Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Your Comic's Survival Depends on This Book!

You may be a damn good artist, but in the end if you expect to keep a webcomic going for a certain number of years you have to find some way to make money off it -- if not to support yourself, then at least to support your habit. This is where The Economics of Web Comics (2007) comes in, because while it may not look like much, it's one of the few books that actually helps you figure out how you're going to see a profit from your work along with avoiding the common business pitfalls of other comics.

Production Values: This book is a self-published job and makes no attempt to hide it. The cover is luridly red, there's pixelation on the back cover, and I played "Name that Font" with this piece. There's no pictures in the book - tables of facts, yes, but not pictures. For a webcomics book, this is unheard of. The best guess I can give is that the author did a research paper for a college course, slapped a cover on it, and called it a book without any further thought.

. . . Which, given that we're talking about largely self-published works to begin with, is ironically appropriate. Still, the book has "great personality".

You won't find a thinner volume on actually turning webcomics into a business, which is just as well because it means he gets to the point within only a few pages of introducing a topic. What IS said is stated quite clearly, has plenty of numbers to back it up and satisfy the skeptic in you, and demonstrates effectively:
  • Why micropayments failed.
  • Why the print comics industry isn't offering its works online (or at least, in Marvel's current case, isn't offering current comics online).
  • How webcomics demonstrate a lasting demand for older titles in a series compared to the "Month-by-Month" cycle of most print comics.
  • How advertising, merchandising, and other common revenue streams for webcomics work.
Breeze-ability: You can't just pick up this book and digest it piecemeal; you can look at specific chapters, you can read the bold "Business Takeaways" and get the drift, but ultimately, this book is meant to be read through. The good news is that it doesn't matter because you can read this book pretty quickly anyway -- just keep in mind that it reads like a college paper.

Resourcefulness: As stated before, this book backs up its statements. It'll make you smarter, and it might even give you a clue what to do for your own comic, but you're not going to be consulting this book on a regular basis unless you're pretty much flailing your arms about how to justify spending as long as you do on your comic for so little money. The book doesn't tell you how to make your comic successful or even how to market it, just how to make your money once you've got the market.

The Controversial Factor:
The book more or less blames Diamond for building itself into a monopoly in Comic Distribution, to the point that it choked off the entire print comics industry into what it is today. While most other webcomics folk will agree with you on this point (Ask Jeannie Breeden sometime about how much she had to shill her book online just to meet their initial preorder threshold!) just because of how hard Diamond makes it for independent publishers now, you'll earn yourself an earful if you try to tell that to the 'old school' folk.

The Verdict:
If you think you're savvy enough to already know the general pitfalls and how-to of making money off webcomics, the book won't tell you much you don't already know. (Then again, if you were that smart you'd be telling the rest of us how to run OUR comics, wise guy.) It's a short read, though a little dry, and it gives you an idea of the state of the comic industry circa 2003 (though the book was written more recently, the available sources for research are a good bit older), which is to say it's close enough that it's still a perfectly valid outlook on the state of comics, online or otherwise. So yes, it's useful. Ugly, but Useful.

The book will warn you itself that the internet changes business quite drastically (and still does!) and so some of its notions might seem outdated (like the whole segue about micropayments), but the research and common sense are solid enough advice for any webcomic artist.

It may not be a book you'll always want on your shelf, but it's definitely a book to pass around.

Like this Review? There'll be more to come in the following weeks, so you'll want to subscribe to this blog to make sure you read the rest!

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