King Features Walls Off Comics On The Web

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.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.


  1. King Features has made several mistakes over the last couple of ducades. They no longer look for suspesful long drawn out stories (sililar to how comics began in papers. People would buy them to find out what happened to Dick Tracy), they keep running strips where creators have been dead for years that either might be drawn and written by someone else or are simply re-run…There’s no variety, no “new”ness in their product.

    I sense this is a desperate move on their part to try and survive because of the lost of subscriptions form papers in exchange for news from both the web and tv and comics from the web. Newspapers themselves aren’t as special, riveting, or up to date as they used to be. Since comics in those newspapers have become just as stagnant, they don’t really offer anything to the viewer the viewer can’t get elsewhere (maybe even a better product elsewhere).

    Do I think this subscription rate’ll last? no. Do I think that King Features will change their lineup to try and add new material to papers? Not in the recent future…Newspapers need to realize that they’re cutting off their noses to spite their faces…even with their comics.


  2. I agree with most of this. I think, sadly, that newspapers really got caught in thinking they were in the newspaper business instead of the news gathering and presentation business. They missed out on tv (the law hurts them there too though) and they didn’t get the web at all in the beginning.

    Newspaper comic syndicates are making the same mistake – they think they’re in the business of of newspaper comics. They’re in the comics business or probably more realistically they’re in a bigger publishing business that they’re a tiny part of. Either way they have totally failed to see they do not have to be bound to a particular technology. But they’re no different then most industries dealing with the web – it’s just that comics businesses are usually in worse shape to start off with then other media industries.

  3. Seeing that Katzenjaamer Kids is still going is kind of sick =\

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