The webcomics blog about webcomics

Stop The Internet

As you all know, the first rule of the internet is Never read the comments. Ever. Seriously. But to every rule there is an exception, and for me that’s The AV Club, whose commenters are astonishingly sarcastic and amazingly inventive with their hate when they dislike something. There’s pretty much never a thread where everybody is in agreement; to date it has only happened under two circumstances:

  • On the reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a poster purporting to be Jonathan Frakes tells stories about his time on the set, practical jokes, binge drinking, and sexin’ up every woman he lays eyes on; it is universally agreed that Frakes is hilarious.
  • The comment thread of the Kate Beaton interview is, as of this writing, nearly 100% people sharing links to their favorite strips and agreeing how great she is.

Oh, did you not know that Kate Beaton got interview by The AV Club? She totally did.

Day One at NYCC report (micro edition, since I was only there for a little while):

Webcomics are spread all the hell over the place, from the back wall of the 700 aisle (Dumbrella, represented by Ms Gran and Messers Rosenberg, Bell, and Yates, in the “Cultyard”) to the aft side of the construction barriers that separate the main show floor’s 2500 aisle from Artist Alley (Becky ‘n’ Frank, Yuko ‘n’ Ananth, Evan, Kel, and Zub) and the higher numbers (Brad Guigar, who greets everybody with the most sincere smile known to humanity). In the middle you got yer C&Hers with the SMBC Crüe, and Zach Weiner is bravely soldiering on despite being sick — go easy on the guy if you drop by to say hi.

Without a unified location for fans to cross-pollinate, it’s possibly going to be a tougher show than usual for webcomcis creators (especially considering the high prices that the Javits Center commands for space); that’s always the dilemma of doing a show — can the travel, hotel, food, and show fees be offset by sales sufficient to turn a profit? There were plenty-long lines on Preview Night, but it’s still to be determined how that translates into willing-to-buy customers.

That willingness to buy has been on my mind a lot since last night, as I wound up making it to Jorge Cham‘s Rutgers/UMDNJ screening/talk just as the final applause in the room was breaking and a rather small percentage of the audience drifted out. The larger portion surged forward, commerce on the their minds.

Due to some travel difficulties, Cham had arrived immediately prior to the event and hadn’t had time to get organized for post-Q&A sales and signing, so I jumped in to help. I have worked some pretty significant rushes on the register at some damn busy booths during really big-ass¹ comics shows, and I’ve never seen the monetary turnover that I experienced last night. Three sdizeable cartons of books, plus more stock that Cham brought with him in luggage, were gone in about 35 minutes. As the last person in the purchase line shifted to the signing line, there were five books left on the table.

By the time the signing line had worked down, people waiting for friends in that line had bought four of them.

Let me reiterate: there was one book left on the table when we packed up to go eat. As a veteran of years of bookstore experience (high school, college, grad school), I can tell you authoritatively that is the Platonic Ideal of selling, even better than having no books left — because now you’re absolutely certain that nobody who wanted to make a purchase left without the opportunity to do so.

I can also tell you authoritatively that every one of those purchasers will be passing around their copies to friends who couldn’t be there; those that couldn’t afford as many books as they wanted will be hitting up Cham’s store as soon as the next stipend check clears. Come springtime, they’ll be back for the DVD of the movie they just saw.

Cham does a lot of these trips (okay, the movie part is new, but he’s been doing the speaking engagement thing for years now); The Power of Procrastination is the name of the lecture he delivers to these audiences, and I imagine he’s pretty much got it down to a science² by now. But I think he should start working on a new boilerplate presentation.

Every business school in the country, every organization, meeting, and conference of marketers (all of whom should be able to afford a speaking fee at least as generous as that of a graduate student association), should have him come lecture on The Power of Niches. The percentage of the general population that does the even higher education thing is small — about 10% if you include those that hold Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Conventional wisdom would dictate that you want a potential audience that’s closer to the 100% end of the spectrum, but Cham’s purposely limited those that will have an interest in his work to barely double digits.

Within that population, though, Cham’s got the game entirely to himself. Instead of competing with other creators for the coveted 1000 True Fans (the ones that will actually buy stuff), where you pretty much have to be a particular reader’s #1 or #2 favorite, Cham has selected an audience where he’s #1 — nobody else is creating for the audience (which only gets you to “default #1” status), and he speaks to them from an authentic place. They aren’t comics fans — they were surprised that I had come by because webcomics as a general concept isn’t in their experience; they read one comic religiously, and it’s the one that speaks to them.

I heard variations on Every week, there’s something in your strip that’s exactly what I’ve experienced a couple dozen times at that signing table — that’s not something that you can fake. You can’t decide, I’m going to go after the underserved ______ niche and they will automatically flock to me, because that niche will peg you as a fake immediately. That’s the lesson that those B-school students and marketers need to learn, that the niche is important, but the legitimacy of the experience is more so. And hey, having a second niche to yourself can’t hurt, can it?

Many thanks to the organizers of the evening for feeding me, and for a fascinating conversation about cells that have little feet to move around with, how antibiotics get proteins to punch bacteria in their little faces until they leak out their insides and die, linguistic variations in Indonesia and Malaysia, what a monster Jenny McCarthy is, and which genes turn fruit flies gay³. It was great.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some nerds to visit.

¹ And we’re talking metric big asses here, which are 2.54 Imperial big asses.

² Pardon the pun.

³ Really. Hot dude-on-dude Drosophilia action.

RSS feed for comments on this post.