A few additional thoughts on Tom Spurgeon’s King Features story this morning at the Pulse. Despite the spin from King that they are moving to a pay-for-comics model on the web (i.e., subscription) they still seem very much torn between their current business model of newspaper distribution and fumbling towards the future. Unlike say Modern Tales, which really is a subscription site (you can only get the archived editions of MT strips by subscribing), you have to wonder how much King Features’ Daily Ink subscription site might be a bit of a shell game.
Why? Because most (possibly all) of these strips are still available for free at newspaper websites. If you have a minute, please post a comment about what’s available at your hometown newspaper’s website. I checked the Houston Chronicle for example, where much more than half of King Features’ comics appear free (although interestingly the Chronicle now restricts non-print version subscribers to only the latest installment) and the Washington Post where a number of them also appear free (the Post gives you a running archive of a couple of weeks for each comic).This all has to have impacted the amount King is charging for a Daily Ink subscription ($15/year) and certainly I’m curious as to what kind of impact it will have on subscriber numbers.
The other key question for King and other features as they navigate from wholesaler to newspapers to retailer to Internet readers is branding. No one, at this point anyhow, has much of a concept of what a King Features strip is (or any other newspaper syndicate) other than “classic” or “old” or even worse “mind-bendingly boring”. My guess is that to succeed in the new world a lot more attention will have to be paid to branding. My own sense is that King is making a mistake by lumping its entire slate of properties into one site called Daily Ink. If I was tasked with King’s Internet strategy I would have launched something like 3 sites: serials, G-rated humor and PG-13-rated humor and then for each site I would have used the established newspaper strips as anchors but I would have filled out the roster for each with web-only properties. That way King could begin to build actual brands for readers to understand and quite possibly give King a way to bust out of the G-rated box newspapers have put it in.