Eric: The Curse of Webcomics.com
You would think the name alone would have made it a slam dunk.
Seriously. "Webcomics.com." If there is such a thing as webcomics, surely webcomics.com would be the immediate one-stop location of choice for them. It would by definition be one of the top sites on webcomics or one of the top sites of webcomics or both.
And yet... it's never really been successful. Not really. Not outside of a niche.
It has been, in its time, a webcomics host, a webcomics collective, a webcomics portal, a webcomics commentary site, and a 'how to make comics for the web' site. It experimented with push technology and with podcast technology when they were hot. Doctor Fun had a home there. T Campbell and Alexander Danner had a home there. Most recently, Brad Guigar and the Halfpixel fighting force four had a home there.
Through it all -- through every iteration -- even if the content was good, it just never really broke out into the mainstream. It never became self-sustaining. It never became a must-go site. And that just seems weird to me.
The latest iteration of the site has now had the latest iteration of the curse hit it. Brad Guigar, the Editor in Chief of Webcomics.com (currently a site supporting the Halfpixel model of webcomics creation as popularized in their book How to Make Webcomics) has announced that effective immediately the site is going behind a paywall.
In a startling move from 2004, Guigar has locked his content behind a login you have to shell out thirty bucks a year to unlock, in an effort to make the site profitable -- or at least profitable enough to justify the time and energy Guigar's putting into it.
Now, all by itself this would not be a major deal. Websites do this sort of thing all the time. Admittedly, after they do this sort of thing their readerships drop precipitously, but still. It's a common enough reaction. However, this is Halfpixel -- the home not only of Guigar but the familiar names Straub and Kurtz. (And Dave Kellett, but he's not specifically a part of this comment.) And two of the loudest voices decrying the very existence of paywalls and subscription models and pay-to-view on the web have been Straub and Kurtz.
Do I think they're hypocrites? No. They see a distinction and they're pretty firm about it. But a lot of people are reacting as though they were -- and fair or not, the whole thing puts the very model that they espouse in their book and on webcomics.com itself -- the idea that free content can pay rich dividends -- into doubt. "If these guys know what they're talking about," goes the thinking, "why do I have to pay to get on their website?"
Now, Guigar has been quick to point out an essential difference between putting a webcomic like Evil Inc. behind a paywall versus a site like webcomics.com: the former is entertainment. The latter is reference. It's the difference between a momentary distraction on the way to the grave and information. People who are serious about becoming webcartoonists will shell the money out because of all the valuable information the site has to give (or so they hope). And someone who won't spend thirty dollars -- just thirty dollars -- to get solid advice and have a place to turn as they try to build their business clearly isn't serious about being a professional.
It is a compelling argument.
It's also wrong.
To be blunt -- if a website isn't a store or providing a service, it's entertainment. People went back to webcomics.com day after day because they wanted the information that was there, yes, but mostly because they were entertained by the articles. People listen to NPR to be informed, but also because they find it entertaining. People read CNN to be informed but also because they find it entertaining. All of these things fall into the "momentary distraction" category. The exceptions, like I said, are sites like Amazon.com where you buy shit, or sites like eBay or eTrade or your bank, where you perform services. Even a site like WebMD -- which built its reputation on pure information -- has "health news and features" to bring people back and add new vectors for Google to come in. Certainly, a site like Webcomics.com -- which is, after all, a daily blog at its heart -- is running as much on its style as on its substance. Brad Guigar doesn't just provide how-tos, he does it in a well written and concise style, and people come back day after day for the community that forms as a result.
And at its core, that means Webcomics.com is not a service. Not in its current iteration, anyway. You don't go there to upload your comic and have it publish. You go there to get information from knowledgeable people whose writing is fun and engaging. Is it a much, much smaller niche audience than, say, Evil Inc. or PvP? Absolutely. But it is an audience all the same, and so the distinction between it and a webcomic isn't nearly as clear cut as they're claiming.
Further, in what seems just the tiniest bit skeevy, a good amount of the content on the site (especially recently) came from third party writers. Long time friend of Websnark Abby L. was one of them. They apparently got no warning this was happening. There is no word on whether or not they will be compensated for their work. I do know that Abby was absolutely thrilled to have been published there, was shocked that suddenly her work would be locked behind a paywall (making it significantly harder to use either for her resume or to point people to it in general), and disheartened at what felt like a a slight. She posted comments in the announcement to that effect. Guigar, to his credit, was willing to take her content off the site, and since has marked all the third party essays as hidden until the individual writers can decide if they want them to remain, but that's something that should have been dealt with well in advance of making this move.
But then, part of what's upset folks is the utter lack of notice given for this move. Now, Guigar and Kurtz have explained their thinking on this -- they made their decision, they knew people were going to react this way regardless, and in Guigar's own words:
[It's] the difference between pulling a Band-Aid off slowly or quickly. This decision was made with the respect for my readers at the front of my mind.
However, shocking people who've grown accustomed to visiting your site isn't a good way to foster goodwill for a new project that opens with a thirty dollar payout -- especially on a site like this, whose bread and butter is information. At least one person (who called himself "Guy") had this reaction:
Um. I literally just stumbled on this website yesterday. There was a tutorial on setting up Wordpress.
Came back today to check it again only there was this login... only I couldn't log in. And there was a threat saying that if I continued to try and log in, I'd be locked out forever.
I checked the front page only to find that it was a subscription site now. Ok. Well thank god Google saves the entire internet and I could get the tutorial anyway.
Remember the Google thing. It'll come up again momentarily.
Further again, the potential influence this site can have on the industry has just dropped precipitously. When major posts went up, they could be linked to easily on everything from blogs to Facebook to Twitter. Now, those links will lead to a request for $30 -- and no one who follows the link is going to think "hey, $30 for a year of webcomics.com seems fair! That's just two-fifty a month! I spend more than that on lattes!" They're going to think "oh the Hell I'm going to pay thirty bucks to read some essay on distribution" and close the site.
Or, someone who is deeply inspired by something he reads on Webcomics.com will take it and copy/paste it onto his own blog (or some anonymous blogger site he makes for the purpose) so he can point people to it there. And other folks will copy/paste articles sheerly because they find paywalls offensive and figure Guigar won't have the money to sue over it. Or they will do it because they've always thought Scott Kurtz was a blowhard and now that he's not "practicing what he preaches" he's fair game. Or they will do it because they're dicks.
Am I exaggerating? Hey, we've already had one example (quoted above) of someone who hit the Google cache to get the information he wanted rather than pay the entrance fee. This is how this stuff works sometimes. Please note, however: I am not advocating piracy here. If Guigar and the gang want to put their content behind a paywall, that is their right and I support their decision even if I do not agree with it. I just think that stuff's going to get out, either innocently or maliciously.
Since I'm making predictions, here's another one. Inside of two weeks, someone will have put up a site that breaks down all the steps one needs to take to put their webcomic online, under cheerful banners like "the best FREE resource for the aspiring webcartoonist" and "common sense doesn't have a subscription fee."
So, the question becomes -- what will webcomics.com need to be successful at this? Especially since very few content based websites that use subscription models have been successful, and this is more of a niche market than most.
In a word? Testimonials.
Webcomics.com needs to start gathering the names of people who went from 0 to supporting themselves off their webcomic largely if not entirely using the advice from webcomics.com and How to Make Webcomics. Especially if they're going to go down the dubious route of equating paying for webcomics.com as the difference between the serious professional and the amateur hobbyist -- a claim that is ridiculous when one considers that most if not all of the webcartoonists who make their living off their work right now (and there are many) have done so without their book or website. Certainly, no one's going to claim Jeph Jacques, Randy Milholland, Ryan Sohmer, Gabe and Tycho (admittedly two of the money-men behind Webcomics.com in the first place) or all the rest needed the site to be professionals. If Guigar et al are going to convince people that they're a resource indispensable enough to justify dropping thirty bucks, all in one go, they're going to have to prove that what they're selling works, and the only proof can come from webcartoonists who aren't affiliated with Halfpixel saying "seriously, dude, these guys know their stuff. Drop the change in the till right now."
And... well, let's be honest. Positioning yourselves as the acid test for how 'serious' someone is about producing their webcomic and being successful has a chilling effect. Do I think Guigar meant to offend when he said:
Why $30 per year? It's an inexpensive buy-in that almost any webcartoonist can afford. It has an added benefit of keeping out people who may not be as serious about webcomics. It naturally weeds out comments from people who may be passing through, and results in distilling comments to those from people who are committed to improving their comics.
Absolutely not. Guigar doesn't have a mean bone in his body. But Scott Story of Johnny Saturn took it differently (from the comments):
Well, it's interesting to find out I "may not be as serious about webcomics." After endless hours of producing my comic, after all the advertisement, after making it available on Wowio, Drivethru, ComicXP, iTunes, and in print from Amazon.com and Indyplanet/Comics Monkey, I'm stunned! I spent all those hours of my life working toward a goal that apparently I am not really committed to. Later this year, when my comic will also be available on numerous handheld devices besides the iPhone, I realize again that I've put all this work into something that I didn't care about.
I'm sure the above statement about the seriousness of webcartoonists based on their willingness to part with 30.00 was not intended to offend or alienate. But, this definitely bruises my feelings and makes me feel different about the whole thing.
Is this a common reaction? Well, it's worth noting that when Wednesday -- a person who really likes Straub and Kurtz and respects Guigar and Kellett, though she hasn't had as much contact with them -- read the announcement and the comments and looked at the site, her immediate response was "oh great. A site on the internet where a bunch of bearded men give themselves the authority to declare an artist professional or amateur, with no possible alternatives. Because we've never seen that."
(Full disclosure. Scott Kurtz does not have a beard. Second full disclosure, I do. In fact, it's currently past "Grizzly Adams" and is threatening a move straight into "Ted Kaczynski." But I digress.)
Also, why are they charging $30 a year instead of $2.50 a month. $2.50 a month seems like nothing. $30 a year doesn't feel like a cheap yearly payment, it feels like thirty freaking dollars to be allowed onto your damn website. In fact, I'd think they'd want to do a "$3 a month recurring subscription, or you can get a year for $30 -- a savings of 17%!" kind of deal.
Look, does Brad Guigar deserve compensation for all his hard work? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is, in fact, webcomics.com worth $30 a year? Probably. Will they get enough subscribers to give Guigar the compensation he needs to continue? Maybe. Will Webcomics.com continue to grow and develop the cross-fertilization and dedicated audience a site like this needs to remain fresh and useful?
It seems doubtful.
Right now, if I were asked by aspiring webcartoonists as to the best way to get started in making and promoting their webcomic, I would suggest they buy How to Make Webcomics. It really is a good book, full of good information. But would I suggest they subscribe to webcomics.com? Probably not. I'd think after they read the book, if they still had questions or wanted advice, that would be one potential route. But it's hardly the only potential route -- ComicSpace is loaded with helpful folks with advice, for example. And successful webcartoonists like Howard Tayler are generally not stingy with advice for aspiring new blood.
Regardless, I wish them well, and we will just have to see how well this works.
Still, given their respective histories and many, many hours of arguments behind them, I have to wonder just how long it will be before Joey Manley stops laughing about all this.
Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 5, 2010 12:02 AM
Comment from: Dimesfornickels.wordpress.com posted at January 5, 2010 1:14 AM
There are better writers, and better artists than these guys, who have written much better books. All of which you can easily check out of the library, if you're broke and so inclined to go to bother of learning some real skills.
Unless they have some game-changing information behind the pay wall no one else has thought of, all of the business tools and information comic creators need are already available elsewhere.
The guys need people's $30 far more than the people with the $30 need their advice.
Comment from: A. Nobles posted at January 5, 2010 3:46 AM
Thank you for your words here. It really helps to hear a respected community member's take on the situation.
I'm no stranger to subscribing to sites for special privileges, but there's a big difference between paying for extra content and paying for content you had free (and presumably unlimited) access to just a day ago - especially when I know that a number of those articles are based on making further investments into your budding webcomic business. For a person who can afford to fly around to conventions, throw down capital for a book print run, and host a private website with 50 GB of bandwidth per month, I can see how $30 would be a drop in the bucket. However, that person also probably has a fairly strong network of cartoonists by that point and wouldn't necessarily benefit from any advice beyond what's already in their $10 book.
It's the newbies who are studying for a college degree and living off ramen that really need that advice the most - and they'll never get a hint of it beyond whatever leaks spring along the border.
I disagree with you that reference sites don't exist, http://www.oed.com/ is a prominent example. But most of the revenue from sites like that comes from universities and other institutions that have an institutional need for the information. I'm not sure that webcomics.com really fits into that category. (Though I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for Brad to see if SCAD wants to buy a site license.)
The main reason it took me so long to get into Digger and Narbonic was that I couldn't read the archives without paying, and I wasn't that interested. (Until I got the chance to, and then I realized what I'd been missing.)
The pay barrier is a big one, even when it's a good service or entertainment.
Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at January 5, 2010 10:08 AM
I think the main problem with the model is that there are reference sites that are free. If you want to learn PHP there are plenty of websites where you can go learn it without cost -- if you want to learn to use WordPress or Drupal, same thing. There are any number of wikis for coding, getting information on linux software, hacking smartphones, etc. that are free (often ad-supported, of course).
That's because in a lot of areas on the web, reference sites are considered a "value add" -- they exist to make the primary product more popular. There are very few sites that I can think of where the reference material is a lure in and of itself. The only sites I can think of are cheat/mod sites for computer games, and I'm not sure how well they do financially because I don't pay a lot of attention to them.
That said, Brad usually knows what he's doing and if he thinks he can pull it off it just might work. I tend to think it probably won't, and I had kind of the same reaction Wednesday did with the comment about weeding out the "serious cartoonists" but I guess that's an attitude that's just never going to go away...
Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at January 5, 2010 10:10 AM
Actually, to modify what I wrote above, I vacillate between thinking "It probably won't work" and thinking "the chance of it working trends above 50%, but it's not guaranteed." This morning I feel more pessimistic about it, but the day is young.
Hm. I agree in regards to the OED, but I have to wonder -- is the OED an actual service instead of (for example) a blog? It's not simply that it provides access to the Oxford English Dictionary -- it provides access, it provides tools that let you add or subtract etymology and other such things....
A case could be made that the OED falls into the Service category rather than it being an information/entertainment site, simply by nature of the tools it provides.
Regardless, I concede that it falls into a grey area. However, I don't think Webcomics.com falls into the same kind of grey area.
As a side note, I think Brad should in fact be having conversations with SCAD, with the Art Institutes, possibly with Fullsail and other schools like that. It's entirely possible that he could rebuild the site into an academic resource that everyday folks could also subscribe to, and get more than enough funding to continue -- not to mention build a solid community, albeit one that will ebb and flow with the semesters.
I put the OED in the same category as JSTOR; a really expensive reference set that every university has to buy.
Comment from: Tony Piro posted at January 5, 2010 1:09 PM
Great writeup! You summarized a lot of the key issues perfectly.
Since there is no terms of service for signing up (as far as I know), I wonder what will happen if they don't get enough subscribers. If they only get 50 or 100 or even 200 subscribers, will Brad still feel it's worth his time? What then?
Even the comment thread on the front of webcomics.com is basically the same 30-40 people commenting over and over again.
Comment from: Webcartoonists posted at January 5, 2010 1:34 PM
Well, your prediction about a site offering a free place has been around alot longer then 2 weeks from now :)
Just kinda small library of stuff atm. Though, if you did take down your articles and you want them posted freely...I'd be beyond happy to add them to the archives of http://webcartoonists.com
Good point, Tony. Still, it wouldn't take that many subscribers to bring in reasonable money in the short term.
The problem is the long term.
This is one of the things that makes the "$30 up front, no monthly option" pricing structure so strange to me. Let's say 100 people subscribe this month. (With luck, it will be more, but we'll make the math as easy as possible.) Boom! That's $3,000! That's a good monthly wage any way you look at it.
And then when February comes around... no more money for those 100 people. And it's not likely they'll have monumental growth after the initial subscriptions -- that's just not how pay sites tend to work.
If they charged everyone $2.50 a month instead of $30 a year, not only would they get lots more initial opt-ins, but instead of $3,000 in the first month, they'll get $250 for those hundred people. Less? Sure. But that money recurs, month after month. Then, even slow and incremental growth (assuming they have slightly more people join than leave on a month-by-month basis) will yield predictable recurring income.
If they manage to hit 1000 subscribers instead of 100 -- perhaps not likely but let us be optimistic for them -- then that's $2,500 a month. Sure, getting a lump $30,000 in January would be nice, but it seems significantly less likely. A thousand folks might be willing to risk two and a half bucks to give a site a try. I doubt they'll get that kind of number risking $30.
webcartoonists -- yay! So, just stick around for two weeks and my record is perfect!
This might be a good time to start soliciting article topics people might want more information about. If you'd like to position yourself as the 'Free Alternative' to Webcomics.com (and I'll admit you have the domain name for it), it'll come from finding out what information people feel they need.
Also, make absolutely sure you even want to get in the middle of all this.
Comment from: Tony Piro posted at January 5, 2010 2:00 PM
I totally agree. The long term success is the issue, both for the survival of webcomics.com and the investment made by the subscribers (who are locked in for a year).
You discuss a growing audience, but it will be interesting to see if that's really the case. Paywalls usually lead to eroding audiences, especially one with the content being so user driven like this one is.
Consider this fact for example: in the 9 months that Scott had Assetbar on PvP, he made $1,170.97. And that's from a much, much, much larger audience than webcomics.com with a more accessible price point. How much more will webcomics.com possibly make, and how much does it need to make to be worth putting it behind a paywall?
Now there are obviously many differences between Assetbar on PvP and webcomics.com. For example, I'm sure Brad is working harder on webcomics.com than Scott had to for Assetbar. But it will be intriguing to see how this pans out.
Paywalls tend to erode audiences, it is true. And is almost certain that they'll only have a fraction of the audience they had before the paywall was enacted.
However, there can be growth in situations like this -- or at least the appearance of growth. If, for example, people decide that Webcomics.com isn't worth the money but either don't bother cancelling or aren't allowed to (though I suspect there will be a cancellation mechanism), then any new subscribers that come in will represent growth. If they get fifteen subscriptions in February ($450), then those 15 people will represent growth at least until next January when people decide whether or not to resubscribe.
However, it is easier for audiences to grow when the barrier is low. Like I said -- someone may recommend an article to a friend, and that friend may be willing to gamble two-fifty on it when they wouldn't consider gambling thirty bucks for it.
Why do I hear The Godfather theme playing as I read this, the low mournful tune that sings (as Roger Ebert suggested) that if everyone just listened to the Godfather, it would all be OK? :)
Comment from: Liz Walsh posted at January 5, 2010 4:10 PM
I was thinking of writing my concerns about Webcomics.com, but you've done a pretty good job of it.
I think there were better ways to do the paywall route than what they've done; it does come across as not very well thought out, if the part about guest writers is any indication.
On that note, is anyone else bothered by the writers saying they're ok with Brad & co selling access to their stuff, because of the exposure? Because I can't help but think of Webcomics Weekly being against IP farms and doing things for "exposure," but apparently when it's WW profiting off you, it's ok.
Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at January 5, 2010 7:23 PM
I don't see how they can think they will grow an audience if they build a wall around the content that can draw an audience, because then the audience can't find them. I've never been to webcomics.com, and I'm not going to pay $30 not knowing what I'm paying for.
Now, if someone comes out with a genuine success story pronouncing how they did it all through the help of a paid webcomics.com subscription (without coming off as a paid testimonial) then I can understand how certain people might be willing to give the site a shot. Otherwise, I just don't see what the draw is.
A few bucks a month would be reasonable, I think. Of course, I've been spending $12 a month on an eMusic subscription I never use.
I don't think "testimonials" is the word that'll make this work. Maybe I'm just a lone cynic on the matter, but I've never been swayed by testimonials. They're too easy to get. Even the worst service in a field usually has some testimonials touting their virtues.
The words that would make this work, I think, would be "usefulness", "necessity", and "uniqueness". If webcomics.com could show that they were both useful and necessary to the growth of a potential customer's webcomic, and if webcomics.com were unique, then $30 a month would be justified. But they are not unique; most of the successful webcomics creators have blogged, occasionally or regularly, on their successes and failures and general ideas, as have any number of commentators such as yourself.
As for useful and necessary, in order for webcomics.com to show themselves as either, they must first show themselves. And by moving behind a pay wall, it appears they shall not be doing so. Going to their site today, I see a few posts on the front page, and of those, all but the one announcing the change have only the summary of the article visible, which is not enough to judge the quality of the writing or the worth of the advice. By moving the writing behind a subscription wall, they have made it impossible for any potential new customer to determine whether the writing is WORTH a subscription.
And common sense says if you're asking yourself whether something is worth paying for, and there's nothing to show that it is, you shouldn't pay for it.
I have grave doubts as to whether this system will be enough of a success to last beyond the initial year of subscriptions. Or, in truth, even that long.
You can certainly call a reference a type of service. (Disclosure: writing code for reference websites is what I do for a living.) We could have a discussion as to what makes a site into a worthwhile reference. But if webcomics.com wants to be a reference site, then the question continues to be "how worthwhile is the content on webcomics.com and is it organized in a way to make it useful to the user?" I think MRL has it right when they say "By moving the writing behind a subscription wall, they have made it impossible for any potential new customer to determine whether the writing is WORTH a subscription." In the reference website world, there are things like free trials and reviews in Library Journal to help one decide these things, and I have no idea if Guigar's doing any of them.
Comment from: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000184181898 posted at January 6, 2010 1:48 AM
Yay! Great to see you back snarking again, Eric! Please don't stop!
I am a little disappointed, though, that you didn't compare this to what you talked about a couple snarks back, the newspapers contemplating their own paywalls. The site under contention is instructional rather than informational, but as you pointed out, newsmedia are also a form of entertainment to those who preuse them.
What I don't understand is why they didn't go the route of, say, The Scientist, or Nature (just to pick examples I'm most familiar with). I still run into paywalls on these sites, but there's a significant amount of free material there too.
They could have restricted the power to comment, or added email subscription services, or just more content for paying customers while still providing free content.
Anyway. No one does all or nothing these days. Even OED gives you their Word of the Day RSS for free.
I didn't compare it to the essay on newspapers and paywalls because the two situations aren't 100% the same. Until there is a site or sites that offer this kind of targeted business and technical advice in the way webcomics.com does, they're not going to fall victim to the Internet Reroute. If the Murdoch newspapers blocked Google tomorrow, all those people seeking out news would still get it -- just not from Murdoch newspapers. It will be some time before Google can deliver one-stop shopping for all the different advice people need to launch their webcomic.
That said, it is likely said one-stop shopping will come, eventually. All it takes is someone with a webcomic who wants his own niche, who decides to build his comic into a full on how-to community. Heck, said comic could be about the foibles of actually trying to make a go of a webcomic. Meta? Sure -- distressingly so. But successful webcomics have been made of less.
Build a community in the "team spirit" mold, wherein you try to give a safe, suppportive and free environment to aspiring webcartoonists, incorporate tee-shirt sales both from the webcomic and from the community in-jokes that arise, and there's every chance that you'll get a decent audience.
And then, when someone hits google for advice on a subject, forum or blog posts from that site on that subject will show up the same as webcomics.com does -- only they'll be free. And to an aspiring young (often poor) webcartoonist, which is more appealing? A sales pitch for a book that sounds like one of those "you too can be a WRITER" websites that are out there? Or the free articles on the subject. Robert Khoo's name won't impress someone new on the scene.
Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at January 6, 2010 2:26 PM
If the subscribers we've already gotten are the only subscribers we only get, then I'm happy to be this "cursed."
I think in a month or two, when everyone comes back to this, it's really going to shake out. I've already seen a lot of articles, just like this one, that posit the question "What is it going to take for this to be successful?"
And I see you guys here arguing about whether instruction and entertainment and reference cross, and I think you're missing the bigger question about Webcomics.com
And that is "what is your goal?" Because if our goal is "to become super-fucking rich from this paywall" then yeah. We're not going to be successful. But so many of you are inferring that goal it gets upsetting.
Because really, and I speak for myself here, my goal is to drill down further and really provide an actual resource and effect some change for some people and their creative endeavors. And we are already well on our way towards that goal, and it excites me.
Honestly, I think it's noble, this concept of the "public service" how to hub that's run like some government program. Where everyone is equal and everything is free and community driven. I would love to see it.
I just don't want to run it. And after a year plus of losing that time he could have spent on his own work, I think that Brad didn't want to run it anymore either. I can't blame him.
Eric, I think it's unfair for you to put on my shoulders the responsibility of a young aspiring cartoonist's google search resulting in some answer for him. I did my duty for Webcomics. I've paved a lot of roads and I helped write a book on the subject.
Instead of a thank you, I get your disappointing stare? Not cool, dude.
You're mistaking concern for disappointment, Scott. I'm not disappointed in you or Brad or anyone else. For one thing, I wouldn't begin to have the right to be. For another, it's none of my business. For a third? I like you guys and I want you to succeed.
And that, to me, is the crux of the above. I want you to succeed. Not become super-rich, not perform some 'public service.' But actually succeed in your goals.
Those goals, if I understand them correctly, are threefold:
1. Provide a resource for webcartoonists that will give them the tools for business, technical and artistic success with their webcomic.
2. Renumerate Brad (and if possible, you and Robert Khoo) for your time and energy in providing that resource.
3. Continue to push the core theses of the webcomics production model you developed in How to Create Webcomics. Selling more copies would be a nice add-on, but I honestly think you're more interested in keeping the momentum going and helping people.
My concerns are on how those goals are met, and if those goals are met, because at the end of the day I want you guys to succeed.
Goal 1: A resource that ends up being unused by the people who could most benefit from it is in the end a resource wasted. If the paywall barrier means newcomers go elsewhere for advice and help, you don't have a resource for getting people up and going, you have an internal community. There's nothing wrong with internal communities, but that doesn't seem to be what you're going for.
Goal 2: This is a goal that's entirely between you, Brad and Khoo (I don't know him at all, so I don't feel comfortable invoking his first name). If you're happy with the results, then mazeltov! You all deserve to be compensated for your hard work. My concerns in this area come down to sustainability more than anything. Can a short term big boost at the start, followed by a trickle of subscriptions in the coming months, followed (we hope) by resubscriptions next January provide Brad (and if possible you and Mr. Khoo) enough money to justify the time and effort you put into it? If the answer is yes, then that's enough. There were several Webcartoonists over at Modern Tales who were perfectly happy with the money they got for their webcomic from the subscription model, for that matter. If someone feels they've received due compensation for their work, they have, and it's not up to me or anyone else to say they haven't.
Goal 3: This, to me, is the crux. If you intend to spread the word... well, this ain't the way to do it. Other peoples' voices will slowly drown yours out. History has shown, time and again, that content behind paywalls has diminishing impact instead of increasing impact. You know this to be true -- I've read your book. ;)
If, on the other hand, this isn't a goal of yours -- if you feel that, as you say, you did your duty and this is something else, then good enough. In the end, the only opinions that matter are yours.
If those of you doing this are happy with the result, not just today but ongoing, then that honestly and literally the only thing that matters. You will be a success. But when you're opening by saying "we want to provide this service, but we just can't afford to, so we are taking this drastic a step," the immediate reaction will be profound, and for people watching you, the question will remain "will this be a success. Will they make enough money at it? Will the community they build serve the purposes they seem to want it to serve? Will this still be here in a year?"
And I'll be honest, Scott. I'm concerned. I'm not disappointed. I'm not angry. I'm not upset. I don't have a horse in this race beyond my hope that it all works out for you guys. But I'm concerned, both because of how it was announced and instituted and because the model you're following historically just doesn't work.
If my concerns turn out to be unfounded, I will do more than eat crow -- I will be thrilled, because you guys deserve success.
As a side note -- some of the comments above I think would be excellent ones for you guys to follow up on. In particular, the SCAD/Art Institutes/et al option. If you can get some of the sequential art programs out there to take curricular interest and provide access to their students, that would be both renumerative and get the information in front of some of the people who most need it -- young artists, learning their trade and taking their first steps into a cartooning career. None of that would require changing what you're currently doing at all, but could also lead to tremendous things.
Speaking as someone who works at a school, even exhorbinant site license fees will seem cheap. Get a few schools to pay $5,000 each for their students to have access, and you'll both have an influx of fresh hopefuls and the resources to keep things going now and into the future.
...now I'm going to have "Put One Step In Front Of The Other" from Santa Claus is Coming to Town running through my head the rest of the day. I clearly need more sleep.
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