Free and Cheap: Pricing Dilemmas

PixelStrips.com, a “webcomic community”, has just announced that they’ve eliminated their subscription plans. (No word on what this means for those who subscribed previously, although when it comes to announcements like this, I tend to think that there couldn’t have been very many of them, or the change wouldn’t have needed to be made.)

All content on the site including comics, archives, tutorials, and extras are now free for everyone to enjoy. No more subscription fees.

PixelStrips logo

According to Kevin Volo, creator of Pixelstrips.com, “We’ve been looking into going totally free for quite some time now and decided that sooner rather than later was the right time to do it. I think it’s just the next step in the continuing evolution of the site.” Since the inception of Pixelstrips.com in September of 2005 the site has been subscription only.

“Payment models for web comic sites are always tricky,” continued Volo. “Many start out as subscription sites and move to where we are now. Between sites like YouTube, MySpace, and the medium of podcasting, people want and now expect their content to be free.”

In other words, it’s very hard to compete with “free”, especially when entering an area where you’re challenging established brands. Value has to be obtained elsewhere, though ads or merchandise, perhaps. Volo’s also right to expand his basis for comparison beyond other comic sites, because he’s really competing for the reader’s attention against a diverse lot of other choices.

Honor Brigade flier

Volo goes on to say that the site’s artists are excited, because “What artist doesn’t want their work seen by the widest audience possible?” Careful with that logic. He’s got a point, but taken to extremes, that kind of attitude justifies copyright violation. A smaller audience but one that allows for more (or any) profit may be a more sensible strategy.

This got me thinking about just how one intelligently sets a price online. Take, for example, The Honor Brigade, a self-published, self-distributed comic. (Although they’ve recently been accepted by Diamond, so they’ll be appearing in Previews next year.)

Their issues are sold on consignment at a few shops (mostly in the Midwest), through mail order (at $5 an issue, including shipping), or as digital downloads. They’ve priced the PDFs at $1, which seems like a good price point, but I’m curious about what readers think that says about the price of the physical issue. Does that make them seem overpriced? Is 20% of the price enough to cover creative costs once you eliminate printing, shipping, and distribution?

And bravo to them for considering so many different markets to get the book out there and visible. The more business work they can do now to build awareness, the more likely they’ll be able to keep going.

Similar Posts: PR: What Not to Do: Free Online Bait and Switch § Podcast Praise For CWR § RIP, Joey Manley § Viz’s Price Change Unlikely to Affect Sales Significantly § When Did Girlamatic Die?


5 Responses to “Free and Cheap: Pricing Dilemmas”

  1. Tom Stillwell Says:

    Hey Johanna.

    There’s one slight clarification about the $5 price for the printed issues of Honor Brigade. The $5 covers a signed bagged & boarded book, a full color poster, and shipping.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for clarifying! That’s a good way to avoid competing with your retail customers, offering a slightly different package.

  3. Gdaybloke Says:

    I gotta say I don’t think the new pdf pricing on Honor Brigade makes the hardcopies overpriced.

    Most comic geeks, myself, included, love the feel of having the comic in front of you, in printed format, readable wherever and whenever you like – on the train, in a park, on the can, whatever. You can’t do that with a digital version, unless you have a laptop, and that’s a lot of weight to be lugging around for a lunch break in the park.

    Throw in the posters (two of which currently adorn the walls of the Gdaycave) and I consider $5 a reasonable price to pay for the convenience, not to mention it appeals to the hoarder/collector/packrat in me.

    Now looking at the pdf option… it’s cheaper, it’s only a buck, and there are teasers up at Honor Brigade’s site to help convince people that it’s worth at least the download price.

    … but I still want my posters ;)

  4. Mark Says:

    personally I’m not a fan of pdf books. To me part of enjoyment of reading a comic book is that it’s easy to handle and read.

    When reading prose on the screen it’s already a decrease in quality esspecially when reading longer pieces. But a scroll down comics page is worse to me (especially when the file size prevents fast scrolling without any time lag). If I don’t like it enough to get a hard copy including shiping for $5, I wouldn’t pay $1 to read something I have a lukewarm interest in in an uncomfortable pdf version. I think part of the problem could be solved by offering a flash or shockwave version like Scott McCloud or the people who made Platinum Grit did (I’m not talking baout animated stuff, but I think those formats are very well suited for a favourable presentation of pages or parts of pages and the it possible to have a quick and convenient page turn). That wouldn’t solve the ‘whenever and wherever you like issue’ of course.

    Still I guess it’s a good idea to sell it digitally so that way more people get to read the book who other wise wouldn’t touch it. So altough I loathe the pdf-Format and think it’s more of a promotion tool than a real alternative to sell (and I don’t think that the hardcopy is overpriced in comparison), I agree with Johanna that it’s good consider as many markets as possible. I just don’t like the format.

  5. Tom Stillwell Says:

    Mark, that’s a very valid concern. Digital comics at this point technology-wise aren’t all that great. Personally, I’m not a fan of them. I wanted to hold off offer my books in that format until a good solution came along.

    But then I realized that really limited my overseas market. Folks in the UK for example, couldn’t get my books unless they ordered via http://www.comixpress.com since I don’t ship outside North America.

    Reluctantly I made the books available digitally and for only a buck since it’s not the optimal way to read the comics.

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