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Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

"Column? (She said, smiling.)" read the email from the editor, sending me into a deep well of despair over the state of this month's column. These columns are notoriously late, often handed in mere hours before the issue is supposed to go live, much to the chagrin of the editors, I am sure. The reason for this is as much the result of procrastination as hope. Hope that there will be one large news event worth writing about, something meaningful that will tie together the smaller events from the month into something bigger.

In July, a lack of significant events was not the problem.

Between the launch of Webcomics Nation and Keenspot's panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, there was no shortage of interesting news items. The problem was that the various items had little in common. Still, when the two major webcomics companies have so much going on at once, coverage becomes necessary. So let's go through them one by one, starting with Keenspot's Comic-Con announcements.

Keenspot increasing promotional budget to $25,000 annually.
Keenspot will spend an average of $500 a month on web-based promotion outside of their own network, and the rest on print advertising, conventions etc. This is interesting for several reasons. First, what did their promotional budget increase from? How much did they use to spend on promotion? And, secondly, do they have a strategy for who they will target with the promotion? There is a substantial Comixpedia forum thread which speculates as to the feasability of placing webcomics-related, full-page ads in the New York Times. Similar to the ads placed by the Spread Firefox campaign, funds would be raised for this endeavour through donations. There is genuine concern that the webcomics readership has become static and that webcomics are only competing with each other for that limited base's attention. Whether this is true, or to what extent it is, is difficult to assess since knowledge of the readership is virtually non-existent from any larger perspective. Still, Keenspot's initiative to try to bring in new readers may be beneficial to all webcomics if it is aimed at a new, unfamiliar potential audience.

Keenspot to hire full-time advertising salesperson.
Isn't it a bit odd that a company which has been around for as long as Keen, and relies on advertising as its main revenue source, did not have someone who works full-time with it? Still, that will be remedied with this move.

Keenspot lowering advertising rates for webcartoonists to $0.50 CPM
This announcement is the cause of some confusion on my part. What, exactly, is the reasoning behind it? Is it purely altruistic? It would certainly appear that the advertising cartoonists are the ones that would benefit the most from this. $0.50 CPM is dirt cheap for advertising. Keenspot might, however, benefit from filling out slots with advertisers that might actually interest their readers.

Keenspot rolls out Google AdSense, pays to transcribe every archived comic
This announcement, however, makes perfect sense. Google Ads reportedly generate a fair amount of revenue for substantially-trafficked sites. The question remains as to how big the effort to transcribe all the archives will be.

D.J. Coffman joining Keensyndicates this fall
Keen's syndication effort has been very quiet since Christmas. The move to hire on Coffman to helm it is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Keenspot actively developing projects for TV and film
Interesting as it may be that Keen continues in this vein, the prospect might not come to fruition. Tinseltown is an unpredictable city and it remains to be seen whether a Keenspot-related show or film will ever be released.

Keenspot PREMIUM to offer subscribers downloadable PSP comics and Keentoons
Another one jumps on the PSP bandwagon. Joey Manley has been hard at work on this already, offering PSP downloads at Webcomics Nation. The decision to make these available only to PREMIUM subscribers is also interesting, but it seems somewhat unlikely that people would subscribe only to get access to the PSP comics. Why not try to find a way to offer comics formatted for the PSP, or other handhelds, with advertisements in them as well? Or if they wish to actually charge for content? Then perhaps they should go down the color iPod route, and look for a deal with Clickwheel!. While Keenspot is not in control of the cartoonists content, they might be able to make that deal, which would no doubt be very difficult for WCN since they have no influcence over the content.

Keenspace to become Comic Genesis
No big surprise here, although it will take some time to get used to.

But, as mentioned, Keenspot were not the only ones with news in July. Webcomics Nation is the project which occupied Joey Manley for approximately the last two years and is meant to fundamentally change the mechanics of the Modern Tales endeavour. The news of Webcomics Nation opening its doors for business spread like wildfire and garnered a fair amount of praise and criticism in the process. Like any new venture, this is to be expected, particularly as it concerns webcomics and one of its more controversial issues, money.

Although one might speculate wildly as to WCN's potential success and what it will mean for the Modern Tales family's business model, there is very little to go on so far. There seems to be an interest in WCN, not to mention a cautious optimism among many that, if there is room for this type of service, webcomics as a whole might be in pretty good shape. From a strictly ideological perspective, WCN will serve a purpose by just stirring things up abit in the status quo of the webcomics market. By changing the business model, the other players in webcomics will have to evaluate their own models to remain competitive. Regardless of whatever weaknesses the WCN system has, it uses a number of technologies that so far has seen little use in webcomics. Coupled with the recent advances in handhelds such as the PSP, this might mean that we will se an increase in the development of technical solutions for webcomics that may create the new venues that we will need to evolve. Let's hope that these announcements turn out well for both Keenspot and Modern Tales.

Erik Melander has read comics his whole life. Vir Bonus is his own attempt at creating one.