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#461518 - 03/30/01 09:48 PM Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Tom Spurgeon Offline
Member

Registered: 12/24/98
Posts: 1095
Loc: WCW Special Forces
Hi:

The last couple of weeks I've noticed a lot of disruption in big-name on-line media enterprises: L.A. Times New Media holding its breath while waiting to see how TMS is going to run their department, Inside being bought by Brill's Content, Salon making a PBS-style plea to its readership, various others in the rumor stage...

The connecting element seems to be the continuing lack of any kind of profit expectation. In some cases, almost a fundamental re-iteration of cluelessness about how that will take place. Not only are these sites not making a profit according to investments they've been receiving, but there seems to be little in the way of expectation that they will soon -- you don't see the rhetoric of "We'll be profitable by 20XX" as near as much as you used to. In fact, no one speaking in general media sources seems to have any further imagination-catching clue as to how on-line media will be profitable than they did three years ago. At least to my cursory reading on the subject.

So where do comics-online boosters believe the profits are going to come from these days? And when? I'm guessing media sites in general will retrench dramatically in the next 12 months, but will slowly rebuild in the 24 after that around leaner, single-service sites as people get used to buying stuff on-line and better incorporate very specific on-line routines as part of their workday. Is everyone still holding their breath for micropayments? Are people really positive that people will embrace that? Is it subscription services -- will there be a new comics day between shared sites on the 'Net in a few years? Does anyone really have any good guess?

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#461519 - 03/30/01 10:52 PM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Don't know if I'm crashing the party here, being neither, but here's my 2.

Face it, the internet is a hassle. You need expensive equipment to get on, and it's slow as hell.

Two things make the internet appealing--

* Instant access to the world.

* Lots of free stuff. Take away the free stuff, and I think you're going to lose a huge percentage of your internet audience. The trend has been to take stuff that cost money before (such as music) and make it free via rip-off.

* Self-expression (like right now, for instance.) Unless you start charging people to post to message boards, you're never gonna make any money on this.

The internet is a boon for people like me who don't care about money and just want to share their comics with the world. Free comics will expand the realm of experimentation and innovation, and will force commercial comics to increase their level of quality in order to compete with what's free. But to be realistic, artists who don't get paid anything aren't very good at getting anything done, so it will never be that big a deal.

As for micropayments, I think when they become a reality, they will be used primarily for basic services.

Right now email is free, right? Well, once you've got micropayments, you'll be getting charged everytime you send something. Not much, but it'll add up. The good news-- much less spam.

Search engines-- how about a nickle for every 100 sites found? How about a penny for every site you link to? That really sucks, but if all the search engines charge it, what choice are you gonna have?

Micropayments will make the internet much less popular, and will tend to kill of diversity; but they will make it more profitable.

Of course, eventually, TV, internet, telephone, shopping, and voting will all merge into one device and one activity. The population will be much easier to control, and corporate America will prosper!
_________________________
Joe Zabel

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#461520 - 03/30/01 10:59 PM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Chris Knowles Offline
Member

Registered: 01/23/99
Posts: 875
Loc: USA
Quote:
Originally posted by Tom Spurgeon:
Hi:

Does anyone really have any good guess?


No one does. There's going o be a lot of fumbling around and false starts and outright failures on all fronts and then someone will stumble upon a way to make the system work and then everyone else will follow their lead. All the things that people think will work for sure, wont. And some way to make money will pop up and people won't take it seriously at first but eventually it will take off.

In the meantime people who are burning with enthusiasm will continue to put their work online for free and publishers like Oni will put stuff up like Whiteout #1 as a teaser to interest people in their titles. Some of the work will suck , some of it will be great and the rest will be OK, but the energy and commitment out there will be contagious.

The Web is already a tremendous boon for Comics in that it has helped create a whole new wave of culture heretofore unseen. This site is testament to that. The Web still has the potential to create a new way of reading comics, but the money's not there yet.

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#461521 - 03/31/01 12:31 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
David Gaddis Offline
Member

Registered: 01/30/01
Posts: 51
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
I have no idea whether or not micropayments will take, or whether handheld, portable reading devices will come with big enough screens for comics, etc., etc. There are many people more qualified to talk about what might be coming down the pike than I am.

But I do know that quality work that's designed to take advantage of the internet's unique features, like Demian Vogler's When I Am King or Scott McCloud's Zot Online, is something I'd be happy to pay a small subscription fee to see-- IF the artists could update on a daily basis. Daily updates are a reasonable expectation for any subscription service. Which would be ridiculous to ask any one artist to do, but a studio of six or seven artists could maintain running serials and update them weekly, thus providing new comics every day. A lot would have to change for the micropayment system Scott describes to happen, but this is one model I could picture working right now. Would that, alone, revolutionize the industry? No, but it could work for those artists, and being able to consistently turn out work that people consider worth paying for could become the barrier that separates the professionals from the hobbyists.

We're only seeing the subscription model working for, eh, adult material at this point, but I think that's in part because there's very little on the internet right now that's worth paying for. Part of the problem is adapting the content to the medium. But think about it: here we are, clicking and scrolling through all these web pages (including this message board) that are nothing more than combinations of words and pictures. What art form is better suited to this than comics?

Even if they never work out a way to make money with this stuff, that would only make online comics a COMMERCIAL dead end-- not an artistic one. As we know, all but a handful of alternative cartoonists who work in print support themselves by other means. So if it was never about the money for you in the first place, why the hell not rise to the challenge of the new medium?

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#461522 - 03/31/01 01:36 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Simon Cheesman Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/08/00
Posts: 18
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The common wisdom remains that content can't be sold profitably online, but that's not exactly true. Leisure content has been difficult to make profitable as a standalone endeavor. Hard data is profitable online, and traditional publishers of both leisure material and hard info have discovered that having an online component provides important competitive advantages.

I have not missed the point of your question; it's important to look at why certain kinds of content work online and why others, so far, haven't.

Data sells online because the reasons for which its consumers value the product are truly accentuated by the Internet, and the problems are minimized:

  • online data is accessible in terms of time and place (it can be accessed globally), in terms of its utility (it can be searched by keyword, cut & paste out of and into documents) and share-ability (copies for everyone)
  • online data is a low-bandwidth product (mostly text)
  • businesses have been buying electronic data for decades. They already had the hardware and the budget. When the internet arrived, it just made things easier for seller and consumer, in fact the market has increased geometrically.

As Tom points out, the picture is not so rosy for other forms of online content. Instead of making a second laundry list, I'll just make the general point that as you move along the continuum from data to aesthetic content, the VALUE brought to the consumer by putting it online goes down or becomes irrelevant (accessibility is a washout from the get-go: people don't appreciate art on their monitors, they don't read a novel in front of a computer screen) and the hurdles get higher (bandwidth demands tend to increase, etc.)

In the realm of comic books, you have the added problem that we are a cult-like group of packrats, holding onto forests worth of little paper pamphlets. So the online product represents a major culture-clash.

The decreased value proposition of online comics doesn't mean they are a non-starter, it simply means that they can't be used to replace their offline cousins, and/or that the same business model can't be plonked down on top of them. At least not successfully…at least not yet.

Things that creators and publishers can't really do anything about will slowly (very slowly I'm afraid) ameliorate the situation: bandwidth, processor speed, more appropriate hardware on which to view the material). With regard to business models: advertising, loss-leaders for print materials, and competitive differentiation will rule the day for some time, but don't offer a standalone, comics dot com with a very firm basis on which to build a business.

But here's my big point: the only thing that online comic publishers can offer readers NOW, is the value-add that can't be categorized: using the medium of the Web to offer a UNIQUE, ENGROSSING reading experience that can't be reproduced offline. The Seventh Portal has proved that that unique experience does NOT include (or at least stop at) lame animated bits thrown into your comic panels. Scott M. has proposed and demonstrated a number of interesting applications using the "infinite canvas" concept. Creative experimentation using the strengths and avoiding the weaknesses, as much as possible, of the Internet TODAY, will be the foundation of viable online comic publishing. I hate to say this - but creators will have to think outside of the (comic) box.

[This message has been edited by Simon Cheesman (edited 03-31-2001).]
_________________________
S.

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#461523 - 03/31/01 02:47 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
David Gaddis Offline
Member

Registered: 01/30/01
Posts: 51
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
Simon makes some excellent points here, but I want to take issue with one comment-- not so much because of him but because I see this objection raised a lot (no matter how many times it's answered):

"(accessibility is a washout from the get-go: people don't appreciate art on their monitors, they don't read a novel in front of a computer screen)"

Many of us who have experimented with computer art or computer-modified art know the feeling of having labored to produce a translucent, shining thing of beauty on screen only to be seriously let down when we see it inch out of the printer as colored ink on paper. I can remember one art instructor commenting on that disappointment as an inevitability, and it was at the time; the fact that something looked great on screen meant very little-- until the Web came along and changed that.

A lot of art looks better on screen than it does in print. But people forget this when thinking about comics because they don't think beyond the kind of comic-book art they're familiar with (line art, flat color), which is shaped by the budgetary and technological demands of print. So artists who attempt online comics really need to rethink the visual style completely. (Some of the more painterly moments in Zot are excellent examples of this, as is Demian's comic, and while my own comic "Piercing" at davidgaddis.com was originally intended for print I did color it, Kyle Baker-style, with screen display in mind.)

As far as reading goes: I agree, nobody wants to read a novel on a screen, just as nobody wants to sort their way through a screen full of print. But that's why the Web looks the way it does: little blocks of text & images broken up in a graphically interesting way. I do think the screen, at its present stage, isn't something you'd want to read an extended work on all in one go, but the serial method works okay for me. Zot & When I Am King have been more involving for me and are more clearly etched in my mind for being presented in the way they were.

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#461524 - 03/31/01 04:32 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
UncommonCon Offline
Member

Registered: 05/23/00
Posts: 119
Loc: Dallas, TX USA
Well, the main deal is that until the web can do something useful that hard-stuffs cannot, then nobody is going to care, or few enough that it is unprofitable. Look at the online comics, just for example. If I want to read a number of online comics I have to jump around to all the different sites. Yeah, maybe not a big deal, but a big enough pain in the butt that why should I bother. And then I have to bookmark them all and then my computer crashes and I lose all my bookmarks and then I have to refind them all and then who knows what else happens and I say just screw it, it's not worth it. I have a DSL connection, one rated up to 608 rather than the standard 384 (although I usually only get about 500) and I still do not read any comics online. Hell, my very favoritest comic strip, Garfield, runs daily online, and I don't even go read it each day. Its just too much of a pain. I'd rather wait for the hard-copy collections and buy a bunch at once. That's right, I'd rather spend money than read it for free. Weird, right? Except it seems like I am not alone.

When the web came along, most people said, oh yay, look we can all do our own thing and make it accessible to everyone. Except people don't want that. People want convenience. For example, lets say I am some dude wanting to read a science-fiction comic, but I don't know about any that are online. Sure, my computer is right there at my house, but how do I find any? Go to Google and type in "science-fiction comics". Just a second while I see what that gets you. Wow! That was pretty useless. Try it! OR, I could mosey down to my local comic book store and in mere seconds have the clerk hand me a handfull of science-fiction comics. If I'm Joe Blow, do I really give a freak about your creative expression? Probably not. What I want is some fun words and pictures with spaceships and rayguns. Americans pay for convenience, and THAT is about it. Aside from the fact that you can sit your lazy ass in the chair in your skivvies, the web is not remotely convenient. It is a convoluted mess of uncategorized websites and an enormous amount of rubbish. Why didn't Google pull up 15 or 20 of the best online science-fiction comics when I typed in "Science-fiction comics"? THAT is the service that the web needs and THAT is the service that people might actually pay for. And that is what Amazon.com is going for, to be all things to all people shopping on the web.

So, here is what might make you money. And since we want to restrict this to comics, we'll do that, but it could really be extended to almost anything. You categorize and rank every single website that is related to your field, online comics in this instance. And you provide exactly the same type of service as your local comic store. You allow me to browse through them or allow me to ask someone for direction; you sort them in some well-defined manner; you rank them on some scale; and you deliver every single one of them (or at least a decent percentage) at some easily rememberable address, and THEN you might have something. Of course, that is pretty much impossible these days, but that is my prediction as to where you might seem some money made on the web. ONLY then will the web be actually more convenient than a real store.

Of course, for regular products it is even harder since they actually have to compete against the malls, were, in one easy trip, I can get everything from dishwashers to video games to panties.

I've never been to Salon, but if they are like anything like ign.com, then all they really offer is their own content. Well, hell, I can get that anywhere. For a REAL service, collect, collate, and categorize ALL the content in one area. THEN you have something.

Another example. We recently took to playing Tekken Tag. We wanted to go online to get some tips. So, we put in Tekken Tag in Dogpile, my preferred search engine. It took over an hour to find a decent site, and even that was limited in its utility. What I want from the web is to go to my browser address window and type in "Tekken Tag" and have it bring up all the content on Tekken Tag and Tekken Tag alone - categorized, sorted, rated and easily accessible. THAT is likely something that people might pay for.

Content, hell, I can get that anywhere and most places a lot easier than sorting through all the nonsense on the web. Convenience, that's what I want.

Actually, that is one of the reasons that the SPLASH is one of my favorite news sources. They sort through all the nonsense and give me a convenient view of it. If it were more comprehensive, might even be a service I would pay for.

Take it or leave it, makes no diff to me, just what my research is telling me.

$.015

------------------
James Echols
james@uncommoncon.com
Festival Producer - UncommonCon, www.uncommoncon.com
Business Coach - Uncommon Solutions
ride the revolution
_________________________
James Echols
james@uncommoncon.com
Festival Producer - UncommonCon, www.uncommoncon.com
Business Coach - Uncommon Solutions
ride the revolution

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#461525 - 03/31/01 07:02 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Search engines--

I gave up on Dogpile. I've pretty much given up on Alltheweb, although I like their graphics search engine.

I've noticed of late that there's a new gimmick out there, where you enter a search criteria and the same web site comes up hundreds of times, at the top of the list, with a supposed reference to your search criteria, when the website actually has nothing to do with your search. It doesn't always happen, I don't know exactly how it works (as a matter of fact I tried to get one of those just now, and I couldn't, so maybe the offending site shut down.)
_________________________
Joe Zabel

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#461526 - 03/31/01 08:30 AM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Rick Veitch Administrator Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 3531
Loc: Vermont, USA
Tom,
Good question to be asking, and I'd add the on-line WALL STREET JOURNAL to your list of big media websites that have tried the subscription method and come up empty (Dow Jones laid off hundreds of people in their web dept. last week).

I guess a lot of this stuff is going to come up in the next issue of TCJ, which they tell me is an Internet theme issue. Here's my thinking at the moment:

We are in the Model T stage of the Internet. Actually, a better metaphor might be that we are in the pre-trans-continental railroad stage, with gangs of workers laying track and cutting tunnels through the Rockies.

No one knows how this is going to shake out or work, but a central belief that has powered all the venture capital, brand-building and IPO's is very real: We are moving towards a society in which every individual and device will be networked into a single system. That system will be capable of moving huge amounts of data in and out of devices at the wink of an eye.

I think the biggest challenge facing commercial digital comics in this future (and one Scott fails to address) is whether anyone will want static images when animation, film and video imagery or full immersion virtual reality is available instantaneously.

On top of that, we in comics have yet to face the recent legal challenges to copyright from the collective will of the people that technology has presented to the recording industry in peer-to-peer systems such as Napster.

Here is my current best guess (based on what I've picked reporting on emerging technology and copyright issues for the SPLASH):

*In a few years, handheld programmable reading devices will be cheap and ubiquitous (check out e-ink.com). As broadband pipes gets laid, we'll be able to quickly and easily download graphics rich content like comics and graphic novels and read them comfortably on these things.

*A new generation of home printers is on the horizon that will custom print and bind our beloved pamphlets.

*New models of payment will have to evolve with digital distribution. Embedded advertising is a natural (files are traded freely peer-to-peer but contain paid advertising). Another one to watch is "superdistribution", which allows files to be traded freely, but automatically charges a micropayment whenever it is read (or listened to or watched). Imagine our fanboy friends downloading EVERY comic published for free and only paying a few cents to read them whenever (or if ever) they get around to it.

Right now, though, there are money making opportunities for comics and content on the web. Steve Conley's TOONCASTING has real promise. Since the comics are free to any web site, they spread out across the net virally, and as the page views rise, advertising becomes a realistic source of revenue (Steve has had real success here). Each strip is also an advertisement for itself, offering links to printed books and other items such as original art or t-shirts etc.

The daily strip mode that TOONCASTING uses seems to fit today's small bandwidth web perfectly; a free, bite sized piece of info that only asks the viewer to come back every day, and counts on rabid fans to buy stuff to support it. It would seem to me that all web sites could do what historically, print newspapers have used daily comics for: to bring in eyeballs day after day.

Final point: I hear a lot of "I told you so's" from people who rejoice at the recent dot-com crash and think it signals the end of the digital age or e-commerce. Usually all I have to do to bring them back to reality is say "AOL TIME WARNER".



------------------
Rick Veitch
Invites You To Read THE DAILY RARE BIT FIENDS
updated every day along with news of the world's most popular artform!
THE COMICON.COM DAILY SPLASHis always refreshing!
www.comicon.com/splash
_________________________
More signal. Less noise

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#461527 - 03/31/01 01:34 PM Re: Dear Mr. McCloud and Similar Thinkers
Simon Cheesman Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/08/00
Posts: 18
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
As with any conversation about the Internet, the topic fragments very quickly. To quickly address David's comment about the advantages of publishing to a monitor rather than to paper. You're absolutely right, and "Piercing" is an excellent example of the quality one can afford to achieve online.

I was being flip; the quality in terms of look and feel of online comics is there, but in terms of convenience, it's not a great situation. I have a laptop, and I find even that an annoying way to read larger documents. If you could detach my 14" flat-panel monitor and let me carry it around like a book that would be better. If I could own it for less than a starter home, that would be great.

I think it might help (me, if no one else) to sketch out some of the topics that have already been mentioned
  • The business of online comics:
    Business models: standalone or in conjunction with offline publication, the 'why' of your online effort in business terms
    Price models: ads, subscription, micropayments
    The stockmarket: IPOs, mergers

    NB This last example I consider a gigantic distraction from the fundamentals of any online endeavor - and it gets all the in depth reporting that the weather forecast gets.
  • The legal aspects of online comics. Essentially the laws surrounding the definition and enforcement of intellectual property.
  • The technological aspects of online comics.
    Bandwidth
    End-devices (the ever elusive e-book)
    Software: push and pull distribution, viewers, browser aps, etc.
  • Meta-services online
    Specialized search-engines
    Specialty "portals" (collected info and services for the comic enthusiast
    Community boards (what we're partcipating in now)
    E-commerce: NPO, Amazon models, E-bay

    NBThis is where the money has been made in "content" to date: bringing the riches of the web together rather than making a go of it with your own content. "Riches" refers to people, info, aesthetic content, etc.


And finally (why do I always put this last) the art of online comics.

With a change of medium for our medium, comics are still 'feeling out' their new packaging: it's shape and size, contours and bumps. Those bumps INCLUDE all the 'extraneous' things just listed, and they affect the experience of the work and it's chance at being a success for its readers and creators.

S.

[This message has been edited by Simon Cheesman (edited 03-31-2001).]
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S.

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