Monday, April 07, 2008

That Sound You Hear is the Comic Industry Petrifying...

Rich Johnston has a new Lying in the Gutters column up today and it reveals how the old way of conducting business is losing ground to the new:

(Note: I have emphasized certain portions of this column to illustrate the point I will make at the bottom of this post)


ITEM! The illegal scanning and distribution of comics has caused a number of tracking sites to be closed down in the last few months.

Individuals involved are painted as slapdash unthinking miscreants, acting without care, vandals of the comics industry.

Naturally, they don’t feel that way themselves. Indeed, I’ve recently come across the scanning guidelines for leading online comic bootleggers, The Digital Comics Preservation Crew, who upload hundreds of comics to Pirate Bay the week of publication, for hundreds of thousands of people to download.

Their given name says much, they see themselves as evangelical archivists who spend thousands of man hours scanning and Photoshopping comics work, with intricate care and detail, exhibiting a real pride in their work. Much like the live music show bootleggers who would spend days on the perfect edit, so these scourges of the sequential art have created an intricate, extensive and frankly long-winded bible for those individuals keen to join them...

I’ve said it before, we’re in the middle of a comics boom as big as the mid-nineties. It’s just instead of people buying millions of copies and storing them in kevlar bags, they’re being stolen instead. And actually read.

I understand that at both Marvel and DC there were internal suggestions that such people be contacted and brought in house, bringing their existing work and experience and adding it to respective archive and trade paperback sections. In both cases such suggestions were instantly snuffed out.


The answer to all of this is of course, to shift all comics to the web... and to make them free. Yes, you read that right. Free downloads of comics that have advertising in them (just like they do now). Right now, the comics industry would cut off their left testicle (or other organ - take your pick) to get a regular readership of 100K for their comics. As Rich points out - they have that - they're just not getting paid for it.

By shifting the focus to the web, they maintain their ad income, increase readership and cut costs. They could actually increase their ad income by charging the rate for a 100K audience instead of the typical midlist audience of 20-35K .

Then, they could print 3-in-1 magazines and distribute those larger, yet cheaper magazines to the comic shop market and newsstands. The new, larger audience would then know exactly where they could go to get the print editions driving sales further without alienating the retail sector.

This of course, could be followed by trade collections.

Some company with forward thinking leadership is going to adopt this methodology. They are going to release comics for free on the web, then print editions, then trade collections. They are going to be near profitable from panel one, and...

Comics readers will be better off for it.

edit to add: and somone's doing it right here and now. And yes, there are probably others to mention like Warren Ellis's Freakangels (see sidebar) but no one is doing it on the scale that it needs to be done... but they will.


Kelly J. Crawford said...

The answer to all of this is of course, to shift all comics to the web... and to make them free.

That's exactly what I'm doing, Bill. 'The Black Tower' will be a free (ad supported) online interactive webcomic series, with product placements written directly into the storylines. The first issue is still being written and drawn but I've already got several banner ad and product placement clients onboard. Although I don't expect to get rich from this project, the bills will get paid -- with a little extra left over for me to buy some new shoes.


Glenn Hauman said...

Tsk. You haven't been going to ComicMix for free comics, have you?

Cunningham said...

Glenn -

No offense but the fact that I, a person of reasonable internet intelligence and capability has NEVER EVEN HEARD OF THE SITE YOU MENTION means that webcomics are dropping the ball in terms of overtaking the traditional comic book publishing model.

Please reread the first sentence of my post. The old way is losing ground to the new, but the new is fucking sitting on their hands and not publicizing themselves at all.

They should be the number one selling (or most-read)comics of the month EVERY month. They should be getting the headlines in TCJ, WIZARD, ETC...

DC and Marvel should have had spikes driven through their hearts by now... but the webcomics guys haven't stood up and done the job.

When a company advertises and / or publicizes (and can prove) they have more readers than the big two then we will have a fight worth seeing. Until then it will be a slow crawl..

Webcomickers - build a real business okay. You are already doing well in terms of ROI. Nows the time to put a bite into the big two's collective ass.

Glenn Hauman said...

Web comics are already more read than printed comics. Girl Genius gets more pages views a day than X-Men sells in a month, and GG isn't even the most widely read one out there. And yet, GG is only know by a small fraction of the Internet audience and/or general audience, because the audience is so fragmented.

Believe me, I'm pretty well versed on this stuff as well-- and every day, I find another long-running high quality webcomic that I never heard of. The problem is one of perception: we think that print comics readers and webcomics readers overlap heavily on a Venn diagram, but in reality, they barely touch.

Cunningham said...

Glenn -

I don't disagree with you. Where we differ and where I think webcomics should step up and take control is in the following two areas:

1) Public relations - webcomics companies should be publishing their readership numbers in places like Newsarama, CBR, The Beat, Comics Journal, well as MAINSTREAM PRESS like Entertainment Weekly. They have not done so.

2) You need one company with a solid business plan and plenty of capital to create a webcomics experience that mimics traditional print comics and gets the numbers that outstrip DC or Marvel. You need a company that uses the same talent pool as print comics and pulls those print readers over to the web.

Thus far, neither of those things has happened, and until they do - webcomics are going to be the red-headed stepchild of comics.

Rusty said...

ComicMix is producing free online comics with the same talent pool as traditional print companies. Mike Grell, John Ostrander, Bo Hampton, Tim Truman, Mark Wheatley and Mike Baron, to name a few.

They are publishing well known series, like "GrimJack" and "Jon Sable," as well as new titles.

There comics-reader interface is simple and clean, easier to navigate than Adobe Reader. It replicates the experience of reading print comics better than any interface I've seen on the web.

No, I don't work for ComicMix. I'm just a fan. But ComicMix seems to be following your business plan pretty closely. They have created a sharp, professional site. I HIGHLY recommend the site. While you are there, check out "GrimJack," "EZ Street," "Demons of Sherwood" and "Jon Sable." These are all sharp, well drawn, well written, cutting edge comics. These are not just the best free comics on the web, these are some of the best comics being published today.

I'm trying not to sound like a hyped-up, fan-boy geek. I guess I do. I'm just very excited about ComicMix.

You are right, ComicMix deserves more attention from the mainstream media and comics press.