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Diversifiwebcomication: Maximize Your Business Potential

In the past decade, webcomics have evolved, for the most part, from a hobbyist activity to full-fledged businesses, some with complex revenue models, production schedules and even fulltime employees. It seems like dozens of articles each month emerge, studying and commenting on the "business" part of the industry, but for the most part they've been written by artists rather than, well, real businessmen. My real job is looking at what makes businesses work. Yes, there are differences from space to space, but bear with me; I know what I'm talking about.

There's no magic cure-all that fixes ailing businesses or makes startups successful, but there are a few concepts I'd point out to people if they weren't utilizing them. In this article, I want to cover the always-entertaining topic of…

Diversification!

You've heard the proverb, don't put all your eggs in one basket, right? It turns out there's something to that. I figured this would be a good topic to start with, since it covers a broad list of topics for which I'll go into more depth on each individually in this series of articles. In short, focusing on one revenue stream is not only risky, but it also impedes growth, confines your brand and in short, increases your chance for overall failure.

 

Diversification in the Real World

We're all familiar with Nintendo, right? It's a popular conception they "lost" the console wars with the Gamecube. Didn't they "lose" to the original Playstation too? Wait, why has their stock price doubled in the last three years then? In short, they didn't throw all their resources into their home consoles. They also happen to have these crazy-popular handheld systems called the Gameboy and Nintendo DS. In other words, they diversified so they wouldn't get burned on one revenue stream or the other (and let's not forget Pokemon).

That's a pretty simple example, with one successful business unit supporting a, well, less than successful business unit. I wouldn't, however, call that a particularly good application of diversification since A, both streams rely on the same industry to stay healthy and B, two to three revenue sources is still pretty risky. Things get a bit more complex (and effective) when you're dealing with multiple revenue streams across different verticals. For instance, look at General Electric. You may have a fridge or microwave with that logo slapped on the front, but they also have their own lines of consumer electronics, aircraft engines and even banks. What do these all have in common? Well, if you're diversifying to your fullest extent, just the GE brand. Plus, the more lines of business you're in, the more opportunities you can synergize one revenue stream with another. Looking at General Electric again, they can offer competitive financing options for their $1,200 washer-dryer combo using… hey! It's that pesky brand again, poking in with their interest rates and easy payment plans. The idea is that if GE is going to sell you an appliance, why not milk some more dough out of you with some other tangentially related services?

 

Diversifiwebcomication

How do we apply the lessons of these multibillion dollar corporations to webcomics? Let's look at what options we have out there. Advertising? Merchandising? Conventions? Do all of them and call it a day, right? Well, yes, but it gets a little more complicated than that.

Don't forget that even within each revenue stream there should exist a healthy mix of clients or products. Don't focus on just one thing or otherwise you put that whole wing of your operation at risk.

Merchandising? Order smaller quantities, but increase the mix. See what works and what doesn't. Don't limit yourself to one type of product -- people buy more than just shirts.

Advertising? Have multiple clients and branch out to advertisers that aren't necessarily competing with each other (it's difficult, I know). Look at other ways to apply advertising strategies. Have one of your advertising clients sponsor your booth at a show.

Syndication? Yes, it represents a very tiny amount of revenue, but it's consistent and represents something else to fall back on.

In addition to spreading risk, diversification has a side benefit of exposing your brand to a larger audience. It's just like Marketing 101. The broader your reach the more people you're gonna hit.

What about those magical "synergies" we were talking about earlier? It's not just some irritating corporate buzzword. It's a very real thing and it's use in webcomics is pretty simple. Have extra stock in your merchandise inventory? Create goodwill by sending product to your advertising clients. Doing an autograph signing or sketches? Use that as a marketing channel and offer 10% coupons to your online store for those that swing on by.

Now let's take a look at how have some of existing webcomics have fared with diversification:

Look at Qwantz.com (aka Dinosaur Comics), run by Ryan North. North does an amazing job of creating different market-facing products and services, all which have amazing potential for growth. His comic has an increasing selection of merchandise to choose from, and his technical innovations, OhNoRobot and RSSpect are both growing in popularity. Although North hasn't grown his ad model to that of other comics, the opportunity is there and in the meantime he has the ability to leverage those impressions to drive traffic to his other revenue streams.

I had a chance to speak with Scott Kurtz from PVP about the topic, and he has managed multiple sources of revenue to the point where it's a healthy mix of advertising (multiple clients), merchandise (through Thinkgeek.com), comic books (published via Image) and show appearances.

It wasn't always this way, however. Early on, Kurtz was focusing on one revenue stream at a time and was "constantly worried about it dropping out on you." The shift didn't come without its pains and aches he says. "At some point, you can't juggle any more plates … and it gets stressful. But not as stressful as getting a call and finding out your one revenue source is done and suddenly you're f*cked."

And Kurtz brings up a great point; can one over-diversify? Absolutely. Spreading your resources too thin potentially cannibalizes the growth in all parts of your business. The balance is different for each company and it's important to keep in mind. There are other ways besides improper resource management that diversification can have a negative impact. Again, from Kurtz, "If a game company asked me to write a strip to cater to their game, that would bring in revenue, but it would betray [and ultimately hurt] my readership. My readers know if I talk about a show, game or product, it comes from a genuine experience. Not because Sony paid me to push Everquest II on my fans."

 

Next Steps!

So what are our takeaways for this?

  1. Diversifying is the safe bet and spreads risk across multiple disciplines.
  2. Diversifying creates internal synergies that translates to a greater chance of success than operating each revenue source independently. (and one day you'll be able to say that without feeling dirty)
  3. Diversifying ties your unified brand to each business unit- think of it as free marketing.

In closing, I'd also like to point out there's no shame in copying what works out there. Look at Qwantz, PVP, Penny Arcade, or Dumbrella… all of these guys know what they're doing. They're market leaders for a reason.

More comment to the above

EricMillikin's picture

Hello again everyone --

Hey Sebastian, it seems my advice regarding your column has come across rather poorly.  My basic point is that this article seems to be based on a large number of assumptions and very little facts. My hope is that this is maybe just the general intro to your series of columns or soemthing where the specifics coem later maybe? My advice is prettu simple: That in future columns you use facts to back up your opinions because that makes for effective persuasive writing and prevents errors. You seem to have some business ideas that you'd like to share; I'm not sure why my advice on how to better present and back up your ideas seems to have maybe bent you out of shape. I don't know, maybe you're really not bent out of shape and I'm reading too much into your use of all caps and "I know more than you" statements, but I apologize anyway if I have said something that got you bent. I'm not sure what I've written that may have elicited this reaction from you, as I believe I have merely clearly stated my positions and used facts to back them up rather then engage in the weird personal attacks that seem to have taken over this thread. Anyway, that's it pretty much, that I hope you can use more facts to back up your positions in future columns.

Hey Chuck, I didn't mean to turn this into an abbatoir. My background in art, literature, and film criticism (as well as media studies) has probably led me to shine a harsher light on Sebastian's writing than he might be used to. If that's the case, let me just say that I think getting advice and criticism about your writing and artwork is important and useful. It also requires a certain mindset on the person whose work is the subject of the criticism, which is, among other things, the idea that it is your work that's being discussed and not you personally. If there are flaws in one column or painting or comic it doesn't forever taint you as a worthless human being or even a bad columnist. It's just one painting, you take your feedback, you use it to make all future paintings even better, hopefully. Also, I'm glad that I cracked you up, Chuck, and I think you've got a really sweet lid there in your user pic.

Hey cwgabriel, I may be misinterpretting your analysis of the "why would anyone want to the same job over and over again" idea, but I read the original post on that as more of championing the idea that people should get better at their jobs during their careers rather than that people should change careers regularly or something. Police officers, to use your example, might seek more difficult and higher profile cases and promotions. That is, the best cops don't spend their careers harassing us about our broken tail lights; eventually they move on to harassing us for more serious crimes, like fetus burglary.

Also, the "it's insulting/impolite/whatever to ask an artist how much money they make" idea has been floated a few more times. I'm not sure why. I can see how some people might be shy or modest or embarrassed about their incomes, but to me it's just a number that you can try to exert some control over but in a lot of ways it's out of your control. It's also a useful number for anyone considering trying to start a career as an artist. And in this case, I think there's a problem with making an assumption that a particular artist is financially successful, and then holding them up as an example that other should follow, without being able to say to the reader what "financially successful" even means in this case.

Does that make sense? I think I can understand why some artists might be shy/modest/embarrassed/whatever about their incomes, but I don't think you have to be. It's not like your income is a great measure of your worth as a human being or even as an artist -- it's just what it is, your income. And like I've said before, Parade Magazine does a great story about people's incomes regularly, and it covers careers all the way from professional athlete to chef to fisherman to dancer to comics artist. As far as comics artists go, Lea Hernandez, Mark Waid, and myself have all been in it in the past few years. If we (along with all those other people in other careers) are willing to divulge our finances to a magazine with a 35 million circulation, then I'm not really sure why so many people here seem to think that the topic is off-limits/insulting/whatever.

So, I guess that's what I'm asking everyone here: What's so insulting about reporter's asking people about their incomes? And how can anybody write about financially successful artists without confirming that they are fianancially successful?

--------------------------

Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

--------------------------

Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

destroy the "starving artist" mystique?

Fabricari's picture

Disclosing earnings would destroy the "starving artist" mystique. People are far more likely to rally behind an artist who earns barely enough to keep a shirt on their back. Scott and Mike can probably attest to this, simply because they make enough to do what they love and keep the lights on, they are not judged on an even playing field. Even here on Comixpedia, I've seen one comic praised for doing something another comic gets railed for, because success changes the measuring stick.

The best you can hope for, is an anonymous survey.Â

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison
Fabricari, Sexy, Violent, Cyberpunk Comic

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

Out of curiosity, would you

Out of curiosity, would you mind telling us what you made in 2003, 2004, 2005 and your projections for 2006?

-Sebs

Haven't has so much fun since...

chuckwheel's picture

Well I don't know about y'all but I'm finding this to be the most enjoyable thread since the Dick & Fart one. I would glady pay to see the live action version at ComicCon: Wecomics Smackdown -- oh yeah!

Seriously, this could be a great idea. Instead of putting the fire out we should fan it to massive proportions -- then maybe we'll even get another article in the New York Times: "BIF, POW comics are not just for timid guys who don't play sports anymore!"

Chuck
www.pewfell.com

I can't believe that this

Joey Manley's picture

I can't believe that this innocuous article, highlighting a well-known business truth, has turned into such a vicious flamewar. Just. Wow.

Sebastian, I hope that this doesn't turn you off of writing for Comixpedia. I look forward to your work in the future. Disciplined thinking about business, and an ability to behave professionally in public, are both sorely lacking even at the highest levels of our field ... quite obviously. (I do not exempt myself from my own contempt here, by the way -- I've been as guilty as any of participating in webcomics melodrama, though I've sworn it off). Keep on investigating, and keep telling us what you've learned. Some of us don't believe we already have all the answers, and are willing to listen, without throwing playground insults at others at every opportunity. Some of us.

Joey
www.webcomicsnation.com

Canadian Geese

Fabricari's picture

"I can't believe that this innocuous article, highlighting a well-known business truth, has turned into such a vicious flamewar."

These flamewars are really just extensions of the same thing season after season. It really has nothing to do with the articles written. Folks like you and Sebastian really shouldn't use this as a deterrent to continue writing.

You'll notice all the same players are here who migrate like a flock of hissing Canadian Geese - flying from pond to pond. If you walk to close to thier eggs - HISSSSS. (Yes, I realize that includes me.)

Where are these people on a slow news day? Why don't they contribute by writing a new article themselves? I'm sure some of the more experienced artists and writers contributing in this very thread might have some insights on - oh I don't know - making comics?

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison
Fabricari, Sexy, Violent, Cyberpunk Comic

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

Time-Out

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I'm giving everyone a five minute timeout :)

Look I don't want to get in the middle of people - really I don't care enough - but let's try to keep comment threads focused on the topic and constructive.Â

This isn't the place for diving into highly personal debates - there are plenty of other forums for that kind of drama. If this thread continues into dramaland I'll be deleting such off-topic comments or I'll just close the thread.

____

Xaviar Xerexes

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

Future article idea?

chuckwheel's picture

The idea of 'manufacturing' a successful comic for purely commercial purposes is often dismissed by creators, but I wonder if it is in fact possible? Could the creation of the perfect comic be coolly calculated? How would one go about it from a business perspective? What are the key elements that a manufactured hit would need? Would it fail on principal? Or have others done it and succeeded?

I read somewhere that this what Jim Davis did when he created Garfield. Also I remember reading about how Scott came up with PVP after he had tried various other strips and how he set various goals for success, quality and professionalism. Is his strip's success due to this initial deliberate calculation? Most great art grows out of careful planning and a lot of groundwork & research, so really it makes sense that this would apply to webcomic series as well.

By the same turn, does this kind of planning tend make the strip less 'artistically' interesting even as it increases commercial success? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive but it's another of the many balancing acts the great comic strip must pull off.

Chuck

http://www.pewfell.com

You know, that's really

PvP's picture

You know, that's really interesting and I might take up the challenge to write that article because I know a ton of people I could interview about it.

PvP did not have any success when it was a "manufactured comic." When I was talioring it to mee the needs of the website that hosted it, it was only doing moderately well. It was only when I got serious about developing the characters and "rebooted" the strip that things started taking off.

I have a friend to did EXACTLY what you're proposing. He tried to calculate a formula and run with it and it did not succeed at all. It really just kind of fell flat.

Meanwhile, my friend Jason is not a cartoonist, has never WANTED to be a cartoonist and had a really stupid idea I disouraged him from attempting. But he went and found an artist and posted it to the web and people love it.

I don't think you can calculate it or work out a formula. It's really strange what "hits" and what "sticks."

 

Exactly

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I don't think you can calculate it or work out a formula. It's really strange what "hits" and what "sticks."

Well that's true - if you could know in advance what is a hit Hollywood has a lifetime job for you...

____

Xaviar Xerexes

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

The topic of art vs.

The topic of art vs. commerce is always a hot one in webcomics.

Or even art vs.commerce vs. art and commerce? The fact that people think it has to be one or the other... that's something that this series could usefully cover. Ethics of sponsorship, for example, or of getting readers to create material for you for free.

Success has different measurements...

I guess the most easily measured form of success for a webcomic is it's readership. Penny-Arcade recently mentioned they get over 200,000 daily readers, despite only updating Monday-Wednesday-Friday. PVP gets well over 50,000 readers every day. Megatokyo, for reasons unfathomable, gets almost as many hits as Penny Arcade. These three examples - inarguably some of the most successful webcomics - have drastically different approaches to both their business and audience. PA is unashamedly profane and violent, cartoony, surreal, and quite often hilarious. While the core of the humor revolves around games, it's just as likely to be a Christmas story involving Cthulhu or the misdeeds of George Lucas. The creators, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, have openly stated they never considered print as a main medium for Penny Arcade. They have published a collection of their first years (Attack of the Bacon Robots) and have two more collections planned; unlike PVP's monthly issues from Image, it is not new material. PA not only makes money off their merchandise - in fact, Kiko of Gameskins has become part of the PA enterprise full time - but makes a notable amount from advertising on their site, as well as doing game-related comics for the developers. They have their own Expo. They run a charity that, in 3 years, has raised near a million dollars worth of toys and games for Children's Hospitals across the US, in the UK, and in Canada. All this, despite the creators effectively following their own whims. I do recall the creators admitting that they had no idea how to handle the business side of PA, but that hasn't seemed to be an inordinate problem for them - I believe that PA has a professional business manager helping them navigate the rocks and shoals of business.

PVP Online is a more sitcom style comic, that while it superficially involves gaming as a subtext, is really about the characters, their relationships, their pets, and their (mis)adventures. It is similar to newspaper comics, but more innovative and daring since there's no editor strangling the creativity out of it on a daily basis. PVP is what most syndicated comics wish they were: funny, interesting, habit-forming, and able to take risks. You will never see anyone in Funky Winkerbean explain the impetus behind the male-female dynamic as follows: "Because they control the boob supply."

Megatokyo is a case of success through wannabes and sheer inertia. While having a rather narrow focus - the pseudo-manga market, and even more so, the 'light romance' subset of that, seems to be artist and co-creator Fred Gallagher's obsession - no consistency in updates, indistinguishable characters, and story arcs that could best be described as glacial, the comic has an enormous readership and has successfully launched two book collections while being written by exiled co-creator Rodney Caston. MT is essentially a case of succeeding by having once been very good and making a huge impact.

I want to first say thanks

I want to first say thanks for the comments, both positive and negative. I really didn't think my initial foray into this space would have yielded such a response, and I'm certainly flattered by all the attention!

Before I start work on my next piece, I want to say that those of you that think this article wasn't terribly useful and was a "no brainer," I think that's fantastic news. I'm glad some of you didn't need the advice, but I deliberately chose the topic because it was obvious many in the industry did.

As T Campbell suggested, I'm going to stop defending myself on what you think needs to be added, etc. My credentials do speak for themselves. Yes, the advice is my opinion, but I know what I'm talking about, so you can take it or leave it or just complain about it, whatever you think is the best decision for your business.

Thanks everyone!

-Sebs

I'm afraid I'll have to

I'm afraid I'll have to throw my hat into the "not impressed" ring. The article has some valid points, I guess, but I'd guess that because I already subscribe to many of those views, not because anything in the article demonstrates they're sound.

You'll make more money if you have more than one stream of income? Who'd have thought it?

As others have already mentioned above, the article is desperately short on any kind of data to substantiate the arguments it puts forward. It's all very well saying that data on income is hard to come by (of course it is!) but, without it, this really is just an opinion. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't set it up as something more.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Good points all round. My

Good points all round. My positive reaction was simply to the idea of a business consultant getting his feet wet in the webcomics field. Sebastian's just getting started and I hope he'll give us more specific ideas in the future.

Quantification will probably be his biggest challenge. He's soaked up the basic principles of business well enough but attaching them to specific figures... the only piece I know of that did a fair job with that was Todd Allen's, and it's built upon 2003 data. And honestly, even Allen's piece could have used shoring up.

I've likewise avoided asking certain questions of cartoonists because I felt it unlikely that I'd get enough answers to be useful. A few cartoonists like North and Kurtz do disclose their audience numbers, but I wouldn't expect anyone to disclose their earnings to one interviewer unless they were willing to disclose them to everybody-- and that happens, but too rarely to form any sort of picture of the "industry."

I think that most people here agree that cartooning and business are different and sometimes contradictory mindsets. You have to decide for yourself how to balance the demands of Art and Mammon but the first step is understanding what those demands are.

Sebastian, I hope you continue this, but if you do you're just going to have to armor yourself against the Internet. It can smack people down for the slightest offenses and the best of intentions. For that matter, it can shower praise for the silliest of reasons. And then, at other times, it can be perfectly reasonable. Trying to help it's like loving a mental patient.

Still, I'd recommend changing the rhetoric that essentially says "I'm smarter than you, dear reader" to "I'm smarter than the average bear." You may indeed know more about business than 95% of your readers here, but let's not trumpet that tooooo loudly. Just put your credentials out there, because they're all you really need.

"Just put your credentials

"Just put your credentials out there, because they're all you really need."

Hah! Apparently that is not the case in this thread. ;)

Well, they're not going to

Well, they're not going to win an argument for you. But you'll note that once you got more specific about your credentials, the questions about your qualifications dropped off sharply.

Hey, watch your tone,

PvP's picture

Hey, watch your tone, Sebastian. Don't you know you're talking to a "world reknown webcomics historian" there?

Credentials are so important in this crowd. If you don't have any, you can just make some up.

And you were doing so well,

And you were doing so well, Scott.

Rather than rehash every disagreement we've had in the last few months I'm going to try to focus on this, but if you want more, then say the word, because I've had enough.

Among your many complaints, you insist and INSIST that I willfully preyed on comic-book buyers' ignorance of the webcomics field to inflate my reputation by referring to myself in PREVIEWS as "world-renowned."

When I first saw the PREVIEWS ad for HISTORY, I was mildly disappointed that they didn't use the copy I wrote but I laughed off the "world-renowned" appellation as well-meaning flattery, as you probably would if someone advertised PvP as "the greatest comic book of all time."Â But since you treated it as so important, I did my best to oblige you.

I showed you the ad copy that I'd actually written for Antarctic-- copy that I would have been hard-pressed to turn around in the amount of time between your e-mail and my response.

You didn't believe me.

I pointed out that the copy contains numerous errors, including inconsistent spelling of the word "webcomic/web comic," and, oh, yes, an inconsistent spelling of MY OWN NAME, errors that are so far out of the character of my style as to render the idea that I wrote the copy completely laughable.

Unless-- unless!-- you think that I would misspell MY OWN NAME AND A WORD IN THE TITLE OF MY BOOK just so I'd have a defense in case someone called me on the "world-renowned" thing.

You didn't believe me.

You recently mentioned that Image Comics had submitted PVP to the Eisners without your knowledge. I believed you. Unlike you, I don't doubt a man's public statements unless I have proof or he has a long record of proven deceit. I naively hoped that this experience might lend you fresh insight into mine.

But you didn't believe me.

Because it JUST HAS TO BE TRUE, doesn't it?

Here's what I AM, though. I *AM* the only one who bothered to write webcomics history because I felt that it needed writing even at this relatively early stage. I *DO* think it would be fair to call the work "widely praised" as authorities from Eric Burns to Heidi MacDonald have generally been pleased with it. I *HAVE* been working on it off and on for about three years now and I *WILL* be updating it two or three years out.

Oh, and incidentally, as long as we're discussing typos? I'm sorry, it's the editor in me...

THE WORD IS "WORLD-RENOWNED." NOT "WORLD REKNOWN." "WORLD-RENOWNED." Even the @#$% ANTARCTIC COPYWRITER managed to spell "renowned" correctly. It makes you look like a damned ILLITERATE when you get this wrong.

And I don't like to see that.

Yeah, here's something else you probably won't believe. This little "feud" between us that you seem to want makes me mad on my own behalf, but also on YOURS. You do SO MUCH THAT IS GOOD, Scott. You gave Sebastian your time and gave him a good start on doing something helpful for all of webcomics. You didn't have to do that. You could have fobbed him off onto Penny Arcade. Does that sort of thing help you, too? Sure it does... but it helps other people MORE. Net Neutrality? The YouTube how-tos? The attempts to push your storytelling further (I don't love every storyline but I see the effort there)? All this stuff is good!

And then you just start in again with this petty crap, and all them Kurtz-haters out there forget everything else.

Yeah, THEM Kurtz-haters. I may be on good terms with some of them, but I ain't joining in their chant. Above all else, I have a responsibility to be objective, or all the work I've done on the book really is worthless. But you tempt me. How you tempt me.

YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THIS!

I don't need your approval, T.

PvP's picture

It's not that I dont believe you, T. It's that I believe maybe Antarctic wrote that about you because that's how you present yourself to them. If not in words, then certainly in demeanor and actions. It's certainly how you present yourself to the webcomics world in general.

I mean, the fact that you feel that after barely 10 years of existance that there's even a history of webcomics to record, and that YOU'RE just the man to do it, speaks volumes. It certainly says you believe it about yourself. I would never have the balls to attempt something like that. I just don't think I meet the qualifications. But you do believe that about yourself. It's evident in your actions.

How about the fact that everytime a new business opportunity pops up that requires the creativity and traffic of other webcartoonists to fuel it, you're somehow involved?

I'm not worried about how a message board post or a spelling or grammatical error is going to paint me. My actions paint a pretty accurate picture of me, and it's not horrible. I'm not a perfect guy, but at least my heart is in the right place. I'm here to entertain and try to make a living from it. Nothing else. That's my job. That's my goal. That's the opportunity my readers have afforded me.

Yeah, I could give a flying fuck about THEM kurtz-haters. They're going to find a reason to hate me even if I don't give them one. Hell, go read William G's latest blog. He's already starting a paper trail to blame myself and Penny-Arcade for his impending suicide. In the end, it will probably be their fanboys and my grammar that push him over the edge.

It's very telling to see how the "experts" of the webcomics community welcomed an expert from the outside world by fluffing up their feathers and defending their territory. Why don't you guys just whip out your dicks and see if their bigger than Sebastian's?

Sebastian, if you really want to teach the webcomics community anything important. Teach them how they don't need to hook up with the opportunitsts who just want to aggregate their combined success into a piece of the pie for themselves.

"those who sold the shovels" indeed.

So um..

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

To Both T And Scott -

Last I checked this article wasn't about whether T Campbell spent around two years writing about webcomics' first decade of history or is just making a name for himself off of webcomic-writing elves which he pays with scraps of leather. Or however you want to frame whatever it is you two are arguing about.

I hate to have to curtail threads, but there is a distinct connection between threads that derail into off-topic personal feuds and my desire to pull the plug on Comixpedia - let's stay focused on Sebastian's article here. Please.

Thanks.

____

Xaviar Xerexes

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

You're right, Xerexes. I'm

You're right, Xerexes. I'm sorry.

For what it's worth, Sebastian, I would welcome further writings about all matters relating to webcomics and business, even those that don't paint the businesses I associate with in the best possible light. I'm always trying to learn new things, and I expect that in the long run, your contributions will prove their own value.

Now why make credentials up?

The William G's picture

Now why make credentials up, when we have a charmer such as yourself Scooter, who'll provide lables such as "parasite" for us all to admire?


Don't be discouraged!

chuckwheel's picture

 Sebastian -- I also hope there will be more articles in this series. The topic of art vs. commerce is always a hot one in webcomics. The debates and controversies are fun to follow, even if it means you're putting youself out there as a bit of a lightening rod.

At the end of the day we're all interested in seeing our work reach as wide an audience as possible.

 

Chuck

http://www.pewfell.com

Well put, Chuck.

Big Al's picture

Well put, Chuck.

I think the most important

I think the most important point EricMilkin made was that your article is a little unrefined, you haven't given many. Well, any examples of your points. Being fair, your points are a little ill defined if honestly, made at all. At times it's difficult to see which side your aiming for. At one point you seem to be talking about getting advertisers then advertising yourself which are to amazingly different things and you never make any firm assertations about what you think other than "Hey, diversification is good." Yes it is, the age old proverb about eggs and baskets is age old because it's good advice. You'll find no argument from me on that point. But is it really a relevant discussion at such an early stage since to understand what diversification is you need to know the back bones of what your diversifying. "In addition to spreading risk, diversification has a side benefit of exposing your brand to a larger audience. It's just like Marketing 101. The broader your reach the more people you're gonna hit." It's a sound point if you're focusing on making money as one of the webcomics industries big-hitters. But I kinda thought this was supposed to be a general guide. Smaller webcomics might want to focus on niche marketing, advertising with larger, similar webcomics. What with lower costs and all that. Special interest sites might be an idea for medium sized websites. etc. It's like using a shotgun. The futher away you stand, the more people you'll hit but the less impact you'll make. I could go on but since this wasn't really an attempt to discredit you I'll end by saying diversification was a terrible subject to start with. You SHOULD have known this.

 Diversification only works when you know the underlying principles behind it and since your premise was that webcomic creators don't quite get 'it' you shouldn't have picked such a hefty subject to start with.

Sebastian, I for one don't

Big Al's picture

Sebastian, I for one don't feel spoken down to or intimidated by your article or credentials. I won't ask you for free consultation either. I would just ask you to continue publishing your musings on the subject, since it fills a void in a topic very dear to my heart.

Articles like this validate the intuitive efforts of all who struggle every day to succeed in a budding art form, and can help people who haven't made their mark yet. I think webcomics as a business are a free market at it's most ruthless and Darwinian, and advance knowledge of business strategy can go a long way towards ensuring the survival of many.

Diversiwebcomicificationism:

chuckwheel's picture

I think I better go do some work before I get fired and have to rely on my webcomic to support me.

Fab,I never suggested just

PvP's picture

Fab,

I never suggested just making a comic that you think would sell. I'm simply suggesting that some cartoonists get married to a set of characters or ideas and have a hard time letting go and trying new things, despite any lack of growth or success.

Just try something else. It doesn't have to cater to some niche. I'm not suggesting being forumlaic for the purpose of trying to capitolize on some audience. Just try something NEW.

Success is defined by meeting a goal. If your goal is to finish a novel and you finish it, congratulations. If you goal is to get a novel published or make a living as a novelist, just completing the work isn't going to be quite enough.

Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods,

Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, Deion Sanders, Katie Kouric and Steve Jobs are all either celebrities, work for public held corporations or both. Their salaries are not difficult to attain. I appreciate your suggestion to just “ask” people, but I’d rather build a rapport with my sources instead of insulting them with questions regarding their private life, especially when yes, it isn’t terribly relevant unless you’re just trying to be nosey.

Why isn’t it important? Well I guess you’ll just have to trust me when I say I know more about business models, and quite frankly, business than you do. I have the experience, the background and the knowledge that you do not. I’m not trying to act like I’m better than you are, but you’re calling me out and I’m standing my ground. My entire BUSINESS it built around helping businesses. This article was written to help you improve the overall landscape of your business- it’s advice. You can be as critical of it as you would like, but it IS aimed to help you. I appreciate all of you that have at least been supportive of that.

Yes, it is all opinion. Much like how a management consultant would come into ones business and say, “the problem is this” and the client could say “but that’s just your opinion” and then the consultant would say “yes, well that is what you pay me for.”

These opinions are based on experience. Take it or leave it.

-Sebs

Responses to the above

EricMillikin's picture

Hey everybody -Â

I think the idea expressed above that absolutely nobody wants to report their income is incorrect, and I'm not sure how you would write a story about artists' financial matters without addressing the issue. (Assuming, of course, that this article is about financial matters -- the only dollar figure I see in the article is in relation to a washer/dryer combo.)

To see how this story can be done more accurately, look up Parade Magazine; they do an annual story on how much people make. I was profiled in 2000, along with Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, Deion Sanders, Katie Kouric and Steve Jobs. I think Lea Hernandez was profiled the year before or after that. So, if you want to do a story about how much money people make, just ask people how much money they make. If some people won't tell you, then don't use them as sources.

I think you could also address the issue of artists' incomes through other methods, such as public records -- the values of their homes, the median incomes in their census tracts, etc. You wouldn't necessarily get specifics (the artist who is supported by his or her spouse might have a great house), but you'd probably get some good estimates. And, for that matter, you migth find that marrying into money is the best webcomics business plan.

I'll say, "thanks," to Sebastian, for detailing your credentials. I'm not sure what you find "unnatural" about including them at the end of your column; columnists typically include such information in their taglines. For example, I have a column in front of me where the tagline explains that "John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, was a three-term governor of Michigan." If a three-term governor needs to explain his credentials to people in his own sate, then comixpedia's writers probably do, too. That's probably a style issue for comixpedia to look into.

I disagree that "the numbers aren't terribly relevant." If the point of this article is that "artists can make some money doing this," I think the relevant question for any reader to ask is, "how much money?" If the answer is, "I don't know," then you don't have much of a story.

And, yes, Sebastain, I do "seriously need to ask" "what these steps will work at accomplishing." Because you haven't explained that at all. If the key to improving one's financial success is through diversification, then it would be nice to give us some concrete examples of artists and their financial successes that are due to diversification.  I really dig Ryan North's comics, too, and I've carried on a few conversation with him and been in a book with him, but I don't know anything about Ryan that would lead me to decide one way or the other whether he has the secrets to financial success or not. And after reading this article, I still don't.

As it is, this article seems to be entirely opinion with no facts. It also seems to be the first in a series (correct me if I'm wrong) so I guess my hope is that future columns are based on facts. Otherwise, you're basically giving out financial advice with no idea of whether it's actually that great or not.

You know?

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 Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

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Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

Eric, this was a nice

chuckwheel's picture

Eric, this was a nice innocent little piece from an interested observer about how we could possibly apply some basic business principles to our webcomics and you have turned it into an abbatoir -- you are merciless... and you crack me up.

Chuck

http://www.pewfell.com

Artist or Businessman?

Fabricari's picture

"but if you're going to be all businessy about it why not go into a business that you actually have a decent chance at making a living from?"

That's actually the premise of a popular book on business, E-Myth. The idea is that the art of business is totally separate from the art of the service or craft that you're selling. A smart business person would make decisions that often would contradict the decisions made by the comic creator. For example, if I were making a business of webcomics, I'd more likely outsource to folks who are far more talented and productive and focus my energy on marketing. And eventually even outsource the marketing! I'd rather make comics than do the "right" thing for business.

I suspect that most folks here do make a hobby of webcomics, but approach it in a business-like way to garner a larger audiance. I think most of us want an audiance. But that creates a cycle: you start to sell ads, merchandice, whatever to raise funds to attend conventions and buy advertising. So, even if you don't aim to make this a business or make your sole living from webcomics, you still get sucked into "the business" of it.

I consider my day-job the more reasonable "diversification" to support my comic. I make my living, pay my mortgage, and support the comic with that job so my comic doesn't have to. That way I can measure success not in money, but in audiance - as that was my goal to begin with.

And I don't have to even consider drawing a different comic just because it might be more successful. I dread the idea of creating a gamer or slice-of-life comic because it "sells" better. In that case, I'd rather not create comics in the first place.

I guess it's up to the individual's real reason they make comics in the first place, eh?

It's always assumed that a comic artist is looking for the kind of success that would replace an income. Why can't there be intermediate goals, such as simply finishing a novel?

Alright, I'm rambling...

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison
Fabricari, Sexy, Violent, Cyberpunk Comic

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

Chuck,I don't think you're

PvP's picture

Chuck,

I don't think you're going to get too many people to warm up to the idea of just giving up on the dream of being a cartoonist for a living and keeping it as just a fun hobby. I think most of the people reading Comixpedia want to keep trying no matter what.

Have you considered trying a different comic? I'm not saying give up on Pewfell, but fantasy comics don't always sell great. You may want to try to give another stirp a shot. The problem could be that Pewfell can only penetrate a certain sized audience.

My friend Aaron experienced the same issue with his comic book Nodwick. It has a strong following, but eventually he hit a ceiling.

So he created PS238, which appeals to a broader audience and it did better than Nodwick.Â

Wondering about that

Have you considered trying a different comic? I'm not saying give up on Pewfell, but fantasy comics don't always sell great. You may want to try to give another stirp a shot. The problem could be that Pewfell can only penetrate a certain sized audience.

I've been wondering about that. Fantasy in other media seems to have a pretty big audience, enough to keep the book titles rolling out and to float big movie trilogies. Is there anything about comics in general or about the webcomic world that makes fantasy less successful there than in books, film and TV?

Fantasy comics that are popular

Joey Manley's picture

Elfquest has been going on so long that I figure it must have an audience. It's one of the few indie comics that was going strong when I was a kid, during my first phase of comics reading, and is still here after my twenty-year hiatus from reading comics. I'm under the impression that the Pinis have been making a living off that book for about three decades (which puts any webcomics success story, not to shame, really, but in perspective, at least). I could be wrong, though. Also Poison Elves keeps hanging in there (though that one I've never read). Cerebus lasted a long time. And Bone seems to be pretty popular, with several reprint editions (one even from the "real" mainstream publisher Scholastic) keeping the franchise alive long after new material has stopped coming along.

So I don't think it's true that fantasy comics have no chance of success.

But, granted, those are all print success stories, and I think they all started up during a time when small-press success was more likely in print than now (slightly before, during, or after the small-press comics craze caused by the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Regarding webcomics: Inverloch is popular, isn't it? I thought that it was. I thought it was the cartoonist's primary source of income. It certainly deserves to be -- it's amazing. Again, I'm just going by my impression, not by any hard data (hard data being difficult to come by in the webcomics business world, as noted elsewhere in this thread).

Joey
www.webcomicsnation.com

Print successes

Neil Gaiman's Sandman series must have been reasonably successful too.

Oh, yeah, and now that you

Joey Manley's picture

Oh, yeah, and now that you mention it (because I was all focused in on self-published stuff, forgetting the big players) DC/Vertigo's "Fables" isn't at the very, very top of the sales charts, but I think it does pretty well within the expectations of the Vertigo imprint ... it's also really, really good. I've been digging on the recent "wooden soldiers in love" storyline.

Joey
www.webcomicsnation.com

Yeah, I know Nodwick & I met

chuckwheel's picture

Yeah, I know Nodwick & I met Aaron at Comic-con last year, he is a top bloke. He swapped a copy of PS238 for Pewfell but nerd that I am I prefer Nodwick.

I'm really not trying to advocate that anyone give up on on their dream -- especially since I have no intention of abandoning mine! I'm just telling the tale of my own experiences so far, in that it might be of interest here. I think other aspiring artists can learn that there is more to it than just direct financial rewards.

Even though Pewfell may not pay my bills it has brough me into contact with lots of great and wonderful people. Working on it has allowed me to develop skills as an artist and it has served to strengthen my portfolio and therby attract paying work - oh and it's brought me a lot of happiness. So its value is hard to define.

As a busybody member of the Christian Comics Coalition once said to me at comicon "No true artist is ever famous in their own lifetime". Thanks a lot for that one, beardface!

 

I know I could try something different, it's just that right now I don't really want to. Maybe one day though, then you'll have to watch out... I suppose that would be another form of diversificationWink

Chuck

http://www.pewfell.com

A comics success is all

Brinkerhoff's picture

A comics success is all about the creator. Many web cartoonists live in fantasy about their strips making them any real money. If you don't approach the comic like a business, you'll never make money at it. When you come at it as a hobbyist, that's all it will ever be. There are webcomic business models being formed right now, but not by people who aren't truly dedicated to making their comic work in a substantial way. This article is great in pointing out a simple foundation to getting the ball rolling. The web is a glut of part-time hobbyists and dreamers. The cartoons that are making money are doing it because they are in capable hands.

It's true that unless you

chuckwheel's picture

It's true that unless you treat your comic as a business it will never become one, but if you're going to be all businessy about it why not go into a business that you actually have a decent chance at making a living from? I suppose if I wanted to live off Pewfell I could probably move to a poorer country and live in a beach hut (with broadband internet connection of course) and I'd be able to get by pretty well.

There was a time a few years back when I didn't really bother too much with a dayjob and focused on Pewfell more-or-less full-time and got very businesslike about it all (I do have a BSc degree in Marketing from the CASS Business School in London). While I did this the strip certainly did OK, I sold more merchandise, I got higher readership and income but it never came anywhere close to paying a $2000 a month mortgage in San Francisco without me having to spend a lot of time on other projects as well. I'm more than willing to admit that my material might have been the problem and certainly not to everyone's taste, but I neither was I willing to set out on some sort of cynical exercise to produce something that my heart wasn't in 100%.

In the end it made more sense to focus that Business energy elsewhere and keep Pewfell as something fun. This didn’t hurt the quality of my work, in fact it has continued to improve. The strip ticks over pretty well, and anything I make from it goes right back into it, but when you factor in the cost of computers, internet connection, paper, ink, pens, book printing costs etc. there are a lot of things to offset against any revenue. As far as the tax man is concerned any income I make is rapidly swallowed up by my more legitimate business expenses, i.e. freelance illustration jobs and even my day-job ad agency work. Even with freelance work I can make more from one night's scribbling than I can from a whole month of drawing Pewfell.

Chuck

http://www.pewfell.com

I'm with you on this, Chuck

The William G's picture

It's true that unless you treat your comic as a business it will never become one, but if you're going to be all businessy about it why not go into a business that you actually have a decent chance at making a living from?

I'm definitely agreeing with this. I can see how some creators with a kid to feed, or a drug habit to support would be totally money-minded. But since money seems to be the only goal a webcomic creator is allowed to have these days, why don't these guys just hire some college girls and start selling lesbian porn?

Â


Some people want to make a living making comics...

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Why would making a living from comics be a bad thing? Every artist who makes a living from their work balances their need to pursue their art with their need to eat.Â

Is someone who is savvy about marketing themselves to the world and making some money off of their work inherently doomed to produce crap?

Is someone who monastically ignores the need for money inherently destined to create the highest quality webcomic work?

There is a huge range of options from experimental work from unknown artists to lesbian p0rn - quite a few artists do good work and do well for themselves working in what I like to call "the mainstream" (I mean that term in the non-superhero sense).

____

Xaviar XerexesÂ

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

Thanks!

Hello everyone- I appreciate the feedback in regard to my first article. I really do find the space to be fascinating, especially since it's in such an early stage and is naturally working all the kinks out.

To answer Eric, I apologize for not giving more of a background on who I am or what I do, but it seemed unnatural in an article that wasn't about me. Thank god for comments, I suppose.

I have an MBA from the Marshall School of Business in Marketing and Corporate Finance (USC) and completed my undergrad at UCLA studying business economics. After finishing up at UCLA, I started out as an analyst at Goldman Sachs essentially breaking down P&Ls and doing grunt work as an excel-junkie for 2 years, at which point I could either join the ranks of GS for the long haul or break out and do my own thing. I ended up going back to Los Angeles to get my MBA and then partnered with a few of my colleagues to start a small market consulting firm in SF, where I still reside and still work with a portfolio of about a dozen emerging technology firms.

Whether I know what I'm talking about is really up to you- I'm just giving advice and you can take it or leave it. However, to be honest, the numbers aren't terribly relevant. As Big Al pointed out, this is theory. This is putting Y cogs into one end of the machine and getting X cogs out the other. It scales small and large.

Eric, you also ask what these steps will work at accomplishing? (Money/Readers/Acclaim) Come on, do you seriously need to ask that question?

Thanks again, everyone.

-Sebs

Interesting perspective

chuckwheel's picture

I think it's very interesting to get this kind of outside perspective on webcomics, but I wonder how much of a 'business' this is. For me it is and will probably remain a hobby. I realized long ago that I'm always going to be able to make far more money doing other things. That's not to say that I don't dream of Pewfell succeeding on a larger scale and I will continue to make investments in the strip (e.g. my current sponsorship of Comixpedia) and have books and t-shirts for sale, but this is really only a very small fraction of my income. It is a rare month when I do more than break even with the strip.

I think it's great that there are some artists who have managed to break out and reach that larger audience and thereby actually make some sort of living off their strips. I don't knwo how good of a living they make (but I agree that that is nobody's business but their own), but once press syndiction, TV or movie rights get involved I suppose the sky must be the limit.

Successful strips are, however, pretty few and far between and their success depends more than anythign on their content. Their authors have hit on something that maybe even they can't quite define. They are, for the most part, just doing what appeals to them and beign true to their own innder voices. I've thought many times about trying to do a strip specifically designed to have more popular appeal, but at the end of the day Pewfell is what I love to do, and what I continue to do whether anyone reads it or not. Fortunately thanks to the web I do have at least some readers.

During the California gold rush it was the people who sold the shovels who made the real fortunes, and that is why Joey's evil empire will one day own us all Money mouth

I think the article is

Big Al's picture

I think the article is sound, as the author is discussing known business theory and how it could translate into webcomics. The whole point is to foster discussion and thinking along different lines than web artists normally would.

A study as Eric is requesting would be nice to have, but it would cost time and effort that the author may not have at the time.

It's a very good thing that

Joey Manley's picture

It's a very good thing that webcomics isn't dominated by public corporations whose sole purpose is to make money. It's a very, very good thing.

But that fact -- the lack of public corporations at the top of the field -- means that any analysis of business models and business success has to depend on anecdotal evidence, and on the statements of people running privately-held small businesses who may or may not be inclined to tell the whole truth (and who may or may not play to the peanut gallery and tell young cartoonists what they want to hear, and only that) about their success or lack of success tyring this or that.

For example, I know that I was very reluctant to talk about how well WCN was doing financially, for fear of public backlash. Webcomics is a contentious, ideologically-charged field, and it seems that any success of any sort will always lead to public backlash.

And I was right to be reluctant to admit to my success. As soon as I mentioned in a podcast on Digital Strips that I was able to make a living from WCN, certain parties (some of whom had been supportive of WCN up until that point) jumped all over me and started trying to tear WCN down (well, yeah, my dick and fart column didn't help matters, either, I'll admit it).

And that reluctance was caused by my success -- there's a similar, and probably stronger, reluctance on the part of people who are not successful, to admit their lack of success in trying this or that business model.

Completely understandable on both ends.

You can't blame people in webcomics for not giving up the whole truth when it comes to their businesses.

This makes life for the financial analyst difficult. In "regular" business fields, public corporations tend to dominate -- and public corporations are compelled, by force of law, to provide audited, meaningful data about their business, which is accurate to the tiniest detail. Private businesses are not compelled to do any such thing.

Again, like I said, it's a very good thing that webcomics isn't dominated by public corporations. But one bad effect is that the secrets to business success in this field are unknowable, still, despite the claims of certain idealologues to have found all the answers. Given the unknowability of the definition of "success," (and that unknowability, by the way, will stand in place until every "successful" webcartoonist or webcomics business owner is willing to make his/her tax filings and bank account statements public information -- which is not going to happen anytime soon), I think the author of this piece did a fairly good job. As good as can be expected.

Joey
www.webcomicsnation.com

Nobody is going to want to

PvP's picture

Nobody is going to want to disclose their personal salary, and it would be inappropriate to ask people to disclose that information publically.

What you make a year is nobody's business but you and the IRS.

Perhaps offering up what percentages of a total income are generated from various revenue streams. But not the actual numbers.

I certainly would not share that information.

Disappointed by "Diversifiwebcomication"

EricMillikin's picture

My reaction seems to be the opposite of T Campbell's. I found this article to be pretty disappointing.

It starts with the idea that "My real job is looking at what makes businesses work. ... I know what I'm talking about," without giving any real information on the author's qualifications. Why should I believe this person knows what they are talking about? Because they say they know what they're talking about?

I'm also not really clear on what the author is talking about. "Businesses that work through diversification," apparently, but work at what? Bringing in money? Attracting readers? Garnering critical acclaim?

We're then given two examples of webcomics that the author apparently believes are successful businesses, but there's no indication of a) how the success is being measure or b) how these examples meet that measurement of success or c) how this success was caused by diversification.

For example, if the point of this article is that diversification can lead to financial success in webcomics, I'd like to read that "Artist-X makes $75,000 per year, but she can only do it through diversifivation. She makes $25,000 off newspaper syndication, $25,000 off webcomics subscriptions, and $25,000 off commissioned artwork."

Or something. Give me specifics. Maybe do a webcomics salary survey, then find out who is on top and then interview them to try to find out why.  Or search through public financial records of a large group of webcomics artists to see who is on top. Just give me some sort of facts somehow, please.

As it is, I don't think this article makes much of a point -- readers are expected to take too much on faith. The author tells us that "I know what I'm talking about" and "all of these guys know what they're doing" -- but there's no real evidence for any of this.Â

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Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

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Fetus-X is the greatest comic in the world.

I've wanted to see an

I've wanted to see an article like this for years. Thank you!