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ABCNews: Newspapers are cutting comics

John Berman and Joel Siegel reporters have posted a story on ABC News’ World News site reporting the loss of comic strips in newspapers throughout the country.

No matter how bad the news, no matter how grim the headlines, you could always count on a smile from at least one corner of the daily newspaper: the comics.

But in this day when we could use a laugh more than ever, the reality facing the comics section is anything but funny.

With the newspaper business hemorrhaging readers and money, newspapers are slicing the number of strips they carry.

Community Comments

#1 Bridgett Spicer
March/17/2010
@ 10:33 am

What the big newspaper mucky mucks need to hear is some noise! They need readers to overwhelm their in-boxes with requests for MORE COMICS! AND bigger comics! Comic page readers need to take action! All it takes is numbers, people! How about a little revolution here!!!???

#2 Larry Levine
March/17/2010
@ 10:44 am

Sadly, I’ve said it before and will say it again, the syndicated comic strip is going the way of the dinosaur. If newspapers choose to hasten their own extinction by cutting back on the funnies, then the syndicates need to focus on web & digital venues.

#3 Bridgett Spicer
March/17/2010
@ 10:57 am

But why sit back and let them? Newspapers cater to what readers want (supposedly)… and if readers want more and bigger comics, shouldn’t they listen? Why not yell… with a larger collective voice? (perhaps my French roots are showing…vive les bandes dessinees!)

#4 Steve Skelton
March/17/2010
@ 11:05 am

I would be interested to see a newspaper all but throw out the AP wire strories and photos and begin to build itself around local news, photos, events and features. AP stories are all over the internet and they get updated hourly. Why not focus on features and local stories that would harness a loyal group of readers to you paper? When does this start?

My local paper, The Longmont TImes Call is doing this. We have a moderate population of 72,000 and the paper just bought new presses. Comics are in color daily and local stories often trump national news on the front page. (And they print a 1/3 color version of 2 Cows and a Chicken in the Life section every Sunday.)

#5 Bridgett Spicer
March/17/2010
@ 11:38 am

Here, here, Steve (and hello!!!)… Local news is where papers should put their focus… and congrats on being in YOUR local paper. So… more local content, more and bigger funnies… that’s all we want. And… cluck and moo!

#6 dave nelson
March/17/2010
@ 11:44 am

Do readers really want more comics? I’m afraid they don’t. I get the feeling that newspapers help cartoonists more than comics help the newspapers. Personally, the comics are ALL I want out of the paper, but am in a ever-decreasing niche? The home page of Yahoo has tons of options to attract surfers but no comics. You have to dig through the newspapers’ online sites to find the comics if they list them at all. Maybe there is a syndication restriction on online use that I’m not aware of, but if the majority wanted comics it seems like we’d see more of them in mainstream sites.

I’m afraid Larry is right, cartoonists and syndicates will need to find other ways to attract readers. Trust me, I’d like to believe otherwise.

#7 Ed Harrington
March/17/2010
@ 11:53 am

Steve: You’re pretty-much describing most alt-weeklies, and they are also having the same problems that the daily papers are having — cutting costs and content (including comics). The future of distributing comics is the internet, plain and simple. It may not be a money-maker, but at least it’ll give cartoonists exposure to make money off of books, mugs, mousepads and all that other junk.

#8 Jason Hackett
March/17/2010
@ 12:13 pm

Unfortunately, Steve, your local paper is struggling more than you may know. I used to work for their red-headed stepchild paper in Loveland. Ours was the paper that usually MADE its budget, and for all the hard work that went into that effort, the Reporter-Herald’s too-small staff is being eviscerated and consolidated with Longmont’s. It really is a shadow of its former self even though Loveland has been projected by demographers to be the much more likely of the two cities to grow at a healthy rate over the next couple decades.
I saw the handwriting on the wall almost three years ago and got out before the cuts started in order to pay for that new press (and who in their right mind buys a multimillion-dollar press in the internet age?!?).
It’s good that the TC can do what it does to be a locally focused paper, but it all comes with a cost, which keeps rising while they keep cutting.
My main point is that newspaper strips are in major trouble as long as knuckleheads are running the papers — and that’s the case almost everywhere, as evidenced by the way they fumbled the opportunity provided by the internet.

#9 Bridgett Spicer
March/17/2010
@ 12:15 pm

You can call me old-fashioned, but I’m not ready to give up on newspapers just yet. Yes, they are changing… and yes, they compete with the virtual realm… but like books, newspapers are tactile… and they will adapt and reinvent themselves.

#10 Jason Hackett
March/17/2010
@ 12:45 pm

I hope they survive, and I do think smaller newspapers have a better chance of thriving if they focus on their local readers’ interests.
I just have my doubts as long as the dumb people in the owners’ and publishers’ offices stay there. But there’s been too much inaction, greed, lack of foresight, imperiousness, greed, arrogance, willful ignorance of the real world, and, oh yeah, greed, at the top.
For decades they have EXPECTED to make 20 percent to 30 percent profits, which is unrealistic in any other legal marketplace, because of their local monopolies. When profits started to dip, they conglomerated and used smaller, local papers as “feeders” of talent and profit for the largest papers in their chains, providing lousy service to those small communities, ridiculously low pay to their employees, and way too much money for generic news from AP.
I love newspapers as a concept and reading experience. But too many people who run them don’t share the values of what a newspaper should be.

#11 Steve Skelton
March/17/2010
@ 12:45 pm

Ed and Jason, of course you are correct. There really is no denying that newspapers are making less, and even if their costs remain somewhat constant, it appears to be a losing battle….

#12 Jason Hackett
March/17/2010
@ 12:53 pm

For the record and so I don’t come off as merely a disgruntled former newspaperman, I was nicely “gruntled” at the time I left my last newspaper job. I left on good terms, and it was before the bloodletting began. But I’ve been observing this pattern from a macro level for a long time and am extremely disappointed to see newspapers where they are and where they’re going.
If there were a way to make enough of a living to support my family by starting a local newspaper and running it the way I think one should be run, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
But alas …

#13 Dan Reynolds
March/17/2010
@ 1:17 pm

The source of this comment will remain unnamed, but he is a very famous cartoonist (known to all) who told me personally, “Dan, trying to get syndicated today is like trying to buy a ticket on the Titanic”.

I might add to that…that perhaps after the boat is finally sunk, that a new way will emerge involving finding a seat on a comic space station in cyberspace. I speak of a well managed, subscription based, syndication alternative. That’s always possible. No guarantees, but often when one porthole closes another opens.

#14 Tom Wood
March/17/2010
@ 1:33 pm

The Robert Scoble types are buzzing about the concept of ‘curation’ as the next big thang on the interwebs. I’m not sure how it differs from aggregation, but it’s similar.

The idea being that with so much content on the web there is a need to curate the best of a given genre on websites that are trusted to do that job correctly. Sites like Boing Boing, Neatorama, and even Drudge seem to be in this category.

If that’s really the trend, then a publisher would want to position their content so it is easily found and curated. (In addition to being of good quality.) How to go about doing that would be the challenge then if you want to use curation by others as a distribution method for your content.

#15 Ted Rall
March/17/2010
@ 2:03 pm

“Curate”: formerly (archaic) “to edit”, as in “to edit a newspaper”

#16 Dave Krainacker
March/17/2010
@ 2:11 pm

My local newspaper (The Helena Independent Record) has 26 comics. About a year ago they dropped several older strips (Cathy, Dennis the Menace, Blondie). There was the predictable outcry, but the editor stood firm. Pearls, Non-sequitor, Tundra and a few other new strips were added. (A net gain of six.) I am told that readership actually increased. However, although Helena is a big town for Montana, it still only has about 45 K people in the circulation area. It has thrived by focusing on local sports and issues. I may not get the latest details on the federal deficit, but can get lots of info on the local school board. Newspapers can and will survive, but not if they try and be all things to all people.

#17 Anne Hambrock
March/17/2010
@ 2:32 pm

“You have to dig through the newspapers? online sites to find the comics if they list them at all.”

So far, the papers that run comics in their online versions do an abysmal job of advertising the fact. I would be curious to see what impact a well publicized comics and games section would have on internet reader numbers.

I suspect that newspapers saw their online versions as a place where they could drop all that “fluff” that they have to pay extra for and run just hard news.

It hasn’t worked and now they are having to gradually add back in that “fluff” because many of their readers are more interested in the features than they are in the news.

Parts of the paper that rely on up to the minute information cannot survive the delay of print – only the features that are not time sensitive work well.

#18 Ted Rall
March/17/2010
@ 3:31 pm

In general, Anne, I agree that newspapers should focus on analysis–tell us what the news means after you’ve already heard it break on radio or TV or read it online.

But not completely.

A lot of people can’t, won’t or don’t want to read news online. Maybe they’re Luddites, maybe they work in front of a computer terminal all day, whatever–they’re just not into it. The iPad might change things, because portability matters…but it’s too expensive since it requires its own separate service to pipe in the Intertube when you’re away from your home wifi.

For those people, they’re fine with reading the news later…even though it’s still old.

Think about all the sports fans who tape the game and watch it half a day after the score came out online.

#19 Garey Mckee
March/17/2010
@ 3:41 pm

What speaks volumes to me is the profiling of a legacy strip. How about newer strips trying to find a market? They touched on Dogs of C Kennel of course, only because Mason and his brother have produced that strip as well. But there’s so much more to this story.

#20 dave nelson
March/17/2010
@ 3:52 pm

As Dave K. said, the paper tries to be all things to all people, and that was a problem even when I was at the paper in the 80’s. Cable channels and magazines that focused on what individuals wanted were the big threat back then. Now even they are having trouble staying afloat. I agree that the local angle might just be the newspapers saving grace but as costs rise, the internet will be ever more attractive.

Anne, if the newspapers don’t try giving more prominence to their comics online, they really are stupid. But we should be careful what we wish for. The internet will give the editors and publishers laser insight into what pages are getting read and then the people will be speaking with their clicks.

Yep Ted, I’m a luddite for wanting the newspaper in paper form, but the luddites like us are on the way out. The general population is going digital whether we like it or not, I’m afraid.

#21 Dave Stephens
March/17/2010
@ 3:53 pm

If newspapers want to find out how important comics are to their bottom line, they should have ONE week without ANY comic strips or gag strips (or be forced to by the ultra wussified syndicates – could they ever grow a pair?). They would see some disturbing reductions in readership and some ugly phone calls and hopefully this would give them reason to doubt the current wave of cuts…

#22 Ted Dawson
March/17/2010
@ 3:58 pm

A Rhode Island paper’s newsstand sales went up about 2%, and subscription cancellations virtually stopped when they began charging for access to their website. Most readers opted for a print subscription that included free website access.

The Internet is not the successor to print publications. It’s a different tool, and it will create competition. Competition is what used to make the newspaper industry thrive, and it is sorely needed again.

#23 Darryl Heine
March/17/2010
@ 4:05 pm

Well, with a rumor that mail delivery may not take place on Saturdays anymore, why couldn’t there be a rumor there won’t be Sunday comics sections anymore?

#24 Dan Reynolds
March/17/2010
@ 6:36 pm

Here’s a crazy theory…everyone makes the connection of the demise of the newspaper industry coinciding with the onset of the online world. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it around this same time that newspapers started 1. shrinking the comic sizes, and 2. reducing the number of comic features????

Maybe the demise of newspapers has more or everything to do with the newspapers dismissal of the importance of comics.

I’m dreaming here, but maybe the remaining major newspapers should offer TWO different newspapers each…one with the news and whatever else, and the second newspaper would JUST be comics, but comics the way they’re supposed to be…big enough so persons over 40 can read them and with a much larger selection of comics. Each of these newspapers should monitor the sales of each of their editions and perhaps their eyes would be opened up a little bit.
Btw, in my dream world, if you buy BOTH papers, you get a discount on the comic section.

Now, since this is my idea, I’m calling dibs on the front page with REYNOLDS UNWRAPPED. :)

#25 Mike Cope
March/17/2010
@ 7:13 pm

@ Dan Reynolds:

The shrinking of comics was taking place l-o-n-g before the Internet (as we know it) …

“When Peanuts first started in 1950, it was the smallest comic that had ever been in existence. It was sold as a space-saving strip and it had 4 panels which were not much larger than 4 airmail stamps.”

— Charles M. Schulz

Source:
Cartoonist Profiles, No. 44
Interviewer: Jud Hurd
(December 1979)

#26 Dan Reynolds
March/17/2010
@ 8:11 pm

I’m speaking of “shrinking” comics in the case of recent times…
You’re siting an exception and this was during the inception of this strip, not the usual. I clearly remember in the 60’s the comics were HUGE. I get it, you’re playing the devil’s advocate, but my point was just to put forward a notion to think outside the box… that maybe the reason newspapers hit the skids might also include their apparent disrespect for the comics.

#27 Ted Dawson
March/17/2010
@ 8:33 pm

The End of Newspapers was being shouted from the rooftops in 2006 when the industry averaged profits of 25%.

No industry is bullet-proof. Several factors have contributed to decreasing newspaper circulation. Joint Operating Agreements have always resulted in the loss of one of the papers. Increased corporate ownership has resulted in more ad salespeople than reporters.

Nobody’s doing any scientific studies, but it would seem comic strips have had an effect and are being affected by these changes in the newspaper industry. Fewer new comics are released, which reduces the odds of a new hit, and makes the funny pages more stale. Fewer professional cartoonists are submitting comics because the pay is so low. Comics are a graphic medium, and may be too small to be enjoyed; less room to develop a gag or story and less room for art. People no longer switch to the competing paper because it has their favorite comic strip.

Recently newspapers have become their own competition, offering their news and classifieds online for free. Curiously, fewer people subscribed. The potential of having virtually no production expenses is very alluring, but may have been self-defeating.

Syndicates offered comic strips online for free. They were no longer exclusive to newspapers after nearly 100 years. Comics became less valuable to newspapers, and readers no longer have to bug their newspaper editors to carry their favorite comic. What effect has this had on comics and papers?

It’s also possible that the loss of a handful of wildly popular comics was a blow to newspapers. It boggles the mind that Gary Larson and Bill Watterson retired the same year, followed shortly by Berke Breathed. This opened up about 5,000 slots, allowing strips like Dilbert to become the next Big Thing. That was in 1995, and the opportunity hasn’t presented itself since, in spite of the end of Peanuts and the semi-retirement of FBOFW. Natural selection has been stifled.

I like to think there could be another Peanuts or Far Side. When it happens, I imagine it will be a very different comic strip in many ways.

#28 Ted Dawson
March/17/2010
@ 8:52 pm

It’s true Peanuts was the smallest comic strip for several years. It was designed that way so the panels could be rearranged into a square format. So the height of Peanuts strips was less than that of the other comics.

But then, the average broadsheet was 16″ wide then so Peanuts was still something like 2″ X 6.75″, enormous by today’s standards.

#29 Jeremy Creecy
March/17/2010
@ 11:07 pm

@ Ted Dawson: I remember when Breathed did a whole storyline on this, integrating the entire cast of Bloom County going on strike with his objection of the comics getting smaller, yet again.

I wish that newspapers would take a cue from DC Comics’ wonderful summer series ‘Wednesday Comics’–Full page, full color comics, maybe with some adventure strips incorporated as well. But I’m afraid they’ll never learn from successes such as that.

#30 Ted Rall
March/18/2010
@ 4:45 am

@Dan: “Correct me if I?m wrong, but wasn?t it around this same time that newspapers started 1. shrinking the comic sizes, and 2. reducing the number of comic features????”

You’re wrong.

There has been a steady decline in the number of comic strips, and in their average size, for decades before the first PINE email was sent.

#31 Isaiah McAllister
March/18/2010
@ 8:02 am

My favorite part about this piece was when they asked if “They thought it would be around for their grandkids?”

NO!! Comics should not be treated as a freaking family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. AGH! That is why half the comics in the newspaper are so blah!

Comics should come from a passion and desire and hard work. Not because grandpa decided to give you a really cool present for your 21st birthday!

Okay, I think I’m calm again. :)

#32 Richard Cross
March/18/2010
@ 1:59 pm

ATTENTION CARTOONISTS, SYNDICATES & EDITORS!

This is a problem I’ve been working on for over a year. I have developed a program that could revolutionize and rejuvenate the Comics and Newspaper industries. No, it won’t make a failing newspaper solvent, but it will earn them more than enough to pay for the comics they run and allow them to potentially expand the comics section and even make the comics bigger again.

The program is called “COMICS EXTRA!” and I’m in the process of getting key endorsements from respected industry insiders and I’m hoping to share the details of the program at the Reuben Awards in May.

I’d love the opportunity to discuss the program with Syndicate heads, Cartoonists, Editors and Publishers who are rightly concerned about the future of their business. This program will earn substantial extra money for all three parties and it even benefits the readers which makes the program even more dynamic! Most of all, it connects the print and digital worlds together where they will now compliment each other.

Since I’m not well known in the comics world, anyone in the industry (Syndicates, Cartoonists, Editors, Publishers), who is interested in improving the future of the Funny Pages and comics in general can contact me via email or Facebook. Thanks!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Giggle-Box-Comics/176704397547

#33 Ted Rall
March/18/2010
@ 3:10 pm

The phrase “syndicate head” makes me giggle.

#34 Richard Cross
March/18/2010
@ 3:34 pm

I thought it sounded better than “Syndicate Poobahs”. :O)

#35 Dave Stephens
March/19/2010
@ 5:19 pm

“Syndicate head.”

What the Mafia uses when they can’t find a horse head.

#36 B.J. Dewey
March/19/2010
@ 6:50 pm

I?m a former journalist (newspapers, wire service) who also does an online comic strip, so I?m just as sad over the loss of good reporters and editors (and the good stories the public crucially needs) as I am over the loss of good comics and editorial cartoons. We?re in a huge, painful transition period; we can see what?s being lost, but can?t yet be certain what?s coming. We should concentrate on seeing that the best of the past be part of the future and hope the worst of the past won?t be. No matter what form it takes, the future I?m hoping for is one that assures the social, cultural, artistic, and entertainment value of good comics be understood, appreciated, properly promoted, and properly presented. Bottom line: look and think ahead, not back (and keep an eye on Steve Jobs?).

B.J.

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