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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How The Mainstream Media Gets Its Groove Back


"I get email. Some of them ask for cartoons. Like this one:

I wish to add your cartoon to a Powerpoint presentation.

OK. I write back:

Hey, that's great that you would like to use my cartoon. My fee is $20 per image, per presentation. I accept Paypal and credit cards.


Oops. That's not at all what this person had in mind:

Unfortunately I shall not use your cartoon if it means paying for it. I thought I would just try and do things by the copyright book. Thanks anyway."

-- cartoonist Mike Lynch

We seem to be turning into a society of "free" media. Music, movies, comics, news -- we are increasingly expecting to get these things, via Internet, for free. Like webcomics. I can't picture an arrangement in which significant masses of people pay for webcomics -- unless you got the best 2% of all webcomics on one site. Other than that, I don't see people dropping money for them, unless they make donations. It's not about quality. It's just that people expect to get these things for free. We've been trained this way.

Some say that advertising revenue will make the money. I am telling you from experience within the online media industry -- unless you have a HUGELY popular site/blog/content, you will not be able to support a company on this revenue. Hell, even Facebook is having problems doing this.

Then there is the idea that loyal fans of a webcomic or site will send in enough donations to support it. I believe that can happen, but can you support your family on it? Maybe, maybe not. Still not a solution for a media company.

Then there is the selling of hard-copies and various memorabilia. And/or utilizing the intellectual property in your free webcomic to inspire ventures in other media. These are awesome things. If they happen.

But what can the various traditional media outlets out there do as an overall game plan? What can the freelance cartoonist/comic book person do? How do you make money? Real money? Game-plan sort of money? Health insurance sort of money? Raising a child sort of money? Saving for retirement sort of money? Supporting five floors of employees sort of money?

Yes, it looks like the switch is on from paper to digital. But are people willing to pay for this digital media? For the most part -- no. People are not willing to pay for it, unless you give them a damn good reason to.

Damn Good Reasons To:

1) If I was DC or Marvel (or any other media company), I'd pinpoint what the top 5% webcomics are. Offer those web cartoonists competitive exclusive distribution deals that includes a health insurance component. Then make a subscription-based site offset by sales of hard copies and merchandise.

2) Want to compete with Wikipedia with a subscription-based model? Have a damn good online encyclopedia/reference center, with the top names in academics, punditry, etc. Stress the authoritativeness of your reference site. If I was giving advice to a company like Time Warner, News Corp, Microsoft, etc on how to make this model work, this authoritative aspect would have to be stressed -- because it's the only real selling point they would have versus a free model.

3) Authoritative vs. "Amateur" is the general crux of the mainstream media companies's (and professional writers's/cartoonists's/artists's) bid for pay-based content. It is the only way. I'm not defining "amateur." I'm not saying looking at things with this dichotomy is "right." I'm just playing devil's advocate and trending this out. Look at all the media you consume online -- news, TV, comics, blogs, etc. Now, figure out how much would you actually pay for if you had to.

4) The media companies are going to push "Authoritative" vs. "Amateur" within two years. Look for an all-out assault on the authority of blogs that are not connected with one media group or another. Look for the top-of-the-top independent blogs to get bought up by media companies. Look for an all-out assault on the credibility of Wikipedia.

5) Important point: in order for this plan by mainstream media to work, it is crucial that most of the popular webcomics, blogs, sites, news sources, social networks, services, etc be absorbed into the corporation. That may all sound as scary as shit. But it's likely that it's the way things are going to go down. The fire under everybody's asses in this economy will help it along.

6) And of course there is the whole net neutrality thingie-wingie. Look for the corporations to help move this along, to their advantage. Look for cable TV-like "packages" of web content that you pay for monthly.

Within five years, I think everything I've just wrote will come to pass. I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying it will or will not encourage creativity. I'm just saying this is likely the scenario. And if the mainstream media does not start thinking along these lines, or if they think they can survive long-term by providing nothing but free online content (when the market for paper shrinks more every day), they will collapse. And then we will be more a nation of independent contractors, mini-media moguls. Micro-payments, donations, T-shirts. Which may or may not be better.

And please don't think that when I talk about the best blogs being bought up by corporations, I think I should be on that list. I'm realistic. Believe me, if I have thought through this topic to the extent I have on this post, I have seen what my "place" is in this overall landscape. To keep the personal OS blog, sure. But I do not think this blog -- in its current form -- has the broad (excuse pun) appeal to be useful to a big media concern.

Now, the Occasional Superheroine character itself might -- and if I choose to do more with that, something good might come out of it. And I think I can transfer my blogging skills to a blog with more of a broad reach -- either by spearheading it or working behind-the-scenes.

The OS is not journalism. The OS is just a doorway to talk to you all. And that's enough.

But the idea of the mid-level to low-level blog on a certain topic that will GENERATE TONS OF AD REVENUE and so forth -- no.

The idea of a web-based concern that has lots of overhead but is generating no income but one day it will sometime in the future -- no.

Me, I'm looking into taking some solid journalism courses and brushing up on my grammar. Because in order to compete in online media within two years, that's what you're going to need.

***Comments now closed to prevent the inevitable pissing match that I don't have the time for. If you don't agree with me, fine. I'm totally okay with us meeting up in two years -- hell, ONE year -- and compare notes. I look forward to it.

38 comments:

  1. Webcomics are tough. I find myself even losing interest in ones that I want to read.

    I've never been that into them, but I tried to keep up with Warren Ellis' Freakangels and stopped after a couple of months. I tried checking out Zuda but finding the stories that were ongoing was really hard.

    I just lost interest. I'll be there hoping floppies stay around forever. Kind of like Vinyl records have.

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  2. Interesting.

    I write and illustrate a webcomic. Business has nearly doubled each year for the last three years. I expect an eventual plateau, but I'm managing the business pretty well. The audience is growing steadily, and I'm selling a lot of merchandise. My income is sufficient to feed a family of six, pay off a mortgage, and both cars (bought brand new) are now paid for. We've got health insurance, life insurance, and gym memberships.

    Also, you probably haven't heard of me. Think about that for a moment... I'm doing all that, and you haven't heard of me. Who ELSE haven't you heard of? Just how big IS this thing?

    If Marvel or DC stops in to buy me out in five years, they won't be able to afford me. I have no need nor desire to sell, so the price will be quite high indeed.

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  3. They wouldn't be able to absorb the top 5% of webcomics because those people are doing well enough as is and really have nothing to receive. "We'll offer you DISTRIBUTION OF YOUR WORK!" It's on the web and distributing just fine - hence being the top 5%.

    An ongoing salary and healthcare? Eh. Again, these are the people making a living off their webcomics - steadily. Frankly, any offer DC or Marvel could make would be horribly tempered by the fact it would require relinquishing control and ownership of said property.

    There was a reason none of said top 5% came out and supported Zuda - and instead blasted and ridiculed it. The contracts were the same shit, different day. "Oh, you'll get a paycheck AND a small cut of the trade paper backs... well, the first run. After that we can do whatever we damn well please with what you've created."

    Oh, wow. Hold me back.

    Honestly, it'll take a lot more than this offering.

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  4. Good stuff. I don't know if the "Authoritative vs. 'amateur" thing will play out just like that. Well, I think I only disagree with the words you are using. I think it will be more like "credible vs. kook". The pros only get to speak down to the "amateurs" if they can deliver the goods and so far, the "amateurs" have won their share of battles. But, if the big media companies buy up the best "amateurs" and back up their credibility then any up and coming "amateurs" better be on top of their game if they are going to build any credibiltiy. So yeah, buying a grammar book might be a good idea for anyone out there that takes blogging etc. seriously. But hey, like anything else if you want to be relevant for the long term you have to improve your skill set and step up your game. That's not the internet, that's just life.

    My personal philosophy on blogging is that my blogs are like my home. What I do there I don't get paid for. My friends are welcome to come over and check out what I'm doing. Even participate if they want. But there is no money in it. Maybe I have a yard sale and my friends buy some stuff but I can't expect to live off that. If I mow my yard it is because it needs mowing. Now, if you ask me to mow your yard, I might need some cash. I'm about to start some blogging for another comics site but I'll do that for free (and comps) too because it's kind of like my neighborhood. I'll mow my neighbor's yard for free as long as the neighbor brings me some brownies. But as soon as I'm asked to leave my neighborhood or as soon as the brownies stop showing up, I have to ask for cash.

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  5. That's a neat idea- but having tried working with a large corporation when I did syndication, I'd be really skeptical unless the offer was for a tremendous amount of cash.

    I'm in a similar boat to Howard and Randal, been making a living off Diesel Sweeties since 2002. My only regret is not doing everything myself forever.

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  6. I think the word "authoritative" is problematic. The only difference between Wikipedia and encyclopedias written by "experts" is grammar - substantively, there is no real difference in the actual quality of the information found in Wikipedia or a more traditional encyclopedia.

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  7. "They wouldn't be able to absorb the top 5% of webcomics because those people are doing well enough as is and really have nothing to receive."

    I'm talking Frank Miller/Jim Lee/Grant Morrison type deals. Because the top 5% (2%?)I'm referring to are the equivalent in the webcomic world. And I think some would take the offer and some wouldn't. But some definitely would. Some for the webcomics that have made them famous, and some for new webcomics created just for these companies.

    And surely, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison "have all they need" as well, but they keep accepting the checks.

    As for Zuda, I'm excusing myself from that part of the conversation due to my connection with one of their creators. But if anybody wants to step in and take on that debate, that's fine with me.

    Though to be clear, what I am describing is not, as far as I am aware, a current webcomic model for the big publishers. This is just trending things out.

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  8. "Because the top 5% (2%?)I'm referring to are the equivalent in the webcomic world. And I think some would take the offer and some wouldn't. But some definitely would. Some for the webcomics that have made them famous, and some for new webcomics created just for these companies."

    I assumed this is what you're talking about. My stance still stands. DC and Marvel would have to be willing to offer deals that include NOT taking the rights to these properties. The only thing they really have to offer is distribution to comic book shops and booksellers - something Penny Arcade and PvP already have through Dark Horse and Image, respectively.

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  9. "I think the word "authoritative" is problematic."

    I agree. "Authoritative" vs. "Amateur" is rather vague and objective.

    My point is:

    This is EXACTLY the tactic the big media companies will use to go after Wikipedia and its like. They will either try to buy Wikipedia out somehow, or discredit it.

    Look for more mainstream news stories about inept blog reporting, or incorrect info on Wikipedia. Paranoia will be planted in people's minds about getting "the wrong information" from these free, community-based sites.

    Major media is still watching and waiting. And sort of terrified. But when they get their shit together, they're going to go after some of this stuff in a highly strategic, maybe even ruthless way. I'm not saying it's right or wrong. But these are billion-dollar corps fighting for their very lives, their very relevancy. You do the math.

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  10. "I'd be really skeptical unless the offer was for a tremendous amount of cash."

    Again, it would have to be a deal on par with their top talent. It can't be a "oh look cute webcomics this is kind of quirky" deal.

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  11. I think your assumption is exactly backwards. If you are a huge concern, like FaceBook, you can't make money because your expenses are too high. But my partner and I make an excellent living on our webcomic precisely because the bar is much lower.

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  12. "pinpoint what the top 5% webcomics are. Offer those web cartoonists competitive exclusive distribution deals that includes a health insurance component. Then make a subscription-based site offset by sales of hard copies and merchandise."

    Hey Valerie, top 5% webcomic artist here and this doesn't sound feasible at all. First of all, there are tens of thousands of webcomics out here, so the top 5% of us is thousands of artists. I don't think Marvel and Dc are in a financial position to offer competitive money to hire thousands of new artists.

    And "competetive money" here would have to be huge. We're talking the amount of money required for exclusive rights to decades-old, highly successful characters. We're also talking about many comics (like my own) that are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical.

    So, yeah, if Marvel and DC are struggling right now but still somehow have a few bazillion laying around to buy exclusive rights to my likeness as well as the IP of several thousands of other webcomics, bring it on I guess.

    Eric Millikin
    http://www.ericmonster.com/

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  13. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/amateur

    1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

    That's the definition I use. It is not the same as "unprofessional". Or "untrained" or "incompetent".

    Yes, we could get into definitions of "professional" and discuss pros who engage in unprofessional behaviors. But for me, it boils down to: is the individual getting paid to do what they are doing? Amateurs on Wikipedia can be experts on what they write. But on Wikipedia, they are an amateur, not a professional.

    There will always be an "us" vs. "Them" mentality on the web. Linux vs. Windows/OS X. Wikipedia vs. Britannica. Indys vs. Marvel/DC. Burning Man vs. Whitney Biennial. Both sides have legitimacy, and both have certain drawbacks and concerns.

    The most successful web cartoonists will be successful in a variety of media. Web, books, newspapers, animation... Walt Disney (the individual) is the model to follow. He got screwed on Oswald, created Mickey Mouse, and some 75 years later, managed to regain the rights to Oswald.

    And what's to keep someone from creating a gateway to web comics? An Index Graphica, so to speak?

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  14. "Hey Valerie, top 5% webcomic artist here and this doesn't sound feasible at all. First of all, there are tens of thousands of webcomics out here, so the top 5% of us is thousands of artists."

    Okay, how about this:
    the top 50 webcomics, period. The ones with the biggest commercial potential, the ones with the biggest potential money to be made with book deals. And not just DC/Marvel offering deals, but probably larger media companies as well -- Disney, Dreamworks, Time Warner as a whole, etc.

    Within two years I think this is an initiative -- in some form -- that will be tried.

    And if I had to guess, some will choose to go the "big company" route to different extents, and some won't. It depends the person, their goals, etc.

    But the way the Internet is set up now -- in many ways -- is not the way things will be within 8-10 years. And if you are making a living off of the way the Internet is now, you need to keep your ear to the ground and observe the trends.

    We are currently in a renaissance of freedom, creative expression, and independence on the Internet. Currently.

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  15. Dark Horse is very much picking off the publishing rights for many of the very top tier webcomics. Penny Arcade. MegaTokyo. Perry Bible Fellowship. Achewood. I'm sure I'm missing a few. However, and tellingly, Dark Horse has already lost two of its biggest webcomic titles (MegaTokyo to DC, Penny Arcade to -- Del Ray I think?). Also tellingly, these were book publishing only deals with full creator control of ongoing IP rights (which made the "dark horse losing them" scenario possible). In other words: the publishers were working for the cartoonist, not the other way around. The sooner big media figures that out, the better for big media.

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  16. "Okay, how about this:
    the top 50 webcomics, period."

    All right. I'm in that list.

    Here's the problem. Most of us have HAD offers. The fact of the matter is large companies still treat us like we should be begging for their table scraps. Right now, I earn a better living than I ever did in the private sector. For me to consider aligning with DC or Marvel - or, really, ANY comic book publisher - they have to give me what I want and that's a better deal than I have now.

    Is it possible? Yes. And I'm not going to quote you some impossible to reach number - it IS possible to make me move my work into someone's fold, but it requires creative control, maintaining ownership of my IP, etc. Basically, I need a sweeter deal than I have now where I'm my own boss, I completely own my failures but also my successes, and I can do whatever I want with my property.

    It's really about more than just being told I'm a big boy now and I get an HMO on the side. The ones you're talking about - the top 50 are going to be pricey and, frankly, completely wary.

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  17. "The fact of the matter is large companies still treat us like we should be begging for their table scraps."

    That's exactly what the problem has been.

    But now, in order for these media companies to truly compete in the online comics world, they need to figure out what are the top webcomics, and court them like the superstars they are.

    And I don't think that is unheard of or outrageous. These top 50 webcomics have huge built-in audiences, and a great potential for new readers. It's just like courting a top comic book artist or writer. It's like courting a best-selling author to write your comic.

    And I agree, the issue of intellectual property rights is a problem that would have to be addressed.

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  18. I don't see any supporting evidence for your assertion that "most of the popular webcomics, blogs, sites, news sources, social networks, services, etc [will] be absorbed into the corporation." I spent years working with various "webcomics collective" efforts that tried to offer webcartoonists some improvement on independence, and I can't say that any of them have been all that successful at it. The best benefits I've seen from them are cross-marketing and ad network management... not the kind of tasks that you really need a Time-Warner for.

    We were talking about "the problem of free" as far back as 2002, as if it was simply an issue that could be solved by getting some intelligent people together and blogging our conclusions. "Okay, here's how it's going to be." Of course, the general public completely ignored our new paradigm and continued to do what was convenient for them.

    As for a "mainstream media push" to make that paradigm successful, that's 20th-century thinking. The mainstream media has been trying to tell us how online media is going to work since the days of Pathfinder (god, remember that?) and we never listen. Even Viacom realized that they had to start offering The Daily Show free online fast if they were going to have a hope of getting it off YouTube.

    And all of the above doesn't even mention the biggest obstacle to corporate-owned webcomics, which is that corporations do not like to pay for things unless they are absolutely dead-set confident that they will get a return on their investment. SCHLOCK MERCENARY is profitable for Howard Tayler but does it represent millions in potential revenue for Time-Warner? Until they can answer that question confidently, they aren't going to make him ANY kind of offer.

    Part of me wishes that you were partly right, and that at least SOME of the major Web-based talent would have a future sucking at the teat of corporate America. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't mind selling off an idea or two (I've got more), and I play well with editors. But I've been eagerly hunting for that kind of opportunity for seven years now, and I'm telling you, it ain't there. The best offers we seem to get are LBOs with half-assed benefits, from doomed publishing initiatives like Tokyopop and Zuda. So I've had to recant a lot of my beliefs of earlier years, and come to grips with the fact that for better and for worse, cartoonists are pretty much on their own.

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  19. Just to clarify-- I realize you're talking about future deals and stressing that the current ones are inadequate, and on that much, we agree.

    But I've made the mistake of predicting a big wet kiss between corporate America and webcomics before, and I don't see what's different now that makes the prediction more valid now than it was then. Your big argument there seems to be that the bad economy will force this to happen, but I think that bad economic times actually make corporations less adventurous, not more.

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  20. With regard to the bulk of your post, I believe you may be correct.

    However, with respect to news if not information and all semantics aside, I believe the "authoritative" argument, in whatever form it's used will fail. That's because the Corporate Main Stream Media are biased toward making a buck. I think independent bloggers will still carry a certain cachet in the news junkie community.

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  21. For Counterpoints to many things you mentioned here, you might want to check out Corey Doctorow's collection Content.

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  22. The mainstream media cannot compete with free online content, nor can it make a successful long-term business arrangement with free content on their own sites -- unless the mainstream wants to scale back (which might happen).

    Online ad revenue works when things are relatively healthy and companies have the money to spend. Companies are right now slashing ad budgets left and right. True, this gives an advantage to cheaper online ads as opposed to traditional ones in newspapers, TV etc. But I have watched moderately large web media companies flounder using ad revenue alone to support free content.

    Since the mainstream media cannot compete with free content -- and, by extension, the culture of creativity and independence of the Internet -- it will seek to co-opt that content and culture. Not in the half-assed way it has been doing so far, but in a far more aggressive manner.

    That's my thesis. Not that such a move by the corporations is right or wrong. Not that choosing to work for those corporations is advantageous or disadvantageous. But just the very fact that it will be attempted -- along with a media/news push against "amateur" online media outlets -- within 2-5 years.

    As for me, I've watched the hippie/baby boomer pop-culture heroes of my 1980s childhood largely "sell out." They didn't "sell out" because they were bad people, or because they were creatively bankrupt (per se). They licensed things out, made silly movies, hawked computer products, etc because they were just growing older and making a living. It's a cycle. Not everybody falls into it. But it happens.

    What *doesn't* Snoopy sell these days? I'd be surprised if within ten years there isn't some "Peanuts New" comic strip drawn by a new artist. Just to make it slightly less tacky, maybe they will hire someone like Seth to do it. See? It certainly isn't "right." But it damn well is possible.

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  23. Let me ask this question.

    Have you ever heard of b5media?

    Weblogs, Inc.?

    Federated Media?

    Probably not. These are companies that have already attempted to apply old-world publishing/broadcasting models to "new media." How are they doing? Not so well.

    My wife worked for one of these, and their pay model changed significantly towards the end of her tenure, resulting in huge pay cuts. But even before this, their pay rates weren't great according to the old pay model. The problem is that you're contracted based on page views--not a pay-per-word/page or per hour model. You're also contracted to post a certain quantity per week.

    When we did the math, my wife was making less than $5/hour for her work on the blog that was her charge, and that blog was owned by the media outlet, so she didn't even own that content. But the tough part is then trying to move to another paid blog position. You have to show that you worked as a "professional" blogger instead of an "amateur" blogger, and it requires a totally different skill-set than a standard writing gig.

    You're subject to an editor who doesn't function as a traditional editor would. There is no editorial review process because there can't be. There also isn't a layout or production process. In the end, the writer is responsible for posting anywhere from 5 to 7 pieces a week that conform to the "style" of the media outlet, include visually arresting material (where there's no copyright infringement or legal issues for the images used), and conforms to journalistic ethics.

    And that last part is where you're given the most wiggle room. The predominant idea is that blogs are generally considered the equivalent of op-ed pieces, and, as such, aren't beholden to the same rules of informational pieces.

    This is where I see some validity in the "amateur" vs. "professional" debate. If the drive is to create that kind of polarity, then there should be significant differences, not just to the look of the material, but in the creation of content and compensation for that content.

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  24. I try to pay anyone who does a service for me, even if they originally say they'll do it for free. I want to encourage people to find a way to make a living off of what they're good at.

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  25. I think I've mentioned this on my blog before, but last year I attended a conference of leaders in the media. The keynote speaker was like the head of a cable network or something. Most of the people in the audience were high-ranking people in media. The keynote speech was about how mainstream media was missing the boat on the Internet, and how important it was to monetize and conquer it. Not just participate, but really co-opt and control it. The stuff this guy was saying was very similar to what I'm writing here, except for the comic stuff (which I don't even think was on his radar).

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  26. The keynote speaker was like the head of a cable network or something. Most of the people in the audience were high-ranking people in media. The keynote speech was about how mainstream media was missing the boat on the Internet, and how important it was to monetize and conquer it. Not just participate, but really co-opt and control it.

    When you have a technological disruption of an existing market (steam vs. sail, auto vs horse-and-buggy, Inkjet vs laser print, etc) there will be some, a few visionaries, who are embedded in the old tech, but who see the need to embrace the new tech.

    This guy sounds like one of those guys.

    Unfortunately it never happens the way he describes. Never. A few large companies make the transition, but we've never seen an entire industry's players successfully transition to the new model.

    The problem is that they're usually just too profitable doing things the old way, and the new way doesn't do everything they think they need it to. And by the time it does (the new tech evolves to eventually surpass the old) it's too late to make the transition.

    Not a single builder of sailing ships, those masters of the 19th century oceans, survived to make steam ships in the early 20th. Not one.

    So... while I expect there are a few folks out there who get it, and some of them may have clout, too many of those embedded in the existing model will try to use their clout to stuff the genie back in the bottle (doesn't work) or hope the genie evaporates (possible, but unlikely.)

    A keynote address does not an industry shape.

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  27. I should point out that one thing the new tech does that the old tech doesn't in this case is "allow the creator to reach his/her audience directly, and retain more of the profit."

    But free online content is only part of it. Cheap manufacturing for books, t-shirts, and knick-knacks is another part. Turnkey advertising is a third. It is, for lack of a non-exhausted metaphor, a perfect storm.

    And it's very, very disruptive.

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  28. Okay, I've had some trouble puzzling out exactly how the various bits of this entry relate, but I think I've got it now. Let me mention my disagreements:

    First, I see a disconnect between the first section (opening quote and following paragraph) with the second section (the following three paragraphs). Just because people expect something for free does NOT mean that there is no money to be made on GIVING it to them for free. Several successful online creators have weighed in to say just that.

    As for the second section, I've heard it said by those same creators (and many, MANY more) that online advertising is a deadend. And you seem to be dismissing both the donations scheme and the merchandising scheme that have worked VERY well for many online creators and don't mention subscriptions/membership services at all in that context. However, I have to assume you are trivializing them (in the face of proof contrary) in order to beef up the THIRD section (Mass Media and the IntraWebz) or that you honestly just didn't REALIZE, in which case I'll assume you now know otherwise.

    As to the third section itself... meh. Mass Media - be it TV, Cable, Comics or Disney - has been trying to hold onto it's market share against the Internet since it's inception. And, as Howard Taylor points out, this is not a new thing; all old techs fight against the rise of the new tech. Meanwhile, their only real way to "fight" it will be to either force some kind of new restrictions on it or to forcibly co-opt existing or future properties. Both of which are dangerous courses, as any legislation or legal/business processes they bring to bear on existing properties can, in turn, be used against THEM. For instance, any encroachment of copyright they attempt weakens their own copyright, any restriction of media they bring to bear on internet distributions can in turn be used to restrict their own cash flow. And industry execs have a tendancy not to like having their cash flow restricted (especially by legislation/decisions their lobbying dollars paid for), so I doubt that's going to be much of an issue.

    Meanwhile, I think you are overlooking one particular way that Comics (note the capital C) *CAN* make headway in the virtual realm: in exactly the same way that comic (note the lowercase c) creators are. Most successful creators I know (Eric Millikin being the notable and vocal exception) will tell you that they primarily make their money on their Branding. They make the comic out of love and hope and let people read it to build the brand, then sell merchandise and DTEs (dead-tree editions) of the archives to make the cashola. Who knows more about branding, residuals and tangential income than the people who have held the reins of comicbook branding for the last 40-70 years? Why not put the monthly adventures of the Fantastic Amazing Uncanny X-Spider People(tm) up on the internet for all to read, then release special editions and "bonus" story lines in the comic stores and push the heck out of your merchandising line? You save yourself a boatload of distribution and printing costs while actually INCREASING the power of the brand, thus pushing the demand for the sideline items? Is it enough to make up the difference? I don't know. I've never transitioned a megalithic Mainstream Comic Book Company through such a transition. But I suspect it will.

    Will the Big Names in comics/media be able (or willing) to make that kind of transition, to start seeing their "product" in a new light and adapt to a changing economy? I don't know. But if they want to REMAIN big names, I think they will have to.

    (And seriously, read Doctorow's essays in "Content." He's an evangelist with a cause and he primarily discusses print, movies and music, but he makes some really good, really relevant points.)

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  29. mishamish, my point is that donations and the like are all very well and good, but obviously it is not going to keep a company like Time Warner afloat. Neither is strictly living off Internet advertising revenue. They need to charge something for all this online content. But by charging, they are competing against content that is mostly "free." Maybe it's "free" with donations, but it's not a $60 annual subscription.

    They have to figure out a new paradigm, or they are slowly, as the years turn into decades, fade into irrelevancy. Which I realize, to many people, is absolutely fine. Understood.

    A multi billion dollar media concern like TW, News Corp, etc, is not going to go down without a fight. Nor do I think they will completely adopt the model that independent webcomic creators use. They're just not that type of animal.

    I do think they are going to make a play to co-opt the whole thing. Not in half-assed way, but in a very strategic way, using everything from advertising, media bias, government regulation, sweet deals for content providers, technology, everything. They know they have to switch to digital, but they are going to do it mostly by *their terms*, by gum!

    And I could be wrong. And that's fine. If I'm wrong, I suppose I still have a future setting up these little blogs, being an independent contractor, the master of my own fate, etc. That would be awesome to me.

    The way I see it, there are two basic scenarios for the future. In one, things get more and more independent and free -- a utopia brought about largely by the democratizing power of the Internet. In the second, at some point this iron hand made of up corporate and governmental intertwined concerns falls down, and says "enough!"

    I'm all for no iron hand.

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  30. I think Ms. D'Orazio is right about "big media" making a bid for the digital comic space, but I have to say that I think such a bid is doomed to fail.

    There are two issues at play here:

    1) Corporations have much less to offer digital artist. Marvel has a series of printing plants that it lets Bryan Hitch use. It arranges deals with shipping and distribution companies on his behalf. It puts his work in over 5,000 physical locations and markets it to a dedicated group of salesmen (your local comic shop owner). If overnight Hitch were to become a web-comic artist, Marvel would offer him what exactly? IT support he could get himself for---at worst---a few hundred bucks? Marketing? If he wants marketing he should just work with a marketing firm. If Bryan Hitch were digital, Marvel would basically offer him nothing except "the right" for them to take his money.

    The second point is something that consultants have realized for years:

    2) You are a person, *not* a corporation. Therefore: revenue is irrelevant to your self interest. Mr. Hitch (to keep with the example) probably generates a few million dollars of comic sales a year. However, I doubt he, who is a comic superstar, makes even $200,000 a year. Several web-comic artist *do*. Their comics may pull in only $250,000 or $300,000 but they keep almost all of it. Revenue does not pay the rent. Revenue will not feed your family. The Internet is killing the rock star. The future of culture is going to be dominated by many individuals making basically what a retail worker makes and a lucky few who can become upper middle-class. There is no room for toxically inefficient corporations in a market so segmented that its pieces are in $100,000 to a few million dollar chunks.

    It sucks for artist, but everything has always sucked for artist. Right now, artist starve and Big Media sets the cultural talking points. Artist might still starve in the future, but at least Big Media will have less control.

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  31. Geez, this sounds just like Marvel's Civil War, though I've already forgotten who won that battle ... I think it was Iron Man, but only for a little while...

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  32. Something just occurred to me...

    The web model that Val describes, big corporations picking up talented cartoonists to provide content which can lead readers to a specific site... how does that differ from the current comicstrip syndication model that newspapers use?

    Newspapers generally do not run ads alongside comicstrips. However, it's an added feature (a geographic exclusive to that paper) to attract readers. Some savvy newspapers post their comics online as well. (I read "Retail" at the Seattle P-I, even though I live in New York City.)

    Uclick offers a yearly subscription for $12.00, which is a lot cheaper than a newspaper subscription. (They also offer a free subscription, but with less powerful and less convenient browsing.)

    So, in some regards, what Val describes, it's already happening. Perry Bible Fellowship is (was?) in newspapers, online, and in bookstores. PvP and Penny Arcade are in comics, online, and in bookstores. Berke Breathed is running his college strip, Academia Waltz, on gocomics.com .

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  33. And I also think it's potentially wrong-headed to think that Major Media outlets are going to buy up existing properties for beaucoup bucks and give them a regular paycheck.

    It's far easier to do what you've mentioned in your "New Peanuts" model. Take an established, recognizable, but languishing property, tie an artist who is NOT established to it (and therefore cheap), and push it out that way.

    That way, you can establish a cheap, work-for-hire contract with that artist and jettison him/her whenever you want. You hold onto the content and property (and the merch/tie-ins thereof). This is actually far closer to how corporations currently work in general.

    I think they'll continue to look at comics more as merchandising tie-ins. Look at Heroes and movie tie-in sites.

    As far as blogs, that's entirely a different animal.

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  34. We may be witnessing the death of MSM news. New parties may have power in the digital marketplace of the future. The MSM have had a monopoly over news distribution everywhere except the web. New online news sources may be faster to figure out how to make a buck.

    Quality entertainment is often expensive to produce, so they may hold onto that as their content may be better.

    I am reminded of the RIAA (and here I digress into a rant, so feel free to stop reading) One of the many issues I have had over the years with the RIAA is the oligopoly they had and still have to a certain extent. They have an oligopoly for the same reasons Standard Oil and Microsoft had/have monopolies - they controlled the channels of distribution. Prior to Internet distribution, the only way to reach a mass audience is if you were distributed by a major label.

    They were also stupid enough to ignore digital distribution. Their slowness to adopt an electronic distribution model has hurt them (and not the fact that people download songs for free - that's had a negligible effect on their profits) and the ability of the creators to sell product directly to the end-user may hurt them more in the future as being signed means a lot less.

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  35. Trevor and the webcartoonists who've shared their experiences here are right: the money to be made by buying up existing webcomics is small, even with the beefed-up marketing and merchandising established companies can provide.

    This is especially true when you consider how many readers you'd lose by putting their favorite webcomics behind a pay-wall. That would also lead to webcomic piracy, since images are one of the easiest things to copy and share, and plenty of fans would have no qualms about "screwing the Man" who took away what they're used to getting for free.

    On the other hand, companies like Marvel and DC already have something they can leverage to break into the online market: existing, established writers, artists, editors, and - most importantly - IPs, with decades of back catalogs. In short, they have content.

    Right now, their back catalogs are making plenty of money for collectors on the secondary markets, but little or nothing for the companies themselves. Digitizing old issues and putting them online for free would create new revenue through online advertisements, increase merchandising, and quite possibly draw new readers to purchase dead tree editions and anthologies.

    This is especially true given how hard it is nowadays to just pick up a comic book and understand what's going on without having to absorb a decade of Crisis in Infinite Revenue Stream backstory.

    Plenty of webcomic fans aren't regular print comic readers, but might read a page a day (or an issue a week) of last year's Batman if it were offered for free. A non-trivial number of those would be motivated to go down to the store and buy this week's Batman too.

    Furthermore, you really never know what will be surprisingly popular (and hence profitable) once you put it online. A decades-old campy comic can become a 4Chan meme and go mainstream, and suddenly a dormant IP is turning a profit again.

    Finally, once the basic infrastructure is online, there's still a market for pay-services for the hardcore fans - searchable databases of past issues, exclusive content, etc.

    As Ms. D'Orazio says, people are used to being content for free on the internet. Companies can either try and charge money for it, or else try to do what plenty of webcartoonists are already doing - find a way to make money by giving it away free.

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  36. My friend right now is in debt $3.2 thousand over the YuGiOh The Abridged Series bandwidth costs.

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  37. "You are a person, *not* a corporation. Therefore: revenue is irrelevant to your self interest."

    Do you honestly believe that?

    EVERYONE makes stuff in the hopes that it will sell so they can survive in order to produce, as well as survive in general.

    To think anything less is stupid.

    No, really, to think ANYTHING ELSE is stupid.

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  38. Well, it was a minor point in this post, but I feel I have to point out: All the "legit" encyclopedias (Britannica, et al) do have online databases that they charge for membership. Guess who pays for it? Universities and high schools. All the normal people who just want to look shit up occasionally use Wikipedia.

    There will always be a market for "authoritative" material, but the audience for the "amateur" material will always be wider.

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