The webcomics blog about webcomics

I Want My Ten Dollars!

Ten dollars.

That’s a number that’s been running around my head. If you’re a webcomics creator, it’s a number you should be thinking about, hard. It’s not very much — a sandwich, a refreshing beverage, a slice of tasty pie — that’s probably more than ten dollars right there. As I am constantly reminded by the year-end pledge requests from my local NPR station, it’s less than 2.8 cents a day when spread out over a year.

If you want your webcomic to be your job, it’s the amount of money you want to make off of each of your readers in the coming year. Doesn’t sound like very much, does it? But this time last year I was wondering if 10,000 regular readers were enough to support a webcomic creator, and it occurs to me that if that theoretical creator can get ten dollars off of each of those 10,000 readers, then the answer falls pretty strongly in the Hell, yes category.

Now you aren’t going to make ten dollars off of each and every reader; you probably won’t get more than a hard core of readers — say 10 to 20% — to give you anything. But those most loyal fans are going to make up for the slackers.

By way of example: 2007, I bought three originals from a particular creator who charges an entirely reasonable $40 a pop. That means that I covered 11 non-contributing readers, minus a bit for shipping. Call it me plus nine others once you subtract the cost of Bristol and ink.

Chances are the same is going to happen next year, which means that Our Hero doesn’t have to entice all that many more people to have purchasing habits equivalent to mine, and he’s a goodly way to his goal. Add in a percentage of the readership that buys a book or poster and he’s closer still. Tack on a bit of advertising, and even the deadbeats are contributing.

The point is, the average reader of webcomics will blow through ten bucks without thinking of it. It will take some effort to figure out what will separate that particular reader from ten bucks, and how many increments are needed, but everybody reading your comic is willing to purchase something.

  • T-shirt buyers tend to be repeat purchasers — sell ’em three with a $3.50 margin, and they’re covered.
  • Posters are a nice high-margin item — you should be able to clear $5 profit per without trying.
  • Originals! Physical artifacts created as part of the production of your strip are as close to free money as you can possibly get. Even if you don’t produce finished inked-and-lettered originals (and most of you don’t), the pencil or blue-line sketch that got scanned, along with a decently-printed version of the final artwork, is worth placing up for sale.

    If you don’t work from scanned artwork, you can still do a pencilled rough of what you’re going to draw on the tablet; it’ll take you five minutes, and somebody in your readership will value it at ten dollars, guaranteed. Everybody not named Ryan North should be able to exploit this.

Does all this take a lot of creativity and time? Oh my yes, but you’ve got creativity coming out the ears or you wouldn’t be a webcomicker, and if you’re thinking about doing this for a living, you have to be willing to work it at least as much a regular job. Is stuffing an envelope and standing in line at the post office fun? I promise you it’s more fun than my commute.

Ten dollars per reader in 2008 is your goal … go get it.

Interesting idea… I’ll have to work it into my business plan. Sinister Bedfellows is incorporating for the new year.

That is a really interesting way of looking at things. I hope it does motivate some creators to start thinking out of the box like that.

Heh, now all I need is 10,000 readers. :)

Nice article, Gary. It’s my mission for 2008. See you in the future ;)

Not quite everybody other than Ryan North can sell originals. If your name is say, Brian Clevinger, or Justin Pierce, or R. Stevens, or li’l old me, or a number of other people with purely computer-based comics you don’t really have that luxury.

I have a sketch from R Stevens in one of my convention books somewhere. If you can draw on a tablet, you can certainly put pencil to paper and PRINT YOUR OWN EFFING MONEY.

One of my most cherished items is a signed, original Josh Lesnick PSD comic file. It is mounted on the wall for all to see.

Thanks for this. As someone who is planning to jump into the field this year, this was a great reminder.

Notwithstanding the enthusiasm, I personally believe $10 per reader to be the sort of thing that can only be pulled off if a large percentage of your readers name your strip as their favorite. For strips with good readership but only middle-of-the-road reader loyalty, $10 per reader is a stretch.

I’ve always aimed for “10% of my readers will spend $20/year,” which comes out to around $2.00 per reader. This aligns nicely with the photo above.

Honestly the $10 number seems completely arbitrary. Yes, it’s $100,000 divided by 10,000. But those are both also arbitrary numbers too.

I think it’s a mistake to focus in hard on a quota per reader. I think if you have that kind of energy your readers will feel it, and not in a good way.

This may sound simplistic, but we focus on providing the best possible goods and services and marketing them as well as we can. That starts with the strip (which is free) and goes all the way through merch, ad sales, and speaking engagements. And other upcoming things I can’t talk about yet.

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“I have a sketch from R Stevens in one of my convention books somewhere. If you can draw on a tablet, you can certainly put pencil to paper and PRINT YOUR OWN EFFING MONEY.”

But the point is, it’s not “free money” unless it’s something you’re doing anyway in the creation of your comic. I have no doubt that Stevens, as an example, COULD sell sketches, but he’d have to make sketches in addition to his comic.

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As a reader, I see a flaw in this plan.

I read a lot of webcomics. So much so that I have to organize them by update schedule. (My folder for Monday alone has close to 30 links!)

So my question is this: Who should I spend my 10 bucks on? If I gave $10 just to all the webcomics in my Monday list, I’d be out $300! And I still have 6 other days!

So how do I determine who I should spend my hard-earned money on? Which comic is my favorite? Which author/artist needs it more? Who has the coolest merch?

I say: if you want $10 from me, you gotta have something to offer me that I think is worth it. Otherwise, you don’t deserve it. I’m not going to buy $10 worth of crap just so you can feel good about quiting your day job.

And FYI, I have bought stuff from webcomic stores before.

Calling it the original art for the comic sounds dishonest though.

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Pencilled roughs? Awesome! I should definitely try some of that.

Someone linked to this and here I am. Data probably not widely available when you wrote this indicates a realistic response for desirable merch is 5-10%. If 10% of 10,000 readers drop $10 NET (before any taxes) each, that’s 1,000 readers, or an income of $10,000/year. And that’s the optimistic projection. My own analyses is that life begins at 50,000; 80,000 if you live in a high rent area or like a daily $4 latte. On the bright side, you need around ten times that to survive with a syndicated strip.

It’s possible to think that ten thousand is enough, because there are a few name artists with low circulations or second rate merch who pretend to live off their comics, but don’t.

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