It pays to give stuff away

Well, Daku is right about Free Comics Book Day being about advertising, not charity. Every marketer knows that free samples are the best way to get the public to check out your product.

Still, there’s something counterintuitive about making more by charging less, so I was intrigued by this interview with Phil Foglio, the creator (with his wife Kaja) of Girl Genius, who claims he’s doing better than ever since he shifted over to a webcomics model. Foglio says his earnings have increased, even though the webcomic, and the online versions of his older print comics, are all free.

This came about partly because he was spared the expense of pamphlet comics; he still publishes Girl Genius in print, but only the collected editions, and he estimates that eliminating floppies saved him $20,000 a year.

But sales of the trades are also way up. Here’s Foglio:

Our sales have quadrupled, and not just from our online store. Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we’re one of their bigger independent sellers.

While web traffic is significant, I’d guess from looking at the site that advertising is only a small part of the mix. There are ads from Project Wonderful and Google Ads at the bottom of the page, but the big banners are given over to Girl Genius, not someone else’s.

In addition to their books, the Foglios sell T-shirts and other gewgaws through Cafe Press. And the site is well stocked with a variety of material to keep readers coming back—short stories, sketchbook, free wallpapers, fanart. And there’s a PayPal tip jar.

The Foglios started out strong, with an established website and plenty of printed books ready to ship. But Phil thinks the web is a great starting point, even for creators who are just starting out.

'I’d been telling young artists for years that the web was the way to go,” he said. “Finally I realized that we were being stupid not following our own advice,'

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