This had better not be the future of comics on the web…

King Features just announced their new system for publishing their comics to the web.

For free, you can read one week a month of your favorite King Features strips, but only during the month FOLLOWING the month in question. That’s right, you get a week of comics to last you a month. Then, next month, you get a NEW week… but it’s not sequential to the one you just read.

For $15 per year, you can subscribe to their Daily Ink site, and get to read sequentially, with no delay, and even read several months back in the archives.

What a bargain!

Compare that to what you get with Schlock Mercenary, or any other non-King-Features-syndicated webcomic: For free, you can read in real time, and you can read the archives from the beginning. You don’t have to spend any money, ever.

I hope Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand gives King Features a solid poke in the eye. I’d hate to see good money get spent by consumers who don’t know that a better deal can be found pretty much anywhere else on the web.

–Howard

47 thoughts on “This had better not be the future of comics on the web…”

  1. There’s a rather nice comic site (that I haven’t subscribed to) where you can pay something like $2/mo to have full access to all of their comics… or for free you get just today’s. Graphic Smash

    You’re definitely a better bargain, but divided over the number of quality comics they have, the difference becomes marginal (the margin being one I, as noted above, haven’t leapt–but friends of mine have).

    1. On the occasion, graphics smash will open up a particular artist’s archives for free (the most recent example was Digger, by )

      I’m on the edge of popping for it, simply to get access to the archives.

      As far as other comics on there, I’m honestly not sure.

        1. I read a few pages of Digger. That was good stuff.

          (That I didn’t bother to bookmark it says more about me, my short attention span, and my busy schedule than it says about Digger.)

    2. I think I’ve got more readers than the entire Graphic Smash site.

      There are 557 Live Journal “friends page” subscribers to this blog, which is probably more subscribers than 80% of the Graphic Smash or Modern Tales strips.

      (I could be wrong. Hey, Joey! Publish some numbers!)

      My point — subscription serves to bury good work, rather than make it available, and it doesn’t adequately compensate the creator, either.

      I may introduce a subscription site for Schlock Mercenary, but it would be along the lines of what I had on Keenspot PREMIUM for a while — larger strips, all Sunday-colored, plus a bonus gallery. The main body of my work will always be free on the web.

      1. Numbers _would_ be nifty to see. I’d presume they had sizable numbers, but that could just be from how my friends talk about it. 🙂

        There’s no way I’d try to talk you out of keeping things free, of course. 🙂

        1. Well, let’s do some math.

          Assume that GS made $500,000 in fiscal 2004. (I’m sure this number is too high by almost an order of magnitude, but hey, let’s be generous).

          Assume further that every subscriber pays by the year. That means that each reader is paying $30 per year.

          These two generous assumptions put the total subscriptions for Graphic Smash at just under 17,000. If some subscribers are monthly, or if GS made (I’m guessing more like) $50,000 in fiscal 2004, then we’re talking about 1700 subscribers.

          Now for some real numbers: The “Tower” ad, which only runs on the schlockmercenary.com index page, was displayed, on the average, 18,477 times per day during the last month. On one day it was displayed 22,409 times. While some people do hit the front of the site more than once per day (you addicts, you), others hit it LESS than once per day. I figure that I have between 18,000 and 22,000 daily readers this month.

          This says NOTHING about the quality of material found on my site and the MT/GS sites. Everything I’ve seen on MT and GS is excellent — it’s not all to my tastes, but it’s straight-up, hard-core professional work. And all of it is penalized by a poor business model.

          King Features would never, NEVER get away with their subscription model if they didn’t already have hundreds of thousands of people reading their comics in newspapers, and wondering if there is a way to get their comics on the web instead.

          –Howard

          1. Yeah, I’m with you. One of the problems with the subscription model is that it’s awkward. You need to give personal infomration along with money, and it’s inconvenient to pay in small chunks.

            I bought the dead tree version of Digger, mostly because I was at a convention where it was being sold, so I didn’t need to go out of my way to pick it up. But I’ve never subscribed and am unlikely to ever do so. First, online access is temporary in a way that the book isn’t: if I cancel my subscription, I can’t read the archive any more, but I’ll always have the paper version I bought. I used to read the Digger strips when they were free, but quit as soon as it went to Graphic Smash. This wasn’t a conscious “I hate Graphic Smash” decision; it was jut an extra step that wasn’t worth the trouble to take, and even trying to follow it for free without access to the archive wasn’t worth it to me.

            Second … there’s plenty of free competition, much of it as good or better. I like Ursula Vernon’s work, but she’s no Howard Tayler, and she only does two strips a week. At $30 a year, I’d be paying $0.28 a page for her work.

            Basically, a subscription would mean I’d have to have great faith in the editor’s capabilities, and I don’t. I have a limited amount of time, and already track a lot of free comics. I don’t really need more to add to it, especially not if I need to deal with extra hassle to get to it.

            I think the hassle is as big a deal as the money, in fact.

            Incidentally, I’d consider ponying up for a premium subscription to Schlock. But it’s the only strip that I would. And if any of the others I currently read went to a subscription model, I’d stop reading them, too.

            Needless to say, I won’t be reading any of the King Features comics on the web.

      2. It’s better to average 5 cents/year from 250,000 readers than $2/year from 1000 readers, and that’s before we talk about advertising expenses vs making word of mouth easy…

        1. Exactly. The most powerful form of advertising is word of mouth. 33% of Schlockers surveyed said they discovered the comic because a friend recommended it. That’s more than found it through the power of Keenspot’s cross-promotional tools.

          Anything that enables WoM advertising is good, in my book. Anything that gets in the way of it is bad. Sure, it’s simplistic, but it makes business decisions much easier to make.

          1. If anything, I discovered Keenspot through reading your comic – I learnt of your comic via Steve Jackson’s “Daily Illuminator”.

      3. More Schlocky goodness

        A quick check of my webcomics links shows that my reading patterns will definitely be affected by the decision of King Features.

        Exactly two strips will vanish from my usual circuit.

        And both of those are “nice to have.” Schlock Mercenary, however, is a “must have.”

        I do subscribe to and read two newspapers (y’know, those big, floppy, medium-resolution output devices made from dead trees?), so I already subscribe to many of the offerings of King Features. I see little incentive to maintain yet another subscription for the sake of two additional strips.

        Having said that, I’ll happily subscribe to a “here’s more cool stuff” portion of Schlock Mercenary. (I was one of the first Keenspot PREMIUM subscribers, and I just renewed my subscription.) And any eventual dead-tree editions? Oh, yeah–I’m so there.

        –GS

      4. Well, according to Alexa.com’s traffic measurements, schlockmercenary.com gets a lot more traffic than graphicsmash.com.

        The bad news is that schlockmercenary.com only gets about 1/3 of the reach and 1/4 the pageviews that kingfeatures.com gets. (Actually, I think that’s pretty impressive.)

    3. I subscribe to Graphics Smash. I mainly got it for Digger and Fans, though a few others looked interesting. (Fans has since ended, but I also recommend “Killroy and Tina” and “Flick”, and there’s many other on there that, while I don’t check them religiously, are still good reads.)

      Is it worth it? Yeah, I think so. On the other hand I live like a college student, on a high-level programmer’s salary. If I was low on cash, it’d probably be the first thing I got rid of.

      But then again, $3/mo isn’t going to break the bank, and a significant fraction of my Main List (i.e. maybe 3 out of 25 or so) are on that site. On average, it’s better quality than free comics.

      (Of course, there’s a ton of lousy free comics – the important ones are the really good comics.)

      One thing I find noteworthy, though, is that the updates tend to be more regular than your average totally-free comic. Howard here does an amazing job of keeping to a schedule, and I’m afraid he’s kind of spoiled me. 😉

      1. $3 may not break the bank, but you have to remember that Modern Tales has 3 sites. I used to follow a bunch of comics on MT Proper, but most of the good ones quit and a handful moved. Finally I was down to 4 comics between the 3 sites. I would have been paying more than $2 per comic if I had subscribed to all of them.

        Digger, Narbonic, and Odd Jobs are still good, but I both don’t have the time to check them every day and don’t have $6 per month to spend on just them.

        Also, while the updates are more regular than “average” free comics, they’re still bloody crummy. The archive viewer is just AWFUL too. (Go back and read through narbonic, having to read 1-10 pages of weekend crap to one page of actual comic to see what I mean.)

  2. Are there any interesting King Feature’s comics? After reading web comics for the last 8 years or so, I find newspaper comics pretty bland and insipid.

    1. “Kevin and Kell” Bill Holbrok’s Safe Havens and On the Fast Track.

      I hear that the Seattle Post Intellentcer has them actually current for free, so I switched over there.

  3. I took King Features out of my bookmarks. I try to support webcomics as much as I can, but this out of the blue – BOOM – SURPRISE! from them really irritated me.

    I’ll just read (and support) comics I really enjoy – something intelligent 🙂

  4. Well, it’s not really quite the same, because no matter how many comics you can find on the web for free, you can never find THEIR comics for free on the web.

    1. True. And that’s where I hope Adam Smith and his Invisible Poke-you-in-the-eye finger comes in: is THIS SPECIFIC CONTENT worth subscribing to at this rate, when comparable material is available for no charge? Hey, whose eye is this rolling around on the floor?

      I’m actually HAPPY with King Features’ decision. I’d be worried if they started giving their stuff away for free. That’s MY turf. 😉

      –Howard

  5. They should talk to http://www.ucomics.com/ – current two weeks are free, the rest costs.

    The problem is that neither they, ucomics, nor united media actually have that many good comics. Certainly not enough to subscribe to when there’s TONS out there for free. (Yes, I’ve bought merchandise from various artists!)

    1. I actually knew someone who paid for ucomics, which I couldn’t understand. I’ve got regularly visited webcomics in my drop-down history, I don’t even bookmark them. And with feeds (such as on LJ), I’ve got Dilbert, Calvin & Hobbes, Luann, Foxtrot, etc. piping right through to LJ so I don’t even have to visit their sites (all the flashing ads annoy me).

      The exception to this is fborfw.com (For Better Or For Worse) because it’s an outstanding strip, IMO, and I like to support them by actually visiting the site.

  6. I just noticed the ‘stop,’ ‘play,’ ‘rewind’, ‘pause’ and ‘fast forward’ buttons on the gigantic window in Sunday’s strip.

    You rascal.

  7. buh bye King. We have a bunch on our daily rotation and they’re all going away.

    A shame for the artists, since I often use online to determine whether or not to buy dead tree editions (Hey Howard, you signing any Schlock books at Linucon?)

  8. This is the only web comic I read regularly. *shrug* None of the others, enjoyable as they may be, have a permanent bookmark and a place in my brain.

    1. Bless you, Zenkitty!

      It may seem like a silly thing to say, but I’m honored to have captured both a bookmark and a place in your brain. When it’s all been said and done, no writer or artist can aspire to more.

      –Howard

  9. I’ve been paying for up-to-date (or mostly up-to-date) webbed versions of newspaper comics for a few years now. Of the newspaper comics that are not available in the Chicago Tribune (which is my standard source of comics on “dead trees”), most of the ones I’m interested in reading are not available other than through subscription sites. My morning set of bookmarks currently has three of these.

    I also, however, throw money at various web comic creators or their syndicates (getting a secret code or cookie to remove the ads when possible).

    I won’t disagree, however, that having a free advertiser supported option for throes who don’t want to, or cannot, pay directly will help keep the content in the eyes of the consumer. Of course, unless the readers of the web comics actually make it worth the advertiser’s money to run the advertisement, ad revenue will dry up as a source of income for web comics, and webbed versions of newspaper comics, and they’ll either be forced to go to direct pay only, or close up shop and find some other source of income.

    1. I see where you’re coming from. I’m not one of those readers who makes it worthwhile for advertisers, because I almost never click on ads, and rarely buy anything based on an ad-click.

      Looking at my stats as a publisher, though, I can see that there is a small segment of the population that DOES click on ads, and that make purchasing decisions based on the banners they see. Some of the ad campaigns I run for my clients have click-throughs as high as 5%, which means that even though you and I can’t imagine clicking on an unknown banner, there are people out there who do.

      Bless those clicky readers and their deep pockets. Bless them forever. 🙂

  10. My e-mail to King Features (and some of the cartoonists I regularly read there)

    Sorry Schlock isn’t mentioned there, but I only mentioned ones I have dead tree copies of.

    ——–

    My wife and I are both avid readers, reading many webcomics daily,
    along with our regular supply of books. Quite often, we buy the
    printed editions of the comics we like. We have hundreds of dollars
    worth of printed editions, probably bordering on over a thousand
    dollars. Our tastes vary wildly, we have the books for :the complete
    collection of User Friendly (full archives online free, fancy that),
    Baby Blues, Foxtrot, an almost complete collection of Sherman’s
    Lagoon, Over The Hedge, Dilbert, GPF (hey, another one where the
    complete collection is online!), Mother Goose and Grimm, Unspeakable
    Vault (well I’ll be, another one where the complete collection is
    online), and many others.

    Because of the new policy, all King Features will be dropped from our
    daily reading list. It will also eliminate the purchase of book
    editions of your artists, as we do not make uninformed purchases, and
    we are not about to pay for the privilege of making informed ones.

    I hope your goose dinner was really good, because it’s not laying
    those eggs anymore.

  11. I would say something…

    … about “you get what you pay for”, but after looking at what King offers, I don’t think it applies. At all.

    Yes, it’s stupid. The only way you make money directly from comics is to sell the comics in dead-tree format; anything else has to be a secondary income (advertising, or donations, or something that doesn’t involve direct pay-per-comic).

    1. Re: I would say something…

      Yes; a quick examination of the webcomics industry shows that most comics dont start gaining money from their viewers until physical objects are involved, not counting donations [since those are not mandatory].

      There’s also the Street Performer Protocol (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_Performer_Protocol), which is similar to how Penny-Arcade funded it’s costs with donations before they switched to the advertizements, merchandizing, and commisions business model.

      And this is why Scott McCloud will never, EVER, be able to make money soley from Webcomics; no matter how many American-Print comics fans pony up the micropayments, there is simply not enough people willing to pay for him to derive a reasonable salary from subdollar payments. If his output was, say, printable, he could derive some actual money from the 30 people that bought The Right Number.

      I’m guessing 30 people here. A more generous number would be 219, since that’s how many sales Goats.com got (http://www.goats.com/forums/news/1683/). Goats.com got 80,000 or so pageloads (not uniques/24hr, but sheer pageviews), so the sell-through rate is around 0.27375%. Not good unless you’re Marvel, DC, or CLAMP’s publishers, in which you probably would not bother moving to webcomics but could possibly get a better sell-through rate by the same effect that a giant has a better kill rate than a mouse that does not carry any diseases.

  12. Bleah.

    I wondered what was up with KingFeatures.
    Oh well, it looks like I’m just not going to read their stuff anymore.
    There were only about 2.5 strips I enjoyed on there anyway.

  13. King – Gone

    The only one I’ll miss off of King is Funky Winkerbean. I read a few more, but they weren’t worth it.

    I hope they change their policy, fast. But there is better stuff on the web, so I’ve got plenty to read…

  14. My guess is that I’ll simply be doing what my father does. Reading through the comics once a week in the paper.

    I like Funky, I like Crankshaft. I also still read Beetle Bailey, The Phantom (irregularly), Safe Havens, On The Fast Track, and Sherman’s Lagoon.

    Most of those are in the Houston Chronicle, I’ll just have to find a way to get Bill Holbrook’s others.

    BW

  15. I’m all for paying for what I use, but $15 seems awfully steep, especially when most King comics are ones I couldn’t care less about. The great majority of newspaper comics are little more than space-fillers; I couldn’t tell you the last time BC was funny, for instance. This is one reason I love webcomics–they frequently feature continuing plots rather than one-shot joke comics. (The ones I read, at least…)
    An excellent example is GraphicSmash, which hosts the inimitable Ursula Vernon’s “Digger” among many others. It’s slightly more expensive than King’s, but offers unique content (that is, stuff I couldn’t get in the local paper) and comic book-class art instead of the usual newsprint scribbles. Most of them update thrice weekly, but one full-page strip is certainly worth more than five or seven four-panel jokes.

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