Lots to talk about today
- Once upon a time, it was pretty common for well-known webcomics to have a premium content tier — exclusive comics, higher resolutions, downloadables and suchlike were available for a subscription fee. Over the past several years, such schemes have fallen by the wayside with (just going off the top of my head here) Keenspot & Goats folded up their premium-content tents, User Friendly membership essentially giving an ad-free experience (and who doesn’t have an ad-blocker?), and only Sluggy Freelance‘s program promising additional content (which seems to mostly be a private blog and offers for members-exclusive merchandise). Apologies to various creators if I didn’t get all the details of your program right, but I ain’t registering accounts for the sake of a half-paragraph.
Only Achewood has had a robust program that I’ve noticed of late, featuring strip previews, blog & ‘zine content, and famously, a live-updating account of Beef & Molly’s wedding. The toolset that Onstad uses (AssetBar by name) is pretty interesting — while it would take a membership to comment on strips or rate them for quality, anybody can read the comments, search by ratings or popularity, and in essence benefit from the community-generated content. You just can’t contribute unless you pony up your three bucks a month.
I bring all this up because yesterday, a pair of heavy-hitters (namely, Starslip and PvP) added that selfsame AssetBar tech to their sites. In Starslip’s case, it’s background information, early looks at strips, alternate story plots; for PvP, it means a return of comments (we’ll see if those who have a reflexive dislike of Scott Kurtz and always used to verbally crap on him in previous iterations of comment trees are willing to pay for the privilege), wallpapers, exclusive podcasts and suchlike. Neither seems to be using AssetBar exactly as Achewood does, or entirely like the other. We’ll have to see where this trend goes; in the future, AssetBar may be another of those vendors supplying a much-needed service to webcomics at large. (Thanks to Tony Piro, who noticed the launches before I did and emailed me.)
- The print comics apocalypse continues with Tom Tomorrow pointing you all to Max Cannon’s summary of the situation. Editorial cartoonists (and those strip cartoonists of the alt-weekly bent) are probably those most vulnerable to print’s continued contraction. While there have been some successful transitions from print to web (looking at you, Phil & Kaja), they produce a very different sort of material.
The bit from Cannon’s writeup that most grabbed me is in the middle of the big paragraph and features the all-caps text WE DON’T MAKE A LIVING FROM OUR WEB SITES. I’d love to quote it for you here, but it’s not selectable text — it’s a GIF image of text, which makes it real difficult for somebody potentially sympathetic to his position (me) to drop a relevent blockquote here. With absolutely no malice whatsoever, this may be part of the problem with Cannon not making a living from his website — an appeal so important is not easily referenceable, and isn’t even entirely visible because it’s in a window that only shows 20% of the text at a time. To make a living from your website, you need a website that serves the needs of people who will give you money.
Web design, effective communication with audiences, community building … these are all skills that must be practiced and learned. From where I sit, it looks like niche print strips creators (that is, the Walkers and Brownes and Guisewites of the world are safe) now have a choice — learn those very skills and radically rengineer their web strategies, try desperately to reverse their loss of papers (which appears to be Cannon’s approach), or give up on cartooning as a primary source of income. I honestly can’t see any other outcomes for them.
- Speaking of disappearing comics, for those of you wondering how much it takes to get rid of a webcomic from Wikipedia, the answer is two votes out of three. To quote the eminently quotable Kris Straub, That’s pretty goddamn weak.
I bring this up not to reignite the Great Wikipedia/Webcomics Wars (which is always great fun), but merely as a point of data that supports an assertion that we in the webcomics community should just absent ourselves from a site that clearly doesn’t care about us. Hey Wikipedia? Truce. How about you just put up one article that says, “If you want to know about webcomics, just go to the Comixpedia wiki and look it up there because we can’t be arsed.” Awesome, thanks.
- Thanks to Howard Tayler, by the way, for the wikistory, and if you’re in Utah tomorrow and feeling depressed about that fact, he’s going to be lecturing on certain aspects of this wacky world we call webcomics, in a session called Talent? Who Needs Talent? That’s noon local time, Utah Valley University, at the library.
- Finally, it’s been there to see for weeks, but I wanted to make it a little more timely: the latest phase of Owen Dunne no-comics comes to an end this SUNDAY. Clippy!