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Conference call set up to talk about web comics (UPDATED)

For those who may have dropped out of the conversation regarding the web comics financial model (and what print/syndicated cartoonists can be learn from it), Scott has set up a call-in conference call for Friday at 7:00 p.m. EST. Here’s the details taken from the comment thread:

Title: Cartoonist Meeting
Episode Notes: re: the Daily Cartoonist thread
Start Time (EDT): 03/28/08 07:00 PM EDT
Duration (minutes): 60

How do I join?
A little bit before showtime, you call into talkshoe via your phone. Phone Number: (724) 444-7444
Call ID: 5786

UPDATE: The podcast has been posted. Look for episode 29 “Print vs. Web.” It runs about 2 hours (I dropped out of the initial call after 75 minutes). You can download it or stream it over the web. Thanks to Scott, Dave and the other participants in a spirited debate.

Community Comments

#1 r stevens
March/27/2008
@ 5:08 pm

Is this gonna be recorded?

#2 Dave Kellett
March/27/2008
@ 5:22 pm

Rich, Scott had put it this way in the original post “If everyone involved doesnâ??t care, we can even record it and turn it into a podcast for the people who canâ??t attend or listen. If anyone feels uncomfortable being recorded, or if we all agree that weâ??ll be more open if not recorded letâ??s go that route.”

Personally, I’m all for transparency and sharing it…as I think it benefits the broader cartooning community. In what school do they teach artistic paradigm shifts?

#3 Josh McDonald
March/27/2008
@ 5:30 pm

I opted out of Artistic Paradigm Shifts and took Ceramics instead. What was I thinking…?

Seriously, though — I can’t make the conference call but would be interested in hearing the podcast, if such a thing were made available.

#4 David Reddick
March/27/2008
@ 7:23 pm

Same here – not sure I can make it, but would love the podcast to listen to if possible!

#5 lefitte
March/27/2008
@ 8:35 pm

I’ve given the how many newspaper is enough question a lot of thought.

My limited research says that Pooch Cafe is in 275+ newspapers(from Comics Coast to Coast) and it’s been syndicated by a big syndicate for 5 years (2003), no offense to the fine folks at Copley. Especially if they’re reading my submission. Lio (according to the Washington Post chat) is in 336 newspapers (2006). Recently, Cul De Sac launched with 75 papers (daily cartoonist) so it may be safe to say he’s in 100 or so now. Tundra is in more than 150 newspapers and self-syndicated not sure of the start date, Certainly I’d classify both Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine as new strips even if they don’t meet the 2001 cutoff and I’d bet they’re both 500+.

I think United said Family Tree was 75 plus at launch. I remember reading that Brevity is 120+ and has had three books and a calendar program at Borders. The Flying McCoys launched with more than 100 in 2005(?). F Minus seems to be getting more and more pickups though I’m not sure of a firm number and can’t find it. And what was Argyle Sweater? It seemed to already have a calendar deal and a bunch of big papers though I don’t know the number. I’m not sure what the threshold is for sustainability, but certainly some of these folks could operate only their property if they chose to.

#6 Stephanie McMillan
March/28/2008
@ 6:13 am

I would like to echo the desire for a podcast of the call.

#7 Scott Kurtz
March/28/2008
@ 10:53 am

Remember guys, we’re happy to record it. But if we’re the only guys showing up it won’t be much of a discussion.

I hope we can get a good turnout. And remember if you can’t make it to this particular call, it’s no sweat to make this a regular thing or a repeatable event.

#8 Eddie Pittman
March/28/2008
@ 12:50 pm

I’ll Be there and I’m fine with it being recorded!

#9 Mark Ashworth
March/28/2008
@ 5:26 pm

It is now 4:20pm where I am (which makes it 7:20pm EDT). As I can not afford the long distance for an hour and would like to hear this live, I have attempted to find this on Talkshoe, and have been searching for half an hour.

It is not coming up under any of the information given here, not even on the “Live Now” list.

I’m hoping no one who was able to find it and attend said they didn’t want to be recorded. :(

#10 Alan Gardner
March/28/2008
@ 5:52 pm

It’s being recorded.

#11 Eric Burke
March/28/2008
@ 7:52 pm

I hope the call goes well and is the beginning of a coming-together between print and web cartoonists. I also hope that there will be some kind of recap here in addition to the podcast.

For future potential calls, was this call open to we unsyndicated cartoonists that also don’t have a webcomic(yet)? I wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to show up to a party where I wasn’t on the guest list…

#12 Scott Kurtz
March/28/2008
@ 10:59 pm

It was (and always will be) open to everyone.

#13 Mark Ashworth
March/29/2008
@ 1:05 am

Yaaay! Here’s the podcast! :D

For anyone who needs to find the recording, it’s at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/49535 (Episode 29, “Print Vs Web”).

#14 Dawn Douglass
March/29/2008
@ 1:34 am

I just listened to some of it and I have to say that it’s too little too late. The old “print vs. web” arguments between cartoonists are moot at this point. Everybody is now in the same sinking boat.

All media are under attack, web and print both. Ad money is shifting to applications. “The Cloud” could end everybody’s ability to be paid. And I mean within two and three years.

If you want an “Us. vs. Them” fight, then look to Google and other tech companies as the enemy. Cartoonists can only survive if we’re all on the same team.

#15 Dawn Douglass
March/29/2008
@ 12:29 pm

Okay, I got a nasty response from one of you about my comment above, and I have to admit that you really hurt my feelings. I dare say that nobody has spent more time or more money trying to come up with a new way for ALL cartoonists to make a living than I have.

And I don’t think anybody has put more time into understanding BOTH sides of web vs. print than I have. I’m not against either side.

Perhaps I didn’t say it well, so I will explain in more depth.

The lines between “web” and “print” having been blurring for years, and now all cartoonists, no matter where you try to hang your revenue hat, are going to have an increasingly difficult time. This is for two reasons:

1) Advertising revenue is shifting from media (that is, free — or almost free — news, information and entertainment) to software applications – from games to word processing to presentations, you name it. This is already putting desperate strains on print newspapers and magazines. The relatively few bloggers, cartoonists and other artists who enjoy high revenue from online advertising will soon start feeling the shift in ad spend as well. (You should watch my video called “The Cloud” if you aren’t familiar with cloud computing, which threatens to destroy free media.)

2) There is increasing competition for attention. Even if you are a web cartoonist who is totally independent of advertising or sponsorships, but instead you sell merchandise like t-shirts and books, it will be increasingly difficult to find and keep paying customers via a simple website where you give your cartoons away for free in order to draw an audience. The days of Web surfing and going to many different destination sites are almost gone for good. Digital entertainment needs to be where people already gather in the millions. In other words, comics need to be an inherent part of the social network, not independent from it. Some cartoonists are adapting by getting fans to embed cartoons on their blog or social network pages. This is a smart step, but widgets are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and only cartoonists with degrees in computer science are going to be able to keep up, as the cost to stay up-to-date with the evolving technology will create entrance barriers for most starving artists.

That’s why I say that web and print cartoonists are all in the same boat now, and that boat is sinking.

What cartoonists (and media!) desperately need is a new model. I’ve been searching for that model for the past five years. We’ve tried several models to learn what works and what doesn’t, and I have been doing tons of research, keeping up with tech trends as well as lots of other cultural trends. (Besides an MBA, I have a degree in cultural anthropology.) I’ve also been talking to lots of people, including cartoonists, but also newspaper and syndicate folks, bloggers and geeks.

Turns out that the only solution that is workable at this point — before it’s too late — is going to be very expensive to implement. I’m working to get a half million dollars in seed money. That’s what our new INKswig blog is about. After that, probably less than a year later, we’ll be looking for millions more.

If you want a new way to make money, then something practical you can do, is to help drive readership to http://www.inkswig.com by telling your family, friends and fans. We’re going to be starting a survey there in another week or two. We need 10,000 people to say yes, they would be willing to pay a small amount of money for select cartoons that they can use to:

1) earn money by also selecting ads that will attach to the comics (optional)
2) show off their personality, sense of humor, and/or politics
3) kick start conversations
4) send to friends as greetings
5) illustrate their blog posts
6) write their own gags using your art (of course, you will have to allow it and this is for generic gag-panels only)
7) resale later, potentially at a profit
8) drive audience to their site

The way INKswig will work is that everybody can read whatever contributed cartoons they want to for free, but if they wish to take their own limited edition copy and display it on their website, blog, Facebook, etc., they will need to pay whatever price our system figures out, based on many different supply and demand factors.

Lee Salem has already assured me that he’s open to UPS cartoonists participating. Of course, they will have to see our finished product first, before they can commit, but you can count on it being the finest quality. It’s going to be “next generation” using Adobe Air for the development, with lots of really cool features that nobody else is doing.

So this is for syndicated cartoonists as well as web cartoonists. And I’m purposely keeping it very flexible, so you can use it in whatever way you like. If Wiley wants to create a cartoon about something that just happened in the news, he can draw it up and have it distributed that very day. That’s not something he can do in print. And he can keep his own schedule. Anybody can contribute one a day or one a year. It doesn’t matter.

If you have an ongoing strip, you can put every gag on INKswig, or just make a few exclusive ones available there — perhaps allowing people to personalize them with their own name or names of friends as part of your word balloons.

If you are an editorial cartoonist, you can write about local and state issues and well as national ones. Local editorial cartooning is something we’re going to be pushing big time, because there is no place else to get it, and because everybody knows that politics drives traffic and conversation.

If you aren’t a strong writer, maybe you’ll choose to just draw interesting pictures and let the audience supply the word balloons or captions.

If you so choose, you comics can be translated to be read around the world.

We’re going to be doing a lot of neat things, like paying select cartoonists to cover conventions, like Alan and Keefe Chamberlain went with me to Gnomedex this past August. We’ll also be sponsoring local and regional get-togethers and a yearly awards convention here in Portland, OR.

A major national business magazine flew up from San Francisco to do a story about me and this business plan. The reporter is hoping to get it to print within two or three weeks. Being able to show his top editors that there is a lot of interest in what we’re doing will help make that happen. (Stories always have competition for the limited space.) Getting this story out there will help get me the money we need to make this work. This magazine has 4.9 million readers! And they are business readers, including a lot of people in the media industry, so it’s a big opportunity to give cartooning some much needed exposure. I made a strong case to this reporter that the world needs cartoonists!: Save the cartoonist, save the world!

So I hope you’ll consider going to INKswig and telling people about it. Matthew and I are going to be doing an ongoing comic there at least two or three days a week, sometimes more.

If we can get 10,000 people to say, yes, they would support the model of paying for protected copies (not DRM!) of cartoons to share, keep, display, earn ad money with, etc., then I can get the seed money I need to start hiring top developers and get this going. But I don’t want to put the survey up until we get more traffic. And until more people fully understand what we’re doing and WHY, which is why I made the videos. No, they’re not fabulous, but they do explain what we’re doing.

There’s lots of information about our plans on the blog. Please look at it and ask your questions there. I’m always happy to talk to cartoonists via email (well, with the exception of this uncalled for note today), but right now it would be a lot more helpful if we could keep the discussion online at the blog itself, since so many people are watching there — including Lee who will likely chime in at some point, at least one VC who is close to saying yes, this business magazine, potential developers, and who knows who else.

#16 Ted Rall
March/29/2008
@ 4:08 pm

I just listened to some of it and I have to say that itâ??s too little too late. The old â??print vs. webâ? arguments between cartoonists are moot at this point. Everybody is now in the same sinking boat.

That’s right. Some web guys seem to believe they’re in the lifeboats, watching us print-based (never mind that “print” cartoonists have 90% of their audience online) old timers rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

To resurrect a hoary edittoon metaphor, we’re all in the water.

Last night’s call was interesting and worthwhile, if for no other reason that artists who never talked before got to hear each other.

I don’t think any minds were changed. I think moderator Scott Kurtz had it right when he kept saying that we weren’t speaking the same language. One thing that kept coming up that frustrated me, for example, was the webcartoonists’ belief that print-based artists resent them giving away their work for free online and using the websites to sell books and merchandise. It ain’t true! Every “print” cartoonist gives their work away for free on their websites, or their syndicate websites, or both. Those who have books and T-shirts sell them through those websites. No one in the syndicated world resents webcartoonists for their basic business model, which we share.

The problem, from the syndicated cartoonists POV, is that we think the web-based guys are too optimistic about the economic future–including their own future (not ours). They’re too satisfied with too little.

I kept saying that, but for some reason people kept repeating that.

I’m sure, on the other hand, that I said lots of stuff that annoyed other people. I always do! So whatever.

No one is anti-webcomics, lease of all me! I wrote the first major book about them! Speaking of which, I have an interesting story about “Attitude 3:”

Both my publisher and I expected the book to sell better than either “Attitude 1” or “Attitude 2”, both were about print cartoonists. After all, web cartoonists have tons of loyal, rabid fans. The interviews were great; perhaps the best of all three titles. And there were some big webcomics names in the book. I asked the artists in the book to promote the book on their sites, and almost all of them did a great job.

So what happened? Sales were by far the lowest of the three books.

To be sure, each book in a series is likely to sell fewer than its predecessor. But still–the drop-off was shocking.

Why? I suspect that the audience of X size for online comics isn’t likely to buy as many books (or T-shirts) as an audience of X size for print. Of course, I could be wrong.

I WANT to be wrong. Just like I wanted to be wrong about Bush.

#17 Dawn Douglass
March/29/2008
@ 6:53 pm

I bought your Attitude 3 book, Ted. I enjoyed it.

I think it likely didn’t sell as well as the others because there is a mainstream bias against web cartoonists, the prevailing thought being “If they were really any good, they’d be syndicated.” Of course, we all understand that such an assessment isn’t valid because we know the industry, but I do believe “the average person” who comes across the book at Borders or Barnes and Noble thinks that way.

As for the friction between web and print, I think it has to do not with ignorance so much as jealousy on BOTH sides. I’m not sure how many of you guys would admit it, but I think web cartoonists are jealous of syndicated cartoonists’ relative status, which is sometimes undeserved. And I think print cartoonists are jealous of web cartoonists’ control, esp. over their own deadlines, not mention they can create what they want to and not be muzzled by editors and 1950s newspaper sensibilities.

Print cartoonists see themselves as more professional, when the reality is that successful web cartoonists have more diverse professional skills, being better able to handle technology and marketing. (Of course, I’m speaking here in generalities.)

Web cartoonists see themselves as harder working and more deserving of their own success because they don’t have the help of editors and salesmen, when the reality is that they’re not the ones who have to create seven gags a week, 365 days a year!

Wherever you sit, cartooning is tough and getting tougher. It DOES feel like a zero sum game, so of course whether your web or print it’s easy to get your dander up about the “other guys” who have it so easy compared to everything that I have to go through but still have the gall to gripe and moan.

Right?

You’re artists. Artists will always think “their stuff is CRAP compared to mine.” But the insecurities and stress and unhealthy discord that separates cartoonists will get much better once cartooning itself is economically healthy again. Unless and until that happens, I wouldn’t expect any Kumbaya moments to last.

#18 Dawn Douglass
March/29/2008
@ 7:03 pm

btw, Ted, I totally agree with you that web cartoonists tend to be too satisfied with too little. For the most part, I don’t think they have any idea what they should be making and could be making if we didn’t have this “free” culture that has made geeks rich and artists and writers poor.

Remember, the first newspaper cartoonists were not only very wealthy compared to other citizens, but they were also treated like rock stars. Why? Because it was cartoonists that made the 20th century booming economy possible. Cartoonists drove illiterate eyeballs to newspapers full of advertisements.

The key to reviving cartooning and guaranteeing everybody’s income is to get it back to its roots. Cartooning and advertising naturally go hand in hand.

Cartooning can save newspaper’s butts today, just like it did a hundred years ago. But there is little time to make it work. Soon Google will have all the advertising and then it will be too late.

#19 Brian Powers
March/30/2008
@ 7:35 am

Dawn,
If all you need is half a million to start with – why not appeal to cartoonists that are multi-millionaires. Scott Adams seems to like to help other cartoonists. He has promoted many on his site and taken time to give out advice. Jim Davis ain’t hurtin’ either. If there is so many successful cartoonists out there as Ted suggested in the podcast, why can’t you appeal to them first instead venture capitalists who don’t care about the artform.

#20 Wiley Miller
March/30/2008
@ 9:16 am

“If there is so many successful cartoonists out there as Ted suggested in the podcast, why canâ??t you appeal to them first instead venture capitalists who donâ??t care about the artform.”

Because those cartoonists are married and most of them have kids. Now try to imagine where the conversation with the wife will go when it starts out like this… “Honey, I’m thinking of giving someone a hundred thousand to help other cartoonists get started in their career…”.

Really, what planet do you guys live on?

#21 Dawn Douglass
March/30/2008
@ 10:25 am

Brian, I thought the same thing and actually wrote to Scott Adams a long time ago, since he has invested in other things, like frozen burritos and restaurants. He didn’t answer the email. So I posted a “hey how ’bout writing to me” note on his blog (we had exchanged several emails way back in late 1995), but he ignored that, too.

Of course, giving free advice and putting up investment money are two vastly different things.

If anybody has email addresses to rich cartoonists, sure pass them on. ;)

The one I’d really like to talk to is Bill Watterson. Given his famous speech in Iowa back in the day, I think he’d appreciate what we’re trying to do.

#22 Brian Powers
March/30/2008
@ 7:10 pm

Wiley,
If it’s a viable business plan then Dawn should be able to sell the idea and get investment from highly successful cartoonists or get a syndicate involved with the purpose of making more money from their investment. I’m not talking about guys who make middle incomes. If she can’t get that, maybe it’s not going to work. I thought it was about trying to change the economics of comics on the web – not just give unknown cartoonists a start to a career.

#23 Malc McGookin
March/30/2008
@ 7:24 pm

There seems to be a huge print v web debate somewhere that I have no interest in, but seeing as it’s of humungous importance to some, I’d like to comment re the web:

1) It doesn’t matter a jot what you business model is if you’re creating a product that is of no interest to anyone but yourself.

2) The web is merely the modern equivalent of early public access TV or indie mags. It is not a magic pill that allows second or third rate talents to catapult to stardom (unless it’s via someone satirizing that “talent”.)

3) The public are not stupid. Left to themselves, they will only sustain a quality product.

The above are all facts of life. However, the print cartoon syndicates are a kind of topsy-turvy land within which those facts of life are subverted.
The syndicates will “develop” an incredibly lame product, and will keep an irrelevant and largely unread strip on the funny pages for ever, simply because of their symbiotic tic-cleaning arrangement with their newspaper hosts.
The syndicates are the single biggest threat to newspaper cartooning as an art form and a profession, yet no-one is pointing the finger at the true culprit. We’re all talking about alternative business models.

Newspaper syndicates have driven rates of pay down through the floor for the past thirty or forty years. Comic strips are worth pennies, and you can only make a living after you’ve sold your strip to a couple of hundred papers. This arrangement only benefits syndicates and newspapers, not creators.

Therefore the new TALENT is not looking at newspaper strips as an avenue to make a living. That’s why there’s a dearth of great new features. It’s an ever decreasing spiral, it has not stopped and it will not stop.

#24 Dawn Douglass
March/30/2008
@ 8:52 pm

Wiley, Brian is correct, my company is not just a place to allow new cartoonists to start careers. I’ve already talked to Lee Salem (a few times, in fact) about letting Universal Press cartoonists participate, and he’s open to the idea.

One of the nice things about that is that you can figure out HOW you might want to use INKswig. In your case, since you’re very popular and you have a bent for making political statements, you might decide to upload an exclusive cartoon whenever you feel like making one or have time to do so, even if it’s just once a year.

This allows you to connect instantly with an audience who will give you immediate feedback about something that is very timely. You can’t do that with print.

The cartoon would be a limited-edition digital print that’s protected by “fingerprint” technology so that we can effectively control the number of copies there are over the entire Internet.

So you decide to make 10,000 copies available and the average price is 35 cents. That’s a total of $3,500. As the creator, you get half (25% goes to a fund that I won’t explain now and the last 25% goes to my company).

So you’ve just made $1,750 from drawing one cartoon.

Of course, for people who are syndicated, we’ll collect the money, give it to the syndicate, and the syndicate will distribute it according the different creators’ contracts.

Wiley, what my company is focused on is creating an online market for ALL artists. No, I don’t expect investment by anybody but professional investors, but considering print newspapers might not exist in five years, I would think you and all syndicated cartoonists would be cheering us on.

Just for the record, I’m not going to entertain any “nobody will pay” comments here. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort on my blog explaining how and why people will pay. If you’re interested in learning about our model, you can go there, where I will happily answer questions if you’re still confused.

My last video (2 really, parts A and B) provides a summary of what we’re doing. They’ll be at http://www.inkswig.com by tomorrow morning (Monday).

#25 Dawn Douglass
March/30/2008
@ 9:03 pm

Btw, anybody who doesn’t believe syndicated cartoonists might have zero newspaper income in just a few years, you’re not keeping up with the news.

Here’s the latest:
http://www.buzzmachine.com/2008/03/28/newspapers-are-fed/

This is from Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor who is actually pulling for newspapers, not wanting their demise as many bloggers do. He’s always been objective, not an alarmist. When HE says “Newspapers are f’d” and “The situation is desperate,” you know it’s bad.

There’s a big convention in Washington DC in the middle of April. Newspapers folks are going to desperately try to figure out what to do to save themselves. A lot of people think it’s already too late.

#26 Dan Reynolds
April/4/2008
@ 8:30 pm

Malc McGoogin said the following and summed it up perfectly:

“There seems to be a huge print v web debate somewhere that I have no interest in, but seeing as itâ??s of humungous importance to some, Iâ??d like to comment re the web:

1) It doesnâ??t matter a jot what you business model is if youâ??re creating a product that is of no interest to anyone but yourself.

2) The web is merely the modern equivalent of early public access TV or indie mags. It is not a magic pill that allows second or third rate talents to catapult to stardom (unless itâ??s via someone satirizing that â??talentâ?.)

3) The public are not stupid. Left to themselves, they will only sustain a quality product.”

Maybe I’m on my own planet, but all this talking about “sinking ships”… I don’t get it. If you’re in a sinking boat, stop talking about the rising water and get into something more sea-worthy. The bottom line is that if you have something people want they will buy it in some form. Maybe there’s a shift in the vehicle in which people buy cartoons from time to time, but I think there should be no real reason to worry…unless what you’re selling is not something people really want to buy. The only REAL thing to worry about is if people decide they don’t like cartoons anymore. They isn’t going to happen.

Also, if by print vs. web, you mean newspaper vs, the web, and THAT is why you’re fretting…I REALLY don’t get it. Expand your horizons for crying out loud. You’re defining your cartoon world with such a myopic view, YOU are your own worst enemy. By blaming your sinking on the newspapers or the web, you may be looking at the WRONG culprit. I refer, again to what Malc said in number #3. If anyone wants to email me, I’ll explain myself, but I’m NOT going to do it on this public arena because I don’t really feel like getting into a big public go around with it. I CAN prove to you that if you’re all tied up in knots about newspapers vs. the web, you’re simply 1) either misinformed or 2) your material cannot compete with material of others that is of REAL quality.

So, I challenge anyone who is tied up in knots with this print vs. web debate to email me and I will give you a real life example of why you’re spinning your wheels in what really should be a NON-issue – again, that is if the product you have IS sale worthy. That’s the bottom line. Let’s face it, it may not be about this debate, it may simply be about one’s ability to compete.

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