Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Webcomics.com goes the subscription route...

DISCLAIMER:
I'm putting this here because I don't think it's appropriate to add it to my Capes & Babes site - plus, this thing might get a little long. I am going to include a link to this blog post on the Capes & Babes home page though.

Okay, so www.webcomics.com (also known as Half Pixel) has decided to go the subscription route for their content. The fee is EXTREMELY affordable at $30 a YEAR - that's really only about $2.50 a month and I EASILY surpass that in my soda consumption EVERY WEEK so for me, it's really nothing about the price. In fact, I can easily afford the $30 payment but I'm not going to pull out my credit card and pay the fee (even though it may be tax deductible).

Over the last couple of days, I've been struggling with the pros and cons of this new direction Half Pixel has taken mainly because of Brad Guigar. As many of you know, Brad graciously wrote the forward of my book, "You Can't print Flick". And, if you've ever listened to any podcast that I've been on, I talk at length about how he and Danielle Corsetto were instrumental in FINALLY convincing me to get Capes & Babes off the ground. I consider Brad a much valued friend even though, in the webcomics field, I am no where near his level. In baseball terms, I'm just beginning to (hopefully) get out of Single A while Brad has been enjoying the fruits of the Majors for quite some time.

So, if that's the case, why do I have a personal difficulty with the subscription model with webcomics.com? The truth of the matter is Brad's advice is absolutely worth the $30 a year price tag. In fact, I might even argue that's a SUPER bargain. For most people.

And that's ultimately what this comes down to... a personal choice of value and price.

I should point out that I am a contributing partner at another website that is primarily subscription-based (www.communitymx.com) so I KNOW the subscription based model can and does work. Community MX has been running for over 5 years now. The thing is, Community MX isn't ENTIRELY subscription-based. We offer free articles and content which includes my weekly "CMX Suite" comic strip. We also have a bunch of different subscription plans as well. Added to that, we have, on staff, over 25 writers, authors and teachers who have a ton of published books on web design to their credit- all of which work extremely hard at providing content for the site while also maintaining their freelance or daytime jobs. And we're compensated for that hard work via the people who find the articles worthy enough to purchase subscriptions. Thanks to Community MX, that's mainly the reason how I've been able to finance Capes & Babes from the very beginning.

With Community MX, we offer articles on web design, writing CSS and a ton of other stuff that many working web designers need RIGHT NOW. Although I'm sure there are probably quite a few CMX subscribers that aren't "professional" and just want to learn more about web design or Flash animation, the primary core of our audience are pros who want or need to learn better ways to write their CSS code or learn new and interesting things they can do with Flash Video. It's not a site where we say "subscribe to us and learn how you too can become a professional web designer - like us". Instead, it's more along the lines of "subscribe to us and learn how to become a BETTER professional web designer than you already are".

So I know a little bit about how successful the subscription model can be.
Here’s the thing that seems to give me a sense of unease about this new webcomics.com model… reliability. Maybe one of the reasons a lot of people seem upset about being asked to subscribe to webcomics.com all of a sudden is the track record of reliability. With Community MX, as I mentioned before, we have over 25 authors writing or contributing content every month so there’s no question new content will be available to subscribers when we say it will. And just so I don’t seem to be ONLY pushing Community MX here, the same can be said for lots of similar web design subscription-based sites as well like Lynda.com and so on. There is a reliable track record to these sites that keep people coming back and purchasing subscriptions.

Brad is only one guy and as much as I am utterly amazed at the amount of content he cranks out each and every month, he is only human. The man has to sleep SOMETIME. I actually enjoyed going to webcomics.com and reading submitted articles from other web creators. Heck, I even submitted a couple of articles myself. But now that the site is subscription based, I would imagine that will end. So, this will require Brad to create even more content than before since that source of content has vanished. Why do I only mention Brad? Because he’s the only one that has a track record for creating consistent content for www.webcomics.com.

And as dangerous as it is to mention this, Scott Kurtz’s track record is well known and well established. Added to that, he has already stated that he’s not going to receive any amount of the site’s subscription fee until the site is profitable for Brad. Only thing is, since he wasn’t contributing any content when the site was free - and if he’s not going receive any payment for his contributions to the paid site in the immediate future - what really has changed? If he’s not going to be paid, how much content can subscribers actually expect from him?

Dave Kellet has already stated he’s not a part of webcomics.com and, really, has no interest in being a part of the site – and that’s sad because I would have loved reading multiple, in-depth articles on hand-lettering from Dave. I know he has videos on the subject but since we’re talking about an INFORMATION website, I’m talking about real, in-depth articles. Sadly, that won’t ever happen, it appears.

Kris is busy doing podcasts with David Malki and I have no clue what kind of content Robert Khoo will be providing. Those Khoo articles are actually something I would be VERY interested in reading – as I’m sure 99.9% of all the rest of the web comics community would be too. But here’s the red flag (for me)… It would seem that Mr. Khoo’s primary responsibility is still making sure the Penny Arcade machine runs smoothly and effortlessly. That’s a HUGE ship to steer and, I would imagine, requires quite a bit of time and effort. How in-depth are his contributions going to be? Can’t tell ‘cause we don’t know.

That’s why I’d rather just take a step back and see where this might be headed. It’s very much akin to why I also don’t like to buy software as soon as it is released. And, having been a beta tester in the past, I know a lot of kinks need to be worked out in any new endeavor before it hits its stride and really gets into a groove. So that’s what I’m going to do with webcomics.com – I’m going to take a step back and see if it can hit its groove without my $2.50 a month. If it vanishes within the year, then many of the questions I had will be answered. If it doesn’t vanish, than that tells me the site found its groove and might actually be worth the tax reduction next year.

But just because I decide to take a step back and see what happens doesn’t mean I’m not serious about my craft. I’ve been a working professional designer since 1992 and I have yet to join any of the many professional organizations out there like the Graphic Artists Guild or AIGA. Does that make me any less of a professional than I am now? Does that make me any less serious about the work I do every single day? Of course not. That would be absolutely silly to think otherwise. And it has absolutely nothing to do with how little or how much a subscription or membership costs. It has EVERYTHING to do with perceived valued to the individual.

Just because I don’t pick up the phone and order every single work out video that runs on television doesn’t mean I’m not serious about wanting to get in better shape. Just because I don’t purchase every “get rich” scheme that also flashes across the boob tube late at night doesn’t mean I’m not serious about learning how to make more money or being “rich”. And just because I choose not to purchase any “Girls Gone Wild” videos doesn’t mean I’m not interested in (or serious about) the opposite sex. My wife will attest to that.

It just means I don’t personally find any perceived value in purchasing any of those things.

But just like all those late night infomercials say in the fine print: individual results may apply.

Just my $2.50 cents...

Chris Flick

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