Instead of a review…

Sometimes I have thoughts to share but this time I have questions.

How is a webcomic going to be successful? How will it provide a living to the artist and their family? Bengo of The Floating Lightbulb had the idea to seize upon the business model provided in the Half Pixel book “How To Make Webcomics.” He’s not only trying to verify it but also to see if certain factors of it can be changed. And maybe improved.


I read the article on Fleen about this where Ben is taken to task about statistics and the responses below it. I find it ridiculous that you could overlook the first few paragraphs of the initial article that kindly asked for readers to double check his analysis. There was no need for Fleen to try to blast the whole concept. However,  based on that response  I do not expect  many responses to this post. So be it. It won’t be the first or last time.

For the record, if you can rely on about 1% of readers to buy merch or purchase ads, that’s a formula no matter how much it’s shouted from the rooftops that it isn’t a formula. The variables involved in determining the details are more complicated, of course, but I think Ben was onto something  important about the business of webcomics. It would be foolish to ignore it.

There was a parallel discussion about it on the Daily Cartoonist -which, sadly, is now closed. Some of the Half Pixel guys weighed in and many other webcomics folks offered real discussion about what numbers were reasonable and so on.

I got quite a bit out of that discussion. Some said the trick is finding a way to get paid for the orginal drawing, like non-web artists do. There was discussion from Todd Dolce about new methods of delivery that might let webcartoonists get paid directly – such as when there is something like a syndicate for providing paid content on iphones and blackberries, like cable and satellite do for tv. I’m hopeful about that but I also hope it’s not the syndicates that get to decide whose comic goes on our personal electronics devices.

Anne Hanbrock pointed out the two main revenue streams for we artists – advertising and merchandise. Print artists have a third which is charging for the work itself. That has to be included in any webcomic artist’s business plan as the most viable way of earning a living since that’s what illustrators do. Todd Dolce mentioned that webcomics are the freebies/samples for print product and merchandise and he’s right – but that’s not a surefire success business plan you can take to the bank. Bill Holbrook has a six tier patron system that has potential as a fourth revenue stream.

Regarding sales, Jason Nocera makes the point about selling ten shirts at ten dollars profit versus selling fifty shirts at two dollars profit. The difference there is how much extra time and effort you have to go through to get that hundred dollars. It may be worth it one way or maybe not at all.

Dave Kellet helpfully pointed out that you need to have a number of merch items in varying price points. He also said that he was a senior toy designer at Mattel, so I think he has a good idea what will sell. He claims to pull in a 7.5% sales rate and I’d bet it’s more because of his experience than anything else. The 1% seems to hold steady for almost everyone else.

Others say that looking at numbers is the wrong way to go. Mike Peterson quoted an actress who said “You have to have to have it.” Or, as my father in law says “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Likewise, Tom Dell’Aringa points out that self-promoters will tend to do better than others. I think it was Dave Kellet who said it would take three to ten years for a comic to find enough audience to be successful. “Webtoonists” have got to stick to it.

Jim Thomas mentions that Dilbert artist Scott Adams ‘gets’ how to make the web work for him. I’ve got to take a look at the Dilbert site and see what I can learn. On the other hand, Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary says to keep an eye on Joey Manley and what he’s doing with ComicSpace.

That is a number of diverse viewpoints and competing thoughts. How does the webcomic creator make sense of both HalfPixel‘s business plan and all these other concerns?

It’s especially worth noting that each comic will bring in a certain kind of audience. Some will be more willing to spend money on merchandise; others may wildly promote your strip and so on. While the more fans you have, the better it is…it seems safest to assume that less than one percent of your total fans will be those desired ‘take action’ fans. While Bengo is trying to deduce a winning formula, I’d like to come at it from another perspective.

What if Bill Watterson was trying to introduce Calvin & Hobbes to the world today? Let’s assume that he does not wish to join a syndicate and the only merchandise he will consider selling is print collections. Given his reluctance to deal with the public, he likely would not participate in forums. How would a truly great strip take advantage of the tools we have now within these limitations? Could Calvin & Hobbes succeed in the business conditions we have today? You almost have to assume it would, right?

Would Mr. Watterson submit the comic to magazines that focus on kids, parents and philosphy? Would he simply put it into his local paper and hire a business manager when the volume of newspaper requests got big enough? How would he advertise the comic and would he have advertising spots on his pages? In what ways would he use the web? Would it be natural to see a 728 ad over the top of or would that offend?

What can the web “without boundaries” provide that newspapers cannot? In what ways could Calvin & Hobbes have been expanded on without the newspapers and syndicate’s size limits? How can the web serve the artist like a syndicate would by connecting the work to readers – only without taking the hefty chunk of the cash?

What if Bill Watterson was trying to introduce Calvin & Hobbes to the world today? Perhaps we can brainstorm together and learn from the experience. What do you think?

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