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The future of syndication: online “stores”

Daryl Cagle, editorial cartoonist for MSNBC and founder of Cagle Cartoons Syndicate has laid out what he believes is the future of syndication.

It would seem that the new paradigm is to think of a syndicate like a store. A store in a good location has lots of customers who find the store. A store in a poor location draws few customers. Stores in different locations draw different customers.

Cartoonists are like producers who create products to put in the stores. Cartoonists should want their cartoons to be sold in as many different stores as possible, because those stores now have different customers.

Exclusive syndication deals now have less value to the syndicates and tie the hands of the cartoonists. The new paradigm for editorial cartoonists is to be resold in as many ways, in as many places as possible.

My advice for 21st century editorial cartoonists is: draw a consistent, steady flow of great cartoons that are not about local events, with a global audience in mind. Sign non-exclusive deals with as many syndicates, online stores and stock houses that you can find, around the world, and allow those “stores” to sub-license your work through other “stores.” Have your own Web site where your work is easily available to any customer who is interested just in you, and publicize your site as best you can. Manage your work as a database of all your work. Your product is all your work from past years, not just what you’re drawing today; and when you join a new online store or syndicate, bring all your past cartoons with you so that your archive is easily accessible and can continue to generate sales of second rights. Don’t accept long term contracts with syndicates, agents or online stores; always be free to move. And don’t rely on anyone to take care of your career, but you.

Community Comments

#1 Patric Lewandowski
May/19/2009
@ 9:20 am

wow, this is almost an exact 180 of the current webcomics business model many (such as myself) are using.

interesting idea. i’m intrigued to see if it will work. i have my doubts about some of it, but i like to see people try different things.

i’m not sure this is still the best thing for a cartoonist, but that’s because i likes me independence, i do.

#2 Randy Glasbergen
May/19/2009
@ 9:29 am

That is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years and it has worked out very well for me.

#3 Peckinpaw
May/19/2009
@ 9:34 am

I want an agent to take care of all the selling. I’m a cartoonist, not a salesperson, nor a telemarketer, nor a syndicator, nor a printer, nor a merchandiser, etc…

#4 Darrin Bell
May/19/2009
@ 10:05 am

@Peckinpaw, I think that’s what Daryl’s advocating, only in his model you’d have dozens of agents taking care of all the selling. Your own site would just be a database of all your work, and presumably you’d be granting access to it to all these agents.

Some are already doing this sort of thing successfully. Randy’s a good example. I’d imagine it works best for single panel gag cartoons that can be sold and resold forever. The shelf life of an editorial cartoon is pretty short, and months & years later pretty much no one other than a textbook author is going to be interested in it.

#5 Patric Lewandowski
May/19/2009
@ 10:15 am

@peckinpaw –
it’s really the idea of independent vs work for hire. independents have more responsibility – needing to do the selling, printing, etc – but they get all the profit for it. they also incur all the risk.

work for hire simply sell their work for a smaller percentage to middlemen, who then also make money off of it. there is less risk this way, but there is also less potential for profit percentage.

it’s really all about how much control you want over your work.

if you want an agent, don’t you still need to negotiate and sell to that agent, though?

there’s always a business end to cartooning, it just depends on how much business.

#6 Tony Piro
May/19/2009
@ 11:05 am

Wow, I find it interesting (and surprising) that at a time when everyone is looking to find a niche and corner an untapped market, Daryl is advocating just the opposite.

#7 Patric Lewandowski
May/19/2009
@ 11:11 am

i guess i still don’t understand why i should sell to a syndicate (store) in this model who will then sell to real stores. why don’t i just sell to the real stores?

#8 Noah Rodenbeek
May/19/2009
@ 11:17 am

“i guess i still donâ??t understand why i should sell to a syndicate (store) in this model who will then sell to real stores. why donâ??t i just sell to the real stores?”

I agree. Actually, dealing with all the syndication stuff seems like it would almost be more work than just being indie.

#9 Patric Lewandowski
May/19/2009
@ 11:30 am

i think the idea here is to “save” syndicates, not help comics.

#10 Rich Diesslin
May/19/2009
@ 11:49 am

Well said Darrin. The model is sort of what I’ve been doing, but I don’t see how it could be effective outside a very short window for Editorial Cartoonists. My stuff is single-panel, general cartoons.

I see it working for Daryl since he is the syndicate and already has a customer base built up looking for editorial content. Establishing that I imagine took years and much of it started in the traditional way and built up from there. Daryl seems to be one of the more innovative in the field from what I can tell.

#11 Tony Piro
May/19/2009
@ 1:59 pm

“i think the idea here is to â??saveâ? syndicates, not help comics.”

Oh, I see. Wait, why do we want to save the syndicates?

#12 J Read
May/19/2009
@ 2:08 pm

I got the impression Daryl’s piece was addressed to editorial cartoonists.

#13 Ted Rall
May/19/2009
@ 2:11 pm

I don’t agree with 100% of what Daryl wrote, but I think it’s important to note the distinction between selling editorial cartoons vs. other types of comics, including comic strips. Because editorial cartoons date quickly, it’s hard to sell book collections; because they don’t have recurring characters, it’s hard to sell licensed merchandise for them. These two facts make the webcomics model–give away the comic, sell the merch–impossible right out of the gate. On the other hand, editorial cartoons have a brighter future than comics on handheld devices because of their immediacy and greater likelihood of going viral.

In general, I think Daryl is right: in a fragmenting market for popular culture, it’s a good idea to put your stuff in front of as many eyeballs as possible. The question for cartoonists is how to do that.

I would question Daryl’s disbelief in exclusivity, however. There are still many, many ways in which exclusivity adds value to content.

#14 Noah Rodenbeek
May/19/2009
@ 2:22 pm

@Ted, good points, but I don’t think the models are as different as you might think. Penny-Arcade is basically an editorial cartoon, they just touch on pop culture subjects rather than politics.

#15 Abell Smith
May/19/2009
@ 2:54 pm

“Penny-Arcade is basically an editorial cartoon, they just touch on pop culture subjects rather than politics.”

Huh?

#16 Noah Rodenbeek
May/19/2009
@ 2:59 pm

“Huh?”

Penny-Arcade is a cartoon editorial about pop culture topics. There’s no continuity, and they date just as quickly as political cartoons.

#17 Nate Fakes
May/19/2009
@ 5:23 pm

Online model is doing all of that already. Anyhow, reading through the rest of the comments going with this post – you all have pretty much said what I was going to – so I’ll stop at that!

#18 Dave Stephens
May/19/2009
@ 6:04 pm

Sooooo, if “Penny Arcarde” is “basically an editorial cartoon” because, um, it has no continuity and touches on pop culture topics then, er, um, YOU are basically ME, ’cause we, uh, have two arms and two legs, right? WRONG.

An editorial cartoon has editorial content.
A GAG cartoon does not.
A comic strip may or may not have continuity, but what it usually does have is multiple panels.

There is overlap, of course, but an apple still is not an orange or a banana, actually…

#19 Noah Rodenbeek
May/19/2009
@ 6:32 pm

Settle down, Dave, I’m not trying to have an argument here.

All caps aside, would you mind defining “editorial”? I would consider an artist’s or a writer’s expression of their opinion on a certain topic an “editorial.” In which case Penny-Arcade’s opinions on pop-culture matters would be classified as an editorial. The thing I was trying to clear up is that they are not a gag strip.

I’m always open to being wrong, but I’d prefer you not be a d*ck when you try to correct me. Additionally, I’m sorry if any of my posts were insulting, I genuinely thought I was being conversational.

“Sooooo, if â??Penny Arcardeâ? is â??basically an editorial cartoonâ? because, um, it has no continuity and touches on pop culture topics then, er, um, YOU are basically ME, â??cause we, uh, have two arms and two legs, right? WRONG.”

I never defined them as editorial based on them using pop-culture topicality or not having continuity. Those were just to defuse some of the points Ted had touched on in his post.

#20 Zach Trenholm
May/19/2009
@ 6:56 pm

Hand in hand with this vision for editorial cartooning & syndication (this goes for illustration as well) that Dale is describing, one should also mention the need of adding movement & sound (even of a limited sort) to their endeavors as well.

The expectation is already here as static, written word imagery falls a little flat on the computer and even more so on small mobile devices….

#21 Peckinpaw
May/19/2009
@ 7:00 pm

I feel a lot of the quality is going out of cartooning when the ‘artist’ has to wear so many hats. You can only be good at so many things. I think the art is suffering terribly here. It does seem that a certain web audience doesn’t really care that much though.

#22 Patric Lewandowski
May/19/2009
@ 7:17 pm

i think i can see how PA can be argued to be an editorial-style cartoon. especially if you count in the blog posts that accompany them, which are basically editorials. generally speaking, the topics aren’t political, but more about entertainment / technology issues.

i like the idea that there could be characters in an editorial-style cartoon. maybe “character” isn’t right, but archetypes and avatars. we all ready have that with elephants and donkeys, it could just go a bit farther.

#23 Jamie Smith
May/20/2009
@ 12:46 am

“â?¦ draw a consistent, steady flow of great cartoons that are not about local events, with a global audience in mindâ?
Thatâ??s the hope for aspiring editorial (and other) cartoonists who have their work undermined and devalued by competition from syndicates: keep it up. Meanwhile, independent creators offer content far more valuable to their respective communities; and many (unfortunately not most) editors and publishers see the logic in paying for that, rather than works that are essentially available for free elsewhere.
And sure, regionalism limits your reach or market, but for some of us the motivation isnâ??t global – change begins at home.
Cagleâ??s entire post, worth reading in its entirety, is a very well laid-out argument and has some good, sound advice based on experience and history, and hits some major sore points like â??Our profession seems to be transitioning into a hobby.â? He also addresses my opening point above on the frustration and futility of the race-to-the-bottom; â??The price for editorial cartoons had fallen so low that it would be embarrassing for an editor to even discuss price with a single cartoonist.â?
I agree with some other posters here who see this as a way to save the syndicates. Iâ??m convinced one way for print media to survive is for syndicates to go bankrupt first (doubtful at the rate things are headed) and for newspapers to instead develop and invest in local resources rather than simply reprinting content available for free on-line.
Itâ??d be a perfect world to see a balance between the two models instead of at odds with each other, syndicate and independent; like the web versus print debate, there’s plenty of room. Itâ??s a matter of perspective and perceived value, as from a different point of view a relevant cartoon dealing with regional politics could be literally worth fifty times more than yet another one about, say Obama, for which there are more and far better talented artists to choose from, and much cheaper.

#24 Rick Stromoski
May/20/2009
@ 5:35 am

I’ve been doing this since 1983. At any given time I will be working on my syndicated strip, greeting card designs, surface and fabric design, childrens books, educational publishing, magazine illustration, advertising illustration, …….this isn’t anything new.

#25 Jason Nocera
May/20/2009
@ 6:40 am

I don’t agree with you, Zach. If a static cartoon is good it’ll stand on it’s own with no problem. There’s no need to add bells and whistles just because you can.

#26 Mike Lester
May/20/2009
@ 7:59 am

I’m not sure why, because he certainly didn’t have to be so revealing, but Daryl has done a tremendous favor to cartooning in this piece. Actually, I do know why: he’s a nice guy. Kudos to him.

Like Randy, I’ve been using a similar biz model long before the internet in the illustration field. Suffice to say, if ebbs and flows make you seasick, it’s not for you.

Quick word re: agents: it’s as hard if not harder to find someone willing to put “skin in the game” as it is clients. They’re a tool but no substitute for biz acumen. -And you hold THEIR hand, not the other way round.

I haven’t been able to see the end of my workload in 20 years. Until today. I’ve never seen it this bad. But the elephant in the room is we have one of the most anti-biz administrations evah making it all the more difficult on successful small businessmen like Daryl, Randy and others.

And finally, I can’t help but find it ironic and immensely entertaining to read liberals discussing cold hard capitalism. Warms my heart.

#27 Mike Lester
May/20/2009
@ 8:01 am

P.S. Go to Daryl’s site and take the time to read entire piece.

#28 P.S. Mueller
May/21/2009
@ 2:03 pm

I can’t find any fault with Cagle’s advice. That said, it is pretty obvious to many of us that the sand is shifting beneath our feet as markets and venues shrink. Quite simply, these are rotten times.

I do however, think it’s rather glib and premature to somehow blame the Obama administration for the current state of affairs. After all, his is a young administration and one should keep in mind that it took eight long years of hard work for the Bush administration to successfully rob the middle class blind and wreck the economy.

We owe Mr. Obama at least until the middle of July before we hold him singularly responsible for the end of free enterprise, I think.

#29 Patric Lewandowski
May/21/2009
@ 2:38 pm

syndicates and papers were failing the minute the internet became a feasible way to get images.

you can’t blame the woes of this stuff on anyone political.

#30 Jim Lavery
May/21/2009
@ 7:58 pm

Sure you can. Al Gore invented the internet.

#31 Brad Britton
May/25/2009
@ 11:40 pm

@jim lavery seriously?

#32 Jim Lavery
May/26/2009
@ 7:17 am

Hey man, Al Gore = Seriously!

#33 dominique wilson
July/24/2009
@ 9:55 am

i think the cartoon needs alittle work.. my cartoon is about a girl and she can’t make friends becouse she always tryed to buy friends but one day she meets this girl named sam and sam comes up to the girl and says hi and how was your day? the girl says hi and my day was good.. and sam says whats your name? my name is jenna whats your’s? my name is sam and sam says would you like to be friends? oh i see you want my daddys money! no i just want to be friends with you. jenna says i don’t know what a friend is. sam says oh well i can show you and tell you they help each other when they need help and they always help you and when your hurt they help you and care for you.. jenna says oh i will love to do that. 1 year later.. they are still friends and the best friends of life.

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