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WHY DO ONLINE COMICS

Issue #4 - How Much Is Your Entertainment Dollar Worth?

One of my favorite pastimes is going to the movies. Before I got a "real" job, went back to school, and got married, I would make a point of seeing almost every movie that came out during the summer, and a good chunk of them the rest of the year. As it stands, I still go to the local theater every week or two to see the films that intrigue me the most. Every time I do so I pay $5 for about two hours of entertainment.

A few years ago, I was trying to decide whether or not a $50 computer game was worth purchasing. I thought "Well, if I pay ten times as much for this as I would a movie, I ought to get ten times as much entertainment from it." I found myself doubting the game would provide 20 hours of fun game play to me, and I walked away from it. Ever since then, I have used the rule of thumb of each of my entertainment dollars being worth about 20-25 minutes. There are exceptions of course, but they are few and far between in my life.

How much is your entertainment dollar worth?

Right now I have fifty cents in my pocket, which, by the example above, would be worth about 10-12 minutes to me. Well, I spent at least that much time reading through Scott McCloud's website this morning doing research for this article. So how can I give my fifty cents to him? Well, right now, best-case scenario, it will cost me $ .30 to do so (via Pay Pal). If I wanted to give him $100, this would seem far more reasonable but, well, I do not feel I have gotten forty hours worth of unpaid entertainment from him yet. I could keep a spreadsheet of all of the time I spend at his website and cut him a check at the end of every month, but as unlikely as it is for a devoted fan as myself to do this, it is doubtful the average reader would. I could hand it to him at the next convention we both attend (I may, in fact, do so now that the idea has struck me... I think we'd both appreciate the moment), but again, this is a very limited, unrealistic approach that really only works as a silly example in this essay.

This is the big financial hurdle online comic creators are presently facing. A few are making a living through combining atoms, eyeballs, and bits (McCloudian terminology for merchandise, advertisements, and payments such as donations purely because you read the online content), but I would venture to say that less than one percent of the people that deserve to be making a living at online comics are doing so (I base "deserve" on how much work, money, time, and talent is being put into projects out there I have seen in just my own limited free time to be exposed to other creators out there). I feel like it is likely that as the online comics community continues to grow, the revenue generated from donation bins and the sales of print versions of the comics, original artwork, t-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, mouse pads, and such will continue to grow as well. I also think this will be a slow process and not a good answer for people looking to greatly increase revenue today. Web banners aren't paying as much as they did when the dot-com insanity was going on, but some of the most popular sites are able to sell ad space for a decent bit of dough . The availability of a micro payments system that makes donating a quarter or a dime a more reasonable and simple thing to do is a wonderful dream that may someday become reality, but in today's economy and with today's technology I simply do not see it happening anytime soon. The argument has also been made that if it did happen, everyone would charge pennies for content and eventually you'd have to pay to surf virtually everywhere on the internet, which a lot of people are going to be, shall we say, reluctant to accept. Will broadband become so available and cheap and the internet a tool of such perceived necessity to people that they would swallow the pill of paying a few cents a page to surf? We'll see.

A project Joey Manley has been working on is the best idea I have seen yet to reward online comic creators for their work financially and taking the idea of online comics being a legitimate business to the next level. And no, I'm not just saying that because I am somewhat involved in the project myself; I wouldn't be involved if I didn't think it was worth the effort. The details of the venture can be found here, but the basic idea is a subscription service of sorts. Suppose you read the latest "Arachno-Super-X-Man the Destroyer" and like it so much you want to read the previous episodes and make sure you keep up with the story. Well, to read the archives you need to subscribe to the archives for a small fee per month or a larger fee if you pay for a year. Let me drudge up my best television announcer voice... "But WAIT, there's MORE!" You also get the archives of the other 20-30+ quality comics carried by the same subscription service. There's a lot more involved in it, but that's the basics of the idea as it stands now. The creator still retains the rights to publish a print version, to do merchandising, to do whatever else he or she wants to with the title. The subscription site only holds the rights to the archives for the term of the contract, then they revert back to the creator or a new deal is struck. The creator gets paid an advance plus additional money throughout the term of the contract. It would have to be a pretty successful venture to make a living at it, but if you combine it with the income already coming in from all the other atoms, eyeballs, and bits, it can make the difference between not even breaking even and maybe actually putting a meal or two on the table for the creator's family. Maybe they could even have a wacky contest for the readers, winner gets the leftovers. But I digress…