Issue #5 – Bricks and Clicks
Back in March of 1999 I discovered a band called Natasha’s Ghost by downloading a copy of one of their singles from MP3.com. I established contact with the lead singer through an e-mail address I found on their website (www.natashasghost.com), and eventually became friends with her. I found out the names of her other albums and listened to more examples of their work at the site, and ultimately bought three of their albums and several more copies for my friends. Then I went to San Diego in the summer of 2000 and met the group, had coffee, went to a concert of theirs, helped them sell a bunch of CDs at the concert, and had a great time all together.
All in all, their web presence probably got me to spend $100 on albums by them, and my help setting up the CD sales at their booth helped them sell several more albums. More so, I have told countless friends about the group who have either gone out to buy their albums themselves or were given copies as gifts from me. Decent turnaround on the MP3.com exposure and band website just from one fan, with only one thing lacking. Despite the ability to do so at MP3.com and/or their own website, I did not buy their music online. I went to the store and picked up a physical copy.
Bricks versus clicks. I received an e-mail after the first “issue” of this column ran, in which it was suggested I “compare online comics to self-published music and books.” I gave this some consideration, and since I happened to know someone who has a successful band and has used the Internet as a tool to get her work out there, I thought I’d explore a free-for-all discussion with her about her experiences and thoughts. I didn’t really know what directions the conversation would turn, but it ultimately centered on the bricks versus clicks notion. My story of how I became a fan of their work through the web is not unique. They get a tremendous amount of feedback from people that discovered their work on the web and then… went to the store to buy the CD’s or, in some cases, downloaded the music from a source like Napster.
When mp3’s first started getting big, Natasha’s Ghost was on the scene. There was a dream for a while that selling music on the Internet direct for download was going to take off like wildfire. A dollar per song versus $15 for a CD with that dollar going directly to the artist? Sounds wonderful. Before the idea could really take hold though, a creature called Napster emerged and music for free sounded better than a dollar a song. The exposure on MP3.com and on their own site and fan sites did succeed in creating a buzz for the band though, and people went out and bought CD’s and sent e-mails and became fans and… well, you get the idea. They did the same thing I did, found a band they loved and were able to feel a bit more connected to them through their web presence. People could go to their site to find tour dates, see what albums are out, see publicity photos, etc. The key though, was that they had a physical product to sell that people could go to stores or Amazon and pick up. Which in itself didn’t make them a living either, but it generated even more buzz about the group, and pretty soon fan sites started, and the music spread around the internet more. Ultimately they got music onto the soundtrack of a major motion picture, and the royalty checks started flowing in. That is where their money was made. Licensing. Royalties. Bricks. The clicks, however, played a major role in getting them there.
This is where I see online comics are in their current environment. I’ve said it before; people like the feel of something tangible in their hands. They can take a paper comic to bed, or on an airplane, or into the bathroom with them. That’s what people like, that’s what they know and it is what they are comfortable with. If you want to make them sit in a chair staring at a computer monitor while they read your comic, it had better really catch their attention and hold it, and be as painless as possible. Does that mean giving it away is a must and you have to just hope to make your money through tee shirts, original artwork, print versions of the comics, and the like? Right now that’s probably more true than not (unless you do something immensely clever like, say, http://www.moderntales.com), but I really think there is a lot of room to change that in the next few years. Broadband has hit some bumps right now though, and e-paper is still a few years off, so for now the best case scenario is probably a meshing of bricks and clicks if you want to maximize profits.