Joining a collective?
Dear Webcomics.com, I’ve noticed a lot of the webcomics that are around my level (in terms of audience) are joining collectives. As the odd man out (they haven’t asked me to join their party) my opinion has been, they should be offering me more then just a few promises, to get me to join. I’ve noticed many of my fellow comickers giving up prime real estate on their sites, over to a collective-wide ad banner. From what I’ve been told, this banner will generate revenue to conventions, etc. The collectives in question are also suggesting that they will help generate traffic and all of the other typical rhetoric. They are also being told that they may join other collectives, and some will even host their comic for free. Talking with these individuals, they have decent reasons to back up every red flag that I point out. My question is: Am I being too skeptical? If I’m ever asked to join one, what should I be looking for to decide whether a collective is worth joining or not? –Carlisle
The main benefits of joining a webcomics collective are:
- Pooling resources
Cross-promotion is probably the most popular reason for joining or forming a collective. A certain amount of reader-sharing can easily take place under a collective’s umbrella. And it forms a comfortable format for touting a stable-mate’s work. Most collectives have systems for interlinking among member site — reminiscent of the Web rings of the late nineties. Collectives may also use their combined traffic to lure better advertising money. And, further, they might use portions of that revenue to fund things for the collective — such as comic-convention appearances. And finally, collectives facilitate the collaborations among the members — guest comics, special events, anthologies, etc. Of course, collective also have their drawbacks:
- Audience disparity
- Money distribution
- Group dynamics
If one of the benefits of a collective is cross-promotion, what do the highest traffic-earners in the group get out of the deal? Is it enough to argue that the smaller fish still bring some new eyes? Or should there be a balancing factor to reward the members with the largest readerships? Sharing revenue is nice, but whenever money gets involved, the arguments get more serious. Throwing money into a “con pool” is a great idea. But to which convention should the money be applied? And what happens to the members whose money was contributed to a convention that they can’t/won’t attend? Finally, any time you gather creative personalities, you know you’re in for some sparks. This is an especially important consideration when collectives decide to add new members. The wrong person can divide a previously peaceful collective into warring factions overnight.
To join or not to join…?
Joining a collective is like any other business decision you have to make. It’s best to try to separate your emotions and then look at the facts and how they balance out. For example, you make want to join a collective simply because many of your friends are part of the collective. But if it’s a bad fit for you, don’t you risk alienating those friends? So, take a look at the facts and how they add up.
- Do the other members offer significant cross-promotion?
- Do you offer anything significant to the group?
- If the collective pools ad revenue, are you sure you couldn’t do better running your own ads?
- Will the pooled resources be used in such a way that you’ll approve?
- Are there members of the group whose personalities you might not appreciate?
Then, when you’re ready to take the plunge, do this: Plan your exit. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end — and this collective will be no different. You’ve planned your entrance, now plan your exit. Talk to the members about how and why you may leave the group. Ask how that’s going to affect the things that you will have done as a member (and the money you may have made). Make sure the members understand why you’re joining and what your expectations are. In so doing, my bet is, you’ll really determine whether you want to be involved with this particular collective at all. And if you do, you’ll be going in with your eyes wide open, and a perfectly reasonable expectation of how you’ll be leaving if-and-when you decide to do so.
For more thoughts on collectives, go to the Jan. 7, 2009 edition of Webcomics.com for a discussion of doers and users.
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