Skip to main content

Dilbert Instructions

The difference between ComixTalk and Dilbert creator Scott Adam's blog? On the one hand - almost a year, but on the more important hand, a whole lot more readers and influence in the newspaper comics world.

Almost a year ago I wrote a short plug for the funny comic Basic Instructions by Scott Meyer. Very recently, Scott Adams blogged that he had discovered the comic several months ago and written to Meyers with praise and encouragement. Adams is now blogging about how he is trying to mentor Meyer to get Basic Instructions into something that could be syndicated. It's an interesting premise although there's no guarantee that Adams could ever come up with another hit (let alone something that managed to tap the zeitgeist in a way Dilbert did initially). Still can't hurt right?

You can see some of the reworked for newspaper-land comics here and here. So far it doesn't work for me - I like Meyer much more in the larger alt-weekly style format. Here's some interesting stuff though from Adams in a second post on the risk/rewards of the different formats:

Opinions were divided on whether the original square-and-wordy format was better than the slimmed down comic strip panel form. The comic strip form is far more commercial, assuming you are selling to newspapers. But as many of you pointed out, the market for newspapers is shrinking. Many of you advise that Scott Meyer should take his work directly to books and calendars and Internet publishing.

Has that ever worked?

Yes, on a small scale. I believe Scott could leverage the visibility he is getting here to earn perhaps $100K per year with a small book deal, small calendar deal, self-publication in smaller alternative newspapers, and a small but growing Internet presence. I put his odds of making that strategy work at about 90%.

Now let’s look at newspaper syndication. Assuming the comic got picked up by 500 newspapers in five years, and licensing started to take off (books, calendars, greeting cards), that would put him in the $500K to $1 million per year range, with lots of room for upside growth. But what are the odds of that happening, even with my support?

Reading the whole post you grok that Adams thinks the path for Meyer is the newspaper format and to narrow the topic of Basic Instructions to relationship humor - given all of that Adams actually thinks Meyer might have a 50% chance of getting synicated into 500 newspapers. Adams seems to think it's an either/or choice but given R. Stevens recent deal to do both web and newspaper-style Diesel Sweeties there's no reason Meyer can't pursue both as well so long as - like R Stevens - he protects his interest in a comic he's already developed.

Re: Dilbert Instructions

Yeah, I found those articles veeery interesting. Basic Instructions does strike me as one of the few comics in webcomics land with a premise that could very easily be translated to the newspaper crowd and appeal to the masses. And while I certainly prefer the originals to the slimmed-down versions Adams recommended, I can't argue that fitting into the standard form will raise his chances immeasurably.

It does make me curious about how big a financial difference there is between "success in webcomics" and "success in print" - though we have more and more webcomickers managing to make a living off their work with every day, I do wonder how the biggest success stories (like Penny Arcade, PvP) compare to the makers of successful recent newspaper strips.

Re: Dilbert Instructions

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

It's interesting to me that you think that 'cause I would not pick Basic Instructions as one of the more likely candidates for the newspaper page. I would pick something that's good (BI is good) but also something that appeals to a large but easily self-identified demographic, preferrably something not already saturated on the newspaper page. I don't think BI has that.

Diesel Sweeties kind of did/does b/c it's younger, gadget and geek friendly. I'm trying to think of what else fits my own test above. Maybe Shortpacked? If Willis could tone it down to PG content. He's tapping into this extended adolescence kind of thing. (Problem being though most 20-somethings don't actually read the paper!)

In any event Adams does say that he thinks Dilbert might have been the last monster strip in terms of numbers and $$. In that case although no one on the web is really getting rich, it may be that no one will ever get rich thru newspaper syndication again either. More data here would be really helpful to understand the trends.


Xaviar Xerexes

Oh yeah... this place is called ComixTalk now.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Dilbert Instructions

Hmm, it may just be a different perspective on what works - BI, especially if focused on relationships, would be something general enough to appeal to a large crowd, whereas I think many webcomics are too connected to a single concept, or too story-driven, to really fit in on the page. (And usually the groups that the webcomics appeal to aren't the ones reading the paper.)

Perhaps what I see as the most important aspectof BI is that it is something easy to connect to in small chunks, and every strip can potentially grab a new reader. For a lot of webcomics, that kind of quick sell is much harder to pull off.