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Will WCN be a comics version of mp3.com?
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JeffColeman



Joined: 06 Oct 2004
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Location: Austin, TX

PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 1:24 am    Post subject: Will WCN be a comics version of mp3.com? Reply with quote

Joey,

This is something I have been thinking about for a few days, after reading this Wired article about "Long tail marketing".

In the article, the "Long tail" marketing is the phenomenon where Amazon.com, Netflix or iTunse draw people to their services with the "hits", the huge-selling books/movies/songs, but people are then able to find rare, obscure and more specialized items easily through the same service.

In the examples given, the "long tail" of the lesser-selling items adds up to a TOTAL of far more than the "hits", making it just as profitable for them to carry the specialized rarities which brick-and-mortar stores wouldn't have room for.

You've got far more experience in this field than I do so this is purely brainstorming on my part, but something that's been on my mind has been the fate of mp3.com.

The article discusses how mp3.com launched with the idea to level the playing field for music, anyone could sign up and post mp3s (I did this myself in 1999 or so), and music would be democratized, independent and unknown bands would have big hits, and music as we know it would be changed forever.

It didn't happen though, because mp3.com was ONLY "long tail". Anybody could sign up, but they didn't have the "hits", that draw people to Amazon or Netflix in the first place.

It occurred to me that in a sense, Webcomics Nation could be seen in a similar sense. It's a pay service, true, but I think mp3.com may have implemented something similar. But if we take Webcomics Nation overall, it seems like it may be ONLY "long tail", without the huge hits or popular sites that might draw readers in numbers that would lead to cross-pollenation to other WCN comics, as happens with Netflix, Amazon or iTunes.

This is purely speculation so I may be way off-base, but I just thought I'd see if anyone had any thoughts on this. What do you think?

Jeff
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reinder
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 3:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think WCN will be long-tail only. The problem with determining this, though, is that all of comics are in a sense long-tail. It's a minority interest, unlike music. (But then, I take it for granted that everyone is interested in music, which isn't the case. A while ago I was watching TV in somebody else's house with a bunch of people there, and there was a scene from a movie in which Tom Waits and Iggy Pop appeared. I was the only one of the company who recognised the faces, the only one to whom the names meant anything at all, and the only one who didn't want to change the channel)
Within comics and cartooning, Jay Stephens can draw in people from outside our little incrowd. I've seen his name doing the rounds in blogs after he launched his site here. Ursula Vernon is a popular webcartoonist and well known in the anthro art community. Tom Hart is a big-name alt. cartoonist, as is James Kochalka (but James isn't seen as being part of WCN, I think).

None of these people are in Charles Schulz land. But they're up the tail compared to you and me, and capable of drawing in people from other niches.
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joey
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 7:54 am    Post subject: Re: Will WCN be a comics version of mp3.com? Reply with quote

I've found with Modern Tales that you never know what's going to be a "big hit" online -- the biggest "hit," in terms of an individual series by an individual cartoonist within our own network, would have to be James Kochalka's "American Elf" -- which does not do as well in print, apparantly, as it does online.

WCN provides the tools to *create* hits, but it can't guarantee that there will be hits. I'm guessing there will be. I just don't know who they are yet. And once there are, the cross-pollination will begin.

I think you're maybe missing the point of the long-tail manifesto, though. It isn't so much about cross-pollination with big hits (though that does happen, I don't think it's a focus of the long-tail theory) -- it's about niche audiences finding exactly what they want, and only what they want. People who are really into, say, purebred dogs, finding the webcomic about purebred dogs. People who are really into classic cars finding the webcomic about classic cars. They won't find those by going to webcomics until they find one that interests them -- they'll find those by going to sites about purebred dogs, and/or sites about classic cars, until somebody posts a link to a comic (or a tooncast, for that matter). Again, that's not the only way traffic moves on the web, but I do believe it's the major implication of the long-tail theory, if applied to comics. I could be wrong.

Joey
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JeffColeman



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Joey,

That's a great point about the different ways to interpret the "Long tail" concept.

I was looking at it mainly through the examples given in the article, where it's not exactly "cross-pollination with hits" but it's the hits that draw people to the service in the first place. And they can click on Britney, click one step away to Pink, one step away to No Doubt, and one step away to a ska band they had never heard of.

And once they're at the site they can browse or be inspired by whatever niche or unconvential tastes they want to follow up on. The article gives an example of Netflix doing great sales with Bollywood movies and documentaries, and I realized that when I had the Netflix service those are exactly what I rented with it! Stuff it was hard to find elsewhere.

It's definitely not an exact parallel with webcomics, but the situation with mp3.com got me thinking, there are definite similarities. I'm confident you've got the business sense (because of the vision you've already demonstrated) that your sites won't go the way of mp3.com, though.

Jeff
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joey
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm actually very familiar with MP3.com. In my pre-webcomics life, I was the "Vice-President, Interactive" of streamingmedia.com, a trade magazine and trade show about online audio and video, and even got to hang out with the MP3.com founder a bit, Michael Robertson (well, okay, I escorted him to the stage where he was going to give a speech at one of our conferences, and later I accidentally walked in on him in the staff single-service bathroom -- but .... er ... um ... nevermind).

If MP3.com had been able to hang on longer, it would have eventually met its promise. A lot of times I'll hear about a new band that has a small and rising presence on the pop charts, I'll go google them, and the first group of links that come up will be broken links to MP3.com pages. This happened recently to me with Old Crow Medicine Show, for example.

WCN will be able to hang on longer than MP3.com, for one simple reason: the money doesn't come from investors looking to make huge multiples in return for their investment. MP3.com was first funded by VC's, then by the public stock market. In both cases, enormous profits were required in order to sustain the interest of those investors. WCN was/is funded by me, built by me, and run by me. My goal is not to get rich, but to make a living for myself (and a cheap one at that, now that I live in Kentucky -- my mortgage is only $500/month, for example, compared to the $2200/month I was paying for rent in San Francisco).

If we can get to 100 paying customers (we're in the mid-fifties now, after a couple of weeks), I will be making enough money to quit my consulting gigs and work full-time on webcomics. Which is the goal for me (vs. the goal for MP3.com's investors, which was billions and billions of dollars in returns; not to mention all the employees who had to be paid, the Super Bowl ads that had to be bought, etc., etc., etc.).

Joey
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Mr. Chuckles
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Getting around the long-tail problem basically means getting big name cartoonists (if that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is) to sign up for a site, and that of course is the real trick. So far I would say that WCN is doing very well at attracting quatity talent, and I think the price differential over a free service (i.e. the website formerly known as Keenspace) will continue to deter the, shall we say, 'less dedicated' creator.

Joey, I know how averse you are to advertising spending following your days in the dotcom bubble, but do you have any plans to promote WCN to these (in keeping with the 'tail' theme) fat-cat cartoonists?? For example an ad in The Comics Journal was discussed and rejected for ModernTales, but perhaps it would be more effective for a service like WCN. WCN, after all, is perfect for the print cartoonist who hasn't had the know-how to launch themselves onto the web, and print cartoonists are the people who most read soemthing like TCJ.
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joey
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The biggest cartoonists online (in terms of financial success) were complete unknowns in the print comics world when they started posting their comics on the web. And they still are, pretty much, with the exception of Scott Kurtz, whose star shines much less brightly in print than it does online (but shines all the same, thanks to his deal with Image -- still, he's no Frank Miller or Alan Moore in the eyes of comic book fanboys, though he's at the top of the webcomics world).

The comic with reputedly the biggest business success around, Penny-Arcade, which can make $80K in merch sales in one hour (under special circumstances -- this was the report of a recent deal they had with some limited-edition prints), is far better known to videogamers than to comic book readers. I doubt one in one hundred comic book readers has ever heard of Penny-Arcade (and the ones who have heard of it are probably videogame fans as well, and heard of Penny-Arcade that way, rather than through comics circles).

Yet Penny-Arcade's monthly audience exceeds that of any print comic from the mainstream comics world -- and completely and outrageously eclipses the audience of any indie print comic, no matter how well-known the cartoonist is in print comics circles.

So I don't think that finding medium-to-well-known indie cartoonists from the print world is necessarily where we'll find our breakaway hits.

It happened that way for Kochalka, but I think that that's less because of his print reputation, and more because of the way his comic was uniquely suitable for the web, being sort of a drawn blog in its own right.

We just have to make sure the conditions are right for those of you on the service to become breakaway hits on your own.

Or, at least, make the conditions as "right" as possible.

The rest is luck and fate.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

[[ edit -- the numbers I had for Penny-Arcade's limited edition print sales were incorrect by a factor of two, on both counts -- apparantly they "only" made $40,000 and it took them two whole hours -- see:

http://www.digitalstrips.com/2005/08/news-web-comic-generates-4000000.html

]]
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James V. West



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2005 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That was an awesome article. Very eye-opening.

I think the idea that people find webcomics more or less by accident or through links from sites that might not have anything to do with webcomics is accurate. We might gravitate to a music site to find music from a band we heard on the radio or TV. But I don't think I've ever went to a webcomics site for that reason. Every webcomic I've ever read was through a Google search for some topic or another or through a link from another site.

Of course having "big names" would automatically net more visitors simply through the same process. Google Big Mike Cartoonist and hey, he's got a WCN site. From there we might browse the WCN top 10. From there who knows?

Interesting topic.
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joezabel
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2005 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually WCN does have, in effect, a strategy to attract big-draw cartoonists. That is the flat pricing structure. A big-draw cartoonist would probably have to pay more for their bandwidth at another site. At WCN, they pay the same. That in effect subsidizes their presence on WCN.

Understandably, I think there are limits to how much Joey can subsidize any big talents; I'm not sure where the limit is, though.
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Mr. Chuckles
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2005 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wasn't thinking so much in terms of subsidizing, I was thinking more in terms of just letting them know the service exists. There are probably a lot of 'known' (perhaps older) print cartooinsts who may have been thinking they might like to put work on the web but balked at the technical challenges -- WCN would be the perfect answer to that. Such artists would have a built-in audience, but might not currently spend a lot of time online or looking at webcomics or webcomic forums or whatever and so be ingorant of our existance.

I went to a a lot of creator/instructional panels at comic-con this year, and at a couple of those that were not web-oriented, the term 'webcomics' was used with the kind of awe that comes with incomprehension. Webcomics are thought by the non-webliterate comics world to be the 'next big thing' and artists are looking for ways to put their work online without having to master a load of technobabble. Thus I would have though a few strateigically placed ads in the offline/print world might well be a good investment at some point.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2005 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chuck:

You've hit the WCN marketing opportunity on the head, and I do think that WCN ads in The Comics Journal would work to bring in new customers for the service itself. I was poo-pooing the idea that well-known names from the indie comics world (lured in via TCJ ads) are necessarily going to be more successful online than people who are completely unknown (and therefore help the other cartoonists on the service build their audience).

I didn't mean to poo-poo the idea of advertising the service, in TCJ or elsewhere. Quite the contrary.

I've got a lot on my plate at the moment (accounting being the biggest task right now), but, yes, you have a very good sense of where my goals for this project are placed.

Joey
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achim



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 17, 2005 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

reinder wrote:
A while ago I was watching TV in somebody else's house with a bunch of people there, and there was a scene from a movie in which Tom Waits and Iggy Pop appeared. I was the only one of the company who recognised the faces, the only one to whom the names meant anything at all, and the only one who didn't want to change the channel

And the film must've been "Coffee and Cigarettes", last year's Jim Jarmush's feature. Perhaps they'd reckognise "White Stripes" who appear a bit later.
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reinder
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 2:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was, but I wanted to keep the message short. I didn't get to see the White Stripes, because the channel was eventually changed, but I doubt they would have recognised them.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 3:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

achim wrote:
reinder wrote:
A while ago I was watching TV in somebody else's house with a bunch of people there, and there was a scene from a movie in which Tom Waits and Iggy Pop appeared. I was the only one of the company who recognised the faces, the only one to whom the names meant anything at all, and the only one who didn't want to change the channel

And the film must've been "Coffee and Cigarettes", last year's Jim Jarmush's feature. Perhaps they'd reckognise "White Stripes" who appear a bit later.


Dang these kids today and their newfangled musics! Why back in my day we used to listen to music banging Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins, and we LIKED it, consarnit!
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, a time has come for Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins listeners to get the kids off from their lawn! How time flies.
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