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Eric: At this hour of the morning, I'm lucky I can spell "Dayfree." So, don't complain if this analysis makes no sense.

One news story that I haven't touched on, as yet, are the paired (though one expects not synchronized) announcements that Girly has joined up with Dayfree Press, and Schlock Mercenary has joined up with Blank Label Comics.

This strikes me as interesting, it really does.

First off, this is a big win for both these collectives. Girly and Schlock Mercenary are both good, solid strips with solid readerships, solid update schedules, solid writing and solid art. And other uses of the word solid. That Tayler and Lesnick are willing to ally with them is a solid proof of concept of the small collective model. And it's also clearly a win for the strips -- shared hosting, shared costs, co-op, cross-marketing (including on some very, very popular strips that might have something of a different audience than these strips currently have). It really is win-win.

Secondly, though... two of the biggest strips to leave Keenspot -- especially to leave Keenspot and not join up with some other online syndicate -- have shifted from going it alone to going back to a collective model. Albeit, a collective model that's significantly different than Keenspot, but still. Schlock Mercenary had become the poster child for a strip that left its collective parent and struck out successfully on its own. And Girly had done all this years before -- albeit with side projects helping keep it afloat. Of big ticket Keenspot alumni still out there... I guess it's Errant Story still keeping the faith. (Though I have to believe folks are negotiating with Michael Poe as well.)

(Earlier Keenspot alumnus Real Life Comics already joined up with Blank Label, of course.)

This sends a message to the current crop of Keenspotters, even as Lesnick, Tayler, Dean and Poe's leaving sent one. (A message that you figure had to have influenced the Keenspot Six when they left as a unit to form the initial core of Blank Label.) The implication was you can do this on your own. You don't need Keenspot if you don't want Keenspot. You can make a leap of faith.

The implication now is you can leave Keenspot... but you should probably have a parachute ready. Or a collective interested in you. Or you should band together before leaving. Or you shouldn't leave in the first place.

This isn't surprising to me, mind. It's not bandwidth costs or the like -- such things are dirt cheap, these days. It's shared infrastructure. Shared advertisements, servers, crosspromotion... it's a sweet deal if you can swing it.

More and more, I believe we're moving into the era of the collective. I think fewer and fewer folks will go it alone, and more and more collectives are going to form. It almost seems like a guild structure is forming. What this means for the large online 'syndicates' like Keenspot or Modern Tales remains to be seen.

But as we said before... the one thing we're sure of is that Schlock Mercenary and Girly are good additions to Blank Label Comics and Dayfree. And Blank Label and Dayfree are good for them. Congrats to everyone involved.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at October 20, 2005 9:07 AM

Comments

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank posted at October 20, 2005 9:42 AM

"The Keenspot Six" is a great term for the BLC founders.

What about strips which started and stayed independent? Sluggy Freelance, Something Positive, even PVP (it's not a BLC strip officially; and yes, I know, it has a different model than some other strips)?

I realize there will always be aberrations, but does the prevalence of these long-time successful independents send its own message?

Comment from: William_G posted at October 20, 2005 10:02 AM

I agree Eric, these are interesting times.

I realize there will always be aberrations, but does the prevalence of these long-time successful independents send its own message?

"Some people can be lucky. For everyone else, there's WCN"

Comment from: John Lynch posted at October 20, 2005 10:24 AM

Wow, that's incredible. Up till now I've never been very interested in Shlock Mercenary, but of every BLC comic I've given a shot, I've enjoyed. I may just have to give Shlock Mercenary a go now.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 10:25 AM

I'll recommend Schlock Mercenary to anyone. And for some people I'll recommend it twice.

Comment from: GiannaM posted at October 20, 2005 10:54 AM

"The implication now is you can leave Keenspot... but you should probably have a parachute ready. Or a collective interested in you. Or you should band together before leaving. Or you shouldn't leave in the first place."


And why not? If those comics are on Keenspot they already have established readerships. Anyone with at least 4-5000 daily readers (and I guess that most if not all 'spotters will have at least that) should be able to prosper on their own - less than that and I'm not sure if it's worth the extra headache of having to manage and balance your own website's expenses and ad revenues.

Now of course joining a collective has a lot of advantages - I always worry about the day when my readership will reach its plateau, being all alone out there in the big bad world. What if it happens tomorrow? I think that if you are part of a solid collective, your readership growth is going to stagnate much later, because there's a common pool of potential readers.

Another huge point in favour is the possibility of sharing experience and advice, if you're a loner all you have is webcomic author forums, and they may not always have the knowledge you need. If it wasn't for an article on Comixpedia with printing advice, I'd be still here wondering how to format correctly my comic for the press.



And conventions! It's just so much better and more fun to go as a group than by yourself, especially if you aren't particularly outgoing with the public. I want to go to the UK Webcomic Thing next year, and if for any reason my old friends, the Artists Previously Known as Keenspacers, aren't there or are many tables away, I'll be shaking in my shoes for the whole time.



But said all this, I believe it's not as unadvisable as you put it to go out on your own. You don't need to be in PvP's league with readers numbers to do fine (or in Order of the Stick's league).



In purely financial terms, as long as you count your readers at least in the thousands, you're better off getting ad revenue directly into your pockets rather than half (Keenspot) or none (Keenspace). I say this from firsthand experience.



If anything, the reasons that will make an author stay in Keenspot are all the the advantages of being in a collective rather than on their own, i.e. a community, x-advertising, someone to hold your hand when you hyperventilate at conventions, etc.



So, I agree in general with your article, collectives are a great way to go, I just don't agree with the statement that I quoted at the beginning of my post.

Comment from: TheNintenGenius posted at October 20, 2005 11:26 AM

Schlock Mercenary and Girly are both absolutely excellent comics so to anyone here who hasn't read either, read them both, now. Especially Girly.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 11:34 AM

If Keenspace is where strips go to cut their teeth, a sort of internship if you will, then Keenspot could be seen as a sort of residency, and perhaps even more so in the Webcomics World of the Future.

Whether a particular comic stays in Keenspot forever or decides to "graduate" to corporate life (conglomerates such as Modern Tales), private practice (going it alone), or joins a small group practice (such as Dayfree or Blank Label) should be up to the artists in question.

Physicians in private practice have more risk, but more direct control. Doctors in a hospital setting have steady paychecks, reasonable hours (usually), and someone else to foot the bill for their tools, but they have to answer to a supervisor and struggle with a business office in the eternal battle of Cost vs. Care.

I think more and more webcomic creators, as with a growing number of physicians in today's world, will find that the middle option is the best for them. The small group practice is a nice compromise between Zero risk and 100% risk, total control over policies and process and no control, and between zero support and (occasionally) micro-management.

I do hope the analogy makes sense; if not, well, skip me. hehe

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at October 20, 2005 11:43 AM

Well I feel obliged to point out that Keenspot actually gives its artists a *lot* of freedom where both content and business decisions are concerned -- some have complained that it's too much freedom, though I don't. None of us have ever, to my knowledge, been asked to regulate or censor our content. The *only* time that's been a problem is when someone else's content is being displayed on our pages, and there is a disagreement between the definitions of "G" and "PG-13."

And I'm not entirely sure the use of the word "graduate" is appropriate, though I'm sure you'll find plenty of people who will.

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at October 20, 2005 11:59 AM

I think Poe's Caffiene Angel site actually _DOES_ have another comic/creator there now, too, even. Though I don't think it's quite reached the level of "Syndicate", being, you know, two folks.

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at October 20, 2005 12:09 PM

"Independence" is not about doing everything yourself. Sure, there are some folks who do that, but you can hardly use that definition of independence when talking about PvP, Penny Arcade, or Sluggy. In each of those cases, the cartoonists have partnered with others in order to generate additional revenue. PvP and PA both use ThinkGeek for some of their merchandising. PvP has partnered with Image Comics for print distribution. Sluggy does its book printing through Plan 9.


(Note: I'm not saying they're not independent. I'm making the point that I still am. Read on.)


The same model for independence has held true of Schlock Mercenary since my departure from Keenspot. Merchandising is being handled by Warehouse23, the bulk of my ad delivery is handled by Google, and Web Hosting is being taken care of by Bookworm Computing. I harbor no illusions about being able to "do everything myself."


Why, then, was my departure from Keenspot seen as "going independent?" Because there was no "brand" associated with the collection of experts I decided to partner with. In simpler terms, you could say that I decided to end an unprofitable all-in-one partnership in favor of forming several smaller, more profitable ones. And at risk of re-opening old wounds, the money has been a LOT better since leaving Keenspot. Their business model doesn't work well for large-volume strips. "Graduating" is a great idea for any Keenspotter with a little business acumen, a lot of drive, and a million page-views a month.


By joining Blank Label Comics I'm not surrendering my independence. I gain (among other things) an additional advertising partner, an additional merchandising partner, press and media connections, and a partner who can provide me with a convention presence without me personally having to travel. Blank Label Comics gains my modest business expertise, access to my own network of partners, presence at conventions I'm attending, and three million pages a month.


A parachute is what you use when you're falling out of an airplane. I'm not falling out -- I'm piloting, and my airplane is flying along just fine. What I've gained is eight very talented wing-men, with aircraft (and weapons!) of their own.

It always comes down to military metaphors with me. Let's go blow something up.

Comment from: Bookworm posted at October 20, 2005 12:21 PM

Howard, feel free to blow something up. Just not my server, please? :)

Comment from: Abby L. posted at October 20, 2005 12:23 PM

Wow, I didn't expect this of Josh. I'm sure he'll be even more successful with this collective behind him. But now I'm worried about the prospects of going it alone myself... Though breaking away from Keenspace/Comic Genesis is much different than breaking from Keenspot... :/

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 12:29 PM

"Well I feel obliged to point out that Keenspot actually gives its artists a *lot* of freedom where both content and business decisions are concerned -- some have complained that it's too much freedom, though I don't. None of us have ever, to my knowledge, been asked to regulate or censor our content. The *only* time that's been a problem is when someone else's content is being displayed on our pages, and there is a disagreement between the definitions of "G" and "PG-13."

And I'm not entirely sure the use of the word "graduate" is appropriate, though I'm sure you'll find plenty of people who will"


Well, I did say the analogy sucked, but it was the best I could compare it too. Certainly not every comic goes through this progression, and certainly not everybody who is on Keenspot is eagerly waiting for the day when they're "all grown up" - many of them are happy, and fully mature, right there. It was, well, an anology that struck me as fun, that's it. hee

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at October 20, 2005 1:03 PM

I'm not actually convinced syndicates are where the future of the webcomic lies, just because I don't think they're currently delivering reader advantages meaningfully. I mean, the point of the newspaper syndicates was twofold - first, distribution, but second, organization - the ability to deliver multiple comics on a single page, or in a single newspaper section. That was the central point of a syndicate - to sell the comic into as many newspaper sections as possible. The newspapers in turn bought them to sell as many newspapers to readers as possible.

Obviously the newspapers have dropped out of the equation for webcomics, but I think they've done it in a way that is unhelpful. Now syndicates are trying to drive straight to readers. This means that the transmission apparatus - now a server instead of newsprint - is negotiating directly with the cartoonist. What's wrong here? Mostly that this is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of web content, where the goal is becoming transportability - content that can go out of the browser to my RSS program, my palm, my iPod, etc. That's where success is, and, crucially, people are willing to pay money for offlining content.

But this is exactly where the current syndicates don't want to go - because they own a means of transmission - servers - their revenue depends on people hitting the exact pages, ads and all. They don't even have a pressing reason to do something like MyComicsPage or DailyInk and let me dump all my webcomics from Keenspot onto one daily page load.

But I don't think, long term, that syndicates are in a strong position, simply because I think that when someone finds a business model that involves webcomics being downloaded into an aggregator program in a way that doesn't involve revenue-raping the cartoonists, that's going to immediately become the dominant schema, and the syndicates, stuck in their model of getting you to load as many pages as possible, are exactly wrong to deal with.

I'll lay further money on Modern Tales being the first one to get this right, since they're the one to have abandoned the adspace model, and thus the one to have nothing to lose from this switch.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at October 20, 2005 2:28 PM

As far as I can tell, Howard is quite right in that things don't really change at all for him in regards to his business model. I guess it just seems much more imposing when there's a name for your assorted business partners instead of referring to each one individually.

Comment from: lucastds posted at October 20, 2005 3:24 PM

small collectives are cool, but they don't seem to work well among smaller comics. i think the major thing is: you need comics that are similar in style, and are consistant in updating policies. Otherwise, what's the point?

Comment from: John Troutman posted at October 20, 2005 4:03 PM

Anyone with at least 4-5000 daily readers (and I guess that most if not all 'spotters will have at least that)...

AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

Comment from: Freak posted at October 20, 2005 5:58 PM

To Will Frank: Sluggy hasn't "stayed" independent; it was part of the "Big Panda" collective briefly.

(Incidently, is there any particular reason why all the members of BLC are former Keenspotters?)

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 20, 2005 6:09 PM

"What about strips which started and stayed independent? Sluggy Freelance, Something Positive, even PVP..."

SLUGGY FREELANCE was part of Big Panda in 1999 (as were virtually all the original members of Keenspot, including yours truly). SLUGGY leaving Big Panda to go independent led indirectly to the formation of Keenspot.

Also, I believe PvP started out exclusively on MPOG.com and later moved to UGO.com before finally going independent.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 20, 2005 8:07 PM

Keenspot's primary adventage, right now, seems to be their ability to organise cross-media deals. It may not be hugely appropriate to pigeonhole them as a place to graduate from, especially if someone thinks their strip has crossover appeal.

Comment from: larksilver posted at October 20, 2005 8:23 PM

aw, geez, I'm beginning to be sorry I put it that way.

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at October 20, 2005 9:00 PM

aw, geez, I'm beginning to be sorry I put it that way.

Don't be. Eric was one of the first to describe the process of leaving Keenspot as "graduating." As one who has done so, I assure you that the positive aspects of the word align nicely with the positive aspects of the process.

There are ways in which the word falls short, though. Its use in this way implies that Keenspot strips are "still in school," which is not something I'd say about any of my peers there. Nor would I elevate Chris to the role of "instructor" or "Principal." He's just this guy, you know?*

Regardless, don't feel bad about using the word. Eric started it.

--Howard

(*brownie points for correctly placing the quote)

Comment from: quiller posted at October 20, 2005 9:04 PM

"Zaphod, he's just this guy, you know." It is Zaphod Beeblebrox's psycho-analyst from the Hitchhiker's guide series, of course.

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 20, 2005 10:18 PM

Tsk. You guys forgot the Panel2Panel Collective. *grin* I mean, okay, Glych is currently on semi-hiatus because of real life at the moment, and Gun Street Girl updates every few weeks, and I'm not a comic, but a critic (and writer), but hey, we're a collective... *grin*

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews
http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 20, 2005 11:47 PM

A more apt comparison to Zaphod Beeblebrox would be Darren, as he looks almost exactly like him. I'm more like Zaphod's second head: rarely seen and almost entirely insane.

Comment from: Merus posted at October 21, 2005 1:30 AM

I don't know if that's true - you don't appear to be special effects.

Plus, you have a brother. Zaphod's second head would be hard-pressed to pull that off.

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at October 21, 2005 1:55 AM

Wouldn't Zaphod's second head's brother be his first head?

Comment from: quiller posted at October 21, 2005 5:49 AM

Now I'm imagining Chris and Darren as Zaphod's two heads. I think I'm going to leave Chris's mom out of the image, though.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at October 21, 2005 9:15 AM

I promise never to go collective on you, Eric.

I'm too disagreeable and unpleasant to play nicely as a part of a group.

I'm happy for Josh though, I think it will be good for him.

Comment from: Reinder Dijkhuis posted at October 21, 2005 9:41 AM

I'm bucking the latest trend here: moving from Modern Tales towards independence (yes, that means Free archives!). I must admit I was a little bit annoyed at Howard at first on hearing the BLC announcement, not for doing what he felt to be in his best interest, but for the apparent clash with the rhetoric he'd employed six months earlier about no longer accepting minion status...
Of course I soon realised that Howard probably takes statements like that a whole lot less seriously than his readers do, and in any case, his explanation above clears up a lot. Thanks, Howard.

Interestingly, I got an offer to join a collective within two days of the new independent archives going live.... I'll need to sleep on that one though.

Comment from: Greg Dean posted at October 21, 2005 12:27 PM

I think the message is a little off there, though. I think Howard's analogy is probably the best. Real Life is and was doing fine - for me, joining Blank Label was a social choice. These people are my friends, and I wanted to help out any way I could. The benefit to me is that it's nine cartoonists who get together and share ideas, and I'm in on that. I'm sure this isn't indicative of other collectives, I don't know though. But Blank Label is, to me anyway, more of a associative group. We're together because we're buddies, and we enjoy each other's comics. And the collective is a way of sharing that with other people. Sure, there's more to it than that - the hosting and advertising and whatnot. But those aren't the key pricinples BL was founded on.

Comment from: Sam Logan posted at October 21, 2005 2:40 PM

That sounds about right to me, too. I mean, at Dayfree we all still publish our own work, run our own shops, sell our own adspace, and host our own comics. (Although a few of us do host ours on the same server.) Those things haven't changed since we were loners... there isn't really anything "collective" about the business end at all.

But you can't go it alone on everything! There are some things that are incredibly difficult or prohibitively expensive to do on your own... things like attending conventions, heavily advertising your site, etc etc. Collectives make these things much easier, and man, easier is what I am all about.

So after awhile, you get to a point where banding together becomes extremely advantageous. And who better to do it with than folks who are friends, and who make comics you enjoy reading?

Comment from: thelemurgod posted at October 21, 2005 8:21 PM

Collectives are a groovy thing and their formation is inevitable. It is only a matter of time in a complex system when individual agents will come together and act as a co-operative entity. This is fueled by competition with the larger, already established agents, and to establish a foundation amongst an ever growing sea of newer agents. A common emergent pattern in models of business and biology.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at October 22, 2005 12:48 AM

Keenspot's primary adventage, right now, seems to be their ability to organise cross-media deals.

So it's going to air? What does optioning mean?

Comment from: Tangent posted at October 22, 2005 1:38 AM

What can I say, Reinder, people know a good thing when they see it. I wasn't the only person to say that Keenspot was a fool to let you slip away when you first joined Modern Tales...

Rob H.

Comment from: Sam Logan posted at October 22, 2005 1:53 AM

So it's going to air? What does optioning mean?

I was wondering about that as well. A lot of books that get optioned without ever making it to the big or small screen. Some studios are even in the habit of optioning things pre-emptively, just on speculation that it might be good to have later. I think it's really cool that You Damn Kid was optioned, but I'm dying to know how actively the property is actually being developed right now!

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at October 22, 2005 2:52 AM

A lot of studios can option a property without money ever changing hands as well. What this does is tie up the rights so that once a property becomes "the next big thing" they can hold it ransom. That's sort of what happened with the rights for Spider-man. I also know of several cartoonists (Batton Lash's "Supernatural Law" comes to mind) who's property has remained in "development limbo" for years.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 22, 2005 3:03 AM

"I think it's really cool that You Damn Kid was optioned, but I'm dying to know how actively the property is actually being developed right now!"

It's in active development. Fox production company Phase Two TV is currently interviewing potential writers and showrunners.

That said, a pilot has yet to be ordered by Fox (though such a thing was not expected to happen by this point), let alone multiple episodes. Absolutely nothing is guaranteed. It's possible that it could not even reach the script stage before the option expires.

Stay tuned.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 22, 2005 3:31 AM

For an excellent primer on exactly what it means to be optioned, watch this episode of BONUS STAGE: http://www.bonusstages.com/bonusstage77.html

Comment from: gwalla posted at October 22, 2005 5:11 AM

Optioning means that the studio has paid money for the option make a TV series out of You Damn Kid. Basically, they've paid for the rights, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will exercise them.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 22, 2005 5:23 AM

It would be interesting to know how many webcomics have been optioned for television by major studios (assuming there are others beside YDK), and how far along in the development process they've gotten.

The only webcomic option I remember hearing about was in 1999 when Christopher Baldwin's BRUNO was optioned for film by Jeremiah Chechik, the director of "Benny & Joon." That was newsworthy enough to warrant a SALON.com article at the time: http://www.salon.com/ent/log/1999/05/14/bruno/

Comment from: Dave Kellett posted at October 22, 2005 8:43 PM

"Optioning means that the studio has paid money for the option make a TV series out of You Damn Kid. Basically, they've paid for the rights, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will exercise them."

Actually, gwalla, money doesn't necessarily change hands when a property is optioned. The option only represents the signing of a contract or one-page agreement memo. The *terms* of the option (i.e., money), are a completely separate matter.

I won't be gauche and ask if YDK was paid for it's option, but I know of a number of mid-level syndicated comic strips that had one-year options with no money attached.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 22, 2005 10:35 PM

Keenspot Entertainment has no interest whatsoever in securing option agreements for the properties we represent that do include upfront monetary payment.

A few months ago, another major TV producer (one with multiple series currently in production and on air) made an option offer for a different Keenspot webcomic. Keenspot and said comic's creator mutually agreed to turn the offer down, for two reasons: 1.) The option payment offered was deemed too low. 2.) Our managers did not feel the producer was committed enough to devote the time to developing and selling the property as a TV series.

Comment from: Chris Crosby posted at October 22, 2005 10:40 PM

"Keenspot Entertainment has no interest whatsoever in securing option agreements for the properties we represent that do [BLANK] include upfront monetary payment."

Fill in the blank with the word "NOT."

Damned lack of an edit feature... :(

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