SxSW: Learning From Comics

by Luke Wroblewski March 14, 2006

The How to Blog for Money by Learning From Comics panel at SxSW2006 was an interesting look at how Web business models have been applied to the monetization of a particular medium: comics. Between them, the panelists had tried virtually every Web monetization method under the sun. Their mileage with each varied:

  • Business Models discussed: subscription, syndication, advertising, merchandising, tip jar, product placement, micro-payments, ad generation & placement.
  • Subscription models don't work unless current fame (of the author or comic) carries over or tied to additional product. No one buys art unseen.
  • Daring Fireball’s subscription model: $20 gets you full test RSS feed; $30 gets you a t-shirt (4:1 buy the t-shirt). NPR always includes a physical item with a “subscription.” There is a psychological angle of paying for things you can touch vs. digital content.
  • The “radio model” of syndication to multiple sources and receiving a cut worked well for one author.
  • Web comics need an audience first. Then can monetize 10% of their audience most easily through merchandise sales (t-shirts, books, etc.).
  • Customers don’t like ads that are out of place. Ads should not disrupt the voice of the content but the voice of the content could be applied to ads.
  • Kottke.org does not run ads because of trust and a perception that they disrupt the user experience. He raised $40,000 via donations (tip jar).
  • All the panelists were against product placements within comics.
  • Daring Fireball added Google AdSense and used an analogy about hairpieces that day. They received 1,200 dollars the first day from AdSense. Since then, the revenue has stabilized to enough for hosting bills.
  • OK/Cancel encountered a trade-off between paying the bills with Google ads and usability. The ads performed better but obscured content below the fold.
  • Several of the panelists were utilizing or building a targeted ad network to provide reach for a more relevant audience.

Fans will go out and spread the word about your content better than any form of advertising. How do you encourage fandom to increase traffic?

  • Best way to increase traffic is quality content -frequently.
  • Every once in a while you will stumble on some hot topic and attract a new audience.
  • Expect not to retain the traffic that comes to you from hot tangential topics.
  • Optimize subject lines and terms for search engines