Publishers Reach for Web Audience With Free Comics

This past week, both Boom! Studios and SLG Publishing (formerly Slave Labor Graphics) announced that they were releasing free webcomics, with different approaches.

Boom! Studios

The Boom! website has been redesigned to put the free webcomic samples front and center. Their plans are to release a page a day (although more were put up for the launch) of books they’ve previously published, making their webcomics “free tastes” of their print work. Navigation is clear and simple, and they aren’t doing any weird formatting or hiding direct links to particular pages.

The first series highlighted are Ninja Tales, Zombie Tales, Hero Squared, 2 Guns, Shmobots, and Cthulhu Tales. That’s a good range of material — horror, suspense, superhero parody, crime — with some of their strongest franchises and the work of name creators familiar to readers of print comics, including Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Steven Grant. Additional series will be added later. From the press release:

“This is a great way to get the word out about BOOM! titles,” said Chip Mosher, Marketing and Sales Director for BOOM! Studios. “When people come to the site for free comics, they’ll be able to take a look at the other quality books we’re putting out. … We expect that people who aren’t BOOM! fans will discover our series and titles and be excited to own print copies.”

Smart. A new reader, not already familiar with a company’s work, has no reason to visit that company’s site. No matter how well-designed and -presented, the sales material will be ignored without something to lure new readers. Free comics online can be that.

But then, I knew these guys got the potential of the internet after their North Wind giveaway, which resulted in issues selling out and sales increasing as the miniseries went on. Says Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid:

“We’re seeing a greater demand for digital comics, whether it be from casual readers or hardcore fans. … Partnering with MySpace showed us that releasing our books for free online actually helped our sales. After sampling BOOM! comics electronically, readers went out to buy physical copies. The BOOM! Webcomic site will continue spearheading this game-changing initiative.”

That’s the way to operate in the new market. Try something, judge what happens, pick a next step based on what the results suggest work. It’s an ongoing experimental process necessary to keep up with a changing market.

SLG Publishing

SLG, on the other hand, is presenting original material, but I can’t judge how it looks yet because they announced it as a feature to come. On July 24, they will launch a new section on their website featuring new original stories, including one by Scott Saavedra “set in his Java Town universe.” (I’m not familiar with those six comics published from 1992-1996.)

“SLG has always been committed to being a part of as many methods of distribution as possible,” says SLG President and Publisher Dan Vado. “Starting a web comics section which would feature original content is part of helping build brand awareness for both us as a company and the individual cartoonists we publish as well. Having that content be free is key to getting new or under-appreciated artists in front of more eyes and helping us to get people to buy their work.”

So they’re looking for promotion and more eyeballs, too. As for the Java Town work, according to the artist’s blog, it will be published in an upcoming collection of the older comics, so this seems like a good way to get two uses out of it: put it online to draw viewers with new material, then add it to the collection in order to give readers of the previous version a reason to re-buy.

That’s not SLG’s only new direction. Tucked at the end of another press release about an upcoming Captain Blood comic adaptation are the lines,

“As part of SLG Publishing’s new initiative, internally developed concepts are being pitched to creators. … Captain Blood #1 is set for a full-color spring 2009 debut. It will also mark the first of many internally developed SLG projects. “

After seeing various blog comments from company employees about being tired of other publishers poaching their artists and the problems of working with licensors, I guess they’re taking a new direction in developing properties that can’t be taken away from them so easily. Makes sense.

Similar Posts: Honoring Minck Ooserveer: Free Unknown Comics § Mark Waid Sees Pirated Comics as a New Opportunity § Stan Lee Returns, But What Is He Doing? § Boom! Launches Kids Imprint § Read Hexed for Free Same Day It’s on Sale


2 Responses to “Publishers Reach for Web Audience With Free Comics”

  1. Boom! Webcomics Update » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] sent over a reminder of the many cool series they have running as free webcomics. Here are some highlight [...]

  2. SLG Accepts Digital Submissions » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] past couple of years, SLG Publishing has consistently raised the bar in terms of forward-looking promotion and distribution strategies. Probably because of their small size, they’re willing to try new [...]

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