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Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

As an alternative to joining an established print comic syndicate, Scott Kurtz announced a new plan to offer the archives of PvP free to newspapers.

People are buzzing with this announcement, and the ramifications it will entail to the future of newspaper comics and syndication. Read some of the reactions over at ToonTalk from such established cartoonists such as Wiley Miller (of Non Sequitur).

Kurtz' plan was hatched from a desire to maintain total artistic and financial control over his creation while seeing it printed in newspapers. Earlier talks with Universal Press Syndicates failed as they could not meet these demands. Kurtz expects that "[t]he exposure and prestige of PvP appearing in daily papers would more than pay for itself in a months [sic] time." This is a concept several cartoonists already established in the print field have a hard time comprehending.

Comments

Culture Clash

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I don't know what to make of Kurtz's announcement to be honest. I suppose there is some disrespect from webtoonists to the newspaper comic "world" probably because of all the "comics business models" it seems to be the most difficult to make a living at and the one most difficult to get past the gatekeepers (syndicates and editors). I think it's a healthy disrespect though because while I don't know what things will look like by the end of this decade I know the way "newspaper comics" is done will have changed.

Newspapers themselves are having major issues with their business model - circulation down (demographically I understand they're already about done - young people are not becoming newspaper readers), ad revenues attacked from the web and dropping circulation hurts as well. Don't get me started on the failure of journalism as a profession in this country. Seriously, don't. I'll write another 8000 goddamn words on the corruption of "authority" that the journalism profession once had.

Comics could bring in readers but it would require a major rethink of how to present comics in the context of a newspaper. One that would integrate in a wholistic way the web presence of a newspaper and probably one that would allow the newspaper chain to share in the profits of cartoonist. I realize that I don't know much about the "current system" but it does not seem to support a large number of cartoonists in a way that allows them to create compelling content. It supports a very few number of cartoonists who create exciting work and a larger number who seem to create tired, toothless crap that makes the quality of the average television sitcom look like a stellar achievement.

I suppose my gut instinct is that the better avenue is 180 degress from Kurtz's approach and that the larger newspaper chains shouldn't take on self-syndicated work but instead buy a syndicate so that newspaper(s) would be more invested in making a success out of them. But it'll be interesting to see how it works for Kurtz.

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

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

kjc's picture

Um, if you don't think they're complaining about stuff other than comics, you're not paying attention to the various labor problems newspapers have had (and are having) with regard to paying their writing staff (at all, much less a decent wage), strikes, scab-work, and arguments/law-suits over the rights to what was written.

Maybe it's because of who gets to decide what's news?

Kelly J. Cooper
Features Editor

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

gwalla, I have a lot of respect for your opinions, so I want to ask you what you saw as the good points the (for lack of a better term) print-side people made. I didn't see them.

A lot of them made points that, while otherwise good, just weren't relevant, that I could see. People were talking across each other A LOT.

I saw, "Kurtz is trying an experiment that is relatively costless to him." "He shouldn't try that, it will fail." "Well, he'll see when he tries." "But he shouldn't try, because it will fail."

The most salient point I got is that if Kurtz succeeds, he's screwing lots of artists. Even that one only got made as a tangent.

And I guess one other point that Wiley made - the announcement is nothing (and by extension, neither is all the arguing). What really matters is the follow-through.

Were there other good points?

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Joey Manley's picture

Keenspot is only giving comics away to put Modern Tales out of business! They even launched two years before us to get a head start on the putting MT out of business project! They're eeeeevil!
;)

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Hi Darrin -

Thanks for the answer.

I just reviewed the thread. You made the point that he'd be hurting everyone else in the second post. The first time I went through the thread, by the time I finished I guess I'd forgotten that. I apologize. I wasn't lying, though.

However, after that, beefies, bobBurnett, lacewing, ArnoldW and Wiley all said it wouldn't work because either: Scott doesn't understand syndicates, or you can't make money on just exposure. Those were the only people, besides you (and besides Malky), arguing against the move on the first two pages of the thread.

I'll try to respond to the point(s) (yours first, since I guess you already called the others strawman points), although I'm not against anybody. I'm not trying to bait, here (and I didn't post on the other thread).

1) He's screwing the people already in print. He might. He's one guy. There are only a small handful of strips that could do what he's proposing (most just aren't up to snuff, many more web strips don't fit into a traditional comic space or depend largely on color for their 'look', and of the few that haven't been knocked out in those first two categories, they're not family-friendly. Come to think of it, PvP isn't always family-friendly, but neither was Liberty Meadows - and Scott's jokes about breasts are funnier - they're not "breasts are inherently funny!" - but I digress). I think he'll likely get most takers from college papers, which works for him (his readership, like much web stuff, skews young), and is a virtually non-existent market for syndicated strips. I'm having a hard time thinking of another strip that could do what he's doing. Greystone Inn, Soap on a Rope *maybe*. PvP is orders of magnitude more popular than them.

Worst case, though. Many large papers pick up PvP for free. The editors go to the syndicates and say, "why should I pay you for what I get for free?" The syndicates have to show them, or figure out how to make as much money as Scott does without charging as much. The ugly truth is, it's a glutted market. More people want to be cartoonists than the market can bear. I had a hard time getting my anger up at the guys who were willing to be scab baseball players in the '94/'95 baseball strike, and I have a hard time getting my anger up at someone who wants to be a cartoonist, even if he has to go outside the union.

Just like baseball, you can argue that the talent isn't there if they start taking the free strips. If that's so, editors will start going back to paying for strips. You gotta believe in the free market.

And then the other points (which I'm trying to talk *to*, not across):
2) Scott doesn't understand syndicates. Probably not. It's an experiment where he can't lose, though - how much does it cost him to do this, given that he's already producing the strip daily?

3) You can't make money on just exposure. Scott already makes a living on exposure. Ad/sponsorship revenues on his site go to him - I *guess* that doesn't happen with strips on syndicate sites. It's how most of us who aren't syndicated make money (although only a very few make a living). He also makes money on books and merchandise, which will increase with exposure.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Hi gwalla -

I responded to you above, btw, and I'd like to hear your take.

Here, I just want to assert that what Scott's doing is not dumping - Scott honestly believes he'll turn a profit on his endeavor. If his intent were to drive everyone else out of the comic business so he could charge whatever he wanted, that would be dumping.

His production costs are a sunk cost - he'd spend no more than he spends now producing the strip. The marginal cost to him (or anybody, syndicates included) of adding an additional newspaper are negligible.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Kelly,

Email me(kurtz@pvponline.com)

-Scott

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Uncle Ghastly's picture

I just got finished reading the thread and had that exact very thought while I read it.

"Comet? What comet?"

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

"The main hitch I can fathom in regard to this endeavor is Kurtz is either going to have sell the comic himself to each and every paper or hire a free agent to do it for him."

He can start with the newspapers that put on demands regarding discounts on the price of the strips a while ago. If it works out for them, he'll have a bigger chance convincing the newspapers that are okay with the syndication model.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Crud. Sorry for a second post.

I see it as just the same as Modern Tales and Keenspot. Modern Tales you pay; Keenspot you don't. Keenspot's not dumping, are they?

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

dunk's picture

Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about.

Scott is obviously in a very rare poistion - he has six years of newspaper-ready strips, a book deal with Image comics, a huge fan-base, and enough revenue from various sources to get by (or, at least it seems that way). Giving his strips to newspaper can't help but increase his exposure, and bring up his revenues in other ways - and the cost to him is nil.

A lot of the talk on the TT board seemed to revolve around the idea that if Scott gave his milk for free, the print industry wouldn't want to pay for anyone else's cow. That seems a little ridiculous when you consider how few people are in Scott's current position. Seriously... How may comics creators (on the web, or otherwise) can afford to do what he proposes to do? Not many. And if newspapers suddenly decided that they wouldn't be paying for content any more, there wouldn't be much content.

Maybe Scott's right, and this could be a new model for strip distribution, but I doubt it. If it is, more power to him, and anyone else who wants to give it a try. I think the sad truth of it is that the vast majority of media have fallen into the hands of a very few (as I expect Xerexes was alluding in his last post), and newspapers have become bland and superficial (which explains the content of many a comics page). It's entropy folks, and it's boring, but until people get tired of it and start doing something about it, that's just the way it's going to be.

In a perfect world I would love to see Scott and others (like Chris Baldwin, with www.littledee.net) be paid something close to a working wage through self-syndication. I'd also like to read newspaper content that's relevant and unbiased. That means bringing back the community newspaper, and supporting the independent media.

I would love to read a newspaper full of relevant and thought-provoking news, and funny comics. If someone out there is doing that then there is already room for PVP, Little Dee, and dozens of other well-produced strips, and they ought to be advertising it here because I'm waiting to subscribe.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Brian's picture

I think what Kurtz is doing here is definately worth a shot, even if it fails. He is, at least, trying, which is more than can be said for the wage slaves bowing and scrapping to the whims of the syndicate. "Make my comics SMALLER, again? Yes, m'lord." Crap like that is why Bill Watterson got of the game when he did.

The main hitch I can fathom in regard to this endeavor is Kurtz is either going to have sell the comic himself to each and every paper or hire a free agent to do it for him. Even if he is offering it for free, he still has to convince papers to stop running Marmaduke to make room for his comic, and every time an old strip is dropped the senior citizens who actually read it bitch about it.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

"Were there other good points?"

If you consider blaming Kurtz for being a "classic ugly capitalist, i.e. success at all costs, and devil take the hindmost" a good point, that thread is full of it.

He has another good point too: Brazil is full of nuts. And rats, and nazis, and people who will kidnap you. SERIOUSLY, DON'T COME HERE OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE IN DANGER!

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Wow... That Toontalks forum is like an hornet's nest when someone's poked a stick in it...

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

*grin* I love the new nickname he's given us, though.

Webbies! It makes me feel like Spider-Man! ;)

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

tynic's picture

on the subject of the ToonTalk thing ... does anyone else think reading that forum is as though a bunch of explorers came across an isolated remnant of dinosaurs in the middle of the modern world, all of whom were sitting around saying "Mammals? What are mammals? Furry things that you step on, right? They'll never amount to anything."

Or maybe it's just that Malky guy.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

A lot of the talk on the TT board seemed to revolve around the idea that if Scott gave his milk for free, the print industry wouldn't want to pay for anyone else's cow. That seems a little ridiculous when you consider how few people are in Scott's current position. Seriously... How may comics creators (on the web, or otherwise) can afford to do what he proposes to do? Not many. And if newspapers suddenly decided that they wouldn't be paying for content any more, there wouldn't be much content.
It's not that it would mean the print industry wouldn't want to pay (they already don't!), it's that they could use it as additional leverage against the syndicates when negotiating prices. What Kurtz is planning to do is undercutting the prices of comic strips by offering his at less than the cost of production. That's called dumping and it's usually considered dirty pool.

Music Theory

This sounds a lot like the arguments I had with my one music teacher about file sharing. This teacher often argued that because of file sharing, none of us would ever be able to get any work in the music industry. The value of the CD would drop like a rock, engineers would be worthless, we should expect to fight tooth and nail to get anywhere in the business. Our argument was often "Wait, wasn't the business like that before filesharing?"

Comics business is hard. Net, graphic novel, or newspaper, you don't have much of a chance of making a real stable living out of it. Maybe enough to live on if you make a real quality product. The "filesharing" argument seems to apply here, that the exposure will be better for you in the long run than the price cut. The established artist is going to complain, whether Wiley or Dr. Dre, because they've made the business work for them and they don't want that to change. But when the ratio of those that have made it to those that haven't is that wide...

Re: Culture Clash

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Newspapers themselves are having major issues with their business model - circulation down (demographically I understand they're already about done - young people are not becoming newspaper readers), ad revenues attacked from the web and dropping circulation hurts as well.

That's what amused me most. The syndicated artists were upset because Scott's reaching for a piece of the pie, meanwhile nobody is even noticing the bakery is on fire.

The syndicated artists seem to be under the impression that things are always going to be the way they've always been and that the future of success as a cartoonist is to just draw cartoons and let somebody else worry about the business management for you.

How many more years before the boomers are too old and feeble or dead to read newspapers?

Besides, from what I hear tell a great many syndicated artists don't make a living from their strip and need to take a part-time job to suppliment their income. From what I understand the successful syndicated comic artists are the ones with the business smarts and drive to do all the extra work it takes to promote and market their comic for success, they might not be the most talented comic artists but they do make the most money.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

I stand by my original affirmation that that thread contained a certain ignorance and direspect towards webcomics.

The fact that some people were arguing over internet readership wasn't real readership and webcartoonists were being paid in imaginary money shows disrespect, and the fact that most of you never heard of Kurtz indoubtly shows ignorance ;).

But hey Darrin, be cool with it, man. Joey's, Ghastly's (and some others) comments could be uncalled for, but they were interesting and enlightening at the very least. If there are people wih flame-attitudes, they are mostly on your side of the fence. Specially that Malky dude, but some others who also made snarky comments like "excuse me but I'm going to vomit now" too.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

"Coming from one guy. And I suppose there was a lot of respect shown there toward syndicated cartoonists? What you don't understand is, as much as you think syndicated cartoonists are ignorant about webcomics, there was just as much ignorance of the print medium going around on 'your side of the fence.'"

I for one am the first to admit my own ignorance on this. You see, I live in Brazil and here we don't have syndicates. What we have is a model quite similar to the one Scott porposes. The only difference is that he is willingly to offer his comic for free. But our artists sell their strips for a fee that under no means would provide them a living solemnly out of it. So while I'm not adressed to have an opinion about syndicates, I can say that htis model can work and works quite well.

What I know from syndicates comes from reading articles on the internet, guidelines for submissions, tips from syndicated artists, complaints and the faqs on the pages of those syndicates. I am completely sure none of these could replace the real experience of dealing with said syndicates.

And about the "fence" wording, it's because it became quite obvious on your forum what's separating the opinion of the artists. But I don't see why there's need for a fence either. Webcomics are not meant to end the print industry, and most certainly webcomic artists aren't enemies of print ones. I think there's plenty of space for both to continue existing for a long time (until someone creates a way to upload strips directly into your brain -that is what the future of comics is for me ;D). What Scott is proposing is just a new model, one that can or cannotd not work. Sure, you said it's nothing new, and bigger people than him failed at it. I can't wait to see if it will work, but until then I think a discussion like this is important. I must say I'm quite amused to learn how print cartoonists think.

For what it's worth, I apologize if I contributed to what led you locking the thread at your forum.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Mr. Kurtz`s got a lot of guts to do this. I think this is a great move, and wish him the best.

Ironically, Tauhid of Spells and Whistles is just about to sign up a contract with United Features.

--RPin, without logging in

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

I'm that Malky guy, incidentally, my name is Malcolm McGookin, and I mention that because at the time of the now legendary Toon Talk thread there was some discussion regarding anonymous posters. I prefer to be up front about these things. The "Malky" handle is one I use on sites where people tend to know me anyway, at least the couple of Internet BB sites I frequent.

But why should I post now, nearly a year or so after the event?
Well mainly because the accusations made against me (i.e. flaming and trolling) were unjustified, and the predictions I made needed time before they could be proven or disproven.

Sure, I did take a little too much pleasure in poking fun at a couple of pinheads, but I was a regular on Toon Talk, not some anonymous troll, and those webbies who were throwing stupid statements around deserved to get their arses bitten.

But to the subject in hand, namely our mutual friend Scott Kurtz:
How has his attempt to stick it to the syndicates fared since last July, or whenever it was since he announced his intention to run his Panzers across the newspaper Sudetenlandt?

Well, not well at all. Most people would have accepted a fifty paper haul in his first year as a respectable beginning. The last I heard, Scott was hovering around the one paper mark.

So am I here to gloat, to flip the bird to the webbies?

Absolutely not. What the pinheads who flocked over to Toon Talk didn't seem able to glean from my comments was that despite the fact I abhorred Scott's attempts to p*ss all over the print cartoonists table (or saw the legs from under, whichever analogy you prefer,) I nevertheless admired the guy's abilities. I still do, in fact.

Kurtz is a damn fine cartoonist in anybody's book.

It's my considered opinion that if, on being rejected by the syndicates (which he was,) he had gone away and written something fresh, he would be syndicated by now. He would probably have created a very successful strip with a big merchandising component.

Yes, I think Scott Kurtz cuts and pastes too much, I can tell it, and I'm dam' sure most people can see that he simply changes mouth shapes or alters an arm per frame, but comic strips are mostly about the writing.

Check out Garfield if you really want to see the best examples of the cartoon embalmers' art.

If I was an editor, I'd give a spot to a PG-rated PvP, and I'd give it shelf space with Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy, two strips I think are brilliant.
However, if it came for free, I'd look at it a little askance. I'd be asking "what's the angle here?" and I probably wouldn't take a chance on it.

It was a flawed model, a badly thought-out business plan borne out of malice and bitterness against syndicates who had rejected him.

And it didn't work.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

"I stand by my original affirmation that that thread contained a certain ignorance and direspect towards webcomics."

Coming from one guy. And I suppose there was a lot of respect shown there toward syndicated cartoonists? What you don't understand is, as much as you think syndicated cartoonists are ignorant about webcomics, there was just as much ignorance of the print medium going around on "your side of the fence."

And what is this "fence," anyway? I've never seen a fence, and neither have many of those who posted in that thread. Some of us started out online, running our own webcomics before we moved to the print world. To me, a cartoonist is a cartoonist regardless of his chosen medium. There was no fence at Toon Talk prior to this thread. You guys carried this fence over there, and I'm telling you there's no reason for it. No reason to have that chip on your collective shoulder.

I've said it in that thread and I'll say it again - I have enormous respect for what Scott has done on the Web, but what he's planning for print has been done before, and by bigger names. Each time it negatively impacts the profession. AND, editors are the customers in the print medium, not readers, so there are different principles at play. I would caution Scott not to make "free" a selling point, and definitely not to trumpet that he's using their newspapers as free ad space. I know many editors. I, and other posters there, have first hand knowledge of how editors react when they think a cartoonist is using them for ad space. Editors hate that sort of thing.

Don't exaggerate what I'm saying by that - I'm not saying Scott will fail and I'm not saying it'll be the end of the world for all cartoonists. All I'm saying is Scott should be aware of all of that before he proceeds, and not blow it off as he - and you - have been doing.

For those who think fear of competition is a factor in any of this, you're sorely mistaken. The oddity of the cartooning world is, professional cartoonists are quick to give advice and inside information, even when it means they're helping a competitor. Whether it means encouraging them when you think they're doing something good, or warning them when you think they're going to harm either their career or the profession. It's one of the only professions I know of where that's the case, and it's one reason I'm proud to be part of it. Most Toon Talk posters were not commenting as they did because they see Scott as an outside threat, they were commenting because they see him as a colleague who seems to be basing his decisions on several incorrect assumptions.

And remember, Malky doesn't speak for anyone but Malky.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Heh, yeah - the general consensus of many on there is "I don't understand what Kurtz is doing, therefore he's stupid for doing it."

-Justin

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

Actually, a lot of them make good points. Don't discount what they say just because it isn't what you want to hear.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

The artists he's screwing were already screwed because of the types of contracts they decided to sign. If the other cartoonists willingly signed away rights to their work and get paid based on the number of papers they're in, I'd say Scott's just getting sloppy seconds at best.

-Thomas
thesnakefarm.com <- daily webcomics

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

i think whats an immensely sad comment is the fact that papers dont want to pay for the strips or pay next to nothing. they pay for all sorts of content but for some reason complain about strips. I dont see them complaining about popular advice columns or such. Now if the cartoonist worked for the paper he would be paid but apparently when its not under their roof they wanna pay pennies. most papers dont even pay that much in the first place.

its a shame how little they think of the artform.

Re: Scott Kurtz Offers PvP For Free

The problem here is the same problem in that thread. You're reading what you want to read even if that's not what anyone said. Most of the posters (myself included) NEVER said "It will fail." We mostly said it would succeed.

It would be nice to hear responses to the points that have been made, but those of you who posted there were arguing against strawmen. Imaginary strawmen (when in reality it was one guy - Malky - who said Scott would fail and all webcomics suck).

"The most salient point I got is that if Kurtz succeeds, he's screwing lots of artists. Even that one only got made as a tangent."

Sorry, but that's a bit of a lie. That "most salient point" was repeated and elaborated on over and over again by several of us, yet all you seem to focus on is what Malky said, because it's easier to dismiss his brand of criticism. Don't mischaracterize what we said - that's just not cool.

-Darrin Bell
http://www.bellcartoons.com