The webcomics blog about webcomics

Bigger Shares Of Cake Vs Making Bigger Cakes

Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin is back with a fresh translation of an oldish webcomic, and what it means for Comics Today on both sides of the Atlantic.


Maliki has (finally) translated into English their announcement for going independent¹ (previous coverage), and after rereading it, it deserves additional commentary.

It is interesting to contrast it with Scott McCloud’s own assessment of the state of the US comic book industry in Reinventing Comics. When it comes to business, the dominant thinking in the US is that there is room to grow, and there is space for everyone, you just have to look and work for it. Whereas in France, the dominant vision is rather that of of the body of available work as a fixed cake, that must be shared by everyone; it’s almost Malthusian (I tend to think the dominant French vision is wrong, but that the US vision can be taken too far).

What’s interesting is that, for their respective comics industries, the common wisdom has been the reverse. At the time of Reinventing Comics at least, the US comics industry had lived so much on extracting more and more value out of the most faithful in their existing customer base, without really working on expanding the readership to new audiences to compensate for attrition, that it was in danger of losing its cultural relevance. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a shift away from that, with a focus on diversity both for characters and readers.

By contrast, comics of the French-Belgian tradition have for some time worked on expanding their audience, whether it is through covering more themes (such as journalism comics), through additional formats, in a demographic sense, etc. And that is very commendable, don’t get me wrong, not to mention there are dimensions such as variety of demographics where we are still far from Japan, where there are manga for grandparents, manga for young women, manga for office workers, etc. But …

But it appears that after outcompeting each other in that regard, publishers have gotten carried away and now only know how to compete through expansion; and at some point, there are diminishing returns.

And what happens then?

Well, while they drown booksellers in new releases, they simultaneously squeeze creators (who are not exactly in a position of power): reducing their royalties, increasing their output demands, shifting responsibilities to them, etc.

There are many elements in Maliki’s comic that I agree with, but where I’m most aligned is that it’s pointless to find a culprit who started it: you could be looking for a long time. And so the problem is rather with the process the industry is engaged in, and sometimes the best way to fix such a system … is to leave it.

We again thank Maliki for their expose, and for the courage it must have taken them to go this route.


Editor’s note: I entirely agree with FSFCPL’s interpretation that the difference between French and US attitudes at the moment is a function of saturation. In the US, comics are still niche, and there’s plenty of cultural mindspace for them to grow before they’re societally ubiquitous like in France.

The thing is, different artforms can find themselves at different places on the spectrum of Zero-Sum Game to Expansionary Space; the average TV showrunner in the age of peak TV is pretty likely to regard their audience as whoever they can peel off from another show instead of entire swathes of society who’ve been entirely ignored by the makers of TV for decades, and are now watching their first show ever.

And, as always, we at the Fleen Home Office thank FSFCPL for his insights and analysis.

Spam of the day:

I like MojoHeadz.

Is that some kind of manly macho version of Bratz, but for dudes? Because if it’s not, it sure sounds like it is and you might be leaving money on the table.

¹ Gary here. Reading through Maliki’s (now dated) announcement, I can’t help but think how much it echoes Howard Tayler’s comments on who gets what in publishing from the Webcomics 103 session back in Aught-Six. To quote:

Imagine you’ve got a book on sale at Borders [Editor’s note: Yeah, yeah.] for $10 — pretty sweet, right? Hang on a minute, because you aren’t going to get $10 a copy. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • The store sells it for $10, keeps $4, and pays $6 to the distributor
  • The distributor keeps $3, and pays $3 to the publisher
  • The publisher keeps $1, pays $1 to the printer, and $1 to the author
  • You’re the author
  • There’s a lot of hands in the pie, and you want as many of them as possible to be yours. If you can contract with printers directly, you can get the $1 that the publisher would keep. If you can bypass distributors like Diamond and shop the books around yourself, you can keep $3 more (although this is likely to severely cut into the number of retail locations you can place the book in, which will depress sales). If you have the garage space, a postal meter, and help from friends and family, you could do mail-order fulfillment yourself and keep the store’s cut ($4) along with the distributor’s.

    Or, as the point has been made by Messers Guigar, Kellett, Kurtz, and Straub ever since How To Make Webcomics came out a dozen years back: you can be in a high volume business, or you can be in a high margin business; the trick is to make the larger share of a smaller pot of money exceed what you’d get from a smaller share of a larger pot of money.

    Also, do you suppose there’s any significance that FSFCPL and Maliki talk about a share of cake, but Americans generally talk about a share of pie?

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