More Proof They Don't Get It

By | Monday, November 23, 2009 6 comments
Julie Larson, creator of The Dinette Set, is the latest in a long line of syndicated cartoonists that's bemoaning the death of newspapers at the hands of the Internet.

As I understand her argument, she's getting paid less now because newspapers and her syndicate are giving away her cartoons online for free. So she's hoping that her television deal goes through because she'll earn lots of money when people can watch her cartoons on TV for free.

Granted, most cartoonists aren't terribly business savvy. But this kind of double-think astounds me to no end. (And it's not just Larson, I should note. Many newspaper cartoonists have made similar comments. Larson has just made the most obvious and recent one.)

Television, radio and newspapers all have run with the same basic business model. You give away your product for nothing, or next to nothing, and then sell advertising space. And you know what? A lot of sectors in the Internet work the same way, too. You don't pay to use Google's search engine, but they earn boatloads of money from the ads that are placed next to your search results. Most of the webcomic success stories work the same way. They give away the content (their comics) and make money on ads (in some cases, via selling their own products through the website).

Take a look at Phil and Kaja Foglio's site...
Big ol' Project Wonderful ad across the top, and a smaller ad for their own company store in the upper right. Both before the comic actually starts.

Ditto for Jennie Breeden...

...And Charlie Trotman...
They're giving away their comics, just like Larson's are being given away. Well, except that the specific model Larson is following clearly doesn't work for her. Namely, the successful cartoonists are syndicating themselves, while Larson is letting someone else syndicate her work for her.

You know, I get that people don't like to change something that's worked for them in the past. Really. I do understand that. But if it stops working, isn't it more appropriate to figure out what does work instead of reminiscing about how it used to work?
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Matt K said...

OK, as the years go by, I seem to find myself more skeptical of the promise of the future and more sympathetic to people finding themselves dislocated by technological and other shifts.

I remember that "who moved my cheese" book from some years ago, and feel like "well, yes, obviously the most direct answer is to say 'just keep up and adapt to change,'" but I have to wonder whether we really want or need to have a society where everyone needs to be a tech savvy flex-timing self-promoting entrepreneur? And I say this as one who is self-employed; I just have to wonder whether there isn't also value in a world where regular people can go about their lives without having to reinvent the wheel at ever-more-frequent intervals.

(This particular case does make me wonder: here's a woman who draws cartoons. We can assume that society or some subset thereof perceives a value in this, if she has been making a living at it. And we might further assume that this value to society persists if there is a way for her to maintain it amid new systems. All of which effort ultimately leads to: a woman drawing cartoons. What has she or society gained from whatever new system the woman might be obligated to adapt herself to?)

Having said all that, though...

"...she's getting paid less now because newspapers and her syndicate are giving away her cartoons online for free. So she's hoping that her television deal goes through because she'll earn lots of money when people can watch her cartoons on TV for free."

That is pretty hard to avoid laughing at. At the same time, though, if the one "free" model really is more profitable than the other "free" model, then there is a real and entirely legitimate difference from the cartoonist's perspective. Perhaps the newspapers and syndicates are at least as guilty of failing to "get it..."

(Perhaps they're just screwed, for that matter; I'm not sure that every business sector always has a realistic option for saving itself by changing business models. But the Death of the Newspaper is a whole other can of worms.)

I don't think everyone needs to be a tech savvy flex-timing entrepreneur, but there's clearly more demand for that type of person. Those who don't want to keep up can still make a go at their old methods but they'll face a shrinking market being served by a greater proportion of like-minded individuals.

The old buggy whip analogy is apt. Yes, the horseless carriage essentially killed the buggy whip industry and, by and large, those who made buggy whips had to switch to leather grips for steering wheels (or whatever they switched to). But there ARE still buggies even today, and there's still a demand for buggy whips. It's just a much smaller market that can be easily served by a smaller number of manufacturers.

There's fewer people looking towards the newspaper for comics, so there doesn't need to be as many cartoonists catering to that market.

Something interesting, too, that I saw Charlie Trotman point out: the article is citing reruns of comic drawn by a guy who's been dead for ten years as Larson's competition! And if you can't succeed against that, I think it's more than high time to hang up your buggy whip!

Problem #1, Last time I checked, newspapers weren't free.
Problem #2, The crux of the problem here is that Information, formerly the domain of print, is going digital. Hence the death of the newspapers.
The businesses that were piggybacking on the information industry no longer have a choice, they have to move.
Bemoaning the situation is not going to help syndicated comic artists do anything, besides get criticized by the generation of the self-published.
Problem #3
None of these people really has to do anything significantly different. If they were nationally syndicated, chances are they are already a self-promoting entrepreneur. Switching to digital is hardly reinventing the wheel. It's not even changing media. Some webcomics are still produced completely by hand. It's only a matter of distribution. And if they don't want to do it themselves, they can always pay somebody.
Which brings me to the REAL problem. The thing these dinosaurs are really upset about, is that before, they didn't have a whole lot of competition for attention. Really, how many strips fit on your regular Funnies page? Now, instead of one in ten, they are one in tens of thousands. They no longer compete with decade old strips of Garfield. They now compete with current, relevant, content. Drowning in a sea of competition.

Anonymous said...

great advice-share it with the rest of the syndicated cartoonists. They'll enjoy it.loyalty to the trade syndicated or not, hard work and self-promoting are part of being syndicated.
do you work for free? do you eat for free? do you own a free car and will you give your paycheck away after producing a months worth of work??
do you have job you don't get paid for yet have to take of your kids??
Try it.
big talk, little knowledge

No, I don't have a job I don't get paid for. Which is my point. If you have a job you don't get paid for, get another one. Or find a way to make your current job pay better. Bitching that it's others' fault because no one is willing to pay you what you think you deserve is juvenile, myopic and futile.

You can't expect to make a living making buggy whips any more and you can't expect to make a living as a newspaper cartoonist. That's the reality of the situation. If you used to make buggy whips and no one wants them, you need to change professions. If you used to be a newspaper cartoonist and no one buys newspapers, you need to find another profession. Take whatever skills and knowledge you have, adapt it to some other venue and move on. Guys like Dan Piraro (Bizarro) and Tak Toyoshima (Secret Asian Man) have figured it out; there's no reason Larsen couldn't do something similar.

Unknown said...

hop off your soap boxes , time to get on with your own's an oxymoron for so many cartoonists to be so caddy and sour. kind of surprised, you're in the wrong business.
cheer up, do what you try to do as cartoonists;make people laugh.
my beef is my beef alone, so MYOB, Julie Larson