Workshop Mailbag: Micropayments

In our efforts to get more feedback from everyone – we’re clearly not the definitive experts – we’re opening up our mailbag to you.

This will be a weekly feature this summer so if you have questions you want answered head over to the contact form and give us the isssssuuuue. If we don’t cover it on the podcasts, we’ll get to it here.

Each week you’ll get a reader issue covered by one of our Workshop gang – this week it’s Ken Drab from Rick the Stick.

Question: Geoff Hassing asked: I got one for you. Micropayments. I’m working with a micropayments company on developing a web comics viewer for cartoonists and web comic artists. But aside from having your current comic free and your previous 2 weeks of comics for free, then charge 25 cents to view archives, or offer an advanced preview of next weeks comic now for 10 cents, that kind of thing. What do you think would be the best way for web cartoonists to utilize a micropayment system for their comics on the internet?

Ken Drab drinking with Scott Kurtz

Scott Kurtz (top right) does not endorse this photo, goon or website.

Ken says:

This is a great question Geoff and one I’ve been doing research on myself. It’s extremely relevant right now because of the consumer’s perception of paying for content that’s slowly evolved over the last couple of years and what lies in our near future.

Personally, I credit Apple for the consumer shift. Specifically people paying for apps and ‘one-click’ access. And in case you were thinking it, Amazon deserves a nod as well. For instance, two years ago no one wanted to pay for the New York Times but today you have to pay for their content – and people will. And you’ll soon see other’s follow along.

But… one might say… they are the New York Times. For their micropayment, they have tons of content developed daily and a legacy and brand that they leverage.

For our micropayment, we have to fight the perceptive value of comics online (meaning little value) with thousands upon thousands offering theirs for free.

Of course of many comics online, most languish in obscurity and generally don’t stick with it long enough to get their audience. Obviously, as some point creating a great comic will justify asking for a micropayment. I think the real problem is standing out – creating accessibility. Developing a mechanism (in your instance a webcomics viewer) to do that is great, and I admire your entrepreneurial initiative, but in the end who has ready access to it?

That’s why I’m eagerly anticipating Apple’s upcoming release of ‘NewsStand’ with the iOS5 later this year. Actually, I’m excited about the prospect of where this is leading us. Fine, if you must know – I’m as giddy as a school girl! OMGOMGOMG!!!


For those who don’t know, aaaaand although it may appear as such, this isn’t an ad for Apple. The reason I’m “enthusiastic” about the possibilities of NewsStand is that it is basically a direct line between your comic and your audience’s iOS device. For the immediate future though, it’s initially, for magazines and newspapers.

That’s significant because it’s automated. When your new comics are published while your audience is sleeping, it automatically updates for them so it’s already downloaded and ready and waiting for them the next morning. They can even read it offline.

One problem, you could argue, is that Apple will presumably take their 30% cut. But my argument is 30% is a hell of a deal for giving you the audience and one-click accessibility that most of us NEVER dreamed of. I look at it as a distribution cost. Another problem is that it’s exclusive to the iOS (read Apple products). I assume there are or will be similar offerings or products for the Android and Windows markets – without knowing who they are, I go back to what makes the Apple model stand out. One-click accessibility.

Soooo, way down here is where I answer Geoff’s question: in my opinion, the best way is to use NewsStand. Since it’s going to handle audience, distribution and payment for me, I can’t wait to get on board!

That being said, the next two questions I am looking into are: what format and what development will need to evolve to help artists publish into NewsStand and would it be more economical to both creator and consumer if multiple titles were housed under one entity (distributor)?

Those are my thoughts, but we hope to hear what other Webcomic creators are thinking. Is the consumer mindset evolving and are we moving towards a socially acceptable pay-for-content model? Is it worth developing your own micropayment system? Are you ready to pay for the comics you read?

Posted in Featured News, Workshop Mailbag and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. I think micropayments could be useful for setting up a recurring payment, like a donate drip payment, $1/month or something. The only problem with that is, I hear, that places that provide that service like PayPal, charge way too much per transaction to make it worth doing, but I haven’t looked in to it recently, that may have changed since they rolled it out.

    On a semi-related note, I don’t like the idea of charging to access the archive. If you look at all the “big dogs” by which I mean all the comicers that are clearly making a living at it, PA, PvP, GWS, QC, XKCD, C&H, etc, none of them charge for access to the archive. In fact I can’t think of a single webcomic that does, except for the rare ones where their entire model is gated subscription, which is usually ones with adult content. Even Scott Adams has every Dilbert he’s done all the way back to 1989 available for free online. I think comics that are struggling along looking for any drizzle of income need to take the advice that Ken has repeated over and over on the podcast, which is to build a better product – grow your audience and make your money off the ‘true fans’, don’t lock 90% of your content behind a pay wall. It will be that much harder to build an audience if they can’t freely read up on the back story. Also consider that the stuff way back in the archive is generally any comic’s weakest material. Go to PA or QC and hit that “first” button and be prepared to recoil in horror.

    As far as newsstand goes… that definitely has possibilities. It’s not like a free, dedicated app for your webcomic couldn’t deliver the same thing, but if MewsStand trains people to go to this single source each morning, getting people to pay an extra $0.05 per page or $1/month to get at your content, then I could see people doing that simply as a matter of convenience.

    • Good stuff Dave! I have a confession – I’ve been toying with the idea of putting my PRE-2011 stuff behind a “donation” wall. I’ll explain in a separate comment. I appreciate your thoughts!

  2. For browser-based content, I still think micro payments are a mistake. I don’t like the idea of website paywalls (or micropaywalls, whatever) and I actually write and draw a book. I doubt a regular ol’ reader will think the idea is any more acceptable than I do.

    But the ability to package an issue into PDF/CBZ format and let people download it for a buck without a huge hassle? Yeah, that’s handy. As is the ability to get people to subscribe to your comic via iOS and release a new issue/compilation to them every quarter for just a dollar. That’s the type of revenue stream that can slowly build into enough of a snowball to make this creation process worth our while.

    I think the key to making money in webcomics moving forward is going to involve keeping the website comic free and making a dime here and there from iOS/Android downloads, Kindle, print books, desktop downloads, etc. etc. The website should probably remain a gateway drug to your comic, with readers giving you a whirl for free and then paying you down the line to read the comic on friendlier devices of their choosing.

    • I somewhat agree – as I mentioned, I think the consumer mindset is changing. Dropping a buck or less on something will become less and less of a hurdle. I’ll explain more in a separate comment below.

  3. We’re not just fighting the past perceptions of low worth per-page, we’re fighting the present too. How many webcomics quit after 6-12 months? Would you want to get a yearly subscription for something that may not even last that long?

    There is also a matter of quality and consistency. When people subscribe to something, it’s probably because they have an idea of the value that they’re going to get. It’s reliable, not just in the sense that it’s on time, but also in the sense that it’s going to have a certain type of content with a certain type of mood. Love or hate the write-by-committee, edited-to-death and micro-managed branding, when you get a monthly subscription to Marvel or DC or Archie, you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to appear in your mailbox each month. Webcomics, however, can change on a dime. Creators have incredible opportunity and freedom to tell the stories they want, even if their readers might not want them to! I think there’s a reason that this model’s been used with mature content, and it’s not just because sex sells. It’s because the client has a clear expectation for what they will receive.

    So it’s not that I’m against micro-payments themselves, but that I think they’re a poor match to the market. People won’t pay for an unknown product because they don’t know if you’ll stick around or have consistent content. By the time you PROVE yourself, your readership is used to getting it for free. Self-perpetuating problem.

    The exception being what Ken has suggested, which is paying more for a SERVICE (delivery) than the product itself. There might be other services that could be built around a webcomic that would be based on micro-payments, but I just don’t see the comic itself being as successful on a micro-payment system.

  4. Micropayments?

    This all sounds somehow familiar;

    Oh wait, that is because it is. Micropayments have been tried any number of times and what seems to have been proven time and time again is that people are unwilling to pay for content they can get for free.

    As for the Apple “NewsStand” we’ll see how that pans out, if Apple can’t make it work than it seems unlikely the idea of Micropayments will ever take hold.

    • Micropayments seems to have struck a nerve for you the way Comic Sans has for me! Just because it hasn’t worked doesn’t mean it won’t work. One quote I love is “before it could be done, it couldn’t be done”. It took Edison 1000 tries to get make the right lightbulb!

      • I am a great believer in the concept of micropayments, I would love to see it work sometime. I agree that quote.
        I was actually going to write an article on NewsStand myself, and implications to the world of micropayments.

  5. I was going to post a separate comment for this, but for the sake of making my point )and hey – I have the keys to the site), I’ll just make a separate post for this. I think after a couple of days, the articles seem to lose a little steam and I think this conversation is worth having. I’ll edit this post with the URL hopefully later today.

  6. Pingback: Webcomic Alliance - Open for Debate: Micro or Teeny-Tiny-Payments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *