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Howard Tayler’s journey to profitable webcomics

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Howard Tayler, creator of Schlock Mercenary last fall at a local anime convention in Salt Lake. He’s got a depth of knowledge of cartooning in general and webcomics specifically. He’s proof that one can make a living solely off the web if you’re willing to pay the price.

I was glad to see that The Daily Herald had a nice write-up in today’s paper both from his perspective and that of his wife’s.

But the couple says it was a long and painful road to bring Tayler’s intellectual property to where it is today. In 2004, Tayler and his family, after much prayer and consideration, took a literal leap of faith, quit his six-figure project manager job with Novell to pursue penciling, inking and publishing his Web-comic full time.

“It was Sept. 22,” Sandra said. “It was ‘Talk Like A Pirate Day.’ “

Tayler said the jump to complete, safety net-free self-employment was “terrifying.” He would hole up in his office working grueling 80- to 100-hour weeks with little to no time for his family.

“The price of going full time was four years of my life,” Tayler said.

But the highly motivated, self-taught cartoonist continued to refine his craft and his site’s free content business model (all of “Schlock Mercenary” can be viewed for free on his Web site) and fans began to take notice. Slowly the family’s sacrifices began to reap results and generate the income they needed to pay the bills, and reduce Tayler’s weekly hours to more palatable 40 to 50 hours.

I plugged his presentation before, and I’ll do it again. Here’s Howard’s presentation to Open Source TV conference last fall. He explains his path to profitability on the web.

Community Comments

#1 Aaron Taylor
February/12/2009
@ 10:49 am

Howard’s shown that with a lot of hard work you can be a successful cartoonist on the web. And that’s the key stressed in the article — hard work.

Now if he could only spell his last name correctly…

#2 Corey Pandolph
February/12/2009
@ 12:02 pm

Talk like a pirate day is September 19th (A Fake Rockstar birthday)

Let’s get these important facts straight, before we post these items, please.

I, for one, am embarrassed.

#3 Howard Tayler
February/12/2009
@ 12:51 pm

Re: TLaPD — Sandra remembers that the two events were simultaneous, but she had the dates AND the simultaneity incorrect. TLaPD is on the 19th, and I quit my day-job on the 20th.

The 21st was my first day at home, and the 22nd was when it sunk in that I didn’t have any money. Those were dark, terrifying, and glorious times.

#4 Rich Diesslin
February/12/2009
@ 9:18 pm

Howard, that was a nice presentation (your open source talk). Thanks for sharing some insight into the market.

#5 Rick Stromoski
February/13/2009
@ 7:14 am

Howard’s presentation was an interesting watch and provided a better insight into the business model than I’ve seen before. Just a minor correction… the statement that only the Boondocks launch was the only feature launched since 2000 provided it’s creator with a livable income (and that only because he got a tv deal) isn’t entirely accurate. Boondocks launched in nearly 200 papers and at it’s demise was close to 300 or so. Depending on the paper, this translates into well over 6 figures in income. There have been several equally positive success stories or nearly so..Get Fuzzy, Pearls, Lio, and more recently Cul de Sac have had very successful launches and continue to add papers. I know several cartoonists launched since 2000 who make livable incomes on their features alone but also happen to do other freelance work as well. Those should be counted.

Yes, the chances that a syndicated feature today would face difficulty breaking into an ever shrinking market, but I can count about 20 or so off the top off my head that would match or surpass Howard’s income numbers he quotes for his model.

I agree that the future of comics is on the web, but by his own admission his income comes from print sales. Until we stop giving content away for free no real exploitation of that potential revenue will ever occur. You can buy just so many t-shirts or books.

Internet content should be a pay per view enterprise.

#6 Corey Pandolph
February/13/2009
@ 8:16 am

Clearly, it is a difficult task to find success in print and/or online.

Both require an enormous commitment and both have an equal chances of failure.

I think what Howard has accomplished should be commended, but I was a bit put off by an the underlying sanctimonious vibe of the presentation.

The whole “99% of comics on the web are crap” thing is something that should be left to private conversation, not included in a public forum about one man’s success.

Just my two cents.

#7 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 8:25 am

The numbers I had for syndication success are at least three years out of date, and it sounds like they were probably incomplete at the time. Thanks for the clarification.

From your own estimates, though, there are at least as many webcartoonists at my level of success as there are syndicated cartoonists syndicated since 2000. By my count there are at least two dozen of us.

I agree that the future of comics is on the web, but by his own admission his income comes from print sales. Until we stop giving content away for free no real exploitation of that potential revenue will ever occur. You can buy just so many t-shirts or books.

Internet content should be a pay per view enterprise.

Urgh. This again.

I just saw this article last night:
Better than Free

Short version — The superconducting copymachine has been freed from Pandora’s box, or the genie’s bottle, or whatever. You can’t charge for something whose copies can be easily transmitted for free on the web. The free copies will make their way to your audience through other routes, or you’ll just get ignored.

So… find something that cannot be easily copied, and sell that instead. The author, Kevin Kelly (of recent “1000 True Fans” fame) suggests eight categories, and calls them “generatives” because he likes to make up new words.

After reviewing the article carefully I found that I’m selling pretty well in three of them.

“Internet content should be a pay-per-view enterprise” is an attitude that will net its possessor nothing but frustration and heartbreak if applied to a business model. There certainly won’t be a revenue stream to speak of. Subscription comic sites have been tried, and have all failed.

BUT… Kelly’s article suggests that subscription models can work if there is a generative there to be subscribed to. “Immediacy” leaps to mind (subscribe and get the comic a week early,) as does “Patronage.”

#8 Ted Rall
February/13/2009
@ 8:35 am

I’ll second Rick’s observations. It is very, very, very far from true that only one, two or three cartoonists are making a good full-time living from newspaper syndication from launches post-2000. Hell, there are launches from 2007 that are doing well. But it’s true that newspapers are presently in crisis (not forever, not even for that long, but for now), and Howard’s presentation was well worth watching, and as we all know, nothing is more awesome than quitting your day job so you can draw cartoons.

A few random observations I would’ve whispered to whomever was sitting next to me in the audience:

First, the niche audience that webcartoonists seek to exploit isn’t attractive to many cartoonists like me, who grew up with mass-market strips and dream of reaching a wide audience. Given the choice of being paid $100,000 a year to make 5000 hard-core fans happy and being paid $25,000 a year to reach 5,000,000 readers, I’d choose the latter.

Second, and this is a big one for me: Why are webcartoonists so interested in evangelizing about their success stories? Print cartoonists share tips with their friends, sure, but they don’t share leads and marketing secrets with the general public. It’s not like drawing for the web makes you a nicer person than drawing on paper and pulp. What’s in it for them? Am I a cynical bastard for getting an Amway vibe?

Third, Hawaiian shirts aren’t supposed to be tucked in.

#9 Corey Pandolph
February/13/2009
@ 8:44 am

“First, the niche audience that webcartoonists seek to exploit isn?t attractive to many cartoonists like me, who grew up with mass-market strips and dream of reaching a wide audience. Given the choice of being paid $100,000 a year to make 5000 hard-core fans happy and being paid $25,000 a year to reach 5,000,000 readers, I?d choose the latter.

Second, and this is a big one for me: Why are webcartoonists so interested in evangelizing about their success stories? Print cartoonists share tips with their friends, sure, but they don?t share leads and marketing secrets with the general public. It?s not like drawing for the web makes you a nicer person than drawing on paper and pulp. What?s in it for them? Am I a cynical bastard for getting an Amway vibe?

Third, Hawaiian shirts aren?t supposed to be tucked in.”

Ted just said what I’ve been trying to get out of my head for the last two years, including the Hawaiian shirt observation. I can go back to work now.

#10 Mike Lester
February/13/2009
@ 8:58 am

Nothing screams success like a tucked in Hawaiian shirt and Elevator Boots. Essentially a “How To For Nerd Cartoonists”. However, there is an absence of “art” in his product and this approach that leaves me w/ a taste of…math.

However, his work ethic and capitalism are commendable and to thank but I’m just not that interested in what’s underneath this guys “komono”.

#11 Wiley Miller
February/13/2009
@ 9:22 am

“Why are webcartoonists so interested in evangelizing about their success stories?”

This has confounded me for years, as well. If what one is doing in any endeavor is truly a success, why on Earth would you go around blabbing it to anyone who would listen? Not very sound business judgment, unless you’re selling your services as a consultant.

If I found the real secret to success doing my comic strip entirely on the web, taking it out of print and syndication, I’m not about to let anyone else know how I did it, as it could undermine the business I just created.

#12 Corey Pandolph
February/13/2009
@ 9:31 am

I can understand sharing one’s success to a point. As Ted mentioned, there are circles I’d divulge how my special magic makes me cash.

It’s the public talks about one’s success repeated at every comic con and tech con I’m not sure of. What is the point there? Is it a certain amount of bragging rights, or is there a Dr. Phil sort of mentality to it?

I’m seriously curious, as I have no desire to do it.

Not that I’m not interested in constructive forums, involving a question and answer about the business in general. That, I can understand.

Of course, I could just be an idiot. That happens daily.

#13 Alan Gardner
February/13/2009
@ 9:51 am

I’m guessing here, but I think the reason the webcomic guys keep sharing/harping/evangelizing on their business models is to refute the idea that you can’t make money on the web from comics – that’s the mantra I’ve heard (and parroted) in the last three years and some enterprising guys have proven that not to be exclusively true.

The evangelizing continues because of these print/web wars we have here. No, webcomics right now can compete with a well marketed print product in terms of profit, but I don’t share Ted’s rosy outlook on the newspaper industry. I think they’re screwed in the short and long term and the future business model on the web will have to incorporate some of the successful aspects of webcomic’s business plans.

The faster each side can let go of “I’m right” and learn how the other side what makes money – the more money everyone will make. Why would a print guy pass up learning from Howard how to do print runs that have 80% profit margins. Why would a web comic guy not try to find a print market for their web product?

#14 Corey Pandolph
February/13/2009
@ 9:56 am

I see your point, Alan.

For the record, I never think I’m right and I have no idea who’s right or wrong in this business. I just know when someone rubs my rhubarb the wrong way.

Frankly the idea of trying to figure it all out gives me a headache and drives me to an unrelenting whisky habit.

#15 Ted Dawson
February/13/2009
@ 10:00 am

?Why are webcartoonists so interested in evangelizing about their success stories??

Maybe because print cartoonists have been so interested in evangelizing about webcomics’ crappiness over the years! Print cartoonists have generally been negative towards webcomics (the comics, not the medium), while at the same time prophecising about how the web is the future of comics… as if it’s the future of PRINT comics, but not existing webcomics.

This is a general observation, of course. But there has certainly been a level of animosity between the two mediums, possibly because so many web cartoonists have wanted to get syndicated, and because so many print cartoonists haven’t been able to see much success on the Web.

In my view, the two mediums are light years apart. Yet we still see web comics that look like they’re designed to fill a 1″ slot on the comics pages, and when they put syndicated comics on the internet, they don’t even do something that should be obvious, like run them really BIG, which they can’t do in print. I don’t understand it.

One successful model seems to be doing one comic book page each week on the web, and then putting them in comic book or graphic novel form. This builds an audience for when the print version comes out, and if one attends the comicons, self-publishing can be worthwhile.

#16 Tom Wood
February/13/2009
@ 10:36 am

What Alan said, plus there’s probably a survival instinct for safety in numbers. It’s scary being out on the front edge. Plus, the more people doing it successfully will convince related businesses, like advertisers, that it’s a successful business model. Now, where’s my Grizzly bear rifle…

#17 Wiley Miller
February/13/2009
@ 10:46 am

“but I think the reason the webcomic guys keep sharing/harping/evangelizing on their business models is to refute the idea that you can?t make money on the web from comics ”

But that’s my point. If you’re successful, it would be self-evident and I would just smile all the way to the bank and keep my mouth shut. Why give away a trade secret? I just don’t see the benefit of it.

#18 Jason Nocera
February/13/2009
@ 11:15 am

Is there really such a big worry about giving away “trade secrets?” We’re selling personal creations not toothpaste. If a niche fanbase enjoys my comic strip, why would I expect them to no longer like it because someone else is drawing a comic strip? I don’t dig The Black Crowes any less because I’m enjoying a recent Van Morrison CD.

#19 Alan Gardner
February/13/2009
@ 11:17 am

Wiley writes:

But that?s my point. If you?re successful, it would be self-evident and I would just smile all the way to the bank

In the print world, there are publicists/pr that generate all the evidence for you. They tell everyone how successful you’re are – how many papers you’re in, how many books you’ve sold, etc. You don’t have to mention your success because Universal Press does it for you. I get regular emails from most of the syndicates with links to PR/news that they’ve created to generate news about a feature or a development.

In the webcomic world that doesn’t exist – hence the need to evangelize it oneself (which I get ALOT of those too).

Why give away a trade secret?

The print comics page lives in a more darwinian environment. There exists scarcity that the web doesn’t have. One cartoonist helping another *could* create a situation that is self-damaging, but because webcomics cater to niche audiences, Howard can share his secrets all day long, allowing 3000+ other strips can come and go, and he won’t suffer (unless he alienates his audience) because he can’t be replaced by another comic on his own website.

#20 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 11:24 am

To clear up a couple of things:

1) I don’t make money doing presentations or public speaking. People say I should charge, but thus far I’ve never asked for anything other than a reimbursement for expenses.

2) So why evangelize? Because I found something that works, and I’m not afraid of competition. I believe that a rising tide lifts all ships.

3) You may want to stop tying your boat there. The tide is coming in, after all, and you’re going to end up slammed into the dock. :-)

4) My image consultant has already scolded me regarding that shirt. You may now begin congratulating yourselves on at least one piece of accurate criticism…. even though you were only making it by way of stooping to personal attacks.

Seriously, if you don’t understand why I talk about things like this without compensation then you don’t understand the market dynamics exposed and exploitable during the information age. You might THINK you do, but you’re missing something, and I can’t tell you what it is. Not won’t. I’ve tried. CAN’T. It was right there in that video, and you missed it.

You were too busy looking at the shirt, I guess.

#21 frank white
February/13/2009
@ 11:36 am

Wiley, there is just no animosity between the webcartoonists. They would help each other to the ends of the earth. There is no competition between them as they each have their own sites and dedicated audicences , sometimes these crossover and actually all this helps all webcartoonists and their sites to grow. Also a point nobody has yet brought up….
It does no harm to Howard to give his information out to the 20,000 webcomics guys (and even more potentional ones out there waiting in the wings) as only a small percentage of people with any kind of talent actually go ahead and do something with that information. We see that daily in any artistic endeavour. Anybody who does find sucess with Howard’s advice would be doing it faster than on their own but they would have done it anyway.

#22 Tony Piro
February/13/2009
@ 11:37 am

I’m by no means making a living off my webcomic. But I never hesitate to put tutorials on my site to help other webcomic artists. These tutorials give advice on things like monetizing your site better, choosing printers, or growing your audience.

The reason webcartoonists are always evangelizing webcomics and openly sharing their business models with each other is that we all believe the tide is still rising. There’s not a fixed group of people for that we’re all fighting over. We’re still in a period of strong growth and every new successful webcomic brings in more potential audience to the community.

As there are more webcomic success stories and webcomics become increasingly mainstream, this will provide better opportunities to do less niche, more mass-market style webcomics. Just take Sheldon for example.

#23 Corey Pandolph
February/13/2009
@ 11:54 am

Howard,

I can’t speak for Ted, but I wasn’t mounting a personal attack on you. I’m generally interested in what the motivation behind these presentations are. In my opinion, they seem a little bit self-serving. If that is the case, cool. Everyone needs to massage the old ego once and a while. Take the shirt thing as a joke and a bit of jibe, but nothing more.

We write jokes, we make fun. It’s our thing.

I will suggest, to everyone and anyone reading this:

End the whole webcartoonist community and /or print cartoonist distinction. We’re all in the same boat, trying to get laughs, while chasing the dream to make a buck on that laugh. These petty clicks of the old boys print club and the snarky web guys is getting old and tired.

On a personal level, these distinctions make me very reluctant to participate in either side’s clubs, events and/or reindeer games.

Take it only as a suggestion, but I believe it be at the core of a lot of these arguments.

#24 Tom Wood
February/13/2009
@ 11:55 am

I noticed that Howard has a background in marketing. If you want to read more about his attitude toward his approach to his work, read Seth Godin’s blog. (I’d provide a link, but then the forum throws the comment into moderation. Alan – you can reset that somewhere in the WordPress dashboard.) Seth also linked to the Better Than Free article.

Editor note: I’ve included the links that Tom referred to.

#25 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:13 pm

All is forgiven, Corey (and anybody else I may have thought I was supposed to be upset with.) I keep forgetting that spots like this are full of humorists trying out their B material on the spot.

(See what I just did there? CLASSIC EXAMPLE.)

As to it being self-serving, I suppose it is. I mean, it’s something I enjoy doing, and when folks approach me I have a hard time saying no.

Note, however, that I never see an uptick in web traffic (that newspaper article yesterday was statistically insigificant — no wiggle in my traffic graphs at all). I’m promoting myself just by being on stage, yes, but mostly I’m lecturing in public because it’s fun for me.

That’s why I’m in this business. I enjoy the merry hell out of it, and I try to do MORE of the bits I like best.

Years ago (1998) I told the VP of Novell tech support I was leaving for another part of the company where they’d let me stand up in front of people and talk. Self-serving? Maybe. I certainly learned a lot, but more importantly it was one of the very few things about that particular job that I just loved.

I certainly enjoy interacting with audiences — whether or not the event is recorded for posterity. I had no idea the UTOSC show was going to go up on the web.

I try to say meaningful, accurate things. Sometimes I get it wrong. When I do (and when I know I do), I fix it. The next time I discuss “The Free Content Business Model” I’m going to update my slides about syndication vs web to reflect the latest information, and I’m going to include some slides about our recent failure at self-publishing a children’s book. Nothing teaches like failure does.

But my next presentation, a keynote at a local SF con, is not about business. It’s about the roles of talent, hard work, and practice in the life of an artist seeking excellence and success.

#26 Dan Thompson
February/13/2009
@ 12:16 pm

Howard, I’ve been reading a lot of articles for and against charging for content on the internet, and also enjoyed your video. The question I wanted to ask you is: if everyone was charging a low monthly fee for their comic strips,still had ads, and still sold t-shirts, and books, and I mean EVERYONE… would you still keep it free? and if so why?

Dan

#27 Jason Nocera
February/13/2009
@ 12:23 pm

This is a bit of a side note, but I love the newspaper syndicated comic strip Monty. I need a large coffee mug. So I went to check out the Monty store. They have a few black and white strips I can have pasted onto a mug. The preview didn’t show the correct strip I reluctantly picked. I didn’t buy it.

I expected a nice, full-color image of the Monty characters on a mug that I could buy. I so wanted to hit that buy button. Why wasn’t a color, character mug available? Isn’t it an obvious item?

I was left with the feeling that they just threw up some black and white strips to just have something up there and didn’t care about sales (or the customer) at all.

Why? It’s a shame.

The customer loses, the cartoonist loses and the syndicate loses.

#28 Rick Stromoski
February/13/2009
@ 12:27 pm

>>>Maybe because print cartoonists have been so interested in evangelizing about webcomics? crappiness over the years!

I think in general crappy comics are not just found exclusively on the web…as anyone who’s had to wade through your typical syndication submission or NCS application can attest. There is an enormous amount of drek out there both in print and on the web…it’s just so much more easily accessible on the web. When I say drek I do not mean any work I do not happen to like…I mean the amateurish dribblings Howard spoke of in his talk , drawn by delusional barely competent cartoonists. I think this is what most print guys are speaking of when they talk about web comics…the instant accessibility of unedited drivel by anyone with a computer and a freeware drawing program.

I agree with Howard that most of what’s out there is pretty bad and the reasons he gives for it is accurate. But I think he misses the boat on his criticism of Garfield. Yes it’s no longer relevent to him personally once he passed the age of ten but that in no way diminishes it’s still enormous popularity amongst preteeners and licensing appeal. Anyone in their right mind would love to have a fraction of Jim Davis’ success. When he talks about markets, he fails to recognize and appreciate how phenomenally successful Garfield is in doing just that very thing….appealing to a niche market. His dismissal of Garfield comes off as a tad pretentious and snarky.

That said …$60K in books sales in a month is nothing to sneeze at and I’d be very interested in knowing more about that myself.
I’d also like to know the source of his book publisher that can publish a book for $1.50

#29 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:31 pm

Dan, that’s a great question.

First, let’s assume a world with a market state in which people are making a living from subscription-based content sites.

Now, let’s ask about the cost of entry into that market in that world. How do I get found? Is it similar to getting syndicated here in the real world of 2009? If not, how do people build a sufficient audience? But let’s leave that for now…

If it’s similar to getting syndicated, then I’m boned. I tried that back in 2000 and got polite rejection letters. My stuff wasn’t good enough.

If my stuff WAS good enough then I’d do what everyone else was doing — be behind a subscription wall, build an audience of subscribers, and try to make a living at it.

In the real world, however, there were alternatives to syndication in 2000. I could try my stuff on the web to see if I could build an audience. So I went online, free, because I really wanted to draw pictures and tell stories, and that was the only option left to me.

In short, while I may seem like a pioneer of this new business model, the reality is that I’m a 2nd-generation pioneer. Or third. Guys like Pete Abrams, J.D. Frazier, and Scott Kurtz had already demonstrated its viability. They were the true pioneers, the frontiersmen. They were my Lewis and Clark. I was more like a Miner Forty-Niner headed west on established trails (or rails) because somebody said there might be gold.

Long answer to a short question. Sorry.

Short answer: No, I’d stay with the crowd if it was what everybody was doing, and if it worked.

#30 Stacy Curtis
February/13/2009
@ 12:32 pm

I think Alan nailed it.
The reason why webcartoonists are willing to publicly say, “This is how I do it,” is because they don’t have the space limitations that syndicated cartoonists have to deal with. There are only so many open slots on the newspaper pages and giving business advice to your competition would be counterproductive.
One syndicated cartoonist’s failure is another syndicated cartoonist’s opportunity.

I think as newspapers like the Denver Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gets closer and closer to shutting their doors, more syndicated print cartoonists should be paying attention to folks like Howard. There’s nothing wrong with having a Plan B.

Webcartoonists benefit from giving others insight into how they make money. The more success stories there are, the more webcomics become a legitimate comics medium. Personally, I think comics like PvP, Penny Arcade, Girls With Slingshots, Schlock Mercenary, Sheldon, etc. have already proved that.

Over the past couple years, I’ve gravitated away from newspaper comics and I read more webcomics now.

The one thing I don’t understand is why the majority of webcomics are drawn in the format of newspaper comics?
It’s my pet peeve.

Howard deserves credit for offering others insight into his work.

#31 Tony Piro
February/13/2009
@ 12:34 pm

“Howard, I?ve been reading a lot of articles for and against charging for content on the internet, and also enjoyed your video. The question I wanted to ask you is: if everyone was charging a low monthly fee for their comic strips,still had ads, and still sold t-shirts, and books, and I mean EVERYONE? would you still keep it free? and if so why?”

Everyone?

Even CNN.com is giving away it’s content for free.

#32 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:39 pm

@Rick Stromski

Rest assured, I know how big the Garfield market is, and yes, I was being snarky.

Could Garfield be replicated today? Could syndication build that kind of a success with a strip that is brand new in 2009? I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. I agree (at least in part) with Scott Adams when he said that the kind of ubiquity enjoyed by Calvin and Hobbes will never again be replicated. Garfield, Snoopy, Calvin & Hobbes… the market conditions that created those are gone, or at least evaporating.

We still HAVE them, yes, but for how long?

Regarding book publishing. I didn’t get a 100 page color book for a dollar fifty. I got five thousand 100-page color books for $7500. There is a big difference. :-)

Those first books were printed through DiyaUSA, contact@diyausa.com — email them and ask for a bid. Be prepared to speak in printer-ese. My first book was 4/4, 80lb text interior, 4/1 80lb cover stock cover, 80pp. I expect prices have gone up with fuel and the economic crunch, but probably not much.

#33 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:40 pm

@Tony Piro Dan was being hypothetical. It’s a great question.

We established that I’m a coward. :-)

#34 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:43 pm

@Stacy Curtis

Sandra (my wife) and I just discussed the newspaper format thing. I drew the strip that way because that’s the way strips were drawn, and I was afraid to move too far from that. See my post to Tony. :-)

BUT… I’m moving away from that in March. I’ll still be laid out left-to-right, with a roughly newspaper-ish aspect ratio, but the strip will be a little taller, and the Sunday strip use of the logo will disappear entirely. That’s an ugly artifact of newspaper cartooning that just isn’t required (and is completely redundant!) when my strip appears on a page I’ve already heavily branded as my own.

I suspect my readers won’t notice the change.

#35 Alan Gardner
February/13/2009
@ 12:45 pm

There’s nothing wrong with having a Plan B.

I don’t post these types of stories because I enjoy watching the print v. web thread war, but because I think there is value for ANY cartoonist to learn something that could be applied to their circumstance that benefits themselves. It’s not a Plan B – it’s a salad bar approach – taking bits and pieces from other cartooning business models and incorporating that into my own efforts in hope of making more money.

#36 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 12:48 pm

@Alan To quote one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, “Don’t plan a single path to victory. Plan so that ALL paths lead to victory.”

#37 Ted Rall
February/13/2009
@ 12:49 pm

Howard, Corey had it right. I didn’t mean any offense. (But that shirt…) I appreciate that you’re willing to be forthcoming about how you do what you do, much more so than many of your peers, who seem to be allergic to specifics. But I’m a critical guy. It’s my job. So I’m naturally curious about certain things that seem unusual.

To clarify what I asked above, about why webcartoonists evangelize, I didn’t mean to imply that webcartoonists should worry about competition from new webcartoonists. What I meant was, why even bother to take the time or energy to put together a PowerPoint to explain what you do, since you’re not paid to talk about it? You have comics to draw, orders to fulfill. Aren’t you busy enough?

Also, I don’t know who these print cartoonists are who supposedly put down webcartoonists. I’ve never heard any, or overheard such discussions. I hear lots of slagging of bad comics, sure, but genre has little to do with it. As Rick says, there are lousy comics in every medium.

#38 Tony Piro
February/13/2009
@ 12:57 pm

Answering Dan’s question more seriously:

I think it would be very hard to grow an audience if everything was behind a subscription wall. You’d have to have some subset of content free, otherwise how do people know what they’re buying? Personally, I think the more free content there is, the higher the likelihood that someone will become invested in your work.

The newspaper strip format:

I think the success of the traditional newspaper strip format on the web is partially due to people’s browsing habits. A lot of webcomics are read during work when the boss is looking in the other direction. People only have time for quick reads in such circumstances.

Also people are lazy. Any scrolling or extra button clicking discourages them from reading a comic. The strip format is perfect because it fits right across the top of the screen.

Furthermore, the strip format has been honed over many, many years to be a great way to tell jokes. Why reinvent the wheel now?

In my case, I actually had a much longer format for the first year of my comic. Although it was fun to do something different, it was impeding my ability to tell the gags I wanted. Plus, I’m sure it turned some people away for the reasons I list above. Last September I changed to a newspaper strip format, and the response from my readers was immediately positive.

#39 Bill Kellogg
February/13/2009
@ 1:15 pm

For those who are asking why Howard, or anyone for that matter, would get in front of a bunch of people and share how their business model works, I have another take. I am doing the self-syndication seminar to show others how we have had some success without a syndicate for two reasons.

First, there were a number of cartoonists, editors and people from the syndicates who helped me when I was starting out and had questions or needed information. Second, and most importantly, teaching is a great way to learn and I want to learn as much as I can so I can make Tundra as successful as possible. I also want to know how Howard makes money off the internet and how every other cartoonist makes a living in their particular niches which is why I have invited several other cartoonists (including Howard) with different business models to talk at the seminar.

I like Alan’s “salad bar” analogy. Take what you want and think you can use and leave the rest. I don?t know what will happen to the newspaper industry but I want to be as diversified as possible in case the papers do continue their downward spiral.

#40 Howard Tayler
February/13/2009
@ 1:33 pm

What I meant was, why even bother to take the time or energy to put together a PowerPoint to explain what you do, since you?re not paid to talk about it? You have comics to draw, orders to fulfill. Aren?t you busy enough?

@Ted Rall Too busy, it can be argued. But as I mentioned above, it’s something I love to do.

I get scolded for giving away some of the caricatures I scribble at conventions. It’s something I love to do, though. So I do it.

I learned tons putting together that slide deck. I’m still learning from it, as this discussion has demonstrated. It has helped me refine my business practices, and that has boosted the bottom line.

Okay, it’s time for me to pack my art bag and head off to my studio-away-from-the-studio, where I can no longer be distracted by the internet. Thanks for a great discussion this morning, everybody.

#41 Samantha Wikan
February/13/2009
@ 1:36 pm

I’m a webcartoonist. Maybe I can clear the air on why we share marketing strategies.(which is as far as I got in the comments)

We don’t do it to prove you can make money or to prove the print cartoonists wrong.

We share marketing strategies because we are FREE to do so, being released from the competition for space in print. We are not in direct competition for publication in the print media.

We are not in competition for the same “handful” audience, either. Being on the web means our audience is the world. Not just the people in whatever town is served by whatever newspaper. Also, if a person reads one web comic, he soon reads at least 10. Some make their own websites and bookmark lists to keep track of hundreds that they follow.

We are thrilled to see one of our own succeed. I have been a part of the web comic community since 2006. From the 14 year old kids to the 60 year old grandparents who are a part of this community, I have found knowing them all to be a delightful and supportive experience.

I challenge you print cartoonists to start a little side web comic as a hobby strip and then try to market it.. You’ll see for yourselves why it’s perfectly okay to share experiences and advice with other web cartoonists. You may not earn enough money to make a living at it (or any money), but you still have your day jobs, right?

#42 Samantha Wikan
February/13/2009
@ 1:41 pm

(For the record, I don’t make a living off my web comic.)

#43 Josh McDonald
February/13/2009
@ 1:51 pm

“It?s not a Plan B – it?s a salad bar approach – taking bits and pieces from other cartooning business models and incorporating that into my own efforts in hope of making more money.”

I think Alan’s absolutely right here. I’m glad he’s making the point, and continuing to post these stories (despite the heated debates they engender).

With the internet, all media are heading into uncharted waters here. Everyone is still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It only makes sense to look at who is succeeding and how they’re doing it.

#44 Stacy Curtis
February/13/2009
@ 3:38 pm

The person I think who gets overlooked in most of these discussions is Michael Jantze. I think Michael Jantze was a heck of a role model for web comics. “The Norm” wasn’t a huge success in the newspapers, so he brought a good chunk of his loyal readers over to the online version.

My ideal situation would be to have a syndicated comic that was only in a handful newspapers (say 30), drop it out of the newspapers and try to bring as many of my loyal readers as I could to the online version, where I could draw BIG and do things I couldn’t do in the newspaper….perhaps in format, color and possibly animation.

I would have liked to seen “The Humble Stumble,” “Franklin Fibbs,” “Spot the Frog,” etc. just take that opportunity, just to see if it worked.

I may be way off, here, because I’m not sure how many rights to the work the syndicate retains after you’ve ended the contract, but I honestly think Michael Jantze had the right idea.

#45 Charles Brubaker
February/13/2009
@ 3:52 pm

Is “The Norm” still running on the web (as in new strips, not in reruns)? My impression is that he left comic stripping behind and is now doing animation. Ironically most of his animation seems to involve animating other people’s comic strips (he did a couple of Zits spots for Andrews McMeel)

#46 Ted Dawson
February/13/2009
@ 3:54 pm

“…the strip format has been honed over many, many years to be a great way to tell jokes. Why reinvent the wheel now?”

Because said wheel has DEvolved, not Evolved.

Comic books evolved from comic strips. There were a few early comic strip collections, books that were the shape of a comic strip. This wasn’t the best format for a magazine, just like a 1.5″ X 5.5″ comic strip is not the best format for the web.

People hate scrolling, but that mostly pertains to text and general surfing. I don’t know that it applies to content that fans actually go read every day. People have to scroll to read The Dreamland Chronicles every week, but that doesn’t stop 20,000 people a day from reading it. That’s like saying people don’t like the hassle of having to turn book pages.

#47 Tom Wood
February/13/2009
@ 4:30 pm

A ‘strip’ that played from within a Flash or WMV media player would be a great way to distribute. Those players typically offer fullscreen now. Horizontal strip, or you could deconstruct that occassionally and go single big panel, like Watterson did with Calvin and Hobbes some Sundays, or mix it up with odd sizes. Hulu.com but with comics. Load the player up with collections. Then they could be easily embedded in other websites and possibly go viral. There are numerous video sharing sites that could be adapted to comics, it’s all ‘just’ digital media to the interwebs.

#48 Mike Cope
February/13/2009
@ 4:33 pm

Whenever cartoonists discuss formatting comics for the web, I’ve found that most ignore the fact that not every reader’s web browser is setup the same.

Some folks have widescreen monitors, while others still use “square” screens. Some are capable of high definition resolutions, while others are still using 1024×768, or even 800×600 … If you’re a cartoonist and don’t know the difference here, it’s time to learn :)

Then there are those who browse the web on their iPhones, PDAs, or other implanted devices.

As a “web” cartoonist, you may spend a lot of time “formatting” your comic for the web, but many of the subtleties can potentially be lost … including scrolling.

In many ways, the horizontal newspaper comic strip format is ideal for widescreen monitors. Whereas, the overall layout of a vertical comic book page can be lost. Sure, you can hope readers will zoom in or out … But there are no guarantees.

I think that’s the one REAL advantage that print has over digital displays … What you see is what you get.

Err, so long as the registration is correct :)

#49 Stacy Curtis
February/13/2009
@ 5:12 pm

I think Chris Sanders’ Kiskaloo is a great size for the web… with the exception of its height, which was an issue he was going to address.

http://kiskaloo.com/?p=15

#50 Ted Dawson
February/13/2009
@ 9:46 pm

Mike, I agree. I think another thing that cartoonists forget is to consider what is the best vehicle and format for what they’re wanting to do. In the Beginning of newspaper comics, and for several decades, there was no standard format. Strips took on the appearance that was best suited for what they were doing. Some strips were smaller or larger than others, and it was more a matter of what the feature demanded. Having one standard format like we have today is like saying all TV shows have to be 30 minutes long.

With the web, we often see this issue. The format seems to be arbitrary. Kiskaloo, which Stacy pointed out, is a good example of the cartoonist knowing the right format for his particular strip. With The Dreamland Chronicles, Scott Sava compiles all the comics into a trade paperback.

And it’s true that it’s impossible to design something that will work on everyone’s monitor. The only exception might be something done in Flash that resizes to fit the monitor resolution and browser window. But even more important than this is doing what is necessary to best present one’s cartoon. For example, I think it would work to have a story strip that is several panels wide. In this case, scrolling is necessary but it adds to the story developing from one panel to the next… as long as the strip delivers, of course. At least, I’m trying something like this just to see how it works.

To me, it seems like the toughest thing with doing a web comic is finding your target audience. We live in a different world today, which is filled with niche markets. It seems doubtful there will ever be another The Gumps, or Little Abner. But if you can find your niche market, like PvP or Bone, then you’ve got a fighting chance. It’s fascinating to think that Jeff Smith has become a millionaire today from Bone, the biggest and best thing to hit comics in decades, while most of the people in this country have never heard of him or his comics.

#51 Jon Malice
February/15/2009
@ 1:12 pm

“To clarify what I asked above, about why webcartoonists evangelize, I didn?t mean to imply that webcartoonists should worry about competition from new webcartoonists. What I meant was, why even bother to take the time or energy to put together a PowerPoint to explain what you do, since you?re not paid to talk about it? You have comics to draw, orders to fulfill. Aren?t you busy enough?”

Ted, why do you care what anyone else does on their own time? It’s not the webcartoonists who are destroying the newspaper industry.

“Also, I don?t know who these print cartoonists are who supposedly put down webcartoonists. I?ve never heard any, or overheard such discussions. I hear lots of slagging of bad comics, sure, but genre has little to do with it. As Rick says, there are lousy comics in every medium.”

The argument, if you want to call it that, in this thread started with print cartoonists slagging off Howard. It seems like every thread on this site that ends up this way, starts the same way.

The webcartoonists should stop taking the bait. Maybe Ted had a good point. I call on every webcartoonist to stop “bother[ing] to take the time or energy” to comment in these threads.

Alan, you have been consistently kind and even-handed in these discussions, but they lead nowhere. I would love nothing more than to read a site where print cartoonists and web cartoonists were all just “cartoonists” talking shop… but these print v. web threads just make everyone jumpy and defensive.

We’ve ALL got better things to do than argue. Yet these threads keep returning. It’s not like anyone thinks they can really change anyone’s mind, so webcartoonists, on this site it’s probably time to stop bothering to respond.

#52 Howard Tayler
February/15/2009
@ 1:33 pm

It?s not like anyone thinks they can really change anyone?s mind, so webcartoonists, on this site it?s probably time to stop bothering to respond.

I believe I can still learn from many of the people who post in here. If I don’t show up and sound off, the discussions I’d like to learn from won’t happen. This very thread makes that case pointedly.

I don’t believe the current state of the Free Content Business Model is the static state. It is still in flux, and will continue to be for another decade or so while market forces shift. Some of those market forces are well-represented in this forum. Others are under- or non-represented.

Regardless, a decade from now I want to be in a position where I’m at the top of my game, at the top of my field, and leveraging every best-practice that applies to my business model in my market. That means spending a chunk of my time each week watching, learning, arguing, and maybe even STUDYING.

This forum is a part of that. I’m glad it’s here, warts and all.

#53 Alan Gardner
February/15/2009
@ 2:18 pm

Alan, you have been consistently kind and even-handed in these discussions, but they lead nowhere. I would love nothing more than to read a site where print cartoonists and web cartoonists were all just ?cartoonists? talking shop? but these print v. web threads just make everyone jumpy and defensive.

Believe me, these threads get old for me as well, but I think they’re important. The tone is MUCH more civil than earlier ones, so progress in having an open dialog is being made.

The web will continue to be an important medium in the future. By selecting stories like this and the Jeff Kinley – “Diary of a whimpy kid” story earlier – I’m TRYING to open the minds of ANYONE in the business (syndicates, cartoonists, etc.) that there is money to be made on the web, but current models need to be tweaked to accommodate them. And as I mentioned earlier, the smart ones will take a salad bar approach and adopt practices (regardless of the medium their work appears) that have proven to make money and apply them to their business.

#54 Mike Peterson
February/15/2009
@ 6:27 pm

One of the difficult aspects of this back-and-forth is that there is a very basic difference between cartooning for newspapers and cartooning on the web.

Print cartoons need to serve a fairly broad audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean “bland” or “untargeted,” as the success of Pearls, for instance, demonstrates. But even a sharply crafted strip like “Calvin and Hobbes” contains elements of “Little Iodine” and “Miss Peach” and a large number of readers who don’t necessarily catch all the nuances will enjoy the familiar “funny brat” aspect.

Web comics seem to actually do better if they serve a sharply targeted niche audience — Howard’s is a good example. It wouldn’t work in print because no editor could give up the real estate for a strip that would interest so few readers in that paper’s particular market. But if you can use to web to visit every market in the English-speaking world, and gather 200 readers here and 500 there and 20 over here and 60 over there and all of a sudden you’ve got a massive audience that is thrilled to find a strip that responds to their specific interests.

Where this leaves this board, I think, is that you’ve got one group of successful professionals who have crafted, over the years, strips that work wonderfully in one medium, and it’s hard for them to understand how the web comics can be successful because they are so different than their own.

Certainly, there are web cartoons — Sheldon, Kevin and Kell, for example — that could work in print. But others clearly, obviously wouldn’t, and many of them are so tight in their tiny little niches that it can be hard to compare them to the more inclusive style of a print strip. To a print cartoonist, they feel rough and unprofessional because they simply don’t punch the right numbers that have, until now, added up to success.

Moreover, there are only a handful of major print strips that would be as successful, for example, as what Howard Tayler is doing. A small handful. Which means that anybody who says, “Well, if print fails, we’ll all go to the web” just doesn’t get it. It’s a different style, a different medium, a different approach.

Can’t blame people for being a little touchy on the subject.

#55 Woodrow Barlettani
February/17/2009
@ 1:18 am

I am in print media and web media, I take web material and use it in the Print paper, re-titling it of coarse , and take print stuff and use it in Print papers, re-titling again, and no one is the wiser except me. Still can’t make a living at it, so you figure, both like the material, seems like cartoonist abuse…TA! DA! ( the Key must be the re-titling)

#56 Chuck Egan
February/17/2009
@ 8:16 am

I know I’m coming in late to this conversation but I wanted to comment on why general size and format of the strip have remained the same on the web as in print. There are two real factors for this:

1. You only have so many hours in a day to draw a strip. Sure you have an “infinite canvas” but if you plan on gaining and KEEPING an audience by putting out a new strip daily you have to work in a size that allows you to complete that goal.

2. The goal of most webcomics is to have a 2nd life in print. If the comics are different sizes every day, or too big to legibly fit onto a page there is going to be a problem. You can do whatever you want for the web but if your goal is to publish you have some general rules you are going to need to follow to properly fit in that format.

#57 Jim Thomas
February/17/2009
@ 11:10 pm

In the 1995 book, “Your Career in the Comics,” Richard Newcombe of the Creators Syndicate wrote, “We always try to explain this. Even if you start with fifty papers, at an average billing of twelve dollars each, that’s $600 a week. Let’s say the Sunday printing costs $200 a week; so that’s $600 less $200, which means you’ve got $400 a week to split with the syndicate. So you’ll be getting $200 a week–less than $10,000 a year–and that’s if you have fifty papers.”

I am always confused by viability of print syndication. I have heard Ted speak of syndication numbers in the “print vs web” debate on the webcomics weekly podcast and I have read what he writes in these comments and it just doesn’t seem to match up with the numbers that everyone in this book (syndicates, newspaper editors and cartoonists) say about the numbers. Ted himself said that rates have not changed since the ”70s, so the fact that this book is a decade old shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Perhaps web cartoonists are so willing to share trade practices because the print world has always seemed so unfriendly to outsiders.

#58 Rick Stromoski
February/18/2009
@ 5:52 am

It all depends on which newspapers you are in. One can have 50 large market papers and make twice to four times as much as a feature that’s in 150 small markets.

#59 Rick Stromoski
February/18/2009
@ 5:54 am

Also most newly syndicated cartoonists should require a cap on all production costs at 15%.

#60 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 7:02 am

The papers that seem to be struggling the most seem to be the large market conglomerate papers which I assume pay the highest rates.

#61 Wiley Miller
February/18/2009
@ 7:22 am

“Perhaps web cartoonists are so willing to share trade practices because the print world has always seemed so unfriendly to outsiders.”

I’m not sure what you mean here by “outsiders”.

#62 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 8:01 am

Also, print cartoonist’s solution to the web business model always seems to be “find a way to make people pay for your work.” Which is a fine theory, but just not the reality of the situation. How does a new cartoonist build a community for his comic if a new reader, that may have only read 15 strips in some sort of preview, has to decide whether or not to put down his/her money just to read something they may not even like.

The reader is already paying thirty dollars a month for the internet connection, why should we expect them to pay 10-25 cents every time they read a comic? that to me sounds like asking a person to buy a newspaper, but if they want to read Zits that morning, they also need to pay an addition 10 cents.

But my question is, in a way to find a hybrid model that utilizes the best of both print and web why don’t print cartoonists finally stand up to syndicates and put an end to 50% net profit sharing. No other client/agent relationship is this profitable for the agency. With the potential for success in newspapers declining, cartoonists should start considering print syndicates as just a part of their business model and not the primary component. The syndicates have proven that they cannot make money for their artists online, so cartoonists should never give away their online distribution rights.

I know the argument, this just isn’t how syndication works. I mean, that would be like asking someone to pay for content on the internet right?

#63 Alan Gardner
February/18/2009
@ 8:28 am

I’ll let some of the syndicate guys respond to the cartoonist/syndicate split question, but the following statement needs some correcting…

The reader is already paying thirty dollars a month for the internet connection, why should we expect them to pay 10-25 cents every time they read a comic?

Let’s apply this logic elsewhere and see how it sticks…

The patron already pays thirty dollars a month in gas, why should we expect them to pay more money when they want to shop at Walmart?

It just doesn’t work in the real world. Just because something is ON the internet, doesn’t mean there were zero costs to get it there and that the producer shouldn’t be compensated. Since web content providers don’t receive a dime of that $30 a month, they need to be compensated in other ways.

Free is awesome when you’re the consumer, it sucks salt water when you’re the producer.

#64 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 8:38 am

@ Wiley

Assume there was someone who had a respectable amount of talent in cartooning (someone that cannot just be dismissed as, oh, well he calls himself a cartoonist but can’t draw or write a strip) who had not yet chosen which path (because, under current business models, the cartoonist still has to choose) to try to become a “professional” comic strip creator. The amount of realistic information; i.e. firm financial expectations, daily operation, setting up websites, fan service, developing product, is so much more available to this person for the web model. But to be honest, for an industry that has been around for a hundred years, there are very little resources about the realistic expectations in print syndication. Syndicates get 50% of net profits, licensing can make you a millionaire, a handful of strips get picked up each year and only one or two survive five years. i think for bulk of the next generation of cartoonists, that is the extent of what print syndication.

I am not suggesting that cartoonists should post annual earnings, but it seems like the few resources there are about traditional syndication paint a sobering view of financial expectations and viability of print syndication, but on the message boards all that is touted is best case scenarios. I just feel there is a much more honest discussion about viability going on in the webcomics community. The majority of webcomics will never make money. the small percentage that combines talent with drive and a little bit of luck are, in a short time, building a model that offers potential growth in the future.

#65 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 8:54 am

@ Alan

Content online doesn’t need 100% of the readers to pay for services. As long as a percentage is for premium content, whether it is books, tshirts, assetbar, or what have you, it covers the community.

Ultimately I think the pay per view model will only hurt comics in the long run. Say someone spends an hour a day on line reading comics and they read 40 comics. if they are paying 10 cents per comic per day that reader is not going to be able to sustain his reading habits. And they sure won’t be willing to buy webcomics A. book and webcomics B. t shirt. Even if you think that number is high, then lets say twenty comics, which is probably the average that show up in a daily paper. The Web model couldn’t sustain this.

#66 Wiley Miller
February/18/2009
@ 9:27 am

“print cartoonist?s solution to the web business model always seems to be ?find a way to make people pay for your work.? Which is a fine theory, but just not the reality of the situation. ”

Here’s what continues to confound me… why should the web be any different than any other medium? Don’t you expect to get for the work you do in your job?

#67 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 10:09 am

@ Wiley Miller

Cartoonists online still get paid for making comics. Whenever someone buys a collection from their online store someone has purchased the comic. I know. I KNOW. Then this isn’t making money from online comics. RIght? But. It is really no different than the newspaper model. I loved reading Peanuts. Everyday I would read it in the newspaper. But the paper that I paid for cost 50 cents. What percentage of that cost was the Peanuts comic? It was as close to zero you can get without being zero, but for sake of argument, lets just say zero. I did not clip every comic out of the paper and put them in a scrap book. I am buying the $25 dollar a year collection that fantagraphics is putting out. Now not everyone that grew up reading Peanuts is going to do this, but enough people will to provide the Schultz estate with another few million dollars. The newspaper model doesn’t hold up online because I can be in Ohio and read the Houston Chronicle online. Each paper doesn’t have to buy a comic from the syndicate if one source buys them. Those days are just quickly coming to an end.

The difference between the print and web model is actually pretty simple. The potential for growth on the internet is really still pretty untapped. The potential for growth in print is if not shrinking, at least stagnate. The web model is still liquid and growing, the print model is fairly established and tied into an industry seeing bankruptcy and shrinking audiences at a rate faster than anytime in its history, not to mention giving away its content for free online. The other difference is that although currently you don’t have 20 year guys making $500,000 year online,(the oldest webcomics are ten years old) in ten years you will. And the third difference is, on the internet the strip doesn’t need to make over a million dollars for the artist to make 500,000. It needs to make maybe 530,000. Syndicates are going to kill their own industry.

#68 Tom Wood
February/18/2009
@ 10:42 am

XKCD is one of the best examples of new media cartooning. He publishes a cartoon and also provides a forum so that his ‘tribe’ has a place to gather. Read up on the power of tribes at Seth Godin’s blog. The one part of the puzzle that XKCD is partly missing is the clearly defined consumer profile for advertising. Unless there’s a thriving romance, sarcasm, math, and language subculture that I’m missing…

#69 Tony Piro
February/18/2009
@ 11:11 am

@Tom Wood

Are you being sarcastic? I’m at a university, and it seems like every math, physics, engineer, and computer engineer office has an xkcd cartoon on the door. xkcd is HUGELY popular with this crowd, and it’s a big, dedicated, passionate crowd.

#70 Josh McDonald
February/18/2009
@ 11:18 am

Jim, I think you’re missing the point here; it seems like you’re looking at the consumer’s point of view rather than the cartoonist’s. A syndicated cartoonist gets a regular paycheck in exchange for putting out a daily comic. Print publications, even those you can get free at the local coffee shop, similarly have to pay writers and other content providers.

I agree with you that web consumers aren’t likely to pay for their content, but I also don’t like the idea of having to sell crap to make money as a cartoonist.

#71 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 11:31 am

@ Josh

A syndicated cartoonist gets a regular paycheck that is half the weeks earning of the strip. I think to consider the web model is to consider what is best for the cartoonist. That being said, building a community, considering the consumer, is what makes a web comic thrive. I don’t feel there is anything wrong in a business model that does what is best for cartoonist and the readers that support the strip.

If you consider selling merchandise to support your career is not for you, then you don’t like the Peanuts, Garfield, Dilbert, Kathy, For Better or For Worse model or any other print strip that makes the bulk of its income through licensing. There is a very fine line between the merchandising models of both print and web.

#72 Josh McDonald
February/18/2009
@ 11:49 am

The difference, Jim, is that Schulz, Davis, Adams, Guisweit, et al. never really have to worry about the merchandising aspect — unless they really want to. And 50% of $400 is still better than 100% of $0 — which is about what the average webcomic makes in its first year or so.

Look, I’m not trying to promote one way over another; I’m just trying to figure out the best possible business model for making a decent living from cartooning… what Alan described as the “salad bar” approach.

#73 Tom Wood
February/18/2009
@ 12:00 pm

@ Tony

Yeah, I know, I was just playing with the site’s self-description.

But, if you were an advertising agency trying to sell an ad buy to your clients on the XKCD site, who is the audience when strictly defined as a consumer? What is “every math, physics, engineer, and computer engineer” ready to buy, and are they THE person that makes the buying decision? That’s the downside to the niche marketing that we’re faced with.

#74 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 12:03 pm

I totally agree that there is no one right way. The best way for a cartoonist to make a living making comics is not a way that ever concretely exists and each strip will make its earnings in slightly different ways.

My belief is that there is a way for a cartoonist to have it both ways. They can have the benefits of being a comic that online, the artist is allowed to distribute his strip as he sees fit, community build, small merchandise etc. And they can pair with a syndicate to distribute the comic where its strength is, in print. But I think it is ludicrous for a cartoonist to give up 50% of its print income to be put into a shrinking market where the the chance for a big “hit” is almost zero. Syndicates can not sustain positive revenue for all of its cartoonists online. Why not allow the artist to operate their own sites unique to the feature and give the cartoonist a chance to monetize for themselves?

#75 Josh McDonald
February/18/2009
@ 1:28 pm

“Why not allow the artist to operate their own sites unique to the feature and give the cartoonist a chance to monetize for themselves?”

As far as I know, syndicates do allow this, and several syndicated cartoonists do maintain their own sites. Off the top of my head: Scott Adams, Patrick McDonell, Darrin Bell, and Brian Anderson have websites unique to their respecive comics. There are probably several others that I’m not aware of.

And that’s not counting the blogs…

#76 Tony Piro
February/18/2009
@ 1:46 pm

@ Tom

Once you have a site with as much traffic as xkcd, it is fairly simple to take polls. This is something that Howard Tayler has talked about. It gives you a better understanding of your reader’s buying habits, demographics, interest in buying various products, etc. This is also fantastic data for potential advertisers who are looking for a niche market to target.

In fact, I would say that advertisers can potentially get much more bang for their buck through webcomics that have cornered a niche market. For example, if I have a product that will appeal to librarians, then I definitely want to advertise on Unshelved (by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes). Why would I want to waste my money on gocomics.com, which reaches more people, but is much less focused?

#77 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 1:49 pm

Mutts is not up-to-date comics
Dog Eat Doug is not up to date comics

Dilbert is actually a really good example of how to combine print and web business models. It offers tons of content exclusive to the website, the blog is a well written and has its own audience.

So a handful of strips have their own site, but go to go comics where 75+ strips all have the same template, no blog, no community building, poor navigation and very little to no product.

These are the strips I am talking about. Not the 15+ year strips that aren’t going anywhere. How do NEW cartoonists find a repeatable business model for themselves in the traditional print model without a strong web presence. Syndicates should spend a lot more time looking at what makes web comics successful, both financially and community building.

#78 Josh McDonald
February/18/2009
@ 1:59 pm

“Syndicates should spend a lot more time looking at what makes web comics successful, both financially and community building.” I totally agree with you there. All I’m saying is, there is movement in that direction. Very slow, mostly tentative steps, certainly — but there is some movement.

#79 Tom Wood
February/18/2009
@ 2:23 pm

@ Tony

Totally agree, that was my point in a backwards way of getting there. What I don’t see at xkcd is the advertising from major marketers. Not even cell phones. Given the popularity, that appears to be the site publisher’s choice. But it would still be a hard sell to an ad exec not familiar with it.

And speaking of cartoonists with blogs, there’s a relevant post over at dilbert dot com where Scott talks about how the best pitches are very short.

Ad Exec – “So, what’s this xkcd about?”

Junior Exec – “It’s, ah, um, about romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

Ad Exec – “I see, and who is the target consumer?”

Junior Exec – “Math, physics, engineering, and computer engineering students.”

Ad Exec – “Have you considered a new career in food service?”

I’m just saying… (And I haven’t figured it out either.)

#80 A. Joyce
February/18/2009
@ 6:52 pm

All I know is that Charles Schulz never did a bunch of Comic Con talks about what a huge success “Peanuts” was. His strip spoke for itself. They’re too many people with blogs now-a-days telling everyone how great they are. Meanwhile, most webcomics and syndicated comics today are just not that good.

#81 A. Joyce
February/18/2009
@ 6:54 pm

Excuse me, I meant to type “Their are.”

#82 Jim Thomas
February/18/2009
@ 7:22 pm

you actually meant, There are…

But the con appearances are not about how great the strips are so much as an open discussion of a young business model by professionals on the front lines of a new way to make money for cartoonists.

And while Charles Schulz was shy he did lots of interviews, one with Charlie Rose when asked who he thought was the best American cartoonist, Schulz without hesitation said he thought himself to be and then gave reasons why. There is nothing wrong in believing in what you do and knowing that you have something to offer to others that want to set down the same path.

#83 Woodrow Barlettani
February/18/2009
@ 8:36 pm

…I can’t help but get back into this, I was told by Morrie Turner,& Schultz and I read Disney, all said, don’t give-up the merchandising rights, Disney admitted , he made more with the Mickey Mouse watches, than he ever made, after costs, on Snow White and Charles Shultz said the same of “Snoppy” face towels. My other complaint is here are these stuff shirt” bean counter” syndicate folk, critiquing my work for half the take and what ever they can get for merchandising, well there goes my chance at syndication , as the song sez, “It don’t come easy” and my eyes is a dwindling so’z I can’t drive Cab no more, come on gang we’z cartoonists, when the tough get going, they sell Hot Dogs and draw pictures, come who’s with me….Yeaaaaah !

#84 Garey Mckee
February/18/2009
@ 9:08 pm

Just reading these Print V. Web topic threads makes me feel like I need a nap.

#85 A. Joyce
February/19/2009
@ 1:07 pm

God I’m an idiot. “There are….”

#86 Woodrow Barlettani
February/19/2009
@ 11:49 pm

A.Joyce
you said ” There are……..” and then, and then, this reminds me of my cat , who I feed large amounts of cheese to, then he would wait by mouse holes, with baited breath….TA! DA!
(thank you W.C.Fields)

#87 Mike Wytrykus
March/3/2009
@ 1:12 am

I love finding comment threads weeks after the fact. Some observations, for anyone that may still stumble upon this:

The proper analogy to use when comparing the business model of free web content is television. Web publishing is far more similar to radio & TV than it is to print publishing.

Asking customers to pay additional fees for website content after already paying their monthly ISP bill is THE SAME as asking consumers to pay to watch individual TV shows or stations after paying their monthly cable bill. You pay for the service, not the content. (Premium channels are a possible exception, but even they are part of the cable bill, not an after the fact fee). However, just as new technology allows cable companies to offer premium content like on demand movies and such, so can a website offer paid premium content. But this has to be in additional to the main free content to be successful.

The websites then are much like the TV stations. They make their money from advertising. Except here, for the most part, the sites make their own content (i.e. their comic) and do not buy them from other companies (although this is sometimes the case).

The idea that webcartoonists should be paid for making their comics because that’s how it works in syndicated print cartooning is also a flawed analogy. In print cartooning, the cartoonist is being paid by the syndicate, who is being paid by the newspaper, who make their money from advertising and consumers paying for the paper. The consumer does not view it as paying for any individual newspaper content. They pay for the paper, which is the delivery mechanism for the content. Again, this is much like paying the ISP bill. You pay for the delivery.

Now, with webcomics, there are none of the middlemen. There is no syndicate. There is no newspaper. The consumer is already paying for the delivery mechanism, so the cartoonist is not going to charge them directly. That leaves the cartoonist to make his money the same way the newspaper does: advertising. And just as the print cartoonist can make additional money from merchandise, so too can the webcartoonist. The only way that a webcartoonist will get paid directly for the creation of his comic is if there was an online syndicate or newspaper paying them for the exclusive publishing rights. They in turn would be making their money from advertising. Which way would yield more money for the cartoonist depends on who can earn more ad revenue, they by themselves or the online syndicate.

Bottom line, the webcomics business model is the way it is because there are no middlemen to do the business & marketing work for them, so they must do it themselves. Many prefer it this way, as they do not have to share their profits. Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to become as large as Penny Arcade, you can hire someone to do this for you and still have plenty of money left over.

#88 Mike Peterson
March/3/2009
@ 3:58 am

“Asking customers to pay additional fees for website content after already paying their monthly ISP bill is THE SAME as asking consumers to pay to watch individual TV shows or stations after paying their monthly cable bill. You pay for the service, not the content. (Premium channels are a possible exception, but even they are part of the cable bill, not an after the fact fee).”

Not until ISPs start rebating money back to the web sites. Cable companies pay for the channels they carry, except for local TV which, as you note, makes money on advertising.

But local TV makes up a very small percentage of what is on cable, and exists apart from cable — that is, if cable ended tomorrow and we all went back to over-the-air TV, the local stations not only would continue but would be stronger.

I’m really tired of people who don’t understand where the money comes from today trying to explain where the money is going to come from tomorrow.

#89 Mike Wytrykus
March/3/2009
@ 2:28 pm

“I?m really tired of people who don?t understand where the money comes from today trying to explain where the money is going to come from tomorrow.”

And I’m really tired of people who cannot provide comments and corrections without getting rude or snarky. I wasn’t attempting to explain where the money IS going to come from TOMORROW. I was giving my observations on where the money MIGHT come from TODAY.

So my analogy is slightly flawed. It’s main point was to show how the experience was similar from the customer’s POV. For the consumer, watching & paying for TV is still a closer experience to getting content online than getting it from printed sources. The Internet is a bill they pay each month and they get access to everything that comes with it.

#90 Woodrow Barlettani
March/4/2009
@ 12:20 am

…. well ! really ! that was fun with Mike and Mike and who ever Snarky is, the opinions expressed by Wytrykus and Peterson had a lot to say, but let us not forget, the real reason that folks should be doing this , is for love of it and the stage to communicate with fellow ‘beings, our grassroots and not corporate agenda’s , making money is good, and a lot of times we drive cabs, tend bars, work in casinos or warehouses, and building sites, to” keep on, keep’in on” as we use to say in the old days , of the no pay “undergrounds”. The TV and radio analogy is fine and something to work on or look into, merchandising has strong points as Disney and Schultz proved. Did we lay down when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, or when Lenny Bruce showed Honey Bruce how to shot Heroin, or when Mario Savio showed us in Berkeley, we did have free speech, even if you didn’t have anything to say ! NO ! That didn’t stop us then, ” let’s come together right now”, and keep fig-ir’n and sphyer’n… this coming from a cartoonist of sixty two years tomorrow, and not being financially successful at my love of… but I’ve everywhere , do everything and I still having nothing, but my art…. love brothers and sisters

#91 Woodrow Barlettani
March/4/2009
@ 12:35 am

….. oops that signature, that I have been use’n for- ever, should have read ..” I go everywhere,I do everything and I still have nothing “… “once a great gladiator now just an old warrior, put out to pasture ” if you go to the http://www.nevadaobserver.com site , scroll all the way down to
“drifterhotel cartoons by Woodrow, not only do I not get payed money, I’m all the way down at the bottom, must mean I am ” work’n my way back to you babe”, old gladiator song….. now letz get going and be the new way !
Who’s with me ! Well come on and lets make money!

#92 Wiley Miller
March/4/2009
@ 7:47 am

“I wasn?t attempting to explain where the money IS going to come from TOMORROW. I was giving my observations on where the money MIGHT come from TODAY.”

Ok, this is what has been going on for years now, talking about a theoretical market. We’ve all read these theories promoted by the web comics devotees over and over and over again. Isn’t long past due to stop talking about it and just do it? Instead of spending all this time on chat boards telling us what MIGHT work, just stop typing and do it, then come back and tell us about your success in what DID work. I would dearly love to see a viable comics market to open up for professional work on the internet to replace what we have in print (not just newspapers). But so far, it’s been mostly a lot of theoretical hot air and little substance. You all point to PVP as an example. Ok… what else? Scott Kurtz is to be congratulated for his success on the web, but that’s a model that has only worked for him.

So please stop telling us what theoretically can be done. Go out and actually do it, then show what you did.

#93 Phil Wohlrab
March/4/2009
@ 12:19 pm

I think the best example of a web/print success story is

http://dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2009/02/10/diary-of-a-whimpy-kid-a-hot-web-print-product/

Diary of a wimpy kid.

It shows that being on the web can be a huge attention getter provided your content is exceptional. Cartoonists need the attention of regular people before they get the attention of a drooling publisher nowadays.

Had Diary of a Wimpy kid been a blind submission to Amulet (it’s current publisher), I know it would have been rejected because Amulet,(a division of Harry N Abrams) Doesn’t take unsolicited material. His website got him a deal with that publisher that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

No longer can artists hope for success in blind submissions to corporate entities that are just trying to survive this economy.

#94 Woodrow Barlettani
March/7/2009
@ 12:32 am

very good Phil, all cartoonists think their stuff is the greatest, and it is, getting drooling editors attention with blind submission, that is a pain and kind’a useless , un- less you drink and smoke some herb with them and that isn’t a sure thing either, speaking from experience , but exposure on the W.E.B and some shameful ,self-promotion, has gotten more rejections, in a nice way, than blind, no return mail submissions.Grass-roots clamoring has been a little more fruitful to some, and sounds logical , so Wiley I will push away from this key board for a bit and see if Phil’s shot has merit , and let’s not forget the wise words of Willie Nelson,”It takes thirty five years to be a over-night success”…. there’s no hurry, as long as you love it, you do it for you , a bunch’a folks will follow, or you’ll dye try’n…. once a great gladiator, now just an ol’ warrior, put out to pasture……

#95 Peter Ajtai
April/26/2011
@ 12:53 pm

Interesting intro, and I want to see the presentation, but it looks like the link Open Source TV link is down. The entire domain is pending renewal or deletion as of 4/6/2011. Does anyone have an alternate source for the talk?

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