I’d like it for every cartoon. I see the appeal of letting users play and customize. Would these be on the cartoons they use on their own site? If so would it say “art by”, “rewritten by” on it so that we don’t get the heat from inappropriate use?

#8 Dawn Douglass
March/13/2008
@ 11:01 am

It will be for gags you allow.

And, yes, it will give a distinction to make things clear, though probably “words by” not “rewritten” because some will likely never be written by the artist.

Our own Alan Gardner did a very popular panel for Full Tilt called Foobar, which ran for a time through the lockergnome site. Alan just drew a tech-related picture and let geeks write it. Chris Pirillo told me that a thousand of his readers every week were submitting captions. Chris would choose what he thought were the best three. Foobar went over really, really big. In fact, the reason it stopped is because bandwidth costs were so high at that time that the huge traffic created by Foobar and a few other geek strips we were running was impossible to financially support.

Cartooning is a mix of writing and drawing skills and the reality is that not a lot of us can do both well. I see a lot of good art paired with poor writing. Those who allow others to write gags will wind up making more money than if they don’t, I predict. Well, unless you’re very talented at both. I doubt that Wiley, for instance, would want to allow this, and he wouldn’t need to.

But then again, another thing we intend to do is allow a bit of customization without rewriting the entire gag. I got a wonderful Christmas card this past year from another Full Tilter, Mark Hill. It has Santa arriving back at the North Pole and Ms. Claus says “You’re getting back late.” Santa says “Dawn Douglass was extra good this year.” Ha! Wonderful! Who wouldn’t want a cartoon with your own name in it!

If Wiley provided a gag on INKswig where people could insert their own name or the name of a friend, he’d sell a ton of them.

#9 Garey Mckee
March/13/2008
@ 4:38 pm

It sounds like you have some good starting points for user controlled content, and that is the only type of success anyone can really hope to have for the web these days, and the only way any new web venture is going to be successful. The whole Web 2.0 idea of user shaped sites and content is what is spurring the internet onward these days.

#10 Rich Diesslin
March/13/2008
@ 11:27 pm

All sounds very reasonable to me.

#11 Dale Hunt
June/16/2008
@ 4:31 pm

With the way things are turning out these days,I think you have no other choice BUT to
go webcom.people needs are diffeent and you need a verity of toons on the web in order to keep your future clients coming back.Change is sure to come. But,like everything else in the world all you can do is is take the first step and see where it leeds you.

#12 Stephanie Matlock
January/17/2009
@ 8:03 pm

I have plans to start a webcomic site and I will also charge for people to purchase the comic and other services.
All the funds for this venture are coming from my own pocket so, I will be charging for my comic art. There are lots of ways to do this without alot of money.

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