In a post that’s almost two weeks old now, Jeph Jacques defends the current selling-t-shirts-and-prints webcomics business model, pointing out that it’s just as valid as any other way of making money off of comics. Key quote:
Saying webcartoonists are t-shirt hucksters is like saying Charles Schultz was an insurance salesman because Snoopy is on the Met Life blimp.
Dave Roman considers the many possible ways of monetizing webcomics and ends up rather dubious about the notion that readers will pay directly for content, either online or on some sort of device. He sure asks a lot of questions!
Marvel exec Ira Rubenstein is more optimistic about paid content. Anthony Ha casts him as the Clueless Suit in this now-famous (on the internet anyway) exchange at the ICv2 Graphic Novel conference:
Rubenstein: Those are our characters. How could someone else write another Spider-Man story?
Roman: Because fan fiction is becoming so powerful. Iâ€™ve seen the power of fan fiction. Working at Nickelodeon, there are people out there doing â€˜Avatarâ€™ comics that are soooooo much betterâ€¦
Rubenstein: But thatâ€™s like saying YouTube is a real entertainment channel. Itâ€™s not.
He leaves out the part where Roman and a bunch of other people yell “It is!” But Rubenstein responds in the comments that he was taken out of context, and he makes a good point:
I made the comment that only Marvel could create compelling new stories with our characters. To which Dave made the comment about Fan Fiction.
The point I was making was comparing fan fiction to our Marvel Comics is like comparing an Episode of LOST or HEROES to user generated content on YOUTUBE.
In other words, people will be willing to pay for the good stuff.
My point is that fans are willing to pay for professional content and they are not willing to pay for content otherwise created. Therefore I do not believe that the Comic Book industry has to put all of it’s content up for free on the internet or there is no pay model as Dave was insisting. That we can create compelling digital experiences at Marvel for all users, across many devices.
Rubenstein himself has launched the Marvel channel on YouTube. Of course, it looks like the content there is free…
Marvel will be selling motion comics through iTunes pretty soon, and the fact that Switched.com saw fit to bundle that information with a list of nine of their favorite comics would seem to bode ill for Marvel, except that their product and those nine comics, all of which I believe are available for free, are shooting for totally different audiences with different preconceptions and buying habits.
For your further reading pleasure, Ars Technica has an exhaustive article on handheld reading devices.