UPDATE AT BOTTOM
An assortment of posts and thoughts on the ever-evolvin' world of comics (with a heavy emphasis on the webby part of it all):
Valerie D'Orazio posts some thoughts about how Marvel and DC might pursue a assimilate and conquer webcomics strategy (I believe she posits it as a 5 year plan). Joey Manley of various webcomic sites and business plans (disclosure – we use his advertising service on this site) posts some thoughts in response here. Many, many webcomic creators also replied in D'Orazio's original post. It's a good discussion. Here's the thing in a nutshell — if you're creating compelling content you used to have to go through a gatekeeper to get wide distribution. That's no longer the case with the web. A big part of a "paper" publisher's business plan (same as with a record company or a movie studio) is leveraging it's access to the platform. But what I think is possible but it would probably me a much more streamlined and efficient entity than any current publisher is a business plan that provides creative and editorial guidance to a series of projects. There is still room in this world for a third party to connect ideas with needed writers and artists to produce great comics — but the key difference is that the third party is no longer a publisher in the strictest sense of the word. They are probably going to be a matchmaker/editor with business savvy that will be flexible in its contractual arrangements with creators.
Somewhat related is IDW Publishing's annoucement that it's going to sell downloads of its comics (in pdf format) for $1.99 each. The post here seems to suggest the consumer choice will be digital for 1.99 versus more for the floppy (paper). Unfortunately for IDW it's not that simple — the people buying paper don't necessarily want to move to the web (and those that do may already be obtaining illegal copies of the books, a practical issue for the publisher to grapple with) and those that read webcomics (largely for free) may not value these comics in the same way. And since ultimately the web audience is much larger than the buying monthly comic books audience I don't see this working well for IDW…
Wow – well Valerie and her buddy Paul Debenedetto have some thin skins. Read if you're in the mood for unnecessary drama. Also for some ideas on what Marvel and DC might do in the post-Internet-eats-every-past-media-business-model world we're headed for, read Joey's new post. I think his idea for their potential future business model is closer to the mark than he gives himself credit for.