Webcomics.com Becomes Pay Site

The webcartoonist resource site Webcomics.com has, for the new year, locked the doors. To access articles or resources, including the forum, participants must pay a yearly subscription fee of $30.

Brad Guigar, cartoonist of Evil Inc. and site editor-in-chief, is the main content provider for the site, and the decision seems to be based on his desire to be compensated for the many high-quality articles he’s written on running a webcomic as a business. And that’s understandable, although some have questioned why a business based on giving away comics for free would expect a pay resource site to succeed. Brad’s answer:

This is not an entertainment site. You simply can’t compare the business model for this site to the business model for a webcomics site.

I’m not sure “it just isn’t the same” is a compelling counter-argument, given the audience. Many of them may see the posts and discussions as entertainment, especially casual/newer comickers who aren’t ready to think of their work as a small business. People are also rather upset that what was free yesterday is no longer, with no warning, and there are no sample posts or content available to judge what their money will buy.

My biggest disappointment is that I had to remove all of the webcomics.com links from this site, since they also blocked the previously-free postings in the archives. That’s a shame, since showing the quality of pre-existing posts would be a good ad for the value of the subscription.

I’m more sympathetic to Brad’s additional comments, in the FAQ, that “it has an added benefit of keeping out people who may not be as serious about webcomics” and “it naturally weeds out comments from people who may be passing through.” So in part, they want to eliminate the riffraff. It’s true, people value a lot more what they pay for, and the tenor of online discussion keeps decreasing as more is available for free. Plus, as Brigid Alverson points out (link no longer available), for many site subscribers the cost should be tax-deductible.

More interestingly, some of the comments at the announcement post suggest that people who previously contributed articles to the site weren’t notified of the change and aren’t sharing in any of the new revenue stream. From one contributer:

I’m … a little confused why previously submitted articles have to go under a subscription wall as well. I had sent links to my previous articles to a prospective employer as proof that I had written for a blog before. Now those links are no longer viable, and it doesn’t really look good on my end. … Not to mention that you’re now charging for access to my writing without notifying me or asking for my permission. Though I know how difficult the logistics of informing everyone who has written for the blog of this changeover might have been, it would have been the correct and professional thing to do.

Brad’s response, at first, was along the lines of “fine, we’ll remove your articles, if you email us and tell us which ones.” That’s not the best way to address those concerns, and it’s a little anti-creator for a site aiming to elevate professionalism in the field. Why should they have the right to assume they can keep using the submissions when they’ve changed the “contract” by changing the site? Why should it be up to the submitter to notify them? Since I started writing this overview, a new post states that all submitted posts are now hidden, and Brad is contacting the writers. (Let’s hope that those who submitted comments or forum posts don’t start kicking up a fuss next. They have the right to do so, although most won’t bother.)

Gary Tyrrell isn’t optimistic about the plan.

Given the trend towards free, this seems both a) sudden, and b) unlikely to succeed, and c) really sudden.

I can see the argument that WDC takes Guigar as long to produce on a daily basis as any of his strips, but with no recompense other than perhaps driving a few people to his strips (although I doubt many who frequented WDC didn’t already read his comics). That effort deserves remuneration, and Guigar has set what he thinks is a fair price. I just don’t think that many people are going to pay it.

Guigar’s betting that the distinction between entertainment and information is sufficient that people will pony up a couple bucks a month for access (side note to those attempting such things in the future: “ten cents a day” sounds much less than “thirty bucks a year”). Unfortunately, with the exception of very few prominent brands, with high-quality content, pitching to niche audiences (we’re talking Wall Street Journal grade, here), this hasn’t proved to be the case on the internet so far — people pretty much equate “content” and “free”.

But Gary also talked to Brad about it, so go read his post for more on the rationale for the change. If nothing else, there’s now a new opening for a site that provides good, solid, webcomic-making advice for free.

Update: For more reactions, check out the posts and comments at Websnark (where a good case is made for a monthly, not yearly, charge) and The Daily Cartoonist, which has a history of print vs. online model debates.

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