I posted a link last week about why Marvel and DC should be making (free) webcomics. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the link again. Go read it and we’ll wait.
Ok, so the central argument in the article is that in order to grow comics and increase sales, Marvel and DC should try their hand at producing a free webcomic that actually “counts” (i.e. takes place in the existing comic universe and affects the characters) and this could help grow sales. It’s an interesting arguement.
As is pointed out in the article, the major hurdle to this is the mindset that you are giving something away for free (which they already do once a year with Free Comic Book Day). This isn’t shocking to anyone producing a webcomic like I am, but for a corporation (and Marvel and DC are corporations) that’s a different story. The real question is, what is the return on the investment of writing and producing that artwork. At the end of the day, these companies exist to make money and they do this by selling comic books. The question is, can they sell more books by giving one away for free?
I’m just not too sure how they much make from comics at the end of the day. It’s a nice chunk of change, but when you compare it to movies, video games, toys and whatever other licensing that the characters are used for, are the printed comic books really that important?
The thing is these two companies, if they want to increase comic book sales, need to figure out that they’ve got to adapt to different media. If bringing in new readers is an important strategy for their continued existence, then the webcomic is probably a good idea.
What I found really interesting about the article was that it got me to thinking about what the return on MY investment is. I’m working away on art and posting pages… So what’s it all for?
Another way of looking at making money is what financial people call Return on Investment (ROI) which is a concept that’s pretty straightforward. You put X into something and get Y out of it – and ideally Y is a profit.
So how does this relate to me?
With On the Verge I’m not investing money but I am investing my time which is worth something. Time doing art and writing and posting is time that I’m not freelancing or spending an evening with my wife or sleeping. It has a cost. When I freelance I attach a cost to that time. But I don’t necessarily think that way towards my On the Verge work.
So let’s say, for the sake of round numbers, that my hourly rate is $50. Now let’s assume that it takes me 5 hours to go from thumbnails to a finished coloured and lettered page that’s ready to be posted (that’s very fast I know, but let’s assume!). So under this scenario, one finished page costs $250.
Let’s also add in some writing time, maintenance time for the website and the couple of posts that I put up a week… so add in another 5 hours a week (again, that’s probably low, but let’s assume), so another $250.
Total that up and that’s $500 per week and $2,000 per month it costs me to produce On the Verge.
Now at this point I spend very little actual money on things. The website is on the webspace for my portfolio site and I haven’t advertised. I basically only need to pay for supplies. But my time is worth something and (apparently) I spend about $2,000 worth of it on this whole thing per month. Also keep in mind that when I’m working on On the Verge I’m not working on other things (freelance jobs) that may actually pay me.
So why invest in On the Verge?
At the end of the day, you basically need figure out what you’re investing, what you’re going to get out of it and is it worth it. I’ve posted a couple of times that there are distinct reasons why I started working on this project and my hope is that I can achieve some of them and they’re the primary returns on my investment.
My ROI are:
1. The enjoyment of finally doing something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and first started reading comic books (i.e. producing my own comic). This can’t be discounted. It’s one of the major reasons I started everything and I get to hopefully have a cool project that I can show off at then end.
2. I get to do more illustration work. I’ve spent the past couple of years always saying that I want to do more artwork and now I do.
3. I get to work out some of my own issues with my art. Again, not be discounted since I think it’s definitely worth something to be able to do some of this on my own time and hopefully be able to apply what I’ve learned to other (paying) projects.
4. This leads me to paying work. Hopefully all the work that I put into On the Verge can be applied to other jobs, whether that’s freelance illustration jobs, my fulltime design job or other comics down the road. The only way to get work is to know what you’re doing and to get your name and work out there. Sitting around and drawing in sketchbooks not showing anyone doesn’t accomplish anything.
You’ll notice that nowhere in that list do I include any concrete financial/monetary rewards. I don’t actually think I’m going to make money off of this thing. Especially if you consider how much my actual time is worth. Will I make a bit once things are further along and I’m able to sell stuff? Sure. But I don’t plan on doing this as a fulltime gig any time soon.
So to get back to the main point, are the returns worth my investment of time and money? That’s a tough question to answer but for the most part I think it is. There are weeks when it definitely isn’t, but overall it is worth it. It’s a great hobby that I’ve enjoyed working at. And at the end of it all, I’ll have something to show off, I’ve developed my illustration work and other skills even further and hopefully it leads to something bigger and better.