By Jennifer Harman

With debate still raging over whether it’s time to pronounce traditional-print newspapers as “dead,”  you might be surprised to learn that paper-based comic books are still doing fairly well for themselves. North America’s estimated overall comic book market size rose from approximately $320 million in 1997 to $680 million in 2010, with the average cost of a comic book rising from $2.62 a book to $3.58.

In 2008, comic book giants Marvel and DC Comics took in a total 70 percent of comic book retail sales, with Dark Horse bringing up the rear at 6.5 percent. Movies like Superman Returns and Iron Man help to fan the flames of nerdom that keep comic books a wanted commodity. As long as Time Warner and Disney can find heroes to make movies out of, it’s safe to say that comic books are here to stay. Like newspapers, however, comic books are finding competition on the internet: Webcomics.

He's pink. He's boneless. He's a cartoon cat with a cult following.

Webcomics are like a bizarre cousin to the comic book. Unlike comic books, which require a team of artists, writers, editors and a publisher, any Joe Schmoe with an idea, a modem and MsPaint can craft a webcomic for all the world to see. There are literally thousands of webcomics available on the internet, some more popular than others. What’s more, almost all webcomics are free. This, of course, begs the question: How do webcomics make money?

The short answer is simple: Most don’t.

It’s pretty difficult to commodify something that is solely-Internet based, so webcomics get creative. Unlike comic books, which are a commodity in and of themselves, webcomics rely on their fan base for money.

Webcomic revenue can come in the form of donations, where generous readers donate to the noble cause of supporting their favorite webcomic artists. It’s not a very reliable way to earn revenue, so comics like SMBC develop campaigns to reward readers for donating.

Other means of making money involve selling ad space on the comic’s webpage. Every click on an advertisement nets money for said comic. Interesting to note, retailers get much more out of that relationship than the comic does. Even though most readers will never click one of the online ads, studies have shown that simply seeing it on the page influences their decision to purchase the product. Scary.

That same boneless cat. Commodified.

Merchandising is one of the more lucrative means of making money for a webcomic. Just as with comic books, notable webcomic characters and quotes can become plushies, t-shirts, coffee mugs… even belts. Webcomic artists who draft their work by hand will sometimes sell the original prints. And if they’re lucky, the better webcomics even get published, turning them into a shiny, new physical commodity.

Sadly, it won’t be long before product placement becomes another viable source of income for webcomics. (Some are already embracing it.) The webcomic PvP, which partnered with Wizards of the Coast for funding, may have set the standard for webcomic product placement deals. The hope is that webcomics remain open and transparent about their relationships with these corporations, though that’s iffy.

In the end, as with other internet media, the viewers are the real commodity.

On The Media

USA Today

Warner Bros.

Iron Man movie – Marvel

Comic Rank

SMBC Donate Page

Something*Positive

AOL News

Least I Could Do

Comics Alliance

PvPonline

Wizards of the Coast

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