Comics, is there any way to make a business here?

Another friend, Dawn Douglass, has been pitching a business for comic artists and those editorial cartoonists that I used to read on the editorial page of the newspaper. She wants to help newspapers (and the cartoonists who are rapidly getting laid off because newspapers are firing staffs) find a new revenue stream. She came up with the concept of the cartoons on this post, too.

I sat through a pitch she gave to a Sand Hill VC (got turned down) and saw first hand how tough it is to raise capital and start a business. It’s hype to say that it’s easy, even in today’s world where a lot IS getting funded. Last Friday I had lunch with Paul Matteucci, who is a partner at USVP. He told me they looked at about 300 businesses over the past year and funded less than 10.

Anyway, Dawn thinks she can make a business out of charging people for using cartoons. I think that might work in some limited situations (I’d be happy to pay $10 a month to be able to use cartoons like the one below on my blog) but I’m a weirdo, as Jason Calacanis told Loic Lemeur in a podcast about his new search engine.

Truth is, advertising is still the best choice for a new business like this. But how to do it? Google’s AdSense usually around only $.50 to $2.50 CPM (payment per thousand page views). Getting 1,000 people to visit your site is actually pretty tough as any Z list blogger will tell you and that’ll only get you $.50 in advertising. So, the numbers of people you have to get to visit your site to build a business is daunting. Cartoonists, she tells me, aren’t willing to do it for free. They want to get paid up front. That’s going to prove difficult.

I keep pointing her to Hugh Macleod who DOES give his cartoons away for free. He got so popular that now companies are willing to pay for him to draw cartoons for them. To me that’s the way to build a business, it seems. Give away something for free to get people to come and buy something else from you. But, we can talk about that another time.

She reminds me a lot of Zooomr’s founder. Idealistic and doesn’t exactly speak the language that the VC’s in the valley speak (they like to see Web 2.0 business plans that have a good chance to get to 10 million users in three years, with a good monetization strategy). I like that idealism of helping people move their work online and get paid for it (Zooomr is going to let people sell photos too). The VC’s, though, are skeptical. One I talked with yesterday about Zooomr said that Corbis and Getty hadn’t made much money selling photos, so he doesn’t think that a new model will be viable. I disagreed, pointing out that there were tons of wedding photographers who could never sell their wares on those bigger sites. But, anyway, demonstrates just how tough it is for some entrepreneurs to get funded.

Would you be willing to pay for cartoons? Especially to put on your blog, Facebook, MySpace, etc? If so, how much?

86 thoughts on “Comics, is there any way to make a business here?

  1. Dear sir,

    I’m Aung Min Min, cartoonist from Myanmar. I’ve been drawing cartoon since 1969. Comic, journals cartoon & magazine cartoon, caricature and also 2D animation for 8 yrs.
    I do request you feed me back your advice. If I have a chance, I want to participate my cartoon your market. The attached is the sample of my cartoon. I shall send
    again soon.

    Best regards,
    Aung Min Min

  2. Dear sir,

    I’m Aung Min Min, cartoonist from Myanmar. I’ve been drawing cartoon since 1969. Comic, journals cartoon & magazine cartoon, caricature and also 2D animation for 8 yrs.
    I do request you feed me back your advice. If I have a chance, I want to participate my cartoon your market. The attached is the sample of my cartoon. I shall send
    again soon.

    Best regards,
    Aung Min Min

  3. Hello, my previous posting here seems to have been censored out. I didn’t think there was anything too contentious there – just a little information to help inform this debate. Please could someone explain why I’ve been censored (private email is fine).

    Ed Beardwell
    CartoonStock Ltd

  4. Hello, my previous posting here seems to have been censored out. I didn’t think there was anything too contentious there – just a little information to help inform this debate. Please could someone explain why I’ve been censored (private email is fine).

    Ed Beardwell
    CartoonStock Ltd

  5. I just dropped in on this conversation rather belatedly, but thought it was worth mentioning that a site already exists that provides cartoons (humorous single panel cartoons, political cartoons and vintage cartoons), all of which can be licensed and downloaded instantly for display on blogs, social networking pages etc. It’s called CartoonStock ( http://www.CartoonStock.com ) and has been around for nearly ten years now. This idea isn’t particularly new!

    We license any of our cartoons from around 14 US Dollars for these “social networking” uses… and people are willing to pay. Certainly more would pay if the fee was less, but as has already been observed here, cartoonists aren’t willing to contribute their work for pitiful or no fees in the hope they’ll make some money later and in the meantime devaluing their artform.

    Ed Beardwell
    CartoonStock Ltd

  6. I just dropped in on this conversation rather belatedly, but thought it was worth mentioning that a site already exists that provides cartoons (humorous single panel cartoons, political cartoons and vintage cartoons), all of which can be licensed and downloaded instantly for display on blogs, social networking pages etc. It’s called CartoonStock ( http://www.CartoonStock.com ) and has been around for nearly ten years now. This idea isn’t particularly new!

    We license any of our cartoons from around 14 US Dollars for these “social networking” uses… and people are willing to pay. Certainly more would pay if the fee was less, but as has already been observed here, cartoonists aren’t willing to contribute their work for pitiful or no fees in the hope they’ll make some money later and in the meantime devaluing their artform.

    Ed Beardwell
    CartoonStock Ltd

  7. hi. your last blog asked about paying for comics? so im here to offer you a deal…i want a comic book made for my boyfriend, because hes crazy for comics, and his birthday is coming up soon, so if you were to make a comic book for me. that involved the two of us, or even just him i would appreciate it. and i will pay if you want. hard copy of the book is best, but a soft copy will be fine, if thats all you can do. email me back if possible.

  8. hi. your last blog asked about paying for comics? so im here to offer you a deal…i want a comic book made for my boyfriend, because hes crazy for comics, and his birthday is coming up soon, so if you were to make a comic book for me. that involved the two of us, or even just him i would appreciate it. and i will pay if you want. hard copy of the book is best, but a soft copy will be fine, if thats all you can do. email me back if possible.

  9. Alex, I had this programmed to accept animations. The list: comic strips, gag panels, editorial cartoons, news cartoons, comic book pages, caricatures and animations.

    Frankly, I’ve been leaning towards taking the animation part out of it, partly because I don’t like the interface they used, but also because it will spike banduse and I’m not sure animations are quite in keeping with what we’re trying to do. I keep going back and forth about that.

    I’d love to talk to you about it. Is this Portland OREGON? That’s where I am. Please write to me:
    dawn_douglass AT yahoo DOT com

  10. Alex, I had this programmed to accept animations. The list: comic strips, gag panels, editorial cartoons, news cartoons, comic book pages, caricatures and animations.

    Frankly, I’ve been leaning towards taking the animation part out of it, partly because I don’t like the interface they used, but also because it will spike banduse and I’m not sure animations are quite in keeping with what we’re trying to do. I keep going back and forth about that.

    I’d love to talk to you about it. Is this Portland OREGON? That’s where I am. Please write to me:
    dawn_douglass AT yahoo DOT com

  11. DS, as soon as it’s on the web, it can’t be exclusive because it’s too easy to copy.

    But being FIRST with a cartoon is something we could probably do and are thinking about. Like maybe you could subscribe to an RSS for the categories you’re interested in and if you grab it first you get a link to your post about it for a limited time. So everybody who sees the cartoon while it’s on our website can click to you if they want to.

    I think this is especially appropriate for editorial cartoons. Because like Shawn was saying, they were never meant to stand alone. Bloggers’ text complement them and vice versa.

    @Salubri — well said. Thanks.

  12. DS, as soon as it’s on the web, it can’t be exclusive because it’s too easy to copy.

    But being FIRST with a cartoon is something we could probably do and are thinking about. Like maybe you could subscribe to an RSS for the categories you’re interested in and if you grab it first you get a link to your post about it for a limited time. So everybody who sees the cartoon while it’s on our website can click to you if they want to.

    I think this is especially appropriate for editorial cartoons. Because like Shawn was saying, they were never meant to stand alone. Bloggers’ text complement them and vice versa.

    @Salubri — well said. Thanks.

  13. I can’t wait to talk about this at Platform, the international animation festival coming to Portland, June 25-30. The animator community is all freaked out about giving their work away for free. They get consumed in copyright issues. Hugh MacLeod is a good example of how it pays to get your work out there. I wonder, though, if there is a market for selling animation as much as there is for cartoons. Podcast Hotel will be at Platform, teaching folks about social media. I’ll point to this example and will be looking for others to illustrate what animators can do to keep their work fresh in the eyes of their communities!

  14. I can’t wait to talk about this at Platform, the international animation festival coming to Portland, June 25-30. The animator community is all freaked out about giving their work away for free. They get consumed in copyright issues. Hugh MacLeod is a good example of how it pays to get your work out there. I wonder, though, if there is a market for selling animation as much as there is for cartoons. Podcast Hotel will be at Platform, teaching folks about social media. I’ll point to this example and will be looking for others to illustrate what animators can do to keep their work fresh in the eyes of their communities!

  15. Is there a place where you can easily select one or more cartoons, get some exclusivity for like one week or one month, and pay maybe $ 10 – 20 a month.
    Double it and get some personalization?
    And by exclusivity I mean it doesn’t show up anywhere else on the web.

  16. Is there a place where you can easily select one or more cartoons, get some exclusivity for like one week or one month, and pay maybe $ 10 – 20 a month.
    Double it and get some personalization?
    And by exclusivity I mean it doesn’t show up anywhere else on the web.

  17. I do recognize the history of the format. And it does serve well to communicate how history was perceived in it’s time (as I said, it communicates sentiment well). So editorial cartoons are a great “time capsule” for future historians.

    But as a way of communicating ideas to the intended audience in the present time, it’s far less useful. Most of the time the cartoons do little to inform or persuade, due to the limits of the format. The jokes work if you agree with the opinions being expressed, and rarely if you don’t. Again, the single panel format puts limits on the humor, as strips can be more elaborate in setting up punchlines, as well as arguments.

    It doesn’t help that cartoons are lightning rods for criticism. A cartoon that misses its mark with its humor especially with serious issues, can attract much more angry responses than regular editorial pieces do.

  18. I do recognize the history of the format. And it does serve well to communicate how history was perceived in it’s time (as I said, it communicates sentiment well). So editorial cartoons are a great “time capsule” for future historians.

    But as a way of communicating ideas to the intended audience in the present time, it’s far less useful. Most of the time the cartoons do little to inform or persuade, due to the limits of the format. The jokes work if you agree with the opinions being expressed, and rarely if you don’t. Again, the single panel format puts limits on the humor, as strips can be more elaborate in setting up punchlines, as well as arguments.

    It doesn’t help that cartoons are lightning rods for criticism. A cartoon that misses its mark with its humor especially with serious issues, can attract much more angry responses than regular editorial pieces do.

  19. Actually, editorial cartoons have a long and illustrious history in England- Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank, Tenniel, Low and Giles spring immediately to mind.

    The good news is, the standard of UK editorial cartoons today is generally very high [Steve Bell is probably the most famous one]. The bad news is, the overall market can only support a tiny handful of them.

  20. Actually, editorial cartoons have a long and illustrious history in England- Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank, Tenniel, Low and Giles spring immediately to mind.

    The good news is, the standard of UK editorial cartoons today is generally very high [Steve Bell is probably the most famous one]. The bad news is, the overall market can only support a tiny handful of them.

  21. More power to ‘em for trying out something new. But the model that seems to be amongst the better ones working today (for now, at any rate) is to offer up free web comics, to entice readers to buy the print collections.

    Then that’s done more with sequential comics (panel to panel storytelling), rather than the single panel format of editorial cartoons. The aforementioned “stock photo” style of licensing out cartoons sounds like a good idea.

    I really don’t think very highly of the editorial cartoon myself. They work best as illustrations to accompany a text piece. All to often editorial cartoons are merely a single panel of snark. Without any supporting arguement.

    That’s the problem with the single panel format. It expresses a sentiment well enough, but nothing deeper. Contrast that with Doonesbury and Day by Day, editorial comic strips that are frequently snarky, yet make an argument to back it up, (not always, but that’s more about the creator’s choice than the limits of the format)

    My general dislike of the editorial cartoon is also aided by the fact that too many of the working editorial cartoonists are crappy artists, who think that scribbling is a “style”.

  22. More power to ‘em for trying out something new. But the model that seems to be amongst the better ones working today (for now, at any rate) is to offer up free web comics, to entice readers to buy the print collections.

    Then that’s done more with sequential comics (panel to panel storytelling), rather than the single panel format of editorial cartoons. The aforementioned “stock photo” style of licensing out cartoons sounds like a good idea.

    I really don’t think very highly of the editorial cartoon myself. They work best as illustrations to accompany a text piece. All to often editorial cartoons are merely a single panel of snark. Without any supporting arguement.

    That’s the problem with the single panel format. It expresses a sentiment well enough, but nothing deeper. Contrast that with Doonesbury and Day by Day, editorial comic strips that are frequently snarky, yet make an argument to back it up, (not always, but that’s more about the creator’s choice than the limits of the format)

    My general dislike of the editorial cartoon is also aided by the fact that too many of the working editorial cartoonists are crappy artists, who think that scribbling is a “style”.

  23. “‘I just want to draw.’ The cartoons themselves are the product. Many don’t have the time to do anything else.”

    All three are self-imposed limitations. Which VC’s are generally unsympathetic towards…

  24. “‘I just want to draw.’ The cartoons themselves are the product. Many don’t have the time to do anything else.”

    All three are self-imposed limitations. Which VC’s are generally unsympathetic towards…

  25. I think some people are missing the point here:
    1) The cartoonist is still free to show his cartoons Free Of Charge…
    2) People pay to dispaly the cartoonists work on their site / blog… Now unless the cartoonist is already distributing his/her work under creative commons or some other such license people DO NOT normally have the right to use his/her work in any way (credited or not) as cartoons ARE copyright material. This would be a huge advantage and I for one would certainly pay for it (sharp eyed observers may have noticed me stealing from one comic – I do not make a habit of this and I really should rejig the post so there is a link to the original image and the image is not displayed…) I see lots of strips online that would be relevant and / or pertinent to my posts. If there was some centralised way I could have a subscription to post that would be wonderful.
    3) Dome comics (Dilbert) already allow reuse on a charged basis http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/info/faq_and_contacts.html#32 and obviously make good money from doing so.

    Dawn – I personally think you should start by getting as many free online comic strip authors as you can to buy in to this service (They will only be gaining – not losing anything). Feature their strips on your site (and link them obviously) in a “daily strip aggregator” making yourself the first subscriber to your own service.

    This will attract users (and possibly other comic authors) allowiwng you to start generating revenue from advertising. Grow organically from there (or seek further VC when you have proven your concept).

    The only problem with doing this is the initial outlay of subscribing to enough artists to make your comic aggregator really attractive to comic readers (which should be less than the capital you would originally have been seeking)

  26. I think some people are missing the point here:
    1) The cartoonist is still free to show his cartoons Free Of Charge…
    2) People pay to dispaly the cartoonists work on their site / blog… Now unless the cartoonist is already distributing his/her work under creative commons or some other such license people DO NOT normally have the right to use his/her work in any way (credited or not) as cartoons ARE copyright material. This would be a huge advantage and I for one would certainly pay for it (sharp eyed observers may have noticed me stealing from one comic – I do not make a habit of this and I really should rejig the post so there is a link to the original image and the image is not displayed…) I see lots of strips online that would be relevant and / or pertinent to my posts. If there was some centralised way I could have a subscription to post that would be wonderful.
    3) Dome comics (Dilbert) already allow reuse on a charged basis http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/info/faq_and_contacts.html#32 and obviously make good money from doing so.

    Dawn – I personally think you should start by getting as many free online comic strip authors as you can to buy in to this service (They will only be gaining – not losing anything). Feature their strips on your site (and link them obviously) in a “daily strip aggregator” making yourself the first subscriber to your own service.

    This will attract users (and possibly other comic authors) allowiwng you to start generating revenue from advertising. Grow organically from there (or seek further VC when you have proven your concept).

    The only problem with doing this is the initial outlay of subscribing to enough artists to make your comic aggregator really attractive to comic readers (which should be less than the capital you would originally have been seeking)

  27. Hugh, this isn’t micropayments, which is a system whereby you can’t read the work until you pay a small amount for it. As I said, all our work can be read for free. Like Jay said above, this isn’t about reading a bunch of comics, it’s about collecting favorite comics for specific use.

    Your cartoons are literally your business cards, just as Famous Amos’s cookies were his, so of course you give them away for free. I’ve worked with cartoonists for 12 years, and I can tell you with all certainly that for most cartoonists “I just want to draw.” The cartoons themselves are the product. Many don’t have the time to do anything else. What else could Bill Amend do when he’s spending 8-10 hours a day drawing?

    Thinking this shouldn’t be so, that everybody should be like you and use their cartoons as business cards to their REAL product or service, really is unfair. Different artists create cartoons at different rates in different amounts (your gag panels are conducive to be used over and over and over again as you brilliantly do, but people who have comic strips can’t do that) and they have different skills and interests. Your talent and your love is being a hawker. What are artists who don’t have that skill or desire or extra time to devote supposed to do?

  28. Hugh, this isn’t micropayments, which is a system whereby you can’t read the work until you pay a small amount for it. As I said, all our work can be read for free. Like Jay said above, this isn’t about reading a bunch of comics, it’s about collecting favorite comics for specific use.

    Your cartoons are literally your business cards, just as Famous Amos’s cookies were his, so of course you give them away for free. I’ve worked with cartoonists for 12 years, and I can tell you with all certainly that for most cartoonists “I just want to draw.” The cartoons themselves are the product. Many don’t have the time to do anything else. What else could Bill Amend do when he’s spending 8-10 hours a day drawing?

    Thinking this shouldn’t be so, that everybody should be like you and use their cartoons as business cards to their REAL product or service, really is unfair. Different artists create cartoons at different rates in different amounts (your gag panels are conducive to be used over and over and over again as you brilliantly do, but people who have comic strips can’t do that) and they have different skills and interests. Your talent and your love is being a hawker. What are artists who don’t have that skill or desire or extra time to devote supposed to do?

Comments are closed.