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The ComicMix Exodus

News of ComicMix’s contraction is starting to slip out, with the cancellation of all their columns and the Beat reporting one of their programmers twittering about a job hiatus. As one of the people the Beat refers to as “have wonder[ed] just where their revenue stream was coming from,” let’s take a look at the state of business affairs over at ComicMix.

There is some question, in practicality, whether ComicMix is a webcomics site with some news or a news site with webcomics. Any time the topic is brought up in person, the answer is supposed to be the webcomics are the focus of the site and the news is just there to draw some traffic. The problem with this? There are zero revenue streams currently attached to their webcomics. Click on over to Grimjack. See any ads? Haven’t been any ads on their comic pages for at least 6 months.

“But Todd,” you say, “aren’t you the guy who always talks about merchandising webcomics?”

That’s true. And a lot of webcomics do a healthy business in graphic novels, t-shirts and even decks of playing cards. But do you see anything like that on the site? Nope. Oh, sure, they printed up a handful of graphic novels for a convention in Baltimore. I’m not sure if that was, technically speaking, Print on Demand or just a very short run, but it was a one-time deal by all appearances. Are they shopping the film rights for everything? If so, I haven’t heard any deals struck yet. Are they licensing their software for viewing comics online? Again, if they’ve sold a license, I haven’t heard about it.

Let’s be blunt, here. The material ComicMix runs, by and large, has a history of print publication, either from the creators, the properties or both. The original set of serials, including Jon Sable and Grimjack, have been wrapped for a few months. Have we heard of an offering in the direct market, where this is both a natural sell and follows the model of Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius going to the web for new material and selling the collected edition in the retail market? Nope. Have we seen a collected edition sold straight off the website, as is the more traditional route in webcomics? Nope.

No ads, no merchandise, no collected edition. Those are standard revenue streams and without any of them (100 print copies in Baltimore doesn’t count), I cannot call ComicMix serious about monetizing their comics.

When you get to the subject of the columnists going away in favor of more of a news and pop culture focus, there are two things you need to look at from a business perspective: the types of ads being run and the focus of the brand.

The identity of ComixMix from their “About” page is:

“ is the new site for readers who enjoy all types of fantastic media, from comic books television and movies to video games and more. Every day, visitors find news, facts, reviews, commentary, columns and a community environment that reaches across the globe, across decades and into the future.

This is the best place for news about comics, movies, television, music, games and more, plus columns and blogs from Dennis O’Neil, Michael Davis, Elayne Riggs, John Ostrander, Peter David, Mike Gold and many others.”

That second paragraph will probably be changing soon, but those columns had a tendency to stray from the field, often winding up more in politics than comics.

Topic also factors into the revenue stream because ComicMix traditionally used contextual advertising (Google Ad Words). The way contextual ads work is the ad system reads your web page and matches up ads with words/phrases used prominently on your page. Just like a search engine ranks your page (’cause Google is a search engine). With contextual advertising, you only get paid when somebody clicks on an ad, and then you get paid based on how much was bid for that ad. One of the things you learn if you talk to people who do online comics, is that comics-related terms have very low-paying rates in contextual advertising. There just doesn’t seem to be that much demand. Good old fashion display advertising where you get paid for page views is universally acknowledged as the way to go with comics material, not Pay Per Click.

Brian Alvey, the money behind ComicMix, made a fortune as the tech guy behind Weblogs, Inc. Weblogs, Inc. did a lot of celebrity blogs and had high income off contextual advertising, so he seemed to be dead-set on continuing to use it.
If you look at the departure of columnists and the insertion of more TV/Film pop culture news items, you might notice two things. 

  1. With the political talk largely removed, this fits more into an entertainment news niche.
  2. The added entertainment news is closer to what Alvey was monetizing at Weblogs, Inc.

I’ve also recently seen more advertising on ComicMix that might not be Pay Per Click, with TribalFusion (an ad network) showing up and a Network Solutions banner that’s in heavy rotation on a couple different ad networks, both of which could be an acknowledgement of the need to diversify the advertising mix.

It looks like somebody is at least tightening up the blog portion of ComicMix. The webcomics portion, which is by far the most unique and interesting one, is still horribly neglected from a business perspective, and as solid as it is creatively, I can’t call the webcomics portion a serious business effort at this time. Of course, that might also be why the webcomics aren’t mentioned on the “About” page.

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  1. Well, let’s be fair, there’s only so much any one columnist can write about comics. 🙂 When I was hired as a columnist I was told to make my column about anythnig that suited my fancy, and that it wouldn’t be a problem not talking solely about comics. And yet, I’ve done comics reviews, I’ve talked about living with a comics pro, I’ve plugged Friends of Lulu and other organizations working to better the status of women in the industry, etc. etc. And do you know something? Almost all of my comics-specific columns got almost ZERO comments. So it’s not like there was a tremendous amount of incentive from readers to only write about comics.


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