See All Topics

Home / Section: Alternative comics

The Weekly Weaklies?

Several of the better-known weekly cartoonists have been sounding the alarms over alternate weekly newspapers dropping their features, in order to adjust for the recession.

Derf of The City has this to say about this choice, made by Village Voice Media:

“Village Voice Media is the largest group of weekly newspapers in the biz. It is suffering from the ills that have befallen the rest of the newspaper industry: dwindling revenues and withering readership. Their corporate response, which was delivered to me Monday, is to ‘suspend’ all cartoons across the chain, said suspension to last at least through the rest of the first quarter, and quite possibly beyond. That?s right. NO more cartoons. None. This is very probably a fatal blow to me. Not only is it a significant income hit, but these are six of the largest and finest papers in the weekly industry.”

Max Cannon of RED MEAT adds:

“However, I can’t help but left somewhat incredulous that the disturbing trend of removing ALL COMICS from the pages of weekly publications (which many have already done) is somehow going to keep them solvent. If, indeed, the humble $10 to $20 that I generally get paid for a RED MEAT strip is going to bring the whole operation tumbling down, them the alt-weekly industry is already dead on its feet — it just hasn’t fallen over into the dirt yet.”

Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World also has some comments on the matter.

Community Comments

#1 Howard Tayler
February/9/2009
@ 8:19 am

Max Cannon’s post underscores a lack of understanding about how the web works. I’m not talking about his content, either. The blog post is a single graphic image, and the red-on-white is hard to read.

That’s not a good way to get the word out. It might make an artistic statement of some kind, but it cannot be easily cited, and will lack any sort of relevance to search engines since it’s completely unsearchable.

Regarding his comments about the web (not going to cite them, go read the red text yourself), Max Cannon’s experience regarding the non-profitability of websites is not universal. Many of us who have been pulling down a comfortable living wage via the web always assumed Red Meat was doing fine, since he was out there before we were.

#2 Tony Piro
February/9/2009
@ 12:40 pm

When this story was posted on Fleen a little while back, I posted this comment there. I hope you don’t mind me repeating my sentiments here…

I do my comic as a hobby (more like a second job), and can only dream of someday doing this full time. Last night I was up until 3 AM working on a new store front (a large fraction of that time just trying to figure out how to make rounded corners align correctly on a website), and that?s pretty normal hours for me these days.

My webcomic has a fairly small following, but I still make a few hundred dollars per month from advertising and merchandise. In contrast, This Modern World and Red Meat have been around for almost 20 years, and are drawn by much more talented people than me. Given that I have zero training in art, or the web, or business, and have been doing this part-time for about a year, couldn?t these guys put in a few long nights, and make a website that would allow them to monetize all their great content better? Is it rude of me to ask this?

#3 P.S. Mueller
February/9/2009
@ 1:54 pm

These days I wish I WERE a spam bot. It seems to me that the alt weeklies are mirroring the dailies by cutting content first. Large operations are hurting the worst. And maybe there’s a bit of final proof in the pudding whipped up by the geniuses who over-capitalized in the process of acquiring vital papers and converting them into watered down lifestyle rags. It seems they didn’t end up getting rich on the precious urban hipster market after all. Then again, there’s always craigslist to blame–anyone but the cynical marketing savants who excised much of the relevance that made the alt weeklies in the first place.

That said, it’s certainly time to feel endangered. As a cartoonist pal of mine in his 70’s shrieked, “We’re F@#%ing vaudevillians waiting to be dragged off the stage.” I have spent 35 years watching the alternative weekly cartoon market rise and then fall, while at the same time witnessing a slow, steady disappearance of mainstream venues. Those 1970 dollars we get that Wiley writes about must surely be bringing down the industry.

So what do we do? We can’t get jobs as autoworkers. Pennies from the worldwide web won’t cut it. For a lot of us it’s not enough just to be making a living at this–there’s a need to tweak the culture and body politic, which is why we sought out publishers and art directors unterrified by controversy to begin with. I have no idea where we go, but if it’s any consolation, Thomas Nast couldn’t get arrested today either.

#4 rstevens
February/9/2009
@ 2:01 pm

Tony, you are asking exactly the right questions. Why complain that nobody wants horse feed when it’s not *that* hard to just open a gas station?

#5 Tony Piro
February/9/2009
@ 2:10 pm

Wow, horse feed and gas stations?! That’s the first time I’ve heard that analogy!

#6 jhorsley3
February/9/2009
@ 2:18 pm

Tony, I couldn’t agree with you more! Putting up a website to get new readers and bring in new revenue is not that hard at all, especially with things like comicpress and project wonderful around. You can literally have a comic site up, with ads for revenue, in less then an hour at it’s basics.

I honestly think if a cartoonist is not willing to adapt to the modern age and they ‘go out of business’, well it sucks for them but evolve to the modern age. Everything is on line now, get over the shock of not being in the paper and move forward.

Rstevens, I love your analogy, it’s spot on to this story!

#7 rstevens
February/9/2009
@ 3:42 pm

Thanks, you two.

Ultimately, a little extra work is the only path to freedom. Why *not* work towards a life-situation where one person can’t fire you?

#8 Tom Wood
February/9/2009
@ 3:58 pm

You can easily put up a website, but getting enough traffic is a different effort. I’ve been spending time down the rabbit holes of not just SEO, but VSEO (video search engine optimization) lately. Yikes, but it has to be done right. And that’s after you get just the right fonts, and things to line up just so, and why can’t I get the video to play at all…

The advertisers want to target ‘the deciders’ as in, the person who will make the decision about a purchase of their type of product. Not a group of people with money, but the decider. Putting THAT target on your site using search engine arcanery is a real joy. But that’s the business side to this brave new world, love it or leave it.

#9 P.S. Mueller
February/9/2009
@ 5:11 pm

My site’s been up for 12 years and it does bring in decent reprint money. Web ads freak me out, though, as so many are spurious in nature.

I haven’t looked at my traffic in years.

#10 jhorsley3
February/9/2009
@ 6:36 pm

Mueller, you site is very nice, I had fun poking around on it.

The thing is yeah it sucks this is happening to print cartoonist. The whole way in which a cartoonist makes money is changing and morphing into something different. It’s not an easy change, but it’s one that if you want to survive needs to be done.

There will be cartoonist that do nothing, keep their models the same and do just fine, but I have a feeling that wont be the norm.

Running a comic site and making it profitable is a lot of work, but it can pay off, if you work it.

#11 Joe Rank
February/9/2009
@ 9:13 pm

Very helpful comments here. It is a predicament. Pete, I’ve had similar comments from various sources, including some highly recognized names in the biz, that say they’ve never seen anything like the current environment and are glad that they are nearing the ends of their careers.
Tom ( and others ), what would be considered good traffic for a website? Mine consistently breaks 100K hits a week, with 8-10K individual hosts. I have done the research and determine that my charges for ads would be commensurrate with the industry ( and priced for package deals ). I have had what I consider genuine interest for ads, but the clients all profess a lack of ad dollars. I have been reluctant to engage a web ad middleman ( such as adsense or google ads ) for the potential loss of editorial content.
I have taken the Grateful Dead approach to marketing. Guess ‘ll have to Keep On Truckin’

#12 Tom Wood
February/10/2009
@ 7:06 am

This article is making the buzz on the intertubes:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/183666

At his highest traffic month of 1.5 million visitors, he made about a thousand dollars off AdSense.

“Technorati, a blog researcher, estimates that bloggers who run ads earn an average of $5,060 per year.”

I know a blog and a webcomic are two different things, but the potential to attract and monetize an audience with ads is similar.

Since I do animation, I’m looking closely at the video advertising side of things. The ad servers start getting interested at 500,000 visitors a month, but clearly want something on the order of two million or more. But video is a special case, so it might be lower for banners only.

The current problem seems to be that there is so much available space on the web for ads (infinite, really) that the price per ad is also approaching zero. So mass market is the only way those small numbers will add up. Or, you can deliver a very specific type of audience to a very specific type of business in which case the cost per impression/click is higher.

I have a small AdSense text ad on my site that runs several ads in one adspace, similar to the larger one Alan is running across the top here. I can dramatically change the content in the adspace, in real time, just by changing the keywords in a given post to my site. So now I’m starting to think – Should I be starting to think, hmmm, which topic for a cartoon would provide a keyword rich environment? And then I look at the ads running on the successful Tech sites, and they’re all for sites offering to get you a technology job. It’s a hall of mirrors.

#13 Ted Rall
February/10/2009
@ 7:56 am

I don’t know any alt weekly cartoonists who haven’t had websites for many, many years. Some get quite a bit of traffic, too. But ad rates are so low that you’d need hundreds of thousands, or millions, of daily readers to make a modest living from advertising. And if you had that many fans, you’d probably be making millions in print–even now.

The webcartooning model, of selling merchandise to fans of one’s comics, is a little more promising. But not much. If you do the math on, say, T-shirt sales, it’s easy to see that no one is able to make even a modest living on them. If you make $6/shirt profit after printing and fulfillment is deducted from retail–pretty standard–you have to sell 5000 shirts/year to make $30,000–which is a pretty lousy salary. No one is selling that many T-shirts. If they were, you’d see more people wearing webcomics T-shirts than those for professional sports teams.

The harsh reality is that while print-based income is shrinking at a frightening pace, the web remains nothing more than supplemental income for 99 percent of professional cartoonists. No one can ignore the Web–gotta get every penny, and it’s great promotion–but print is still where it’s at. Which really sucks, because print $ is bad and getting worse.

We cartoonists are suffering from the same problem as musicians: the pie is shrinking, but even worse, it’s getting cut into increasingly smaller pieces as more players enter the game. It’s definitely more democratic. But everyone’s starving.

I don’t have the answer. If I did, I’d make hundreds of thousands of dollars selling books to aspiring cartoonists telling them how to get rich. But I do know this: going web-only is like jumping out of the leaky lifeboat right into the cold water.

#14 Tom Wood
February/10/2009
@ 8:54 am

Just to follow through on my thoughts…

If you are going to play the AdSense type game, it’s a two-sided coin. You have to have keywords on your site/pages that match your site to the ‘right’ ads AND you have to use keywords and a SEO strategy that attracts the ‘right’ audience to your site so they will see those ads. Oh, and provide attractive content related to all that, because, you know, content is King!

#15 Howard Tayler
February/10/2009
@ 10:32 am

I had my best year ever last year. I sold about a thousand shirts (two designs, netting about $8-$10 per shirt), about that many prints (netting $6.00 each), and around 5,000 books (for which my margin is around 80% on an average $18.00 purchase price.) Based on my conversations with fellow webtoonists, my shirt numbers are quite low, while my book numbers are above average.

Ad revenue for ’08 was around $20,000 after paying hosting bills. Ads don’t provide enough money to live off of, not by a long shot (supporting a family of six here,) but it’s not a tiny enough slice of the overall pie that I can abandon it and run my site ad-free.

I think I’ve got around 40,000 regular “loyal” readers. I see about 200,000 monthly uniques. Clearly I’ve figured out ways to monetize a relatively small audience. It’s probably specific to my content (serial, gag-a-day military science-fiction — the readers demand book collections faster than I can assemble them), but it is working.

It is not easy, and I’m putting in long hours doing a lot of things besides drawing pictures and writing jokes, but it beats the hell out of any day-job I’ve ever had.

I sympathize with those hurt by the decline in daily and periodical print sales. I’m not posting this to brag, or to rub anybody’s nose in my success. I just want it understood that creating a webcomic for a living can work, and can work quite well.

#16 Ted Rall
February/10/2009
@ 10:52 am

Howard, interesting numbers. I’m curious about one thing: how do you achieve 80% margin on books? Does that include shipping from the printer?

#17 Howard Tayler
February/10/2009
@ 12:04 pm

I spent just under $16,000 on 5,000 books for my run of The Teraport Wars back in August. That included printing, plotter proofs, FedEx-ing stuff back and forth with the printer, and shipping from Hong Kong, customs in (I think) Oakland, and lift-gate truck delivery to my house.

Cover price was $25.00. Sketch editions (of which I sold just under 950) were $35.00.

I currently have four books in print. For each of them the margins have been similar ($1.50 for the $15.00 books, $3.00-ish for the $25.00 books, though for the first three I pay a $1.00/book royalty to Steve Troop (melonpool.com, cryptozooey.com) for his invaluable help with layout and design.

Each print run was 5,000 books, and each and every print run has broken even within 12 hours of opening pre-orders. I’m almost out of the first book, printed in early 2006… down to my last 600 copies. With each of them the first 1500 copies sell in 30 days, the next 1500 sell in six months, and the rest trickle out with subsequent book releases.

My printer is Oceanic Graphic.

For a short while it looked like I might be printing with Lebonfon or another North American site, but fuel prices dropped again, and China remains very competitive.

Email me your mailing address and I’ll send you some books to handle, read, and enjoy. howard.tayler at gmail.

#18 Howard Tayler
February/10/2009
@ 12:05 pm

But don’t LICK them. They were printed in China.

(rimshot)

#19 Tony Piro
February/10/2009
@ 12:19 pm

Tom – concerning the Newsweek story, all it shows is that Adsense sucks. Didn’t we all know that already? Google pays horribly unless you’re getting tons of page views. That’s why if you look at webcomics, most people are not relying on Google, and if they are, it’s at the end of a chain of different ads services.

I only get 2,000-3,000 page view per day on my comic and I make about $200 per month through ads. Just doing the simple math, if I has 40,000-60,0000 view per day I’m pretty sure I could be making some good money through ads. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that having more page views would make me eligible for better paying ad services (like Tribal Fusion). On top of this, that many views much also translate into better book and shirt sales.

If you need some help putting ads on your site, I’ve written a tutorial you can find here:

http://www.calamitiesofnature.com/extras/adservicereview.php

It’s a little outdated because ADSDAQ has become more strict on which sites it allows, and I’ve also found a new great service in Six Apart, but this should be a good place to get you started.

Finally, looking at some of your sites (P. S. Mueller in particular), your navigation is completely different from what most webcomics are using. This makes it difficult for new readers to dig into the content and also share it with their friends and family.

#20 jhorsley3
February/10/2009
@ 1:11 pm

I’m not sure licking ANYTHING from China is a good idea right now.

Your numbers are intrigue Howard, and promising to me. I’m going into my 6th year of making cartoons, though this last year is when I started to actually take it seriously. I did a small print run of my early cartons from 2003 and sold out of my first printing rather quickly. It was a very low print run, but I ended up putting it with a print on demand service through Amazon cause I couldn’t afford a larger print run. It’s sold decently through them but I stop advertising the book to focus on the next book and the comic, so sales dwindled. I’m not a very good marketing agent!

What’s intriguing is it DOES take all these elements to make money on a comic. Advertising a lone wont do it. Advertising and Merch sales is how you can make money. I’m just beginning on getting Merch available and I have advertising, though I don’t know yet how to utilize it to bring in more then $2 a month. I’m still learning.

I think the point is the web is great to creating extra income for a cartoonist but it’s hard work. You have to want it and you have to be willing to adapt and move forward.

In closing, Howard I’ve run into your comic in the past and have always found it amusing. Kudos.

#21 Howard Tayler
February/10/2009
@ 1:50 pm

For the record: I was intending to ship books just to Ted, but I’ll extend the offer to as many as five others… and two of you have already spoken up.

So… three more free books, with free shipping, hopefully to cartoonists who are looking into self publishing and want to see what my product looks like.

#22 Howard Tayler
February/10/2009
@ 1:54 pm

Oh… two CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THINGS:

1) Before I printed any books I surveyed my readers about book content and price. I got 4,000 responses, and 80% of them said they were willing to pay $15.00 or more for a Schlock collection. About half that many actually bought the book during pre-orders.

2) My wife wrote and self-published a children’s book last year. It’s GORGEOUS (http://www.holdontoyourhorses.com). I blogged this to my captive audience. We have yet to sell more than 200 of those books. Buyers are delighted, but the project is never going to make money.

SO… self publishing is RISKY. I know it works for my comic, but there’s no telling what a given audience is going to be willing to shell out money for. SURVEY YOUR READERS FIRST.

#23 P.S. Mueller
February/10/2009
@ 1:54 pm

A lot of brainiac’s out there. I have to admit that when it comes to the business side of cartooning I more or less think with a slight limp. But I certainly admire the ingenuity some of you are employing out there.

For me the business of cartooning has always been the bad I have to take with the good in the sense that I’m really in this game to cook up as much silly and subversion as I can. I look at folks like Glasbergen and his masterful model and I get exhausted just contemplating the whole thing. (I got all the way through high school algebra and never did find out was “X” equaled.)

Finally, I am in no way considering anything remotely like retirement. I have written that I’m glad that I at least managed to have a career, and I am. But like the younger cartoonists out there, I still look forward to doing this for another 20 or 30 years. (I’m a somewhat bratty 57.)

As my friend Sam Gross says, “Retire? To do what?”

#24 Tony Piro
February/10/2009
@ 2:13 pm

One last thing, don’t forget to watch Howard’s video. It’s a great example of how the webcomic business model works. I just wish they would have added some canned laughter to liven it up a bit.

http://www.opensourcetv.tv/video/7.html

#25 Steven Cloud
February/10/2009
@ 10:57 pm

Ted is right, the ship is sinking and fast. Newspapers are not going to bounce back. Ever.

At least the web has a future.

It’s my best chance and that’s where I’m putting all my energy… Win, lose or draw.

#26 rstevens
February/10/2009
@ 11:02 pm

Ted: “The webcartooning model, of selling merchandise to fans of one?s comics, is a little more promising. But not much.”

C’mon, my man. You’re smarter than this. The “t-shirts and merchandise doesn’t work!” refrain is a great talking point, but it’s not the real world any more.

I’m not getting into the “mine’s bigger” data fight that often happens on this topic, but you know how I make my living. I’m not alone.

You’ll understand eventually. I’ll even hook you up with my printer and mailing software if you like.

#27 jhorsley3
February/11/2009
@ 1:50 am

Mueller: I to plan to being doing this for the rest of my foreseeable life. I want to make it my living and I pour a lot into my comic trying to make it profitable, but ultimately I will keep doing it even if I earn very little or nothing at all.

That’s not meaning I personally am not looking into every aspect of how to monetize my comic y2cl this year. In fact I’ve dedicated this year to learning anything and everything I can about creating a money maker around my comic and expanding it as much as I can for new readers and new revenue.

Rstevens: I agree with you, merch sales are a GREAT source. I run a small comic and I sell my merch pretty well to what fans I have. I’m still looking at where and how to get merch made and to my readers, research is the hardest part!

Howard: that’s a good point about your wifes book vs your book. Did she have a fan base before the book came out or was it sort of she wrote it and put it out to the world? Do you think it would have sold better if you could have some how slapped your name and brand on it? Just curious.

#28 Tom Wood
February/11/2009
@ 8:59 pm

Tony – Thank you for that link to info about running ads. Actually the ad side of things is the smaller challenge. I hope Alan won’t mind if I lay this out here, but since it’s -the- problem to be met with a site that has new topical material on a near-daily basis, solving this would help many of us here. My site is about video, but this applies to any topical cartoon, so here goes.

Google ranks a website based on an algorithm that calculates Google ‘relevance’ to the search term/keyword. A big part of the calculation is the number and relevance of incoming links to pages on your site that include the search term/keyword. Being new, my site is an unknown with no incoming links and hence no Google ‘relevance’ to any subject. It’s a common problem that can be overcome with time and the application of the techniques outlined in the SEO how-to books. I’ve read them.

But a new topical site presents an uncommon challenge. My videos are produced new every few days or so, and have a peak shelf life of about three days since they are editorial cartoons about a current event in the news. That means that the keywords that are actually relevant to the subject of the videos will change each time a new video is produced. So they will never get enough links to gain Google ‘relevance’. Keywords that might be permanently associated with my site (animated, editorial, cartoon, etc) might build up some Google relevance, but won’t help on a daily basis with individual videos because people will be searching using the terms related to the story, which change with every story.

How would you solve that conundrum?

#29 jhorsley3
February/11/2009
@ 10:07 pm

Tom: the subject of SOE is a tough one. Can you recomend a good book on it to pick up? SOE is something I am seriously lacking in my site.

Also, I checked out your animated cartoons, I liked them.

One way to help relevance is to get larger sites to link to you, which is obvious since that will garner more hits. Kind feel stupid saying that now.

#30 Jason Nocera
February/12/2009
@ 8:36 am

There are several reasons why Max Cannon’s Red Meat isn’t making any money with his website.

1) As mentioned, the lack of SEO. There’s no relevant text on his website that will draw relevant traffic from Google.

2) The ads placed on his site are very generic. (I’m getting a lose 30 pounds spammy type ad, a study at an online university ad, and an insurance ad.) Nothing is geared towards his specific audience.

3) His merchandise (besides books) is being sold through CafePress. CafePress has high margins (I should know, I use them). Not the best business model for making money off of merchandise. (Although, probably the least amount of work)

If he addressed all three of these issues, I bet he would do pretty well. Especially since he probably already has a decent following.

#31 Tom Wood
February/12/2009
@ 1:29 pm

Jhorsley3 – I skimmed most of the SEO books at Barnes&Noble, they are mostly over-priced, as is the service itself. One that I did buy that gets the basics right is “Getting Noticed on Google” by Ben Norman. It’s only $15.

#32 Tony Piro
February/12/2009
@ 6:03 pm

Sorry if this is getting off topic, but I don’t understand the relevance of all this discussion about SEO.

All you need to do is make an easy to navigate site, and include a relevant blog and commentary so that search engines can see it. There are *plenty* of examples of this within the webcomic community. I seriously doubt that most successful webcomic artists are stressing out that much about SEO.

#33 stay with me
May/11/2014
@ 2:43 am

stay with me

The Weekly Weaklies? The Daily Cartoonist

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.