The Kramdenization of Comics
I’ve see it in my Twitter feed every day for what seems like months. It’s a solicitation for comics artists to enter a contest that’s being run by an organization that’s breathlessly touting FREE comics on the Web(!)
And, right on cue, we have anxious cartoonists exalting this as the Next Big Thing. They’re frantically assembling their submissions and doubtlessly dreaming of the five-digit payday.
If it weren’t so damned pathetic, it would be funny.
Once again, many of us are thrust into the role of Jackie Gleason’s legendary character Ralph Kramden, whose get-rich-quick schemes provided comedy gold for The Honeymooners. And — more often than not — comedy gold is the only reward waiting at the end of the rainbow for cartoonists who keep falling for the same old come-ons time after time after time.
This has been going on since the beginning of webomics: Platinum Studios, Zuda, Tapastic, InkBlazers, LINE Webtoons, etc. They all had different approaches — and I’ll concede that some were arguably better than others — but they all had something in common. They all promised to deliver readers and money to cartoonists.
But have they? Has any of these ventures provided a livable income to a significant number creators for more than a year or two? If there is, I’m unaware of it. What I do see is a mass stampede of Ralph Kramdens running from one gimmick to the next. Who is making money on all of this? There seems to be an awful lot of venture capital being thrown around. But is it going into the pockets of creators?
Take InkBlazers (neé MangaMagazine) as a recent case study. They made this announcement a few weeks ago:
We have been trying to find a path for Inkblazers and unfortunately we have reached a point where we can no longer financially support the continuation of the site which cost us upwards of $65,000USD a month.
Why did InkBlazers fail? It doesn’t seem to be for a lack of funding. They seeded their company with a million dollars in 2012. Heck, just a few months ago, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation was touting it as a success story! And the most recent annual report filed by Social Octopus Inc. (the company that owns Ink Blazers) looks awfully healthy, too.
So what happened?
I don’t honestly know. What I do know is that none of the above have delivered on their promises over the long haul. Will Tapastic fall in 2015? Will LINEtoons outlast 2016? It’s way too early to tell. But there’s a definite pattern, here. And it’s not particularly pleasant for the Ralph Kramdens among us.
Come on… what’s the harm?
Hey… if one of these organizations gives you ten dollars, that’s ten dollars you didn’t have, right?
I’ve written about the dangers of that mindset before. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look.
But let’s get down to brass tacks.
And it all boils down to the same concept: While you’re chasing after this contest… and then the next one… and then the one after that… what you’re not doing is concentrating on building your own business. Now, contrast the track records of the InkBlazers of the world with the track records of the people who have run their webcomics as their own small businesses.
Which method has elevated more creators to the status of full-time creative professionals?
Did Zuda? Did Ink Blazers? Did Platinum Studios?
Worse yet. When these organizations go down the tubes, what happens to the creators who signed on to Live the Dream? Their primary source of income vanishes. They have little or no efficient way of directing the readers they did generate to a new URL. If they haven’t launched their own site, they lose SEO and PageRank. And if they have, I’ll argue that their SEO/PageRank has suffered from neglect. Will they convert on the mindshare they’ve earned among a certain audience? In other words, will their readers immediately seek them out in a new location? Or will those readers simply shrug — knocked out of their daily routine — and move on to something else?
What do you have to lose? How about TIME?
How about the time that you should have been spending building your own business — instead of yearning for the lottery-ticket solution?
How about the time you’re going to have to spend now — learning the skills you should have been learning gradually over the last several years?
Let’s face it. Losing money stinks. But you can make more money. Losing SEO is a bummer, but you can build that back up, too. Losing readers is heartbreaking, but the Internet is filled with new readers.
You know what you can’t recoup?
The one thing that you can’t get back.