The webcomics blog about webcomics

I Need To Expand My “Never Read The Comments” Rule To “Never Read Twitter”

Short form — Cartoonist Studio (for all intents and purposes a syndicated cartoonists collective in the mutual non-aggression pact model¹) has a contest for up-and-comers. The details are thin on the ground at their website, but Alan Gardner filled in some of the gaps. What caught the eye of a lot of people was this bit:

The grand prize this year is being sponsored by Universal Uclick who will run the winner’s work on GoComics.com and the winner will be paid any money advertising money generated on their GoComics.com page. The Cartoonist Studio is also offering an electronic book publishing contract.

Which prompted more than one person to note that nobody needs to win a contest to achieve ad money from a webpage (just run some ads on your own page) or to publish and electronic book (if you need help, David Malki ! practically wrote a how-to on formats and readers via his Machine of Death blogging). All this this left me wondering if the value of disintermediation and individual publishing that we discussed on this page two days ago was really much less universally understood that I had thought.

Others had similar, but more directly expressed thoughts. Two of them are named Brad and Scott, and much like the Cylons, they have a plan:

[W]e are both clearing time in our 2012 schedule to act as paid consultants to the highest bidder. We have over 30 years of combined experience in monetizing comic strips online. But most importantly, we have built a well-deserved trust with not only the audience but also the talent pool you’re targeting.

We have what you want.

Wait, I’m sorry, let me rephrase that.

We have what you NEED. And we are willing to sell it to you, for the right price.

You think I’m joking and you might feel insulted right now. But in about ten minutes you’re going to be reviewing a memo about layoffs or some newspaper circulation chart that’s pointing down (still) and it’s going to sink in. You got nothing to lose and everything to gain. And we are deadly serious about this offer.

In response, Alan Gardner called Scott Kurtz an a-hole before allowing that Kurtz and Guigar² probably have something worthwhile to say, but that it’s not worth talking about.

Which leaves me wondering if there’s a way that Kurtz & Guigar could have pitched their consulting idea in a way that would have satisfied Gardner; at least part of what’s involved in getting people considering the need for outside consultation is having this discussion put the issue front and center. Once it cools down (in the time it would take to put together a formal proposal, go through the channels to find the right people to pitch to), the momentum and interest are lost. Which only really leaves the legitimate question, Do Guigar³ and Kurtz have the expertise to say anything worthwhile to syndicates or anybody else that might engage them? Ryan Sohmer played devil’s advocate with Guigar on that question, without a specific conclusion.

The thing is, I think they are a legitimate source of consultation. Last I checked, in order to consult you needed to have enough experience in a field that you’d likely accumulated some specific knowledge that others were willing to pay you for. You don’t have to be the biggest, the most successful, or the most famous. You do have to show up every day, do the work consistently, and walk the fine line between serving your client’s interests and giving away all your secrets (add in the fact that Guigar has worked his entire career in the editorial offices of newspapers, giving a unique insight into that side of the business).

I draw this from my own experience in tech consultation, but more directly from the owners of my favorite restaurant & cocktail bar, who spend a lot of time sharing their experience in beverage programs — which when they are successful, makes their own world-class bar less special by comparison (and much like Kurtz, Guigar, et. al., they also drop knowledge for free via podcast).

So the thing to do now is wait, see how the consultations go (presuming that clients bite at the offer), and treat the whole thing as a not-entirely-double-blind experiment. Does a syndicate taking advice from K&G Associates (or possibly Dunning-Kruger Solutions) last longer or succeed more than one that doesn’t? At this point, a day after Gardner ran a report predicting the end of newspapers in five years (i.e.: the major customer of the comics syndicates), Kurtz’s take on the situation:

What do you have to lose? You’re all out of work in five years anyway. Pull the pin and count to three. We can’t put you in a position that’s worse than you’re in now.

… might actually, sadly, be the most true thing in this entire discussion.

_______________
¹ Although it’s probably a stretch to describe anybody in a group that includes Jeff Keane as “lowlife”, “emo-candyraver”, or “drug-addled”.

² I wonder if Brad ever gets his feelings hurt that people don’t call him an a-hole.

³ I figured it was time for Brad to get top billing.

It’s a case of bad cop/good cop with them as consultancy group. Having met both at cons I’m pretty sure that’s how it will play out. Scott doesn’t have that inner voice hold back that would prevent him from completely trashing his employers and their methods. While Brad is genuinely a nice guy who’s role would be to mollify the mortified client’s with “I’m sure what Scott means to say…”, so it could work out for them.

Rod Salm
http://www.deathatyourdoor.com

Syndicated cartoonists could have success stories too. Look at Dave Kellet. His strips are very newspaper-like, but its appeal work for the web too.

I do think they could only benefit from a consultation like this.

I don’t know if the syndicates would benefit. Kellet for example is supporting himself and one part time seasonal employee. That is good for the independent artist but it’s chump change for a large company. And Kellet is often brought up as webcartoonist at the top of his game. To support a business model like the syndicates you need a larger growth potential where middlemen can increase over all sales. Kellet is doing well but adding more people to his business would probably not increase his sales substantially. Honestly there is not a lot webcomics can offer the syndicate business.

Scott’s post really can’t be taken seriously because even if a syndicate did hire him after he spat in their faces (this tends to happen only rarely, people are funny about not hiring a-holes) there is nothing he could tell them to create a profit model large and stable enough to support a business. Despite all the noise made about how webcomics are a success we really don’t have a model that can support more than one independent artist working 15+ hours to keep his dream afloat (Penny Arcade being the exception as it always is to any webcomic discussion)

A quick note, Gary: via Daring Fireball, there exists a service to view Twitter conversations at once. You do need to use your Twitter account to authorize it to read tweets in your name, but behold: http://twitter.theinfo.org/147461420869623809, http://twitter.theinfo.org/147469600215412736.

[...] Another “up and comic” webcomic contest. You win what you could do yourself! The Cartoonist Studio offers a contest with an arguably a bad deal.  And then Kurtz does his standard charging off of the high ground into the swamp. Source: Fleen [...]

I’m a consultant with a large government consulting firm. I would love to see what my annual performance review would look like in the aftermath of a publicly viewable capabilities/services offering like Kurtz put out, although unless the review happened to be in the subsequent thirty seconds I doubt I’d make it that far.

The fact that he’s absolutely correct is neither here nor there; thus far Scott Kurtz is as inept at being a consultant as the syndicates are at having business models that have adapted to suit the times.

You know, I just realized- Kurtz is suffering from Dunning-Kruger effect in regards to being a consultant.

@Ben

You’re right. I do have Dunning-Kruger in regards to being a consultant. But that doesn’t mean that what I’ve learned over the years about online cartooning isn’t enough to help the syndicates make some headway in their digital initiatives.

Even hiring us, Dunning-Kruger consultants, is better than striking out blind like they are now.

Scott- thanks for the response. Like I said, you’re dead right that the two of you have the expertise that they desperately need. The only reason I even commented is that it’s actually a great, genius idea that makes a ton of sense, but the way it was presented makes it less likely to happen. If I was one of the people your post addressed, I’d swallow my pride and hire you two anyway; that’s just not usually how things go.

I’m a big fan, by the way. You’re one of the people working today who really exemplifies a cartoonist and the qualities that entails.

@Ben

I’m getting a lot of criticism about that, but what’s not known is that I’ve already approached some syndicates about consulting the “proper way” and got told that they really, by policy don’t hire consultants.

Honestly, I feel like, even if most of the syndicates didn’t have similar policies I’d be turned down anyway. Remember, I already have a “reputation” with most of the people in this world, and not a great one.

Lee Salem once was in attendance of a Webcomics Weekly San Diego panel where we said the syndicates were fucked. Out loud. Brazenly.

I agree that the way it was presented was out there and a little crazy, but at this point, It’s the best way to target the “crazy” person at any of these syndicates that’s willing to buck the system and say “fuck he’s right.”

So it’s not like we didn’t try other ways first.

Maybe they said, “we don’t hire consultants” when they really meant “we don’t work with assholes”

Wow. Lots of hate. Must have struck a nerve.

[...] Books: In contravention of conventional wisdom, there’s a comment thread on the internet that’s useful and reasonably polite. Well, until the end when it goes off the rails a little, but I’d like to commend to your [...]

@Scott
“… but what’s not known is that I’ve already approached some syndicates about consulting the “proper way” and got told that they really, by policy don’t hire consultants.”

Really you did it the “proper way”? You submitted a formal proposal with an overview of the current model of the business, then identified 3 key challenges facing that business backed up with statistical data, then presented a an action plan to address the challenges you identified with short, medium and long term objectives and identified the concrete metrics you will use to gauge success or failure on those goals, then finishing off with the resumes of you and your team and how they are uniquely equipped to address the specific needs of the specific business you were pitching to? You did that? Because as a someone who has worked for 15 years as a contractor that is the “proper way” to approach a business with an undertaking of this size. And if you did do that you mind posting your 15+ page proposal online somewhere that people could look at it? I think it would be very informative.

Or did you, as I assume, walk up to some syndicate rep in a convention bar and say “hey I could really help your business” and then folow up with a half a page email that had a link to your site and mention you were 1/4 the author on a book on webcomics. Because this way comes of as someone who is just all talk and really doesn’t understand how businesses work.

If you are really serious about this hire a proposal writer and start thinking long term. Eventually companies will start hiring consultants but they will not hire the guy that insulted. People hold grudges. insulting people will not get them to change their mind just dig in their heels. This is after all what you personally do when you are insulted so why would other people be any different? This very basic lack of empathy and understanding on your part is what is causing people to call you an A-hole not because you hit a nerve.

Here is the test. This post is insulting to you personally but it does have some good information. Ask yourself are you going to listen to it and if you are would you hire me personally to write a proposal for you?

(PS: Don’t hire me to write a proposal I suck at it. That is why I hire professorial proposal writers for my jobs.)

[...] discussion in comment threads (plural) regarding the offer of Kurtz¹ consult with syndicates, syndicated [...]

[...] You and Scott Kurtz caught some heat back in December when you made an open offer to consult with comics syndicates on The Future, then amended the offer to offer your ideas to the highest bidder. [...]

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