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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Writing for Comic Books, Part 7: Alternative Publishing

Last week, I discussed self-publishing your comic book. Today's column is a companion piece to that one, as it talks about a couple of alternatives to traditional publishing. One of those alternatives is fairly obvious, web publishing. The other is less obvious, digital publishing. Neither of these were even remotely possible when I was writing, so I strongly recommend you spend a lot of time researching these options before making a choice.

I'm going to talk about web publishing first, as I know more about it than digital publishing. At its simplest level, web publishing is pretty easy. You create a comic book and post it on the web. You don't have to deal with printers or distributors or shipping or billing or any of those other hassles. There's no inventory to store (and carry around with you every time you move). You even get to publish your book in color at no extra charge!

So, what's the downside to publishing on the web? Well, there's no inventory to sell or billings to be collected. In other words, without some extra work on your part, you aren't making any money off of your work. I suppose it's possible to make money in the "traditional" way. For example, you could provide a few pages of each issue for free while charging a small fee to view the entire book. I don't know of any sites doing this, so I'm guessing it's not a particularly great approach. But there are people producing web comics full time who do make a living off of it. Some examples are the traditional comic strip User Friendly (whose creator wrote a book on how to make money on the web, Money For Content and Your Clicks For Free), the Order of the Stick, PVP (whose creator collaborated on a book about creating web comics, How to Make Webcomics) and my personal favorite Girl Genius.

All of these creators do the "standard" things to make money. They sell t-shirts and other memorabilia (something easy to do with places like Cafe Press) and they gather previously printed material into traditional print collections and sell those. All of that helps bring in money, but that's not where these people are making their money. They're making money through advertising, and not just using Google AdSense. This is completely outside of my area of expertise, so you're own figuring out how to make money this way.

There is one thing I can tell you about trying to make money from online content; you must produce content regularly if you hope to attract and keep readers. For instance, if your web site claims new material is posted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 AM, you had better have new material up on your web site when promised. If you start missing your deadlines you run the risk of letting your fans figure out that they can live without your comic. Once they realize that, your days are numbered. You might still have some die hard fans, but you need the casual fan if you want to pay the bills.

I know that advice seems amazingly obvious, but I've worked with several artists who couldn't seem to get it through their heads that a regular schedule was a good thing. People tend to be a bit more forgiving of print comics that slip their schedule but the immediacy of the web makes people impatient. So make sure you're up for the long haul if you hope to make a living producing web content!

Digital comic book publishing is so new that I only have a small amount of information about it. The iPhone and iPod Touch seem the driving forces behind digital publishing. There are already several comic reader applications availabe for the iPhone and iPod Touch right now. Two I've tracked down home pages for are iVerse Media and Uclick. As best I can determine, comic book creators come to these companies to have their work published in the digital format. In other words, these are publishers who will consider adding your book to their line.

If iPhone applications are as easy to produce as the newsstories would have us believe, perhaps you'll be able to directly publish your own comics digitally. I'll admit that I find this idea extremely interesting and well worth pursuing. A friend just recently brought up the topic of developing iPhone applications, so I'm going to discuss the idea of publishing our own digital comic with him. This approach gives you all of the advantages of web publishing with at least some of the advantages of traditional publishing. If I were to pursue this, I'd put the first digital issue up as a free download to give readers a chance to discover the book without risking anything but download and reading time. After the first issue, I'd probably go with a price in the range of 25 to 75 cents (Uclick sells comics for 99 cents), depending on how many people downloaded the free issue.

There are those who believe digital comics maybe spell the end of the traditional print comic. They may have cause to worry, as a drain off of even 10% of the current comic book readership would make many comic books too expensive to publish traditionally any more.

In all honesty, I doubt I can answer many questions you might have about these two alternatives to the traditional publishing route. I included all the links in this column to help steer you in the right direction. However, please feel free to post questions in the comments section. I'll try to research and answer for you.

Also, I'm starting to run low on topics to cover concerning writing and publishing comic books. What would you like to see covered that I haven't covered? Or what would you like to see covered in more depth? Bruce really wants you to come up with more column topics. If you don't, he may have to find something else to fill the Monday morning slot (or even write it himself)!
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