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Cagle: How to organize cartoons to create greater value

Daryl Cagle has written an interesting post about the perceived value of editorial cartoons on the web.

With the poor performance of their artist-name cartoons page, there was no way I could convince the Yahoo News people that editorial cartoons had value ? even with the popularity of our topical cartoon content on Cagle.com. Unfortunately, this is a common story. Many news sites, and scores of newspaper sites, have inexpensive, automated, syndicated artist name/dated archives that perform poorly, that cost little or nothing, and that reinforce the notion that editorial cartoons have little value on the Web. More examples of terrible editorial cartoon sections on popular newspapers sites are The New York Times and The Washington Post. Readers get a poorly designed, automated, artist-name, dated archive presentation almost everywhere they can find editorial cartoons on the Web.

It doesn?t have to be this way. With just a little bit of editing, editorial cartoons make for great, sticky content on the Web. On our Cagle.com site we do that by arranging the cartoons into topical collections. Some topics are very popular; cartoons about celebrity scandals draw many tens or hundreds of thousands of readers, while cartoon sections about foreign affairs may only draw dozens of readers. The difference in popularity between topics is dramatic.

He continues to explain how MSNBC is using editorial cartoons more effectively to keep people on the site longer. A good thought provoking post about how to create greater value for editorial cartoons.

Community Comments

#1 Peter Dunlap-Shohl
April/21/2011
@ 10:36 am

So the best way to add value to our work is to trivialize it? This is a great example of how the mass market skews to the lowest common denominator.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl

#2 Alan Gardner
April/21/2011
@ 10:48 am

Peter – The take-away (at least for me) wasn’t about trivializing the art form, but if you’re going to create a gallery of your cartoons you can do what everyone does and do it chronologically or group it by topic. Daryl’s experience is that grouping things by topic has proved to be a bigger draw and more potential to go viral.

I’m not sure how that trivializes it. You want to trivialize the cartoonists value on a newspaper? – Have him/her draw a weekly caption contest cartoon.

#3 Stephen Beals
April/21/2011
@ 11:54 am

Thanks Alan. I couldn’t stand those caption contests and I wasn’t sure why, but I think you nailed it.

Inviting readers to submit captions is cute and it gets people involved, but it’s nothing I want to actually read.

#4 Peter Dunlap-Shohl
April/21/2011
@ 12:33 pm

Hi Alan,

That’s a subtle, valid point that is spectacularly overwhelmed by the observation by Cagle that “Some topics are very popular; cartoons about celebrity scandals draw many tens or hundreds of thousands of readers, while cartoon sections about foreign affairs may only draw dozens of readers.”

In a world that equates popular with “greater value” it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the way to make your cartoons valuable is to concentrate on cartoons about the latest Celebrity scandal/meltdown/sob story.

Best,

Pete

#5 Alan Gardner
April/21/2011
@ 12:54 pm

Peter – thanks for the clarification. I see what you’re getting at now.

If you focus on the “what to draw” – you have a valid point and agree with you completely. The value I saw for editorial cartoonists is once you have a collection of cartoons and you’re putting them online – how do you display them to bring in more traffic and facilitates more click-thrus (or whatever your online goals are). I think Cagle’s advice is worth consideration.

#6 Sara Thaves
April/21/2011
@ 1:12 pm

“Value” is a value-laden word: Value for the cartoonist? Value for the site? Value for the user? Value for the distributor? Recent experience suggests that cartoonists are undervalued all too often.

At the Cartoonist Group, our experience suggests that different users want to see cartoons in different ways. Some users want to see cartoons by a specific cartoonist, other users want to see cartoons about a specific subject while others want to see a specific cartoonist’s cartoons about a specific subject. So, every single page on our site – including the 8,000+ subject-specific pages – contains links to our cartoonists. We believe that support for the cartoonists within a framework that accounts for web user’s interests adds value to the work of cartoonists.

Here is a timely example: Easter cartoons – http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/bysubject/subject.php?sid=480

#7 Peter Dunlap-Shohl
April/21/2011
@ 2:08 pm

Hey Alan,

I grant your point. It just got a bit obscured (for me) by the awful truth in Cagle’s numbers. Plus I woke up quarrelsome today :)

Best,

Pete

#8 Tony Piro
April/21/2011
@ 2:40 pm

“With the poor performance of their artist-name cartoons page, there was no way I could convince the Yahoo News people that editorial cartoons had value ? even with the popularity of our topical cartoon content on Cagle.com”

Is the topical cartoon content on Cagle.com really that popular?

I know traffic metrics on the web are an inexact science, but just checking Cagle.com’s numbers on Alexa, it’s not getting that much more traffic than a medium to large sized webcomic, and is completely dwarfed by many of the biggest webcomics. This isn’t bad by itself, but then divide this by the 60+ cartoonists who regular contribute to the site. In comparison to a webcomic that updates just 3 times per week, Cagle.com is a LOT of man hours per page view. It just doesn’t seem that successful to me, but maybe there’s something I’m missing.

#9 Dave Stephens
April/21/2011
@ 6:29 pm

It’s all relative – Alexa’s numbers game doesn’t remotely translate one-to-one for actual INCOME, i.e., bigger popularity does not automatically translate to bigger dollars…

#10 Carl Moore
April/21/2011
@ 8:56 pm

Regarding the trivial vs. the serious: In today’s news cycle, which cartoon would attract more readers by far – a cartoon about Libya or a cartoon about Trump? But, then, someone will probably argue that as a possible presidential candidate with high poll numbers Trump is not a trivial cartoon subject… oh, but he is… isn’t he? Hmmm… Lord help us if he’s not.

#11 Mike Peterson
April/22/2011
@ 4:17 am

You can, of course, see the SHOCKING facts about click-throughs over at HuffPost, where SHOCKING and often NSFW and even NUDE stories top the list of what people are reading, or at least what they are clicking on, since most of what you find is none of the above in truth.

That said, if editorial cartoons are served up as illustrations for other articles (relax, gang, that’s how Nast’s work appeared in Harper’s), then it allows the cartoons about Libya or about press freedom or about the deficit to run with articles on those topics. At that point, the infinite Internet become a serious cartoonist’s pal, because there will always be someone writing about serious topics, even if they aren’t getting the same clicks as the SHOCKING NSFW NUDE coverage that may be on the same site.

The trick — and there’s always a trick — is to get these sites to package cartoons with their articles. Then, if the cartoons are properly credited, people who like the cartoon that ran with that story about nuclear power can go take a look at what else the cartoonist has to say.

#12 T. Brian Kelly
April/25/2011
@ 11:10 am

What a total crock. If you, as a original content creator, listen to this advice, you get what you deserve: the right to continue laboring deep into the night for years producing material that Cagle and his misbegotten ilk can sell for virtually nothing on the Web to HIS clients. Even If you don’t think you are a real artist, it’s important to try to act like one and develop some integrity and faith in your own work and worth and commitment. Selling out to this philosophy is like spending 20 years perfecting a product only to offer it to Dollar Store Liquidation City so they can put it in their cardboard sale bin on the end of Aisle 7 with a price tag of 59 cents.

#13 Dale Stout
April/25/2011
@ 6:03 pm

Alan,
This thread may be dead, but I take exception with your #2 comment, “You want to trivialize the cartoonists value on a newspaper? ? Have him/her draw a weekly caption contest cartoon.”
I think caption contests are great. Just look at some of the wonderfully talented cartoonists that I have seen with caption contests (in alphabetical orders, as to not bruise any egos):
Pat Bagley, Steve Benson, Steve Breen, John Daiker, David Fitzsimmons, Ed Gamble, Clay Jones, Mike Keefe, R J Matson, The New Yorker cartoonists, Jack Ohman, Jeff Parker, Mike Peters, Wes Rand, Drew Sheneman, Kevin Siers, Bob Staake, Stroot, Dana Summers, Tom Toles, Gary Varvel & Peter Wallace.
All of these cartoonist are great in my book and I thank them for all their caption contests.
PS-I miss Ted Rall

#14 Dale Stout
April/25/2011
@ 7:16 pm

Sorry if I missed anyone. Jeff Stahler and Mike Thompson should be included, too. Thanks

#15 Mike Lester
April/26/2011
@ 6:50 am

Coming soon: Steven King’s latest let’s readers supply their own ending, Toy Story 4 let’s amateur animators supply final scene, Lakers let drunk take final shot for win, hook a marlin and hand the rod to deck hand, grill a steak and let the dog eat it. Really?

You’d be hard pressed to name a self respecting creative occupation that let’s their audience finish their job. Weekly caption contests are demeaning to an already devalued, underappreciated profession sorely in need of some respect. Why turn them in to fluffers? I know a lot of the cartoonists you list and don’t pretend to speak for them yet I’d bet they’d prefer to finish the job they started.

#16 Mike Lester
April/26/2011
@ 6:56 am

caveat: If a cartoonist is required to provide Cap.Contest material, they are only doing their job and I empathize.

#17 Clay Jones
April/26/2011
@ 11:34 am

Actually, Mike…the stuff I put in a caption contest isn’t exactly the same way I’d draw an actual cartoon. It’s not like I labor over a cartoon then my editors stop me from finishing it. I try to create the caption cartoon where even I don’t know what the caption should be.
For me, doing the caption contest is as different from my actual cartoons, as playing guitar in a band. It’s just something different.
I’ve insisted that it NOT run on the editorial page.

My paper has actually tried to kill our caption contest because of reader complaints to drug and sex references (basically one old lady calls because she’s upset over a line about cocaine and editors freak out over one upset reader). My online editor and I fought to keep it. I choose to do this contest.

I’m pretty bewildered that there’s such opposition for a tool that encourages reader involvement and increases the cartoonist’s exposure. I also think if you criticize it, while you’ve never done it, then you don’t know what you’re talking about which makes me really glad you’re not speaking for all of us.

#18 Mike Lester
April/26/2011
@ 12:57 pm

My apologies if I offended you or anyone else. I’m passionate about what we do. For that I don’t apologize.

#19 Clay Jones
April/26/2011
@ 3:00 pm

I don’t think you should apologize. I think you’re coming from a position where you think it is an attempt to degrade us. I just think you’re wrong. I think we can view it as an attempt to use the staff cartoonist to increase readership and their involvement. Yes, papers do want us to Do More With Less. If nothing else, it gives the paper another feature that will be missed if they eliminate the position.

I’m passionate about my cartoons. I fight and stand my ground with them. I do not view the caption cartoon as MY cartoon. I think of it as giving one to the readers and only one of them can take it. It’s somewhere between illustration and cartooning, but it’s not actually either.

The only thing that bugs me about the caption contest is that I hear more about it than my real cartoons. But it’s really cool that I also hear how it got participants to start reading my actual cartoons.

I wasn’t offended by your comment. I’m a political cartoonist. It’s very difficult to actually offend me.

#20 Alex Hallatt
April/26/2011
@ 9:17 pm

Fascinating and something we can all learn from – the importance of content on the web isn’t location-based (unlike the newspaper), it’s topic-based.

Unfortunately, this is why cats jumping in and out of boxes get so much traffic.

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