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Will There Be A YouComic?

Joey Manley, webcomics entrepreneur, posts about "analyzing the market" which he defines as webcomics portals, aggregators and technology providers. (Which as Manley notes is a bit different than the questions an individual creator asks themselves when working on a comic) In the comments there's some talk of Web 2.0 as well which I'll tie into things later on.

First off, I can't imagine any content-related business that isn't going through wrenching changes with the advent of the Internet as THE platform for delivery along with other non-trivial economic trends like... globalization, for starters. Perversely though, comics (and webcomics) have the benefit of being long-time business losers (with arguably the exception of two companies) on a steady decline. So at least comics has the odd benefit of not having to fight incumbents entrenched in an old paradigm. Instead it has the even harder fight of creating a bigger than niche market in this new post-Internet world.

Put this in perspective - we all know that webcomics have flattened the barrier to entry for creators. You want to create and distribute a comic world wide? The Internet allows anyone to do that. It's eliminated the need for traditional publishers, distributors, retail outlets, etc. What has emerged are companies like Keenspot, Modern Tales, Drunk Duck that facilitate the independent creator's ability to distribute their comics over the Internet. But none of these webcomic companies have the same kind of relationship to creators as traditional publishers, etc. do.

In the "space" of comics/webcomics, I think there is potential for non-creators to provide services for growing the size of the market for comics overall, but I suspect these non-creators are going to have to demonstrate their value in terms of growing the overall market for comics because by definition (if these non-creators are not charities then they need to make profits), they are going to add cost to the no-cost chain of creator-website-reader. I'm also not sure what exactly these "services" will look like, but again unless they provide a tangible return for their cost, creators will likely not opt out of the no-cost chain of creator-website-reader.

Manley as a businessman is interested, presumably, in having a growing business - businesses with seriously big rates of growth are the ones that tend to attract investors and even turn into big money for the hard work the entrepreneur puts into it. Are comics that kind of business though? Not all "markets" are going to grow because of the Internet - some are just going to have the cost structure stripped out of them and a corresponding collapse of revenues. Journalism, for example, strikes me as an area where it's not clear that we'll ever have in the post-Internet era anything remotely like the newspaper business of the last couple centuries. (We may have, for example, essentially foundation-funded journalism)

And if "comics" are not a compelling growth story then what about Web 2.0 or other ways to sell the story of the webcomic entrepreneur? I think it depends on how large you think a flickr for comics can get (and if it is not so big that flickr itself won't be interested in becoming the "flickr of comics"). These are tough questions to answer and I don't pretend to know how to.

I think the essential point I'm making though is a general one, which is that comics/webcomics creators have no barriers to get their work out in front of a world wide audience now. Non-creators constructing a business in such a world have to find ways to add value both to the market as a whole and to the individual creator(s) that are compelling enough to move (if not) everyone (than a sufficient number) off of the no-cost chain of creator-website-reader.

UPDATE: Joey's writing lots on this topic nowadays:

Aside to Xerexes: the "Links

Joey Manley's picture

Aside to Xerexes: the "Links Toward a Business Plan" link in your original post is incorrect (it goes to the Spurgeon post). The actual link to that post is here. p=921 instead of p=920.

Joey
www.webcomicsnation.com

Thanks. Fixed.

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

 

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Ummmm.... I think you

Joey Manley's picture

Ummmm.... I think you changed the wrong link. I was talking about the one at the bottom of your post, in the "updated" list of links. The one at the top now points to a post you weren't talking about up there.

whew

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

thanks again. Fixed?

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Hmmm.

Coffman's picture

You know what's odd? I think they already HAVE the NEAR equivalent of what Youtube or Flickr offers people. Well, as far as I know, Webcomics Nation allows you to pretty easily publish and host comics online, and Drunk Duck is even easier to grab and go. It's fun to think about.

I mean, FLickr and Youtube, the users aren't out to make money, it's a free service offered to them. Then those companies make the majority if not all of their money from ad dollars and media sponsors.

The problem with a webcomics business currently is, the audience, at least 90% it seems, are other creators or aspiring creators.

Could you imagine if 90% of the audience of movies were people who wanted to make movies or make their own feeble attempts and upload them online? Or if the only people who listened to music were, etc etc etc.

THAT is where the other entertainment mediums have the edge. Maybe the key is to get your comics read by more common people, or niche audiences. Hell, the most succesful webcomics currently are pretty much built round niche audiences. It's something to think about.

DJ Coffman- cartoonist

yirmumah.net - herobynight.com

Actually I Can

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I know comics culture is extraordinarily participatory (and webcomics triply so) compared to the rest of the world and I get that point, but YouTube and Flickr (and cheap digital cameras (including video) and great editing tools for PCs) are turning photos and films into participatory mediums too.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

j

Coffman's picture

[quote=xerexes]

I know comics culture is extraordinarily participatory (and webcomics triply so) compared to the rest of the world and I get that point, but YouTube and Flickr (and cheap digital cameras (including video) and great editing tools for PCs) are turning photos and films into participatory mediums too.

[/quote]

Definitely. Or is it that they've made it so easy for people to publish? Like free blogging places or even places like Myspace. It's become SUPER easy to publish online, wherein a few years ago, the common thought for non-users was that they needed to know some HTML or web design to publish online.

We live in a pretty much, point, click, publish society nowadays.

DJ Coffman- cartoonist

yirmumah.net - herobynight.com

Agreed on all of this, with

Joey Manley's picture

Agreed on all of this, with one big caveat: there is no "no-cost chain."

Free hosting on Comic Genesis or WCN Free seems no-cost, but there is profit extracted, in the form of banner advertising on your pages -- banners you yourself don't get paid for. In a very real way, you can think of the banner revenue you're not getting as the amount you're "paying" for the "free" hosting. Same with Keenspot: creators "pay" for their hosting by forfeiting some large percentage (I've heard varying numbers -- fifty percent?) of their ad banner revenue.

If you're looking to make a living from webcomics, you clearly can't do so with free hosting anyway, from within the webcomics world or outside it (geocities, etc.)

You gotta buy, um, non-free hosting. Which, by definition, is not no-cost.

Hosting is, until you're wildly popular, anyway, in the *extremely low-cost* category these days. I'll freely admit that. But since you won't be making a living doing a webcomic until you're wildly popular, this point is irrelevant to those with money-making ambitions (those without money-making ambitions are very well-served by the webcomics world as it exists today, I should mention).

Gathering audiences (i.e. marketing and promotion) are also not free (they either cost money or significant amounts of time).

It is especially in that last item, gathering audiences, that an aggregator can provide a great deal of value. I do not claim that my own business has lived up to its full potential in this regard. Yet.

Joey