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A Quick Look at Dawn Douglass' INKswig: Too Soon To Evaluate

Over at the Daily Cartoonist, Alan Gardener links to a post from entrepeuner Dawn Douglass who has been working on starting an online business for cartoonists (Douglass' business is called INKswig and she indicates she hopes it launches in early May).  Fleen wrote up this most recent post from Ms. Douglass and has written about Douglass in the past.

First off I'd love to see more serious business people doing good start-up work in comics.  We have a small number of veterans like Joey Manley, Josh Roberts, Chris Crosby, and a few others who've worked on sites and services for webcomics.  We've also had comic book and newspaper comic strip business folks get much more serious about online efforts.  True new blood though can't help, but be good in the long run.

Having said that -- no one gets a pass just because they're new.  There is almost 10 years now of serious experimentation with various business models for digital comics and while no one has the answer, I'd expect any serious business person to have done their homework on what's currently already out there right now, let alone what's gone before them.

From what Douglass has revealed of her plan (however, in the comments to the above post she write "[T]here is A LOT more to my business model than I have exposed here. As I have tried to describe, we are doing a small slice of it in an effort to convince venture capitalists to give me the big bucks that I need to roll out the entire vision.") my initial reaction is pretty pessimistic.  My take is that the main hook to her plan is to charge bloggers and other online sites a per comic fee to display a comic from her venture's to be signed-up roster of creators (note in the comment discussion to her post though that she's already running into debate between a "let everyone who applies onto the roster" and "someone has to hand select who gets to be on the roster"). 

On first glance, that's not exactly a revolutionary idea and it shouldn't take years to come up with let alone require a substantial VC investment to get going.  I'm not saying there might not be some kind useful service to all cartoonists there but that idea is nothing, it would be the actual implementation of it that would be valuable.  (Not unlike the so-far success of Joey Manley and Josh Roberts.  Neither has done anything particularly novel in terms of ideas, however both did the work to code the actual sites and then did the work to improve the sites in response to actual use in the marketplace)

There's one more aspect to her plan that is interesting in theory, but I'm extremely dubious of until I see it working in fact; it's the notion that creators will be able to create a limited supply of their comic through her service.  In other words, as she puts it:

There will be a limited number of copies of each cartoon, so they are like “limited edition” prints.  Again, the number is set by the cartoonist.   So say that a cartoonist sets a price of 25 cents and thinks he can sell 2,000 copies.  That’s $500.  He or she would earn 50% of that, or $250 for that one cartoon.

She noted in a comment at FLEEN that she would be relying (at least in part) on technology from Attributor to do this.  If it's DRM it'll ultimately be ineffective, it's a legal approach it'll be expensive (lawyers ain't cheap) and potentially alienating to fans and readers.  I don't think there's any other way to do this, but if she's found a third way, then hey ditch the comics and sell that to the VCs, the entire music and film industry will be knocking at your door.

I am happy to be wrong about this though and when she releases more information or has a working service or site available I'm definitely going to take a closer look.  New blood in webcomics is good but no one should get a pass because they're new.

It seems contrary to the DIY

It seems contrary to the DIY ethic of comics in general, especially the small press ethic origins of most webcomics – that these people seek to make money, not by creating webcomics, but by harnessing the potential of other creators.

I still don't think that this glut of webcomic 'services' is going to help any of the creators in the long run... rather they are going to find that a large chunk of their money (in the case above 50%) is going to be claimed by someone doing little more than hosting their comic.

I cannot see this as a step forward, rather it is an adoption of an outdated print buisness model that failed in that medium and will be unlikely to succeed on the web. Seriously, put yourself in the bloggers position – would you pay to use a cartoon from this site or would you just go and use a free one that you could quite easily get from one of the hundreds of thousands of webcomics out there.

DRM is not an ideal system, you already have the mp3 markets ditching it, like it would work with easily copied image files on the web.

So I guess I'm with you on that, but whilst you wish this venture some luck, I can't – I see this sort of thing as the enemy of an artform that is created in part as a response to this sort of monetisation of creativity over the control of artistic freedom.

/rant