Webcomics: Can’t even give it away?

First webcomics get booted off Wikipedia, now this: Diamond has rejected three webcomic-related comic books that were planned for this year’s Free Comic Book Day. Johanna Draper Carlson has the scoop at Comics Worth Reading, and she interviews Keenspot Entertainment co-owner Chris Crosby about the decision.

Keenspot has been participating in FCBD since 2002. Crosby is also affiliated with ComicGenesis.com and Blatant Comics, both of which have also participated in years past. Blatant’s planned 2008 FCBD issue would have promoted a print graphic novel scheduled to come out this spring. Keenspot planned an anthology of its print comics, and ComicGenesis, which is a webcomics hosting site, was putting together an anthology of webcomics plus a how-to guide.

But no. According to Crosby, Diamond’s FCBD committee rejected all three titles on the grounds of “no core title being currently published, or the current books sales not warranting the FCBD promotional support.”

One could argue that if the point of Free Comic Books Day is to promote print comics being sold in bricks-and-mortar stores, pushing webcomics would defeat the purpose. That argument deflates pretty quickly, though, when you consider that both Keenspot and Blatant publish print comics that are sold in comics stores. And as Crosby points out, the industry as a whole benefits when new people come in the door:

Most of our 3 million+ readers do not read print comic books, not including print collections of webcomics. Not because webcomics are free and webcomic readers are cheap (the fact that so many of us are making a living from our readerships is proof of that), but because they haven’t yet been exposed to a print comic that interested them enough.

At the Icarus Comics blog (may be NSFW), publisher Simon Jones, who is a keen observer of comics retailing, has this to say:

The need for standards is a given, and as a retailer-initiated promotion, it’s also rather understandable that the FCBD committee would be disinclined to support webcomics with their time and dollars. Yet Keenspot *does* publish print titles for the direct market, so I’m not sure how they can be excluded on this basis. (Should Marvel and DC also be cut from FCBD now that both companies have significantly expanded their online publishing presence? I can’t imagine either not heavily touting their newfangled websites in their respective freebies.)

Then again, he adds, maybe they’re dissing Keenspot et al. because they’re small, not web-oriented. Feel better?

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3 thoughts on “Webcomics: Can’t even give it away?

  1. Is it surprising that webcomics wouldn’t warrant promotional support from a publisher? The internet is inundated with self published comics, and publishers are much more interested in promoting tried and true franchises than indie comics, that’s just a fact of life.

    Also, Crosby’s statement is an absurd non sequitur. Perhaps Keenspot et al. may get 3 million uniques, but how on earth does it follow that these people are not reading print comics? I think it makes a lot more sense that whoever reads webcomics ALSO is purchasing print comics, not to mention the tens of millions of print comics readers who have never even heard of webcomics. “Terror of the online menace?” Hardly. More like a drop in the bucket.

  2. First of all, Diamond is a distributor, not a publisher. Therefore, they would benefit from any expansion of the market. Admittedly, it’s easier to stick with the established trademarks and channels, but I don’t think they are being asked to do much here—if I understand this correctly, retailers pay for the books and a shipping fee, so Diamond may be taking a small hit but they’re certainly not giving anything away. (Here is an interesting discussion of the costs involved.)

    As to your second point, the vast majority of people never read comics, and many of the webcomics on Keenspot appeal to a very different reader than the traditional comics store customer. The style and content of comics like Candi and The Devil’s Panties are so different from your standard superhero comic (the bread and butter of the LCS) that I doubt there is much overlap at all. The comics audience is getting broader, but most new readers do all their shopping in chain bookstores. If FCBD is going to change that, they have to offer more than the standard array of superhero and horror titles.

  3. “Also, Crosby’s statement is an absurd non sequitur. Perhaps Keenspot et al. may get 3 million uniques, but how on earth does it follow that these people are not reading print comics?”

    That statement was based on the poll results of a Keenspot reader survey. I’m pretty confident any other webcomic or webcomic group would see similar poll results. The webcomics readership is many times larger than the print comic book readership.

    “I think it makes a lot more sense that whoever reads webcomics ALSO is purchasing print comics…”

    That assumption doesn’t match up with our survey numbers.

    “…not to mention the tens of millions of print comics readers who have never even heard of webcomics.”

    There may be tens of millions of newspaper comic strip readers, but there’s no data to suggest there are anywhere near tens of millions of regular readers of print comic book. COMICS BUYERS GUIDE magazine has estimated that number to be somewhere around 500,000. Seems like a realistic estimate, considering the top-selling print comic book only sells around 150,000 copies per issue.

    Diamond estimates that only about one million people have participated in the Free Comic Book Day event since its inception in 2002. Even the largest industry event of the year barely attracts a million people.

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