Thursday, September 14, 2006

Don't Go There!

I’d hoped to introduce Fredrik K.T. Andersson’s comic “Pawn” to y’all when he next updated. But that’s not likely to happen soon according to this recent update:

In short, Pawn has attracted more traffic than I expected. With my current webhotel this extra traffic means extra expenses that are way too high. Until I have managed to arrange something more economically feasible I have to temporary take down the site until the problem can be fixed.

This is one of the prices we pay for free goodies on the net. Scott Kurtz early in the life of his comic, "PvP", discussed how success could paradoxically strangle an up-and-coming web comic. Hits eat bandwidth, and somebody has to pay for it. If you’re not able to charge your audience every time they look at your comic, you have to find a way to make up those costs, or pay them directly out of your own pocket.

Mr. Kurtz, and many others, have overcome these obstacles by tackling the funding issue head-on, and treating their comics as profit-making ventures. “PvP” doesn’t get knocked off the net due to heavy traffic because it makes money, which Mr. Kurtz pumps back into comic to buy more bandwidth. In addition, because it makes enough income for him to live on, he can devote more time to it. “PvP” gets updated daily. “Girl Genius”, also a professional, for-profit comic, gets updated three times a week, (six times, if you count the republication of the older material originally released in dead-tree form). Interruptions are rare, quality is high, fans are happy.

Compare this with strictly for-fun web comics. I love “Outsider” and it’s my favorite online comic right now. But updates are infrequent. Arioch needs to eat, pay his bills, all that other fun stuff. “Outsider” gets worked on when Arioch can fit it in, and so it’s probably fairly low on his list of priorities. That’s not to say it’s not important to him. But before he can even put pen to paper, he’s got to make certain there’s food in the fridge and the lights stay on. When Kurtz and Phoglio work on their web comics, they’re doing just that. But every minute Arioch devotes to “Outsider” is costing him money. It’s a minute he could be using to earn cash, or improve his earning potential through education, the maintenance of his health, or finding ways to lower his costs of living. And this sets up a vicious cycle. Money he doesn’t earn can’t be spent on improving the tools he uses to create his comic. Spending time drawing forces him to wait longer to upgrade his computer, or improve his work space, or maintain his health, all of which could make him a more prolific artist and writer.

Part of the problem with “Pawn” stems from the time Mr. Andersson can spend on it. As he says:

I weren't prepared for that BIG bill they dropped on me, since I weren't aware of how much traffic Pawn really attracts. This is my own fault. I should’ve done my homework better.

It’s not that hard to monitor the traffic your website gets. I know right now that the vast majority of my readers hit this blog right now looking for a review of Ptolus. It’s insane how many of you have been coming by to read the Ptolus review I don’t have. (But I’m sure Mr. Vogel has appreciated the traffic I’ve sent his way.) If it wasn’t for Ptolus and succubus porn, and a bit of Dragonlance movie traffic, I’d be all alone in my little troll cave, sobbing softly that nobody ever visited me.

Which is why I don’t agree with Mr. Andersson’s statement that reader donations “would just be a big waste of generous readers’ money.” I disagree. I’d be willing to pay for new “Pawn” material, if I knew that it would be produced more frequently. I wouldn’t pay a lot for it, mind you, but he seems to have enough readers that he might, with judicious marketing, be able to earn enough with “Pawn” that he won’t have to worry about bandwidth costs. Mr. Andersson might even be able to afford to spend more time on it. If Mr. Andersson is adverse to making people pay for the comic itself, he can go the same route as Mr. Phoglio and sell related merchandise. He could also sell advertising on his page, though the mildly erotic themes of his work might make that a tad more difficult.

My point is, making money off a web comic isn’t selling out. Perverting the comic against its basic themes in order to make more money would be. But cashing in on its current popularity seems like a win-win scenario: fans get more “Pawn” and Mr. Andersson gets to spend more time pursuing his art.

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