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An acknowledgement, both of an event and of a point.

This is a quote from the author of Comanche, from the Comixpedia thread.

You are completely right, and I have conceded to that before - in its current incarnation, Comanche (as every other comic viewer of the many that are available), is using bandwidth from artists websites without paying for them by displaying the ads! We need a new business model that allows the web artists to get their money when people use the alternative viewers they prefer. This model is nowhere to be seen (and not too many seem to be looking for it).
I have, therefore, made a decision: Until a viable solution is found, I will pull the program from the web! As of now, Comanche isn't available anymore!

Yet I don't think you have any reason to be happy about that! There are other comic readers out there, and there will be new ones in the future! Eventually webartists (as well as providers like Keenspot) will have to find a way to incorporate alternative viewing methods into their business model.

(The emphasis was his.)

First off... cool. He recognized the points being raised and he acted. While pandora's box is still well and truly open (and was open before Comanche), he's acted with responsibility and I think he deserves credit for that. It's not easy to do.

Secondly... in the rest of his point....

Well, he's right.

This is something webcomics are going to have to deal with. If not Comanche, than with something else. Some have taken drastic steps already to ensure that rippers have a hard time ripping (I know Something Positive's files have all been renamed to non-sequential things, to prevent automated scarfing).

Pandora's Box is open, and it won't be closed again. And people who deliver content over the web -- and who want to make money doing it, in particular -- are going to have to deal with the result.

He went on to quote Jack Valenti -- as I said in my last snark on the subject, there's been an attempt to conflate Comanche with file sharing and things like the betamax decision. While I don't think the situations are equivalent, there is something to be learned by looking to the past: you can't uninvent technology, and you wouldn't want to try.

So.

How do we do this? How do webcomics creators get to continue their creating and explore new business models without having them circumvented by people who want to read the strips in new ways? Do we have to begin incorporating the advertisements and business models into the structure of the strips themselves? How do we avoid overwhelming bandwidth with larger graphics files then? And there won't be any links involved, then. And people will hate it.

I don't know. I honestly don't have any answers here. And Comanche's author has been right about one thing: the questions have been asked, now.

On the other hand -- this is the internet. No doubt we can find some way to use porn to solve these problems. Porn: is there anything it can't do?

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Porn: is there anything it can't do?

Can it clean my house?

Joking aside, It's good to know that at least one leech recognized that he was wrong. Pity that they all won't.

Porn isn't a cureall, alas; I wish it was.

WLP's web comics operate on a combination begging bowl / advertising loss leader basis. (Begging bowl, because we take donations; loss leader, in that the comics are meant to attract people to the site, where they will spend money.) Neither half of the model has been particularly successful.

At all.

First off,

Let me note that Comanche wasn't unique, different or even innovative. It was also a bit advanced for the average user (required a webserver. The general browsing public, especially those that still see banner ads and popups, would know how to put it together. Not mention the potential hardrivve space necessary for several collections). It did have the potential for a nasty amount of abuse, based around charging for a subscription to a particular collection on a Comanche server. His comment in the FAQ, on the otherhand, was quite incendary. It showed he thought about the releveant issues, discarded common sense and decided to proceed.

As for technology, there are solutions to both of the mentioned issues.

Let me suggest a method for handling bandwidth, since that is the easiest. P2PCS. Set up a baseline network like Gnutella, eDonkey, or even openNap. FreeNet might be the best example. Have dynamic system rating system that judges how often a comic changes (based on the recent update history. Last two weeks, nothing agrigeous.) Wehn the statute olimitations runs out, hold a fast election to pick a client closest to the source (IP is wonderous, eh?), and download the new comic. Share ad infinitium (or nauseum, depending on your point of view.) This system also has the added benefit of allowing deep archives to be online for every user, going back to the first time the site was added, along with the availability of each particular day.

The network is guaranteed to be filled with hentai. Instanteously.

Now, for the artist recompense part of the discussion. This is a harder topic. It is easier to spread digital media than it is to get someone to pay for it. The simplist method would be to extend banner ads directly into the client. To be downloaded and shared in the exact same manner. When you are attempting to recieve a comic, a section of your screen shows the latest banner, complete with the branded url necessary for tracking a click. As it is, applications like Comanche are almost undetectable. When they connect, and download a comic they are treated like any other client. Especially if they download the banner as well. Thus it is recorded as a pageview and the owner of the website get another number to wave at potential marketers. Unfortunately, unbeknownest to the owner, now onever ever sees the banner.

As for subscription services, especially the charge for deep archive type, the issue gets even grayer. There is no way that a P2P comic harvester will ever fit into that system. If you link the client up to require a subscription, people will find a different client. Because someone will always write one. This is what the variety of corporations are trying to overcoming, by lawsuits and legalities. They are having some success.

Really, webcomics are stuck relying on the kindness of strangers, and the hordes (hopefully) of people slavering to do the right thing.

The comic harvester programs should be the least of your average web comic creator worries. Until someone makes a harvester program that is easy to install, and a damn sight more powerful than the current ones, the majority of the reading populace won't change over. Even if one appears, you'll find that most people simply won't bother. Look at the market penetration of IE, especially compared with the other browser features offered by the competition. People go with the easiet route and tend to avoid change.

I've noticed that the webcomic community has been successful in getting a variety of programs either shutdown, or bloacking features added by browbeating the offenders. I do not forsee this state of affairs lasting long. Eventually, a programmer who sees a niche, will look to make their name by providing a n easy and powerful alternative to visiting the webcomic sites. And that programmer won't give to piles of excrement what the community thinks.

Let me make a note: I ENJOY visiting my list of comics. I get to see the sites, read the news posts, look at the intersting advertisements. I'll admit I block Keenspot ads. They are rarely interesting, and more often than not, annoying. Does this make me a horrible person?

Hey, Jon Rosenberg has a direct response to this mess.

Surprisingly, it's well thought out. He says Use RSS.

Thanks, Jack, for calling me incendary and bereft of common sense - and then admitting yourself to blocking the ads on Keen Spot. Sure that's different, because, Hey!, they're rarely interesting...

Your other comments are spot on, though: Comanche never had a big impact for the reasons mentioned - the numbers of downloads were quite minimal. But eventually there will be a program like you described, with an author who, as you so eloquently put it, "won't give to piles of excrement what the community thinks"!


That's why I enjoyed Jon Rosenberg's post over on Goats (thanks, zamphir) so much - apart from being called a "poor, stupid sap" and "bad internet citizen", that is. Webcomic creators badly need to find a way that caters to readers who prefer different formats of their content. There sure is no magic bullet, but RSS currently comes darn close - it's easy to digest for the readers, and gives the creators full control over what they put in their feeds. Plus it's technically simple to implement.


So, I second Jon's call to all webcomic artists: Please add RSS to your pages!


-Marc

Marc, if it makes you feel better, they mocked me at the University, too.

On a more serious note, I don't think I've seen you explain this: what do you have against going to the individual pages and seeing the comics in context? I mean, seriously: your two solutions to the situation have both amounted to "do anything I can to avoid loading these websites", and I'm really starting to wonder why.

A thought that strikes me - and this is for a wider audience than just Marc - is this: what if comic creators put, say, just the first frame of a given strip in an official RSS feed, with a link to the entire strip in context on their site?

Good question, Chris!

What it boils down to, in my case at least, is personal preference. I am old enough to have used text only BBSs and simply prefer receiving the for me relevant information (in this case, the strip itself) unfettered by other graphical, distracting info. Looking at the success of RSS, more and more people - quite probably put off by flashing ads, popups, slow loading or simply ugly pages - see it the same way.

The WWW, by design, gives me the possibility to tweak consuming and displaying of information to my liking. Yet as is evident from the discussion over at Comixpedia, I just don't understand why webcomic creators continue to insist on deriding people who choose to make use of the integral possibilites of the medium they as the artists chose to publish in in the first place. It has a slight touch of wanting to reap the perceived benefits (that is, to potentially publish to a worldwide audience, and being able to distribute without the prohibitive cost of infrastructure for physical media), without acknowledging the aspects of the medium they don't like (or, in some cases, understand).


Besides, there are other reasons I can think of as well: Many comic pages are quite heavy on graphical and other fluff. Loading them on a slow modem link takes forever (and please keep in mind that here in Germany there's no such thing as free local calls - these wait times cost the consumer money, quite probably leading him to read, and support, less comics in the long run!)


And a 'teaser feed'? I can imagine comic pages using them as a marketing instrument, but as it would mean I have to visit the website eventually anyway they surely are of no use to me.


-Marc

Marc,
I refer to the faq question as berefit of common sense and incendiary, because, in a sense, it was. Common sense would have to either research the market, and discover if banners DO work, or avoid addressing the question altogether. I've seen many flareups over this exact issue, and I barely pay attention to comic community (Websnark is the closest I've ever come to reading industry news). That one line is what caused such tremendous backlash against your project.

I mentioned blocking the banner ads with Moz because it serves one of my understated arguments: Comanche is not doing anything new to the advertising models! In fact, Comanche became such a hot-button issues because of that ONE statement. Without it, some of the artists, pundits, and general forum dwellers at large, would have never taken notice.

I'm sure Comanche was an excellent example of sophisticated carefully written code. And it might still be out and about, so that people could experience the convenience and enjoy the benefits of your labor, if you had left that single question off. I made the comment based on perfect 20-20 hindsight. Not everyone can see things so clearly ahead of time.

Now that I'm done covering my rear, let me pose an question to your call for RSS feeds. What if instituting an RSS feed proves to be too complicated, expensive, or just generally painful for the artist? A lot of Webcomic artists are not the most technically adept people. Keenspace provides an excellent example of that. Most creators just want to do the comic and not think about getting it to the pbulic. In fact, I'll wager that a lot of comic artists don't do feeds for that very reason.

Jack,
I'd like to make two points in reply to your post: First, I did not make the "Ad revenue is low" argument off the top of my head. As I mentioned in the Comixpedia thread, I work in web development myself, so I have the numbers and information from clients that lead me to be sure that there's not much money to be made from banner ads, especially on the low volume/low profile sites many web cartoons are (note I do not claim there was no income whatsoever, and I surely have made the mistake of underestimating the artists reliance on even that little income).
And second, no!, I am fairly sure that the backlash against Comanche would have been the same without the FAQ section. As the responses from the artists have clearly shown, there seems to be a sense of entitlement on their part that readers consume the content they produce in the one true way they see fit - that is as a website. Every attempt on my part to try and convince them of the growing popularity and importance of supporting other clients (be it RSS readers or comic viewers) has been sharply rebuked as a perceived attack on their artistic integrity.
It's this behavior (with a few exceptions of course) that I find so sad - instead of listening to their audience (of which I definitely am one), trying to give them what they want and thus enlarging their readership and possible income possibilities, they rather call anybody names who dares think or act differently.

Lastly, you are right of course that setting up an RSS feed is a little work. Yet, it does not take any special web skills to do so. The standard is simple, and the specification can be read, understood and put to use within an afternoon tops. The benefits far outweigh the little 'investment' in time that has to be made.
I dare say that it's fair if somebody uses a medium to ask they try to get a basic understanding of it and possible new uses and developments.

-Marc

I really hope it keeps the breaks; otherwise this is going to be an unreadable mess.

If a baker has a tray of free sample cookies on his counter, he IS going to object to having someone come in and take the tray out to the street corner so people who never even pass his shop can still get his cookies. He'll get REALLY mad if someone makes a point of telling him he shouldn't object because he wasn't making any money off of those anyway. That is called "chutzpah" and frequently results in anger.

I have to wonder why such a large percentage of internet ads (banners, flashers, popups, etc) are such useless things in the first place. You never see "Buy Coca-Cola," "Visit McDonald's," or any other major player. It's always home mortgages, medications, diploma-mills, dating sites, and other no-names: usually the same garbage I'm trying to filter out of my email inbox. Half of them are deceptive, besides. I might've believed I was the 10,000th visitor to a given website if it didn't tell me that every single day. Another site I visited through a web ad turned out to be a scam I barely avoided. (I notified the site hosting the ad, but the ad is still running) I have no use for any of these products, and popups in particular are offensive. I especially hate the ones that try to hijack my browser's home page setting or put spyware cookies on my harddrive.

That said, I would love to see a viable commercial model for webcomics. (Actually, a viable model for ANY content-driven website would be nice - Amazon and eBay are successful because they're dealing in tangibles) My brother introduced me to Sluggy a couple of years ago, and since then I've found several more I like. I'd hate to see them all fall by the wayside. Perhaps major product creators need to be persuaded of the value of internet marketing, with special emphasis on how to reach consumers without offending them. Animated GIF - okay. Epileptic seizure flasher - NO.

Regarding technical ability; is it not possible that a techie who wishes to make a name for himself could offer to help set up RSS feeds for webcomic creators? There is still a sense of community in many areas of the web, and "Hey, props to So-And-So for helping me get RSS set up" would still have a lot of power. Subscription to RSS sounds like a good solution to the issue of downloading comics without visiting the page.

Regarding Adblockers - I admit I haven't taken the time to learn how to unblock all the comic sites. Purest laziness on my part; I know I'm technically inclined enough to be able to do it. (and now that I've said that, I'm going to have to do something about it...stinging pride and all...) On the other hand, many websurfers aren't. If webcomic creators were to provide their comics in the same format as the ads, that would certainly be a push to allow that site's display, and a link to instructions on "how to set X adblocker" would be needed. The risk is in alienating people, unfortunately; then again, maybe just a link to instructions would work. A lot of websurfers are just lazy, not malicious. Again, yes, many webcomic creators are non-technical, but I think there are enough techies who like and want to support comics that could help. Community should be a two-way flow, even if it ISN'T money. Ideas and services have value, whether it's the comic creator or the techie who helps.

The web mentality is still overwhelmingly, "Hey, free stuff!" I confess it's still my knee-jerk reaction - no one likes paying for intangible content. I won't buy eBooks - if I'm paying as much as I would for a mass market paperback, I want my tangible mass market paperback. I considered it, until I saw that there was no price benefit to the consumer for getting the electronic version (not to mention the whole "no way to backup the book in case of electronic data loss without breaking the DMCA law" thing) I will, however, surf FFN and Yahoo groups for free fanfiction. I use LJ and freeware. I buy CDs but avoid the pay-for-music-download sites. I don't care for TV but I'll buy DVDs. "Why we should pay for intangible things" has to be addressed if web content creators are going to be properly compensated for their work. People have NEVER been happy with paying for something they don't get to physically keep. The closest comparison would be a concert, and even there, people find things to take home - programs, ticket stubs, photos, etc. Well, I take that back; I can think of one thing that people buy without getting a tangible product - 3D models. Admittedly, it's a rather specialized niche, and there is a lot of "freebie expectation" even there, but perhaps some use could come of studying that market.

This particular problem is not unique to the web, either, though - TV and radio are having similar issues. People get sick of commercials and, hey, look at that - we get VCRs. Now, it's even easier with TIVO and computer video capture cards, and TV stations are becoming desperate. People express their frustration with commercials, and the reply is, "Commercials pay for the networks' shows." Of course, there's also, "We pay for satellite/cable, so why should we have to watch commercials?" There is a valid argument there, I think; if one must pay $30-70/mo for access, there really shouldn't be the added annoyance of commercials. The decline in show quality is linked with the ad revenue problem. TV execs are determined to reduce the cost of creating a show to improve their profit margins - thus the "reality" binge.

Radio listeners surf from station to station using presets. I'm not certain if there's a more automated form available yet, mostly because I don't listen to radio. There are few stations that play anything I'd be interested in hearing, and the commercials drive me crazy anyway. Subscriber radio doesn't appeal to me because I know that, if it doesn't already, it will have commercials eventually, just like cable/satellite TV. Because they can.

What makes it more difficult is that the more intelligent audiences are less impressionable, and therefore the ads are less valuable to the advertiser in venues that draw highly intelligent and educated people. This gives us the "know your audience" problem. There are certain areas of the web that draw predominantly ignorant kids. There are other areas of the web that draw educated adults. Yet advertisers seem to treat the entire web the same way, as if, to compare it to TV, there were no difference between Saturday morning cartoons and primetime shows. I wonder if the simplest solution would be educating the advertisers. Granted, that's a pipe dream; a glance through any major tech mag will show you that advertising people don't have a clue how to reach techies without insulting them.

Comics in print seem free to the reader, because the reader subscribes to an entire news publication which includes syndicated comics. The trouble with doing this on the web is that people don't have to combine things like that anymore. Yet people do buy print comics in books - Calvin and Hobbes, Farside, etc. Somewhere there is an answer; if we hash it long enough maybe we'll find it. If it were simple, it would already be solved.

"Webcomic creators badly need to find a way that caters to readers who prefer different formats of their content."
This line does not strike me right. This seems to me to be going back to the fight between "make the text searchable, blast you!" and "I want it to look the way I want it, so I made it one big GIF!" That argument was mainly centered on finding ways to embed fonts and colors, but honestly; the site creator should not be forced to cater to the design ideas of the audience. Yes, it is a good idea to consider the desires of the audience when creating something, but if the audience doesn't like it, they don't have to come back. You don't go to a museum and start rearranging their paintings, you don't go to a movie theater and start re-cutting the film, and you shouldn't hack up a website that isn't yours. Some websites offer flash/html options; that's their choice, and it does help them reach a wider audience. Some sites are flash only; as I hate flash, I simply don't go back to those. It is not my right (nor any other audience member's) to dictate to those webmasters which format they should use for their sites. Asking them to consider adding your preferred functionality is fine, but if they choose not to, it is not the surfer's right to force it on them.

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