Quick links: Debating the business model

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. I’ve seen the power of fan fiction. Working at Nickelodeon, there are people out there doing ‘Avatar’ comics that are soooooo much better…

Rubenstein: But that’s like saying YouTube is a real entertainment channel. It’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…

(Via Journalista.)

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.

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3 thoughts on “Quick links: Debating the business model

  1. I’ve been really going over this thing in my own noggin’ of late, especially with ebooks. The big question I have is do free ebooks generate any sales for a trade paperback? Or are the two mutually exclusive of one another? If they’re exclusive, then charging a small fee for an ebook (especially if the webcomics themselves are still free) doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Say something like $1.99 for 140 pages, nicely formatted with extra features (concept art, scripts, etc…). I tend to think that the Kindle pricing is out of whack ($9.99+ seems very high to me), but low-priced ebooks (especially without pesky DRM restrictions) seem like a viable model.

    So, does something like free webcomics, low-priced ebooks, reasonably priced trade paperbacks and other merchandise work? Or does ANY price on an ebook restrict or eliminate sales entirely? And if so, does that further destroy trade paperback sales? I really wish there was more data. I have no doubts that really, really popular sites can and do both (the Monty Python Youtube channel immediately springs to mind). But for low traffic sites? It’s a poser.

    Back to chin in hand, me!

  2. You’re asking some good questions, Von. Certainly when I see anyone charging $14.99 for an ebook, I think “I could get the real one for that.” But print is my preferred medium. There are people out there already who are very dedicated to their Kindles and e-readers and they will shell out the bucks. The catch is that there aren’t very many.

    For webcomics, I still think the most viable model is free online comic —> purchase of a print collection. Once you pay for a download, you have it for life and you don’t need the print book. And I can’t see people paying for a download in addition to the print version, at the moment, because the download doesn’t offer any enhancements (unless it includes a lot of extra content).

    Of course, I have been wrong about a lot of things in the past, but it’s hard to see an expensive download as good value for the money. A cheap download, on the other hand, would be OK.

  3. I’m a print lover myself, so I find it very tricky to try and figure out how this will develop. I know there’s been some thought on using the ebook as an enhancement for prose books; something like $20.00 for the physical book but $24.00 gets you the physical book, the audio version and an ebook version, too. Would something like that work for graphic novels/webcomics? I’m not so sure right now.

    I suspect that for the short term I’ll release my bookie as a free ebook just to try and get more eyeballs looking at it. And then see how things play out from there. At least this way there’s a chance (albeit a small one) that the ebook might start spreading organically rather than just relying on readers coming to me.

    I think! 🙂

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