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The end of pay

I figured it'd be a good idea to put this in the forum, seeing as the Keenspot Press Release is almost off of the main page. The release sparked an interesting question: is the success of free webcomics outweighing that of subscription-based ones? Pasted from the comments:

I think, if nothing else, this press release shows the enormously underestimated ability of free comics to turn a profit. This seriously brings into question the necessity of a pay-model for webcomics at all.

The only benefit of the pay-model, that I can see, is for comics that require a huge amount of KBs per page. The ad model still requires each page to have roughly less than 100K, but this limit is quickly disappearing. It makes me think that, rather than the "end of free," we shall soon be seeing "the end of pay." -Anonymous

I am inclined to agree, from the look of these current statistics. Keenspot's value as a company is steadily rising, and it is reaping the benefits of free comics with book/merchandise sales and advertising. Not to say subscription sites are failing - they have also enjoyed growth - but seemingly at the cost of potential readers/buyers.

What do you think?

John Troutman's picture

Oh, I think the pay model will stick around for quite a while. But the fact remains that it severely limits the amount of readers you can get. This pretty much makes your only sole source of revenue the subscriptions yourself, since you don't have enough of a fanbase to sell much merchandise. On the free end of things, you get readers by the truckload thanks to the fact that your comic is, well, free. This method allows you to unload a lot more merchandise - such as tee-shirts - and even to sell subscriptions to other, "extra" comics.

The pay model still has merit, I've been thinking recently that the free model is actually more profitable for the artist.

kjc's picture

Why not enlarge the comic image? Make the comic part of the image & then put text in the rest of the image. Something like "If you are not seeing this comics at http: //my.url then this image may have been STOLEN! See http: //explanation.url for more details!"

Just like paperback books that say "If this book doesn't have a cover, a bookseller may have ripped it off to claim a refund and then turned around and sold the book illegally" or whatever those little notes say.

And if you provide an RSS feed and you WANT people to have your comic on their sites, you could put in the text space something like "See http: //my.url for t-shirts/buttons/snackie-cakes! More content at http: //my.url! Fun fun fun!" and entice people to come back to your site...

Just thinking out loud...

Kelly J.

Chris Crosby's picture

On the web, I don't think there is EVER "the end of" ANYTHING. It's a wonderful, magical place where pay comics and free comics can happily thrive at the exact same time. Keenspot welcomes as many revenue streams as possible.

However, it seems to me that advertising sponsorship is the most VIABLE way to make money directly from publishing entertainment online, just as it is broadcasting entertainment on television. There are hundreds of ad-supported cable networks like MTV and Cartoon Network, but only a handful of pay channels like HBO and Showtime. (That said, HBO and Showtime do amazingly well.)

In related news of interest, "Skirting Danger" attracted 13,937 unique visitors and generated 208,476 pagviews on Monday, its first day officially on Keenspot. Congrats, Meredith!

Bob Corona's picture

Education cuts both ways?

Quote:
"As for the stealing part... posting something on the net is pretty much the equivalent of parking your unlocked car in the middle of the bad part of town. Sure stealing is bad... and I think most people know this... but your car is still gonna get stolen."

So the goal here is to foster an image of the internet as "the bad part of town"? Living as I do in a town where you can leave your car unlocked anywhere without losing it, I'd rather try to support a model of online community where people respect each other. Saying online content is fair game is saying that you can't be bothered holding yourself to normal standards of decency because online theft is easy. That's not what I call education.

Bob Corona's picture

No, Dunedin. It's a nice place; you should visit :)

Joey Manley's picture

Yeah, it's too bad that Modern Tales doesn't offer the latest installment of every single comic for free, as well as about a hundred free pages in the archives. Always. IF we did something like that, you might be able to get a sense of what you're buying.

Oh. Wait a minute. We do.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Joey Manley's picture

So if I leave my purse unattended at the laundry mat, it's "fair game" for you to take it?

Not that I carry a purse.

Just curious.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Petie Shumate's picture

I think that an artist would be better off having a free model, and a subscription model. A free comic, and a subscription comic. The free comic allows you to get people interested enough to subscribe, and could stand as a viable revenue source on its own. Of course, if you can keep two good comics going at once, you'll find some way to get money.

girl/robot - One girl. One robot. A series of unintentionally scarring escapades.

Joey Manley's picture

On "the end of pay":

Pay comics and free comics will both happily co-exist, just as pay TV and free TV do. Commercial comics that are designed to reach mass audiences (think network television) will do well on an advertising model, while commercial comics that are more of an acquired-taste/cult-following kind of thing (think HBO) will do well on a pay model. Popular as they are (or were), The Soprano's or Sex in the City would have never made it on network television. For the widest possible diversity of comics types and story types, both models are necessary -- and more models need to be invented.

And, of course, non-commercial comics will always be free. And many of those are fantastic.

That we have done as well as we have, competing with so many great free comics, both commercial and non-commercial, is a sure sign of the strength of the pay model, and the need for it.

Some of the Graphic Smash artists who either are currently on, or have been on, Keenspot, for example, made much less than they might make at Keenspot.

But at least one made much more, from what they tell me.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Joey Manley's picture

When I was employed at a multimedia dotcom not owned by me, I had a meeting with some company that promised it could make web pages unrippable. The price was in the six figures PER YEAR for a license, plus a percentage of our site's sales. I took their demo, handed it to my lead staff programmer, and he came up with exactly twenty-seven ways to work around it by the end of the week. The first one was "hit the Print Screen key on your keyboard."

I'm afraid the answer to this problem is not to be found in technology -- or, okay, I'm afraid that the kind of technology that could solve this problem (permanent identification of individual computers, and registration of those computers to correspond with a particular person's identity, etc) is so creepy that we probably don't want to live with the other consequences. For example, if my computer can be uniquely identified on the Internet, I won't be able to steal webstrips with abandon -- but maybe I could be denied a job because I habitually read sexylosers.org on my home computer, and some corporate profiler has decided that that indicates an unstable personality.

So it's tough.

Aside from that, there's the issue of trust and friendliness between customer and seller. When I go to a pay site with heavy security systems in place, I feel like I'm in a record store (they're usually music sites), and that the employees are following me around with baseball bats in case I try to steal something. This doesn't tend to make me inclined to buy.

I think the best answer is education. We have to make people understand that it's a bad thing to steal, and that just because they CAN doesn't mean it's right. Sounds lame, I know, but ... well, okay, I'm lame.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Joey Manley's picture

You yourself compared taking content without the copyright owner's permission to stealing a car. Perhaps you might want to edit that post, to make it more clear, so that people responding won't misinterpret your comments.

That there are scum out there doesn't mean we have to tolerate their scumminess. To take your second paragraph, and apply it to the real world: "There are people who will always steal. What can you do? For centuries upon centuries, there have been laws against stealing, and yet, people still steal. I guess we just have to stop worrying about it and let it be."

Nah. Doesn't work.

On the legal front: I've posted some legal links under the main Comictastic story, which is what we're all really talking about here. I'm not saying they're definitive. The issue, legally, isn't as cut and dried as either side would have you believe -- at least in the US. So far. In other countries (Germany, Denmark), it's another story.

Thanks!

Joey
www.moderntales.com

sigh... again, you have missed my point entirely. trying to explain things to you is like banging my head against a brick wall... I giev up...

Erik Melander's picture

I found an article entitled "When People Pay What They Think Content Is Worth" (url http://www.clickz.com/experts/design/freefee/print.php/3310761) on the zwol.org messageboard. Quite an interesting read even though its hard to make any general points from it IMO.

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Damnit! That was me. Forgot to log in it would seem.

Joey Manley's picture

"As far as I'm concerned" is not a definitive legal argument, Mr. Dragon.

Like I said, I've posted some legal links. Some US judges have agreed with you. Some have not. It's an issue that will be definitively decided someday.

I wouldn't want to be in the business that Spiny is in -- nor would anybody who doesn't want legal problems out the yinyang. That they are charging for the software exposes them to serious, serious, serious liability -- if they happen to get the wrong judge.

All of that said, this is something of a hijacking of the "end of pay" thread. A comic scraper, if it were pointed at Modern Tales comics, would not hurt our business model, assuming that it continued to work the way it does now (showing the latest installment of any given comic and a link to its homepage). Nope. It's Keenspot and Keenspace, and a hundred thousand other free, advertising-supported webcomics, who are hurt hard by such things. So this topic doesn't really support "the end of pay" at all, sorry to say, FD.

Like I said, check the main thread on Comictastic for more legal links & info.

Thanks!

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Quote:
The second SEPARATE idea is that no matter what you do, there will be people who steal. Sure, it's wrong and it's illegal (I never mentioned that it wasn't), but the nature of the digital format is that it's easy to steal... as easy as say, an unlocked car. Should we just learn to tolerate scumminess? of course not. But to deny that these people exist, and that they do not conform to any law you pass is folly. As in real life, if you really don't want something to be stolen, don't put it in a place where it can be easily stolen... i.e. don't post it on the net.

So basically you're saying that if webcartoonists don't want to be ripped off, they shouldn't make webcomics. I suppose a store owner should close up shop when somebody nabs a few magazines. Thanks for contributing your view on how to help the issue.

Also, nobody is denying the existence of these people - they're the whole reason the topic shifted to it like this.

Ghastly makes some great points, as well as some metaphors that are actually relevant! :D Teaching people that webcomics are endangered by their practice would be a worthwhile effort. For all the spam, viruses and ripping programs on the net, there ARE plenty of people who are just ignorant. I would be all in favor of a week where webcartoonists draw educational strips on the survival of their trade.

Just as a note, I think the "education" thing works both ways.

I think businesses need to understand that fighting technology is futile. If people post something in an open forum like the internet, that thing is going to be accessed in every way possible, whether the posters intended it to be accessed that way or not. IMO, if you post it on the net, it's fair game.

As for the stealing part... posting something on the net is pretty much the equivalent of parking your unlocked car in the middle of the bad part of town. Sure stealing is bad... and I think most people know this... but your car is still gonna get stolen. And I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts (and they'd better be krispie kremes) that the people who steal your car know that stealing is bad... but they do it anyway.

sigh... somehow I knew people would twist my words around. There are two separate ideas in my post.

The first is that the nature of the internet is that it's designed so that people can access it, and do it easily. That's to say, if you put an image on the net, people are going to download it (really a moot point since you have to download it to see it). It's not the same as leaving a purse unattended at a laundry mat. If you want a better comparison, it's like leaving your purse unattended on a table next to a sign that says "free stuff". The point is, posting something on the net and expecting people to not download it is like stepping into the ocean and not expecting to get wet. If you really don't want your work being downloaded and spread around... then don't put it on the net. It's that simple. This really is a case where you can't have your cake and eat it too.

The second, separate, idea is that it only takes a handful of "bad eggs" to ruin something. Now I personally love all the opportunities that it provides. I also love a lot of the "model communities" that are on the net. But that doesn't change the fact that the internet is full of scum (just look at all the viruses, scam spam, etc.). It doesn't really matter what you support. It doesn't matter what normal decency standard you hold yourself to. The fact is, there are people out there who won't adhere to any standard.

Uncle Ghastly's picture

That's why the lad's named Hard.

Oh, I plan to visit! For sure!

...uh, where exactly do you park your car again?

[quote:1d6c7d5de0="kiwi"]I would be all in favor of a week where webcartoonists draw educational strips on the survival of their trade.

So would I.

For my money, Modertales' drug dealer method of "Pay comics" is the best soultion I've seen thus far to the problem at hand.

I prefer free samples of my coke before paying for what turns out to be a bag of flour.

[quote:fcca7984f2="joeymanley"]Yeah, it's too bad that Modern Tales doesn't offer the latest installment of every single comic for free, as well as about a hundred free pages in the archives. Always. IF we did something like that, you might be able to get a sense of what you're buying.

Oh. Wait a minute. We do.

Joey
www.moderntales.com
See... just like a drug dealer.

"I need more Fetus X, man!"

"Gotta pay for it now."

"DON'T HOLD OUT ON ME!"

[quote:47023e2be3="RobertoCorona"] Living as I do in a town where you can leave your car unlocked anywhere without losing it, I'd rather try to support a model of online community where people respect each other..
There will have to be much bloodshed before this becomes a possibilty.

And what town is this anyway, Smallville?

sigh... Mr. Mansley, I did state that the above was 2... II... TWO... separate ideas. The first idea... about stuff being fair game, is referring to "comic scrapers". That is to say, that if you put something online... people are going to download it. As far as I'm concerned, there is no violation of copyright there. It's not stealing. You're accessing data that's freely availible on the net (not password or account protected).

The second SEPARATE idea is that no matter what you do, there will be people who steal. Sure, it's wrong and it's illegal (I never mentioned that it wasn't), but the nature of the digital format is that it's easy to steal... as easy as say, an unlocked car. Should we just learn to tolerate scumminess? of course not. But to deny that these people exist, and that they do not conform to any law you pass is folly. As in real life, if you really don't want something to be stolen, don't put it in a place where it can be easily stolen... i.e. don't post it on the net.

Erik Melander's picture

I imagine that different type of comics benefits from different sources of revenue. The value of putting the archive belonging to a strip comic behind a subscriptoin wall may be less than the value the archive has of attracting new readers.
A storybased comic's archive (I realise that there is no sharp border between these two types, but for the sake of the argument lets assume so), on the other hand, may have a larger value by selling subscriptions. Especially by offering the first chapter for free "trapping" readers.
Storybased comics often can't (my opinion) offer as compelling merchandise as a stripcomic. They often lack the punchlines and catchphrases that sells t-shirts and swag.
Ads seem to be rather independent of the comictype, as long as it accumulates readers.

I've no idea if there is any basis for these assumptions I've made, it's just how I imagine it may be.

Uncle Ghastly's picture

[quote:21a6816dfd="petie123"]I think that an artist would be better off having a free model, and a subscription model. A free comic, and a subscription comic. The free comic allows you to get people interested enough to subscribe, and could stand as a viable revenue source on its own. Of course, if you can keep two good comics going at once, you'll find some way to get money.

That would probably be what I would do if I decided to go behind a subscription curtain. Keep Ghastly's Ghastly Comic free and use the "fame" I bank on that project to direct people towards my subscription project. But that's assuming I ever find the free time to draw two comics.

I'm already contemplating starting a second comic sometime in the not-too-disctant future, but it won't be a subscription comic either.

I'll probably just pull GGC off Keen and then host it on the new comic on its own independent server then use ads to pay server costs and generate a little bit of income. Covering hosting isn't that difficult with ads what with bandwidth being available as cheaply as 50 cents a gigabyte. And when you get 600K+ adviews like GGC does, it doesn't matter if your adnetwork is only able to fill 1/4 of the adviews. If you rotate the non-paying banners between multiple networks you've got it covered.

The combination of merchandising and adrevinues works for quite a few artists.

The downside is you've got to be very popular to pull it off if it's what you want to do for a living.

But like I said, I'm already doing what I want to do for a living, for a living, so it's all just extra gravy on the poutine for me.

I can't comment directly on the subscription model, but I do agree that the free model has been seriously underestimated. I know several cartoonists that are making their living off of free webcomics (the majority of Dumbrella, as an example), and I've recently started to make some money with it myself.

I'm not approaching "living status," but I've have made a decent amount, mostly from t-shirt sales. In a 4-month period, I managed to sell roughly 500 shirts off of 3 models, with a profit of ~$4.50 per shirt. I'm not sure what my ad revenue was during that period; something above 100 but below 1k.

I can't be sure whether I would have made the same profit from a subscription model, but I certainly wouldn't have made it from t-shirt sales.

That underscores my main issue with pay sites, actually. They require people to pay first, become readers second. It's always seemed more intuitive to me to make people readers first, sell things to them second. Hence the t-shirts, and soon books. Once you have people hooked, they're pretty likely to send you some money, one way or another.

To be fair, I don't know how well subscription site merchandise does, but with a model that inherently limits readership as heavily as it does, I'd wager it isn't very significant. I could be wrong though.

Will the pay model end? I dunno, but I do think the free model will be more economically viable in the long run.

-Aaron Farber, Men in Hats

Stealing the cars is the easy part...driving them back to Japan is hard.

Uncle Ghastly's picture

The internet is not like putting a purse on a table with a sign that says "Free Stuff".

The internet is like hanging a painting on a wall in a free public gallery where people are allowed to come in and look at it. They're not allowed to grab the painting off the wall, photocopy it and then post the photocopies all over town where ever they want.

People who use these comic rippers are guilty of copyright violation. Fair Use does not cover this kind of copying. Even worse, most of these comic ripper programmes don't even just take a copy of the picture and post it, they hotlink the image off the server hosting it thus they are literally stealing the bandwidth from that host, this costs money and with a popular comic it costs a lot of money.

There is absolutely no justification for using a comic ripper. It is selfishness pure and simple. The people using these programs are saying "My selfish desire to see these comics conveniently on one page outweighs the rights of the artists to display their work within the context they wish it to be displayed. My laziness is more important than the continued existance of these comics."

If you want convenience then create a links page of links to all your favorite comics, don't copy the artwork of the artists or steal their bandwidth.

There's no "sticking it to the man" ethic behind these comic rippers. You're not sticking it to some corporation selling a 6 song CD for $25 that only has one good song on it. You're stealing the bandwidth from independent artists who in most cases are already giving you the ability to view their work for free. These comic rippers are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

There's no point in fighting it tech-to-tech. Keenspace has already been trying that and the comic rippers have already beaten it. The only thing the tech fixes have done was made it difficult for some legitimate readers to view our comics. It was a nice effort but ultimately it was futile. The only way we're going to beat the comic rippers is to educate the people who use this software.

I think a week where all us webcomic artists post images that explain to our readers how these comic ripper programs hurt the webcomic community and by using them they threaten the continued presence of free comics on the internet might be a good idea. Maybe when people go a week without their favorite webcomics they'll appreciate them a bit more. Maybe they'll realize that there's a price to be paid for their selfishness and laziness and that perhaps the end of webcomics is not worth a little bit of convenience. There will still be assholes who make and use this kind of software but we will educate a few people who will realize there is a consequence to these programs and that the artists are being victimised by them. I know this for a fact because I posted a rant about this subject some time ago on my newspage and I've since received about a dozen e-mails from people who used to use these ripper programs but did not understand the cost to the webcomic community these programs extracted and they have since stopped using these programs in the interest of protecting webcomics and respecting the rights of the artists.

Legal action against the people who write these programs would be great if you can find them. Right now though I think educating the users is the way to go. There is simply no justification for using these comic rippers other than selfishness and laziness.

One potential problem that free comics have on the horizon is the availability of comic rippers.

As we know, the biggest financial problem free comics face is bandwidth. It is still not as cheap as anyone would like, and popularity tends to increase faster than bandwidth gets cheaper. Advertising support is one of the primary ways in which bandwidth costs are covered.

However, with comic rippers like dailystrips and icomic, one can download an archive without even requiring to visit the site once. If your archive is big, imagine the damage these apps can do once they get popular. And apps, like the comics themselves, tend to get more popular, not less. We can expect more people to be using these apps in the future.

I've fought these things for years, and the only thing I've noticed is that there are always workarounds to whatever I've thrown at them. I banned incorrect HTTP_REFERERs, and perl, curl, etc has built in workarounds for IP faking. I've snapped the comic into half a dozen pieces, only to see people ripping the tables themselves from the HTML and reassembling the pieces with ImageMagik. I've tried to talk to the creators of these programs to no avail. Now, I've banned most scripts from the site through robots.txt but of course, people make new scripts.

Webcomic hosts should really get together on this problem. Perhaps if we put our heads together, we can make sure that free comics stick around for a long time. Maybe an online symposium?

The end of pay

I figured it'd be a good idea to put this in the forum, seeing as the Keenspot Press Release is almost off of the main page. The release sparked an interesting question: is the success of free webcomics outweighing that of subscription-based ones? Pasted from the comments:

I think, if nothing else, this press release shows the enormously underestimated ability of free comics to turn a profit. This seriously brings into question the necessity of a pay-model for webcomics at all.

The only benefit of the pay-model, that I can see, is for comics that require a huge amount of KBs per page. The ad model still requires each page to have roughly less than 100K, but this limit is quickly disappearing. It makes me think that, rather than the "end of free," we shall soon be seeing "the end of pay." -Anonymous

I am inclined to agree, from the look of these current statistics. Keenspot's value as a company is steadily rising, and it is reaping the benefits of free comics with book/merchandise sales and advertising. Not to say subscription sites are failing - they have also enjoyed growth - but seemingly at the cost of potential readers/buyers.

What do you think?

For me it doesn't come down to an issue of money. What money I make off my comic all comes from the merchandising. I'm not trying to make a living off my comic. I'm just happy getting more money out than I put in. I already make a living with the best dayjob anyone could ever hope for.

For me free is the only option. Readers are more important to me than money. Currently I've got over 52000 readers each week (not bad for a guy who only does one comic a week). If I went behind the subscription curtain I'd probably only be getting what? 520 readers? Not really worth it just to make a couple of bucks. As far as I know none of the Modern Tale and Keenspot artists are making a living off their webcomics. They're all working dayjobs too.

Even from a money angle it makes more sense to attract more readers with a free comic than only a few dozen with a pay comic. More readers I get the more people to buy the merchandising. The more readers I get the more adviews I get if I'm going with an adview model. More readers I get, more people I've got interested in the print version.

Since I'm not into it for the money at all I'm really only interested in having my stories reach as many interested people as possible and free seems to be the best way to do that.

Fair enough, from an individual perspective. But what about webcartoonists who do draw in hopes of making money? It's hard to rule out this idea, when many artists spend large chunks of their day drawing. I'm keeping in mind the fact that webcartooning should be fun - but it takes time!

To say that such a time-consuming task can only be a hobby will potentially exclude a lot of talented but time-restricted artists. This seems like a shame to me, especially when I've seen so many excellent webcartoonists be forced to quit their comic for lack of funds to justify the time.

So, in the case of the starving artist, what is there to do? Interesting feedback so far, I must say. Though I'm still leaning toward the free system, subscription-based systems do seem to work very well for certain features.

As Joey mentioned before, some Modern Tales artists have come directly from Keenspot. According to the Keenspot press release, the comic Skirting Danger has recently done the opposite. It would be interesting to see the statistics of artists who've experimented with both systems. [/i]

On the other hand, comics with complex storylines are near impossible to get "into" from the latest strip. If a reader only discovers the comic after months of story development, it's pretty much guaranteed that they'll have no idea what's going on and not be interested. The reader is then put into the position to shell out money for something they don't know they like.

Comics with short, simple gags, storylines and characters (more like newspaper strips) almost seem like the better candidate. A person can read the comic for weeks before deciding if they'd like to subscribe - and if they miss a day, they won't give up. The strip American Elf is a decent example of this. Of course, again, the issue of readership and marketability comes into play...