Economics and Comics: How Do Webcomics Fit In?
Economics and Comics: Talking Shop
According to noted webcomic historian and creator T. Campbell, the earliest recorded online comic to his knowledge was T.H.E. Fox. “Resources are limited here so it's possible that something earlier might emerge in the future,” he explained to Newsarama.com. “Where the Buffalo Roam was a regularly updated online comic, but it didn't join the Web until after Doctor Fun began. Doctor Fun is considered the first webcomic.”
“[Stafford Huyler’s] Netboy is slightly later, but it's notable for being the first comic to explore the possibilities exclusive to the Web format (sound, infinite canvas, animation) before [Charley Parker’s] Argon Zark! did so in a more stylized way,” he added.
Of course, speaking timeline-wise, Joe Ekaitis' T.H.E. Fox was published on Compuserve and Quantum Link in 1986. Hans Bjordahl's Where the Buffalo Roam was published on FTP and usenet in 1991. Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet's World Wide Web on 6 August 1991. Doctor Fun by David Farley begun on 24 September 1993.
Since then, webcomics have grown into a vastly popular medium. In recent years, creators like Warren Ellis, Karl Kerschl, Stuart Immonen, Cameron Stewart and many others have experimented with webcomics. For some, webcomics allow them to create something without the ever-increasing cost of the traditional publishing methods while others take it as an opportunity to reach out to and connect directly with new readers. Thus, webcomics can be distributed much more broadly and quicker than print comics.
Interestingly, according to an online survey of US book buying habits conducted by Zogby International for Random House released on May 29, around 11% of the 8,218 adults polled responded that they would be comfortable reading books in other format such as online or with an e-book reader or PDA.
However, does the current sluggish economy have an impact on the online side of the publishing landscape?
In this special and extended edition, Newsarama.com contacted webcomic advocates, publishers and creators and asked them if webcomics are recession-proof?
Join us as we talk to Campbell; Mike S. Miller, an authorized representative of Wowio.com; Chris Crosby, Chief Executive Officer of Keenspot and creator of Superosity (and co-creator of Sore Thumbs); Tim Demeter, editor of (the iPod comic site and home to digital material from UK comics publisher 2000AD) and GraphicSmash.com (ModernTales’ action-focused anthology site); Dean Haspiel, co-founder of the webcomix collective, ACT-I-VATE, editor of SMITH Magazine’s Next-Door Neighbor anthology and Billy Dogma creator; Jim Dougan, a founding member of the webcomics collective, The Chemistry Set, and co-creator of Sam & Lilah on DC’s Zuda Comics (came in fourth place in the March Zuda competition), now part of the online comics collective ACT-I-VATE; Shaenon Garrity, creator of Narbonic and editor of the subscription-based webcomics anthology site, ModernTales; Queenie Chan, a Chinese-Australian webcomics creator; Andy B., a member of the Toronto-based webcomics group, Transmission-X; David Gallaher, writer of High Moon, the first winner of DC’s Zuda webcomics competition; and Lea (DivaLea) Hernandez, webcomics and Original English Language (OEL) manga pioneer.
Newsarama: In your opinion, are we heading for another Internet boom or bust? Does the slowing economy have any effect on webcomics at all?
T Campbell: "Another Internet boom and bust?" You mean, like eight to ten years ago, when there were crazy overvaluations for dozens of companies with zero revenue, followed by a rash of bankruptcies? I don't think that's gonna happen.
I do think there are some hard times ahead. Webcomics' low expenses mean they'll probably weather the storm better than print media. But merchandise might be a tougher sell than it was. We are working off people's disposable income.
Mike S. Miller: The Internet will always boom. What happened before was not the internet busting, it was the speculation market busting, just as all speculation markets do eventually. We saw it in comics, baseball cards, we see it in commodities, and we saw it with the internet when it first started to gain 'real world' acceptance. Computer guys like my dad were using 'the internet' for decades before the rest of the world caught on and tried to 'get rich quick' off of it... It is the new frontier for all things media, and you can see it with every media type from magazines to movies, it's all heading toward the 'new country' of online digital distribution. It's so obvious that comics are trending that direction as well that you'd have to have your head in the sand not to see it.
[Does the slowing economy have any effect on webcomics at all?] Absolutely not. Web comics are free. Their readership sit at home on their computers and read things online for free all day. If anything, it will help web comics if folks can't afford to go to spend 5 bucks in gas to get to the comic shop and plunk down three to four bucks per comic that they'll read in 10 minutes... Instead they can get their comic 'fix' for free from thousands of different web comics sources. Onlinecomics.net, Top10webcomics.com, etc. Of course, the most professional level free comics on the web can be found on Wowio.com, that goes without saying...
Chris Crosby: We seem to be in something of an internet boom as I type, and though there may be a slowdown here or coming, I don't think we'll see a bust on the level of the last one. I hope not, anyway! I'm no expert on this sort of thing. [As for the economy and its effect on webcomics] Not that I'm aware of. All I hear are more and more webcomics success stories of late. It's the print comics industry where I'm hearing constantly about financial trouble.
Tim Demeter: I don't think the current 'Web 2.0 boom can last forever but I also doubt we'll see a crash as hard as in the dot com days. While it still has a long way to go, the business of the web is a much more mature than it was back then and people aren't spending millions on novelty, or not as many people at least. Speaking for Clickwheel our model is based on progressive growth, not high cost, high risk overnight schemes. If the internet implodes tomorrow, we'll still be here and will be for a long time to come. In terms of webcomics writ large, it may actually be a good thing. Most webcomics are free, as are most of Clickwheel's offerings, and if the purse strings continue to tighten there is a wealth of material available to fans online for free, and even stuff that isn't free, such as our 2000 AD downloads don't require you to drive anywhere to get it. Wanna bring down your gasoline spending? Read your comics digitally!
Dean Haspiel: An economic boom or bust makes no qualified impact on the current webcomix initiative. Awhile back, there were some attempts made to charge for webcomix but that didn't work out and the most successful online subscription model has been the RSS feed that alerts interested parties whenever a creator posts something new. Otherwise, webcomix collectives like ACT-I-VATE, The Chemistry Set, Transmission-X, and even the likes of Zuda and SMITH Magazine, mobilize each others group efforts and popularity to help spread the gospel and secure new readers. The time for the webcomix revolution is now.
Jim Dougan: First, I'm not sure I've got a crystal ball to predict whether we're headed for any kind of internet boom or bust. If we are (and given the state of the economy it's more likely to be the latter) there's no way it would be of the magnitude of what we saw in the early part of this decade. I don't think we've got the same conditions that caused the first one anyway - for one, all that venture capital chasing "businesses" without business plans. There's a lot of people still licking their wounds from that one.
Second, as far as the effect of the slowing economy, I think you could see consumers gravitating toward webcomics - at least the free ones - as their wallets otherwise get squeezed by rising gas prices and general inflationary pressures. Those same pressures have an impact on the cost of print publishing, so that could lead publishers to migrate at least some of their content online, at least until they build an audience.
Shaenon Garrity: The economy's affecting everything. Websites may be less affected than brick-and-mortar businesses, but when people have less to spend on fun stuff, it definitely hurts us. That said, I have absolutely no idea what the future of Internet business is. I've never been all that good at making money off webcomics anyway.
Queenie Chan: It depends on what kind of webcomics you're doing. A lot of the really successful webcomics tends to be free and supported by advertising, and since a recession is likely to drive people towards cheaper entertainment, what can be better than free entertainment? Personally, my webcomics are completely free, so my biggest problem will probably be bandwidth costs going up (a problem for me, since I don't have any advertising on my site). However, if you're a subscription-model webcomics site, or an e-retailer, you're affected by the same money-pinching problems as everyone else is. Those offering e-books may see better business in the future though, since e-books are always cheaper than the dead tree edition. If marketed properly this may drive a push towards e-books.
Andy B.: Now in regards to my gang, we're from Canada. I'm not sure that our economy is in crisis or anything but since we're brothers to the States I'm sure it does. Now I've heard in times of economic toilet swirls the entertainment field normally does pretty well, just look at movies today. Iron Man pulling in hundreds of millions, etc... Now for comics which have always seemed a little vaudevillian to the growing generations (pointing no fingers), it's just a straight up tough racket. For illustrators, comics creating is the most fun if telling a story is your thing but you normally make 3 to 4 times the page rate for doing any kids publication and that's at a high rate at one of the Big Two comic publishers. I won't even talk about advertising rates! So why do we continue to do comics? Well, a friend of mine who works on one of Marvel's top titles told me recently, "It's the most fun!" and there you have it! Plus telling stories in sequential form and really using the medium to its fullest potential is a goal to strive for! It seems Hollywood has sunk it's claws into us so deep, right to the consumer that what is considered a good comic is a guy who can produce the most realistic storyboard! Which I've done plenty of in my day. What happened to lessons learned from the true prophets and pioneers of this industry. Where oh where has the teachings of [Jack] Kirby, [Alex] Toth, [John] Romita, and [John] Buscema gone? When the highest paying jobs go to the guys who reproduce the best photos with exceptions of course, where do the rest of us go? It seems the web is where we now call home.
So the question is, how does our tail spinning economy affect web comics? Well, we don't get paid for it anyway so how would it affect us? Since it's free the only thing it costs is time! It's a labor of love for the art itself. We do it because we love making comics! Print is too expensive and barely sells anyway. Look at the sales figures from the 50's to now. Comics sold in the millions, copies everywhere! Then we censor the crap out of them so all that remains are the hero comics where film seems free to do whatever it wants no matter how morally blarg! of which I have no complaints, I hate cuffs too. Then we have video games which are far more exciting to kids than any of that good old funny book reading. I guarantee you'll never see a kid having a temper tantrum over not getting his comic book for Christmas. Comics aren't even concerned with growing a new readership for the most part anyways. Try selling a kid’s comic concept anywhere. Where is my Adam West Batman, anyway? Tell him he's sorely missed. The new guy is an asshole.
O.K. so blah, blah, blah same old story, not telling you anything you haven't heard before. With all that b.s. in mind we still create for the love and it seems that our big brother film who, when it comes to ideas, could be compared to Biff from Back to the Future. Biff has taken us under his wing. More so now than ever before because let's face it, he's not getting any smarter. He can't live without us anymore and maybe we can grow to be as strong as he is one day being on this here intermaweb, it's on a screen ain't it? Right now, the only way to make a nickel or a dime on this here box is to have some trendy T’s and reference as many video games as possible, which I find funny, ironic, and smart as hell by those PVP and Penny Arcade peeps. They know where the kids are these days. Our gang at T-X has gone the way of the sequential storytelling because that's what we love. It's been a year now that we've been around and we're not stopping for anyone. Our numbers keep climbing, and let me tell you when you see the readership grow it makes you wanna jump out of the readers’ screens and give them a big old Teddy Ruxpin-style hug. Plus the readers are from all over the world. I'm pretty sure old Ramony gets as many new readers as Amazing Spider-Man, if not more. Now how do we creators make a living on this new mystery box? We're brainstorming, believe me. F' the economy. We'll keep making our strips no matter what because we love them. I'll keep Raising Hell up here as long as people are reading. And speaking of Hell! I hear no one complaining over the price!
]David Gallaher: This is really two different questions.
I feel that with the growing array of communities, tools, and social networks, the Internet is in a fairly healthy place. I don't foresee a boom, per se, but I think their be many more applications like Digg, StumbleUpon, Flock, and Reddit, that will facilitate greater interaction for users. Hospitals, police departments, academic institutions, and corporate department store are all in the process of developing their own social networks, so I don't see that aspect of the Internet going away anytime within the next few years.
In terms of how the economy effect webcomics, I think you see ad revenue or donation decrease for several strips, as people tighten their belts, but because the financial contributions of the reader is no where to the degree it is with print comics, I think the impact will be far less devastating, and in fact, may just have a beneficial effect on webcomics!
Leah Hernandez: Well, Benjamin, if they're webcomics and not print, obviously the price of gas affects them very little. Cartoonists relying on donations will likely see a downturn as every tightens their belts.
Prices of food and gas mainly affect webcartoonists who wish to travel to promote their work.
What will likely affect webcomics is companies like Comcast and Time Warner introducing tired rates for high-speed access, the bastards. This will affect readers, of course, but will also affect creators who need that bandwidth for updating. That is, until webcomics readers and creators jump for DSL or similar.
NRAMA: Specifically, how does the current health of the economy affect, if any, your online publishing model/initiative (including distribution, if applicable)?
TC: Web advertising spend has been projected to increase in 2008-2011, even in the face of the current crisis. However, I don't think that's a rising tide that will lift all boats: I've dealt with plenty of Internet ad companies that had no idea how to sell to our readers.
We've profited a great deal from our association with an advertising-supported PDF "publisher," but I don't know if its plans are sustainable either. There's a lot of uncertainty in the wind right now, a sense that the survivors in this market will be leaping from one business model to the next.
Specific to me is the problem that I pay artists.
MSM: It's made me completely rethink my business model. In the year I've had Lullaby up on Wowio.com, I've made more pure profit than I did the entire time it was in physical publication through Image Comics as well as Alias. That's good for me, that's good for Hector (Sevilla, the artist and co-creator), neither of us ever made any actual royalties off of the print publishing, but now we make a decent chunk of cash off our work via Wowio. With this in mind, I've not only made certain all my books are available on Wowio, I plan to also make them all available as page-by-page web comics through [http://comicstripclub.com]comicstripclub.com very soon. With the advent of new advertising companies like Projectwonderful.com and Adsdaq.com and the like, web comic monetization has become much more lucrative than it has been in the past. More and more web comics creators are making a living off of what was previously just a hobby and a passion. And more comics professionals are looking toward the web comics route as well. The aforementioned comicstripclub.com features a weekly strip by Marvel creator Jonboy Myers, and is looking to publish other print comics professionals who want to venture into the web comics arena. I think it's a good time for many professional folks to make the transition.
So, how does Wowio work?
When a user signs up with Wowio.com, he answers some questions about his demographic information. His (or her) age, sex, preferences and interests, etc. This information becomes extremely valuable to our sponsors, as they can then direct their advertising/sponsorship dollars precisely toward the target demographic they're looking for. (NOTE: This information is 100% secure, and Wowio would never tarnish our reputation by giving it to others.) If they want men between 25 and 35 who have an interest in video games, they don't have to advertise to all 120,000 of our users, just those who fit that demographic. It becomes wise advertising dollars spent for them, and creates a profitable business model for our publishers, many of whom have decades of books in their archives that haven't made them a dime in years, now funding their business operations on a whole new level. It's like found money for many, and it's even made several of our publishers want to create Wowio exclusive comic books that will never see print.
What Wowio has done over the course of the last year is tap into the enormous web comics audience by signing many of the top web comics like Sore Thumbs, Misfile, Inverloch/Pheonix Requiem, DaybyDay, etc. and brought aboard a good portion of their readers, (again readers who are used to reading comics on their computers) so that our traditional comics publishers like Markosia, Arcana, Blue Water, Antarctic Press, etc. can be discovered by a brand new audience of comics fans who otherwise never would have known about these independent comic book companies and their awesome titles. So in reality, Wowio.com has become the conduit between two worlds. Where the Web Comics/Print Comics readership itself doesn't really have much cross-over, traditional publishers are now finding new audiences who come to Wowio from the Web comics world and devour these great books, at the same time the Web comics folks are deriving income they never would have had without the Wowio business model. It's been great for everyone involved.
CC: Hard to say, but if anything, it's helped us. We've generated more advertising revenue in the first five months of 2008 than we ever have before, fueled by effective new ad exchanges like Adsdaq and a major increase in movie and TV campaign sales from our ad rep Gorilla Nation.
TD: Less disposable income floating around is never a great thing for anyone, but digital comics have a few advantages that ease the pain. Firstly, and probably most importantly, shipping costs are out the window. Costs of transportation may be going up, but bandwidth is only getting cheaper and we know we're going to be able to get our comics to our customers at a relatively fixed cost and that means we don't have to pass any pain onto them. Additionally, readers of digital comics are typically younger and have less responsibility so it's a little easier for them to justify spending a few dollars on a comic when they don't need to worry about mortgages and feeding their family or whatnot.
We know that digital media is very "now" and we firmly believe it is a permanent part of the industry but at the same time we understand that it is also very new and there is no proven road map for success. Our model is designed to take advantage of emerging technologies as well as to develop our own but to do so organically in response to industry trends and the responses of our customers. Basically, we want to offer our readers the best user experience possible while remaining agile enough to adapt with the latest online trends and tech.
DH: I subsidize my Billy Dogma webcomix (Immortal and Fear, My Dear) by taking paying jobs and sleeping less. These are the things a creator must do in order to own and control their creations. It's a personal investment. Some folks sell t-shirts and merchandise to pimp their wares and there are other webcomix models like Zuda that affords creators like myself to make webcomix for a living. Ultimately, as I chip away at my webcomix, I'll have a catalogue of creator-owned properties available for sale in various, financially rewarding formats.
JD: As a relatively new creator, online distribution is still going to be my primary avenue. I simply don't have the audience - yet - to support self-publishing in print. I've done it in the past, and it's very expensive, as anyone can tell you. The more attractive approach for me is to build an audience online first - which can be done with some effort, but very little out-of-pocket cost - and then hopefully transfer them to print. There have been some self-publisher/creators who've been successful this way – Spike of Templar, Arizona, comes to mind. She asked her online readers to pre-order the print collection of the comic by sending her the money to offset the printing bill, and if I recall correctly, was successful in that. So that model is something I might consider doing in the future.
SG: It doesn't affect me much right now. My webcomic isn't my primary source of income, so I'm not too worried if it's making a little less money than it usually does.
QC: Not at all. My webcomics are all free, and if that makes more people read it, the better!
DG: In terms of how I'm personally affected, I don't think the economy has a negative effect on my series, but it does present a good opportunity to make the most of a difficult situation. Readers who have had to cut back on their titles can satisfy their craving for comic content with our series, or any of the other quality webcomics out there (PvP, Penny Arcade, Girls With Slingshots, Evil Inc, Bayou, Night Owls, Backstage, Fishtown, XKCD, etc).
NRAMA: Looking ahead, do you think that more publishers and creators will opt to go the online publishing route?
TC: I don't really see how it's avoidable. The Web is both the medium most open to new talent and the medium likeliest to produce new readers. Its profit model isn't as evolved as print media's, but it's a low, low-risk investment, and cartoonists are always thinking "art first, money later."
I'm a bit worried about The Great Bandwidth Shortage predicted in 2010, but it's going to have to be pretty severe to change a young generation's reading habits.
MSM: I think they are, and I think they have to. Don't get me wrong, I love print comics. No one is a bigger fan of holding that paper in my hand while I read my favorite writers and artists work. The screen just doesn't do it for me as an artist. But I am aware of the writing on the wall. When newspapers and magazines are going out of business left and right, or more often are going 'straight to web', then you only have to expect the same thing will happen to comics. Wowio wasn't the first on the scene to take comics digital, several have tried selling e-comics and e-books... heck, even Google tried an e-book service for a while, but they couldn't make it work because of the one key ingredient that today's internet user seems to require: It has to be free content.
When Marvel stepped up to the plate, they at least had a selection of free books to get people used to reading their comics on the computer screen. Good move. DC shortly followed suit with their efforts at Zuda.com, trying to harness the ever increasing web comic audience there. Eventually all the major publishers will have their archives online in one form or another, and the ones who are going to make money off of them are going to have to have some sort of business model where their content is free, but they still get paid through advertisers or sponsors, like Wowio.
Look, over the course of the last year, I've had about 30 books up on Wowio, some doing great, like Lullaby, some doing so-so, like Deal with the Devil (soon to be a major motion picture from Lionsgate! Shameless plug), but all told those 30 odd books have made me over $50,000.00 in revenue, and that means no print costs, no distributors, no retailers, nobody taking a 'cut' but Wowio as the 'store'. Imagine if Marvel or DC or Dark Horse put up their thousands of books worth of archives... even if they all just did 'so-so', they would be reaping millions a year on content they're doing nothing with currently. And let's be realistic, put up a line of Spider-Man or Batman books, and they're not going to do 'so-so'; they're going to do fantastic...
But like I said, it doesn't have to be Wowio, but it is going to have to follow a similar model. Folks who sit on their computers all day reading free content don't want to have to pay for anything. That's the key. (Btw, if any publishers want information on how to join Wowio, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll set them up.)
CC: I'd bet on it. It's a no-brainer. I'm surprised more haven't jumped in already.
TD: It seems like only a matter of time now. The current economic woes aside there are tons of advantages to going digital in terms of outreach but if the costs of doing business keep rising many comic currently in print may need to go digital just to survive. This is not to say I think printed comics will, or should go away but I think more and more publishers will start testing the digital waters and as the benefits become greater and greater.
DH: It's easy to predict that the comic book pamphlet, as we know it, will eventually go the way of the dinosaur and serialized comics will be published online and on your phone device. Collections of the more popular serials will still be offered in print alongside original graphic novels and one-shots as long as books are still being made.
JD: Undoubtedly. I think the economics only get more compelling as time goes on and costs continue to increase. Which is not to say that the web is the only way to go - very few have really figured out how to make money with an online-only model, and people still have to eat. Finally, with all the different standards and formats, the only true archival medium for comics is still paper. So I think that print is still the endgame, it's just a question of when and how you get there.
SG: Yes, but I'm still not seeing a consistently good model for these people to make money off the Web. At this point a number of individual cartoonists have managed to make a living off webcomics, but publishers have had mixed success at best, and a lot of very good established cartoonists have had trouble finding a niche online. I think there's a lot of potential for some branches of print comics (syndicated comic strips, for instance, especially as the newspaper business continues to suffer) to expand online, but at the moment most of that potential remains unfulfilled.
QC: I think the world is inevitably being pushed towards the online publishing route. Even as publishers and retailers wring their hands over what e-models to use and the projected low rates of success, the pirates continue to run wild with their bittorents and scanslations. It's public knowledge; everyone knows about it; it's clear the only problems are how this e-publishing model will work, how to publish e-books, and most importantly, how to make consumers pay e-money for it. E-money, in my opinion, is still the biggest problem. I personally still believe that the iTunes method of distribution is the best, and I wrote an essay on this back in September 2006 to prove my point ( http://queeniechan.livejournal.com/27225.html ).
DG: I think it foolish not to cultivate an online audience for your comics. In this difficult time, I'm sure some folks are looking to cut back on their purchases. How will that affect the lower-selling titles? Why not throw those lower selling books online - provide that content for free - and build the readership over the course of a few months, rather than watching the title slowly fade into oblivion.
Plus, I think the online community is a great place to launch a new concept. Rather than 'cold launching' a product, untested creators and untested concepts can spread their wings without fear of cancellation. Really, I think it all rather brilliant.
LH: I certainly expect more creators to go the web presentation route. There will be some who never will, I suspect. They are too attached to print books, and the web seems terribly ephemeral compared to a book you can touch. The old argument about not being able to read in the bathroom is becoming less an issue with laptops enabling a reader to take a meeting in the square office. (The main issue is not burning the groceries.)
I have been saying and demonstrating for years that the web is, hands down, the most economical and furthest-reaching method of presenting art. It is low-cost, there are no frustrations with managing printers or production, there are no hurdles imposed by finding a publisher, getting distribution, or convincing retail stores that they must have it.
Simply put, even with and especially because of changes in the economy, the web is a creator's must-have asset.
NRAMA: Any last thoughts on the subject?
TC: Ten years ago, the Internet's economic problems sprung from not really being enmeshed with the rest of society as a whole. Now the economic problems to come will spring from being so enmeshed. Irony.
MSM: The first thing to go when peoples purse strings get tightened are luxuries. Comics might be an addiction to some, but to most they are a luxury. And as the prices for 22 story page pamphlets rises, and the cost of getting to the shop rises even faster, that luxury is just not going to be at the top of a lot of folks' lists to keep. But in reality, the internet is no longer a luxury for most people. We need to have the internet to conduct our businesses and to stay in touch with vital people in our lives. So that laptop isn't going anywhere, and even without the economy squeezing folks' budgets, we are seeing a trend. The teenage kid who has grown up with his computer on his desk and 'discovers' comics isn't doing it at the 7-11 like I, and many of my generation did. They're discovering it on the internet. They're discovering Penny-Arcade and Megatokyo, Pheonix Requiem and Penny and Aggie. (Many of these web comics have daily unique readers in the hundreds of thousands. Compare that to the 120K the #1 comic of last month sold...) Comics that range from fantasy to teenage angst and everything in between.
The demographics for this group (which I can track on my Wowio account) are the next generation. 80% of the readers of Wowio e-comics are between the ages of 15 and 35. More than 25% of them are female. And in less than a year we've grown by over 100,000 registered users and soon we're coming up on our 2,000,000th download... That is not the crowd that darkens the door of the LCS on Wednesday, and it never will be. As our generation grows old and loses interest or just dies off, there won't be a generation of new comic readers to replace us. I believe this started in the early 90's when comics publishers didn't seem to care any more about the kid 'market', and started pumping out dark and gritty stories by the truckload (and selling them to speculators by the truckload, too...). And now I believe the fruit of that change has come to bear.
The next generation of comic readers is here, now. And they are reading comics.
They're just reading them for free on the internet.
CC: Entertainment tends to be more recession-proof than the average "product," and the webcomic in particular seems to be doubly so. They don't cost anything to print or ship or bribe retailers to get good placement on store shelves, they're entirely free (in most cases) for the reader to dive into, devour as much as they desire, and get completely and utterly addicted to, and those devoted readers supply advertisers with millions of young, entertainment-focused, tech-savvy eyeballs to target their message to at a very reasonable rate. We've been saying it for years, and being proven true: webcomics are the future, and the future is now.
TD: A lot of the current economic problems are tied to the energy crisis and living a more sustainable lifestyle is one of the best ways to do our part. Go green with digital comics!
DH: Every webcomic has the same chance to engender a loyal fanbase that allows product for purchase. If it's good it will sell.
QC: Since people these days can't live without their alcohol, tobacco and entertainment, a nasty recession may actually speed up the move towards e-publishing. If marketed properly anyway, which is the most important factor. The news these days in the financial pages is that We're-in-a-recession-but-we're-almost-out-of-it-yet-it's-rather serious-this-time-and-so-on. Whoever's controlling the press in America seems content to sit on the fence and declare an Almost-Recession, which is fine to prevent the masses from panicking, but it doesn't reflect reality. If they took on a more doom-saying scare-mongering attitude, I daresay that the average non-Financial-Times-reading American may be motivated enough to seriously look at e-books simply because they're cheaper. It's a horrible thing to say, but if people go out on a limb to save a few dollars, e-books will have to take off because the demand will be so huge.