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#250574 - 06/19/05 08:24 PM Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Contrary to what some are saying, micropayments are a mammoth success and an undeniable bonanza of income on the web. The only problem is, the micropayment system that has succeeded is the one built into Apple's ipod. As for Bitpass, the picture isn't so clear. I'm no financial analyst, but if you look at the Bitpass site's own news page, you see only a couple of articles from this year, and none of them are very impressive.

I gather that Bitpass might get a chunk of the up and coming internet radio income. That remains to be seen.

What does this have to do with comics? Simple. The success of Bitpass for selling comics is highly dependent on its success in selling other merchandice. That's one of the reasons Modern Tales was able to take off as smoothly as it did-- Paypal was well-established by the time they premiered, and so consumers were past that initial hesitation that is so fatal to sales. But with Bitpass, that hesitation is still there. Until consumers have actually enrolled in Bitpass, it's very difficult to motivate them to go through the trouble of enrolling.

A single week was hardly a decent trial period for Bitpass on the Goats guy's site. But if he'd kept it up a year, the situation might not have been much better. He was already giving readers plenty of content for free; why should they not only pay, but go through the hassle of enrolling, only to get more of what they already have plenty of?

But if Bitpass is not ready for prime time yet, why should we care? Here's the reason--

Print comics are established on the principle that the audience pays for the content. As a result, the reader gets multiple pages at one time in an attractive format without excessive advertising. The work is done by skilled professionals who can afford to devote a decent amount of time to it.

The commercially successful webcomics are quite a contrast with this. They're given away free, displayed on cluttered, ad-choked pages; you usually get the equivalent of a single comic strip; and often the artwork is at the lower end of professionalism. (There are exceptions to the last, such as the stellar work on Sinfest.)

To attract the kind of professionals who create print comics, the web has to evolve some kind of payment system that doesn't involve giving the work away for free.

The best system of this kind that's appeared so far is the subscription model. Subscriptions are viable because they involve more substantial fees that Paypal can handle. They're easier on the consumer because they don't involve repeated purchase actions.

And they have advantages for the seller. For one thing, the subscriber often doesn't use the full value of their purchase; a subscriber might not even visit the site for a full month, in which case the payment has been collected without expending bandwidth in exchange. Another big advantage of subscriptions is that they renew automatically, so the consumer has to make a slight effort to NOT pay.

The problem with subscriptions is that a site must have a substantial amount of content to justify them. This creates an almost insurmountable challenge for the creator. A daily comic like American Elf can succeed, but something of lesser quality or frequency is likely to fail.

So that means that the subscription approach is probably only going to be successful for a collective. Which means you have all the headaches of making a collective work. And there aren't many people with the fanatic dedication of a Joey Manley or a Chris Crosby to make it happen.

Well, then, does this mean the great migration of print talents to the web is going to shudder to a halt? Not likely. For one thing, there are many more skilled and inspired comics artists than there are print opportunities, so the web is always positioned to capture the overflow.

And the web has its uses as a promotional tool. Take a look at the Flight Anthology, or Shutterbug Follies, two outstanding print projects that benefited from shrewd promotion with heady doses of webcomics.

And even if it's not an impressive revenue tool, Bitpass definitely has its uses. It's a way of putting a series out there for people to see and salivate over, without giving it away for free. Yeah, maybe your readership for the body of the series will be 500 instead of 500,000, but those 500 may do your career more good in the long run; and you always have those sample pages dangling out there that the casual surfer will check out and be intrigued by.
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Joe Zabel

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#250575 - 06/20/05 06:52 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Note-- Neal Von Flue couldn't log on to Comicon, but posted his reply here: http://ape-law.com/hypercomics/?p=173
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Joe Zabel

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#250576 - 06/20/05 06:58 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
William_G Offline
Member

Registered: 06/20/05
Posts: 78
You know Joe, I think the problem wth this whole argument is that people seem to be ignoring a major point. Looking at the success of Itunes: Music by the latest band is considered to have value by the general public, where comics do not have that value.

Now, I don't know where this problem stems from. Be it the meaningless of print comics in our culture, or the top webcomic artists treating their comics as an afterthought. The end result is that few with the cash to spend on the web see webcomics as being worth paying for.

So really, it's not a problem with the comics, nor is it a problem with micropayemts. It's a matter of public perception.

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#250577 - 06/20/05 07:03 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
William_G Offline
Member

Registered: 06/20/05
Posts: 78
I'll quote Neal Von Flue's reply for the lazy. If this is out of bounds for the board's manners sorry:

Quote:
As I’ve explained (ad naseum, to some) I’ve tried in the last few months to stay out of webcomics and it’s politics. After swinging in the direction of constantly having to express my opinions on the comings and goings of our community, I swung the other direction, effectively shying away from the public discourse and honestly, enjoying it quite a bit.

Well, now I’m swinging back. Hopefully to center, and proving it by only speaking my mind when I feel moved to, or when I think my own perspective may add to the discussion. (and I also plan on getting back to making some comics, which is probably my better side, whenever my real life permits…)

So anyway, this by no means is meant to perpetuate the noise surrounding all of the recent calamity in in the webcomic community. This so-called PA/Garza bizness, that became the PA/McCloud controversy. I offered my opinion on that already. This is an attempt to get to the heart of the matter here. Which is really, how we are to make our money.

Don’t think all of the recent flaming (and subsequent retractions) was anything but skirting around the issue of making money. As artists who throw themselves into their work and strive to do it to the best of their abilities, Frankly, we’re sick of doing it for nothing. And getting ridiculous fans complaining about it when we get frustrated, on top of everything else. Or other assholes who take advantage of the attention to worm a few more hits. But enough about that. My rambling non-sensical “add to the conversation” point(s) being:

The PA guys have what they think to be a successful way to make money at webcomics. And apparently they’re getting pissed that it hasn’t been recognized. This is a fair point. It should be recognized. But not as making money in webcomics. They make money selling t-shirts. and other merchandise. And advertising. So, at the end of the day, it isn’t their comic about gaming that puts bread on their table. It’s their clients and advertisers. It’s their merchandisers.

Just like, at the end of the day, television is not about desperate housewives, it’s about Ex-lax. If Ex-lax hates the desperate housewives and refuses to advertise during that hour (or on that channel), guess who gets the boot? Not Ex-lax. Remember this when you read Penny Arcade. Or anyone else making money in webcomics. They really don’t.

Although a newspaper strip, dispersed through the Internet, has afforded them a cultish spread to sell t-shirts and banner ads through, They DO NOT make money on thier webcomics. This is a distinction. And not a bad one, of course. I make murals and paintings to afford me time to make webcomics. To me, this is the same. Their t-shirt and advertising sales afford them time to make comics. That’s good, but it is not making money selling your webcomics. Any more than to the extent that they are symbiotic, and advertise each other…

Next, go read this conversation-starter by Joe Zabel. He effectively skirts around something similar, and he also lays out quite a case for why Bitpass fails, despite micropayments being a success. I’ll add one more (which may be inconsequential, but it occurs to me all the same).

One of the reasons Bitpass flounders is because there are no big names using it. iTunes thrives on big names that show up on the radio and television every minute. Outkast built iTunes. and Britney Spears. Not people like Elvis Costello or David Bowie. they are just gravy, and have grown into the solid infrastructure that the stars-of-the-minute have over-saturated themselves in (despite record companies lying and saying their sales are down. Remeber that. It may help prove my point further down the line….).

We may have a number of webcomic Bowie’s or Costello’s, who are using bitpass to a very limited and shaky success. But there is only one guy with a big name using comic’s best micropayment system. that’s right, Scott McCloud. And as an advocate (and company consultant) it can hardly be gleaned that he is behind Bitpass altruistically (I mean, I think he is. But you don’t, and I guess that matters…)

If we had more “big names” taking up a micropayment banner, and using it as a complement to their already successful strategy of “selling shit other than webcomics”, we’d probably see quite a jump in the viability (or destruction) of Bitpass. I don’t see these business models as exclusive, really.

I see no reason that Penny Arcade can’t lock up a years worth of strips in a pdf file and sell em for $0.99. What’s that? Over 250 PA strips for less than a dollar?Everyone talks about how awesome they are, and how they’ve spent 20 bucks (including shipping) on an EpicWang shirt, why not buy the actual strips you love so much, for a fraction of the price?

The biggest complaint I’ve seen from Bitpass customers is that they don’t know where to spend their remaining credits. People complain about wanting to buy the content to support their creator, but being stuck with another $2.00? Then, offer 3 years at once. Hell, give ‘em 4 for 3 bucks. Are you guys worried about unlawful distribution? First off, how is it different now, when all of the strips are currently available for printing and distributing, for free? (because the strip is secondary to the merch? Aww, I won’t go back into that) but at least behind a bitpass gateway, you’ve made some money off them, right?

Say 500 people fall for it? (this, by all rights, is a conservative estimate of PA’s following) That’s 500 extra bucks you weren’t getting from those strips. Add it to your existing capital for merch. Make a bitpass-exclusive shirt that says “I’m a total dickotimy”, or something. (I don’t know, you guys’re the marketing geniuses…)

Anyway, If a few of webcomic’s heavy-weights took up the challenge of spending more time than setting up a week of situated conent to make Bitpass (or ANY micropay system) work, it’d go much further to proving that micropayments are dead than just claiming so.

And you may get compensated for your webcomics, instead of making webcomics to advertise your shirt line.

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#250578 - 06/20/05 05:46 PM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Quote:
Now, I don't know where this problem stems from. Be it the meaningless of print comics in our culture, or the top webcomic artists treating their comics as an afterthought. The end result is that few with the cash to spend on the web see webcomics as being worth paying for.
Yeah, these discussions of "how do you get the public to read more comics" should focus more on how you increase the quality of comics.

In this particular case, it's worth noting that the poster child of Bitpass is The Right Number. No doubt about it, it's an outstanding comic (I reviewed it here.

But it's not a complete comic. At the time of the big push for Bitpass, only one installment was up. I'm not sure how long it was before part two was brought up. But it has been a year, and we still don't have part 3. Cartoonists can get away with that kind of episodic structure when they're telling spralling epics. But The Right Number is supposed to be a tightly-focused psychological story, and the long wait has effectively sabotaged it.

I realize that McCloud has his own problems that prevented him from finishing it; I think carpel tunnel was part of the problem. But if we're going to judge the performance of Bitpass, we have to consider the quality of what's being offered with the service, and a third or two thirds of a short story is not a very tempting offer, no matter how good the story is.

Furthermore, the story was an edgy, experimental work. Could that have cut into the potential audience? I don't know; for me, it was exactly the genre to make me sit up and take interest. But I'm kind of in the minority.

Also, unfortunately, The Right Number was marketed as an experiment in Bitpass, which interfered with marketing it as being just a good comic. The short, cryptic preview probably didn't do much more to encourage people to read it. I wonder how many people tried it just to find out how Bitpass worked!
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#250579 - 06/21/05 12:33 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
AlexanderD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/13/04
Posts: 5
Loc: Boston
To say that folks like Tycho and Gabe aren't making money from their webcomic seems too hard a distinction to me. Yes, it's true that none of the money comes directly from the webcomic. But ALL of it comes indirectly from the webcomic. Without the webcomic, there would be no t-shirts, no advertising, nothing. There would be no one to sell t-shirts to, no one to advertise to. There would be no business at all. Whether the income is direct or indirect, it's the webcomic that makes any income at all possible, no matter which business model you follow. These people make a living *because* they make a webcomic. To say that they don't make their living *from* that webcomic is nothing but semantics.

That said, given the choice, I would much rather make money by selling my comic than by selling t-shirts from my comic. But as has been said elsewhere, the most baffling thing to me isn't that there's disagreement over the best business model -- it's that people seem to think you have to choose just one.

Or worse, that the same model will work equally well for all comics. The PA model can work fantastically well for comics with mass appeal. But for those of us who know full well that our comics are never going to have huge audiences, there's almost nothing to be gained by selling advertising, and little more to be gained from merchandise (not that that will stop me from experimenting with both).

There is no single business model that will work for everyone. The right model is entirely subjective to the comic it's supporting.

Taking that back to micropayments: obviously they won't work for everyone. They might never become a viable source of primary income. But they may still be useful for bringing in supplemental income when used in conjunction with other setups. It all depends on who uses them and how.

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#250580 - 06/21/05 01:11 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
William_G Offline
Member

Registered: 06/20/05
Posts: 78
I think that Penny Arcade has long moved past being about comics and is more geared towards maintaining the personality cult surrounding the authors and their cartoon avatars. Especially since what they say in their blogs is far more important than the comic they claim to make. So, I dont feel Penny Arcade gets it's money from the comic. It gets it's money from the internet personality cult it runs.

But yeah, you're right. Micropayments isnt an either/or proposition.

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#250581 - 06/21/05 06:31 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Actually, this comes back to what I was telling a cartoonist I know who does a comic with a romantic relationships theme. I told him that what would make his terrific comic into a big hit is if it were featured on a popular relationships/lifestyle kind of website.

The PA boys features lots of videogame reviews on their website; don't know how much effort they put into those vs. the comics. But it's an additional draw for their fan base and their advertising base. It's smart business, and I don't have any problem with that. (A little ironic that these guys don't like critics, when that's the business they're in, though! smile )

Figuring out how the web works is all fine and good. But, coming from the print comics perspective, I have two big problems with the whole situation.

1) I don't think most cartoonists are competent business people, nor should they be expected to be.

2) The most sublime enjoyment of comics is when you are exposed to the comics themselves (duh!) and it's spoiled when you have to be exposed to flashing ads and T shirts and all that crap.
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#250582 - 06/21/05 08:03 AM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
Matt Putnam-Pouliot Offline
Member

Registered: 07/27/03
Posts: 438
Quote:
Originally posted by William_G:
You know Joe, I think the problem wth this whole argument is that people seem to be ignoring a major point. Looking at the success of Itunes: Music by the latest band is considered to have value by the general public, where comics do not have that value.
I agree with William, and add to that that there's so many webcomics out there and the vast majority are free to the public. I think most of the general public aren't going to see the point of paying for comics. I'm just making a guess here, but it seems to me that most webcomic readers are comic book readers to begin with. Starting from that already limited pool, you take out the readers who are just interested in superheroes (and I love superheroes, BTW, I just love comics more), take out the people with slow connections or the ones who just don't enjoy reading comics on a computer screen and you're dealing with a very small demographic.

I think pay-to-read sites will become viable main sources of income when the audience is big enough to support them.
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#250583 - 06/21/05 01:38 PM Re: Why Micropayments are important, or are they?
AlexanderD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/13/04
Posts: 5
Loc: Boston
Quote:
I think that Penny Arcade has long moved past being about comics and is more geared towards maintaining the personality cult surrounding the authors and their cartoon avatars. Especially since what they say in their blogs is far more important than the comic they claim to make. So, I dont feel Penny Arcade gets it's money from the comic. It gets it's money from the internet personality cult it runs.
Penny Arcade is a divisive example. Let's apply my argument to, say, Scary Go Round instead. A genuinely good comic that supports itself with a variety of T-Shirts. The direct income source is the sale of T-shirts. But the comic is the primary focus of the site, and the only draw for readers.

Quote:
1) I don't think most cartoonists are competent business people, nor should they be expected to be.
I completely agree. Some creators do have business sense, and that's great. But it's got nothing to do with making good comics.

Quote:
2) The most sublime enjoyment of comics is when you are exposed to the comics themselves (duh!) and it's spoiled when you have to be exposed to flashing ads and T shirts and all that crap.
I do have a rule for my own sites that no ad will every flash, dance, or move. That drives me nuts. But static ads really don't bother me so much, so long as they're not actively intruding on the comics. Sure, it's still nicer not to have them, but I wouldn't go so far as to call anything "spoiled" by them.

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