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Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

The last couple of months have seen a fair amount of fiddling with revenue models from businesses that make their money from webcomics, but not individual webcomics per se. What I'm thinking about here are what one could refer to as the publishers of webcomics. The launch of Joey Manley's Webcomics Nation back in August and Keenspot's announcements at Comic-Con are the ones that spring to mind.

But it is not only the big dogs of webcomic "companies" that are re-examining their businesses. Clickwheel has been covered previously as a promising idea. Combining the photoIpods ability to show images and RSS 2.0 to easily syndicate content. As I remember it, the original business model was to charge for the Clickwheel application. The user could then subscribe to the different comics Clickwheel provided. The comics were created by various artist paid for their work.

In October came the news that Clickwheel would be changing their model. As of now little is still known about what the end result will be like. The faq raises more questions than it answers.

How will the new web-based service work?
Easy. You sign up for an account, upload your work and we’ll do the rest. The account is free to set up and comes with 150Mb of disk space and 500Mb of bandwidth.

Fair enough, it looks like the revenue will not be generated by charging creators for accounts. But then it gets trickier.

How do I submit my comics for possible inclusion on Clickwheel?
Send three samples and a description of your feature to T Campbell. If your comic is already online, you can also send him a URL where samples and/or a description can be found.

Whether this means that you need to be approved to get an account or if it is two systems operating side by side or something else entirely will undoubtedly become clear when the service launches. Unclear at this time is also whether the creators will be able to charge for the content. While this may seem like a major hurdle for some, it may not be for others. As discussed in a forum thread on putting comics in RSS feeds. Creators relying on merchandising, whose primary motivation is to get as many readers as possible while not having to worry about ad impressions, may very well benefit from using RSS as a delivery to maximize readership. The arguments can easily be transferred to Clickwheel, but with one caveat (depending on how you feel about Clickwheel making money from distributing your comic while all you get is attention). Regardless of the model Clickwheel settles on, providing comics for iPods seem increasingly feasible considering that the iPod Shuffle is now the only model that doesn't support image viewing.

01comics has also recently reworked their model. 01comics seems to model their business as a publisher. They originally relied on the Bitpass micropayment solution to sell episodes of the webcomic they offered. But as micropayments still hasn't caught on with the comic reading audience, 01comics have taken stock and modified their approach. The result is version 2.0 of their website. The model they seem to have settled on is one we've seen before, but in smaller scale. The webcomics are free, but the site also offers printed versions of the comics. Both the Foglios' Girl Genius and Carla Speed McNeil's Finder use something similar. From what we have heard, using the Internet to attract a larger readership and drive sales of print versions have worked well for Girl Genius, which is hardly surprising considering the quality of the work.

For 01comics and the creators, there are both possible advantages and disadvantages to this method. By being part of the 01comics collective, it might be more difficult for the creators to build the kind of devoted fanbase that for example Girl Genius enjoys. They also lose out on the possibility to individually tailor their presentation. For many creators this is probably offset by the ease of having someone else doing the web work and also the possible benefits of getting a readership boost from the other comics on the site. Many of the creators at 01comics seem to have a background in small press or self-publishing and creators with this background might find not having to deal with the website side of things particularly beneficial. Not to mention that many of them produce high quality work, something that's certainly evident when looking at the current offering at the site. 01comics timing couldn't be better either. With the new terms set by Diamond Comics Distributors, Inc., more small press creators are likely to look at the web as a venue to build readership instead of losing, or at best breaking even, in the direct market. If 01comics can position themselves as a publisher already tapped into the online market, they can be a conduit between the small press and web.

Both 01comics and Clickwheel are relatively new to the webcomics world. 01comics started operations in 2004 and Clickwheel in 2005. But both have tried and modified business models tailored to opening new streams of revenue from comics online. While it is too early to draw any real conclusions as to what success they will enjoy, its new ideas like these that can help us figure out new ways to leverage the medium.

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