Monday, January 11, 2010 - My Problem With Paying

If you live in some cobwebbed, unused part of the webcomic world, you may not have heard that Brad Guigar and the Webcomics Weekly group have transformed the website into a pay site. For $30 a year you get access to: all of the full articles (instead of previews); information for webcomic conventions; and the creators and community and merchandise deals. All in all this seems reasonable and you end up paying $2.50 a month. If you even have shitty rates for your Project Wonderful ads you can probably scrape this together.

I have a few problems with the change that go beyond being able to afford the yearly fee, though.

1. You Are Already Selling A Book On It - I bought How To Make Webcomics at Mid-Ohio Comic Con and the book covers most of the stuff I remember seeing on the website. And it costs 20 something dollars online (I paid $13 at the con if I recall) as opposed to the $30 annual fee for the website. It does not make financial sense. Oh, and most of the stuff in the book I figured out myself, which leads me to my second complaint:

2. The Help Listed Can Be Learned Freely - Mr. Guigar is a professional artist and I respect this fact. He probably learned a lot of webcomic information while working. Still there have been other webcomic artists who learned everything all by themselves. I bet that most webcomic artists that are making a living or even a profit out there have learned what they need to do not through a book or website but by learning over time and through hard lessons. For example a lot of the small webcomics that even make a small profit have to guess and learn which is natural.

3. There Are Better Profit Venues (While Still Seeming Charitable) –Mr. Guigar has reviewed and critiqued several webcomic websites. If he wants to make money off of his own site, this would be something better to charge for. I would be willing to pay a guy who knows about webcomics and web design to review the design of my site. I'd pay more if he offered to services such as making some alternate design schemes. I'd shell out a good amount if he did the entire design for me (or I would if I were not a web design student with several people helping me make my comics sites as I speak). You though, webcomic makers and makeresses with no web-design training, probably would. It would be a smaller market at first BUT if the advice on the site really works, more webcomics would make enough of a profit for the service. What I am saying is that if you offer more people the tools they need to make a profit for free, the more money they can have to pay you later on.

4. Creating Free Content Online – I respect Mr. Guigar for doing the blog and wanting to make a profit. I also respect his belief that ad money may not be enough for a "niche site". But let’s look at another webcomic maker/business man for a second.
Ryan North (of dinosaur comics) has a Master's in Computer science (notably not a business and marketing degree). He has developed several helpful webcomic sites and tools for transcription, RSS feeds and advertising (Project Wonderful, which he profits from). He didn't necessarily have a business or design background and yet he makes his living from webcomics, thanks in part to the other tools he has developed. I can't say if he learned everything over time but every time as I don't know but chances are that he did. He made three tools that he provides free tools for webcomic makers and the only one he charges for directly pays the people that use it!

There are several hundreds of people producing free web content for blogging or coding and numerous other things that take a considerable amount of longer time than a daily article and these people work for donations or just because they love the work they do or because they want fame. Either way though, they are still producing for free.

If you are going to ask people to pay a membership fee, then offer something more than articles, a convention calendar, a community and merchandise deals. Everything currently offered on the site can be acquired free elsewhere. People can blog about webcomic advice (heck, I provide it without people wanting it); convention planning beyond the local conventions is rarely needed unless you are an advanced webcomic maker; communities of comic fans and makers are everywhere online; and (delete then) merchandise deals are only worth it if you want what is being offered.

The information page about subscribing also raises some questions:
- Who gives you feedback and guidance on the site?
- Are you (the people writing the site) going to provide it or is it part of the community?
- What will the feedback include?
- Where do you get the merchandise deals? Is it only with people who post on the site?
- How can you tell how the forum will be and if you will like it as there are many forum personalities?
- Aren't there several thousand free online resources for webcomic makers already?
- How can you say there won't be value for an advertiser when a good deal of webcomic makers make a majority of money off of niche webcomics ad space?
- Wouldn't a cheaper price invite more people to use the site and thus increase the community and the profits?
- Why have a yearly fee and not a lifelong fee for the same amount?
- If you can only see previews of the articles now, how can people tell the value?
- How can you say that this site has the value you are selling it for?

I enjoyed looking at the site every once in a while when it was free and the articles on design where actual sites were critiqued were some of the most important and interesting things.
As I suggested before, why not charge just for that if you need an income stipend?
Why not continue to provide the free loose tips and continue to sell the book instead?

I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering why Mr. Geigar decided at this time to change to a pay site, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will look for advice and community elsewhere rather than pay. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Geigar gets the response he’s hoping for, or if he suffers a backlash.

See you Friday for the Weekly Review!

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