Comics Press: Who’s next?

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Given the week’s events, looking at the above photo by Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci taken at the C2E2 bar—the creme de la creme of comics internet media, Newsarama’s Albert Ching, CBR’s Kiel Phegley, The Beat, ComicVine’s Tony G.Man Guerrero and IGN’s Joey Exposito—you might be forgiven for wondering which member of the comic press would soon have a big red X drawn over his or her face. It was that kind of week.

It started last Friday with AOL’s recently hired brand manager Susan Lyne calling staff from the music blogs and Comics Alliance and telling them their brands were done; the move was sudden. Lyne’s background is in running Gilt and Martha Stewart, and despite helping get Lost on the air when she was head of ABC Entertainment, it’s not the kind of background that’s very nerd-friendly. Comics Alliance was performing well traffic wise, but Lyne is looking to rebuild AOL’s brands overall, mostly like with video.

So what’s left: the content and the people. Comcis Alliance had three employees: E-i-C Joe Hughes, and senior editors Andy Khouri and Caleb Goellner. Additionally, per the comments, Chris Sims was a contracted freelancer.And what about all that content, including internet classics like The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’ and FunkyWatch, a monthly roundup of the month’s most depressing Tom Batiuk strips. Efforts are underway to preserve the content, but getting anything away from a big slash and burn corporation that just shuts you down on a Friday afternoon without so much as an Arrevederci doesn’t sound like the most likely thing ever.

While the departure of Comics Alliance left fans despondent, Tuesday’s departure of MTV Geek editor Valerie Gallaher seemed like an ominous follow-up. However, I’m told that MTV Geek is a favorite of MTV Networks head Tom Akel, who IS a certified nerd-friendly executive (he formerly headed up his own comic book company, Heroverse). While the comics media dome lost—for the moment—a powerful personalty in Gallaher, MTV Geek remains a pretty standard movies/toys/Doctor Who nerd site, with the occasional comics news.

Among the most despondent over the week’s events was the person—or persons—known only as ComicsBlogger, who had been a Twitter watchdog over the most prominent comics blogs for misdeed ranging from headline typos (sadly, a regular occurrence here) to more content based sins. With occasional antagonist Comics Alliance gone, like the super villain who only lives to thwart one superhero, ComicsBlogger was moved to shut down, with the farewell Comics Journalism is dead and here’s why:

1: There is no money in it. Page views and ad impressions are the conventional way to revenue for bloggers. To keep traffic up, the content must flow. 

2: But the content is poor. Much of the content comes from press releases. Be they comic book movie news, solicits, or approved interviews, most of it is pre-written and disseminated accordingly.

3: However, publishers don’t care. It’s all for naught. No matter how much traffic comic bloggers generate or how careful they are to stay within publishers’ good graces, they can’t compete with The New York Times or USA Today.

4: In fact, nobody cares. Original content, good reporting, and writing that goes beyond the surface of, say, attaching a quip at the end of a quote from another blog tend to get the least amount of traffic.

He had me until the fourth point. Original content is the ONLY thing that gets any traffic any more, even if it’s a roundup of “The 12 cutest photos of kittens being given mouth to mouth resuscitation.” The posts that get the most traffic at The Beat are not the tossed off links and images.

What made Comics Alliance so important and loved was that people got paid to write for it, and three people got paid enough to sit down and write as few as ONE post a day. The editorial mandate of CA as far as I could tell was almost ludicrously luxuriant by current internet standards: 12 blog posts a day by four or five people. (The CA feed stays in my RSS reader, and there it will stay until someday I shuffle it off to the dreaded “dead feed” folder.) In contrast, other folks I know who work for websites are expected to write a minimum of 12 posts a day BY THEMSELVES. CA’s editorials—by far the part of the site that I enjoyed most—were lengthy, researched and showed signs of being revised before posting, an extravagant bonus for 98% of internet journalism.

I don’t know if most other AOL blogs were set up on other similarly bountiful plans, but it was definitely a rarity in this day and age. (MTV Geek has a similar low post count but fewer writers. Robot 6 has a lot of [excellent] contributors, but I believe none of them are staffers, and my impression is that like almost all the good writers about comics, they have day jobs.)

If you’ve been reading any of the posts tagged “Meta” on The Beat this year, you know that fretting over the lack of remuneration for writing about comics—anywhere, not just the Internet—is a gnawing concern for many. Content farms have mostly been put out to pasture by Google—who needs content farms when you have three kids starting up their own entertainment blog to get free shit every day—and every network of niche sites has its “geek news” outlet. Content is still king, but gets buried in the slurry of SEO.

It’s getting harder and harder to just launch a website about comics or nerds, or anything—as this story about the AOL contraction points out, music websites are falling by the wayside and those are supposed to be hip and trendy. I hear about this venture or that one starting up and I’m like “Good luck.” The business model isn’t suddenly going to get any better. After all, Comics Alliance might have survived if it had been under the Huffington Post where NO ONE gets paid. Is that a choice at all?

Someone asked me this week “What does this mean for The Beat?” It means the same thing it does every night, Pinky. We’re going to take over the world. Not really—we do what we do, and try to do it okay. TRY, ComicsBlogger, Try. As usual when I go out in public, at C2E2 a lot of people were blowing smoke up my ass complimenting the site and the writers, enough to make me shake my fist at the heavens once more and cry “We shall never surrender!”

At least my general business model—owning my own content and staying independent—has meant that I’m still here. I don’t have to worry that some woman in a suit is going to look at my numbers on any random Friday and shut me down. I may not be able to pay my web developer enough to keep my site from crashing now and again, but by golly, I’m my own boss here, for better or worse. The other day Tom Spurgeon tweeted:


Or as I like to put it: No one is ever going to care about your work more than you do.

Is blogging dead? As a business model, yes. As an obsession and vocation for some? No. Because at the end of they day we all just want three things: good sex, comfortable shoes and a warm place to be snarky. All things considered, blogging is probably the least expensive of the three.

Comments

  1. Most HuffPost staff these days are full time employees with full benefits etc.
    If CA became HuffPost Comics it would likely still be around, just like Aollatino, Black Voices, aol small business, etc have survived under Arianna, despite low performance. HuffPost cross-subsidizes lower performing channels with higher performing ones.

  2. Voiceofreason says:

    I hate to say it but I have to agree with Comics Blogger. Well-written articles are worth reading but the massive proliferation of blogging and independent/amateur media over the past decades has rendered even thoughtful criticism a dime a dozen. There’s no future in opinion blogging because of the supply-side glut provided by the web. I’m sorry to say it but blogging and criticism in general aren’t career options. Everyone says do what you want and the money will follow but the problem with making money doing something fun is exactly that it’s fun, which means nobody will pay you to do what everyone else is willing to do for free. Fun makes money move in the opposite direction, if work were fun, I’D pay THEM. Blogging is both fun and easy and the only hard part is drumming up funding. If web 2.0 over the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that the quality of critical writing done by people who count it as a career is roughly the same as those who count it as a hobby (which basically amounts to anyone with an opinion in the first place).

  3. People who say there isn’t enough good comics criticism simply aren’t looking hard enough. If you’re good enough and work hard enough, you can turn writing/blogging/criticism into a career. Comics Alliance getting shut down doesn’t immediately signal an end to professional online commentary and criticism.

  4. Voiceofreason says:

    I didn’t say there isn’t enough, I said there is too much, so much so that it outweighs demand. Comics Alliance doesn’t immediately signal anything but it is definitely symptomatic of a larger change: criticism and opinion are devalued commodities by way of supply-side glut and anyone with even the most basic, elementary understanding of free market economics realizes you can’t sell what Joe Amateur is giving away for free.

  5. If Joe Amateur is any good then he won’t be amateur for long. If he’s rubbish, people will ignore him. Nobody wants to hire a writer who slanders people, can’t spell, has no grasp of grammar and makes stories up. There are thousands and thousands of ignored blogs, because people flock to consistency in quality and content.

  6. Chris Hero says:

    Like S said, a lot of people at HuffPo are paid. I don’t know how it works out, but some of the contributors have full time salaries and some are volunteer. Politics is always going to have a much bigger audience than comics, though.

  7. Zainab Akhtar says:

    ‘Blogging is fun and EASY’

    Why did nobody tell me this?

  8. Voiceofreason says:

    Well now you’re acting like writing reviews that “feature” correct spelling and basic punctuation and aren’t full of libel is such an extraordinary and special talent it merits remuneration but that’s just not the case. Almost every clear-thinking adult is capable of such and many, many, many do it for fun, for free, on weekends. These qualities that you claim separate pros from amateurs are just baseline, obvious technique that we all learn in high school. Please point me to a piece of comics journalism so well-written and insightful that any of thousands and thousands of people with a BA and a spare hour on a Saturday evening couldn’t produce. I don’t need to argue my point too extensively, it’s evidenced by the sheer number of blogs already proving it. If the world valued comic book reviews, there would be multitudes making a living off it, instead of just a couple dozen or so.

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    “Nobody wants to hire a writer who slanders people, can’t spell, has no grasp of grammar and makes stories up.”

    Thank God I’m not counting on anyone to hire me, then.

    Heidi, I stand behind my description of the lost of CA as the loss of four full-time gigs — I got that from the CA people. I followed up to ask why it was described to me that way and I was told Chris was a salaried contractor rather than an employee but was considered staff. Arguing the point seems pretty fruitless — it’s two different conceptions — but that’s where I got that descriptive.

  10. Tom Spurgeon says:

    And yes, I believe that people writing well for shit-pay and offering shit-pay for work that deserves greater reward does have an effect on the landscape for those that can only do that sort of work at a higher return and those that would like to.

  11. Zainab Akhtar says:

    I think a big part of the problem is the perception of writers/critics. Good writing is bloody time consuming, and yet people view you either as a PR mouthpiece, or controversy seekers, or think you shouldn’t be paid because what you’re doing is fun. Writing well is an art and talent, and no, I don’t believe there’s a plethora of it on the internet, yet it’s not viewed in the same manner as other creatives.

  12. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Getting paid a salary to sit at home playing games and reading comics and then writing a few paragraphs about it in a blog post every couple days had to end sometime. Just no real revenue generation in it in a world of ad blocking plug-ins and traffic stealing fans that will do just as good a job for free as a hobby.

    But what happened to Comics Alliance may have been inevitable anyway. They tended to post news up to a full day later than other outlets (including blogs run by fans for free) despite having salaried staff. Another telling problem was the lack of video content. Why were all those TV show and MST3K style movie reviews done as text pieces anyway? In 2013?

  13. Johnny Memeonic says:

    I followed up to ask why it was described to me that way and I was told Chris was a salaried contractor rather than an employee but was considered staff.

    Hiring people as “contractors” rather than as your own employees is often done to get out of paying benefits.

  14. I’d like links to some of the amateur writers who’re on the internet, please

  15. Charles Knight says:

    “I’d like links to some of the amateur writers who’re on the internet, please”

    I’m not saying he makes masses of money (because I don’t know) – but Philip Sandifer (http://www.philipsandifer.com/) seems to have a decent little business out of producing very well written prose on Doctor Who.

    He writes the blog posts which he then turns into books (which people should buy, I have) and now he has done a kickerstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2027287602/tardis-eruditorum-volume-1-william-hartnell-second) where he asked for $1000 and has $10,000 with 12 days to go – so I think there is a market for quality target niche content.

  16. Chris Hero says:

    This is just my take on it, but I think with the terrible economy, a LOT of people are working in jobs they hate just to get by. It kinda stings them when they see someone who has a great job lose it and then have an outpouring of sympathy for the loss of the great job. Also, I think a lot of people look at comic bloggers as having an easy hobby and there’s a lot of envy when they’re able to monetize it.

    I can only speak from my own experience, but about 9 months ago I decided to take the plunge and start making my own comics so I could better understand the comics I read. It’s damn hard to work a full-time, boring job and then find the enthusiasm every night to break out the pencils and brushes to start making comics.

    Doing something you love is hard when you have to work a job you hate to pay the bills. Most people will never lift a finger to do the thing they love. Instead, they’ll take all their anger out on those who are finding the opportunity to do what they love.

    I dunno…I just think the changing of the economy to a global one is hard because it seems like the early 1900s again. There are a handful of really huge companies running everything – like AOL with on-line media – and the workers of the world are kind of at the mercy of their whims. Plus, with the Internet, more and more of the good jobs in the US and elsewhere are being outsourced to countries with poor economies. Most of the US legal work is done by people in India who passed the US bar and are paid like $10 grand/year in US dollars. It’s the same for engineering, accounting, soooo many fields.

    It won’t be long until Marvel and DC comics are entirely produced in India, the Philipines, Guam, etc.

  17. “Original content is the ONLY thing that gets any traffic any more” If this was true, Tom Spurgeon would be a media mogul by now.

  18. The Beat says:

    Tom S: I’ve corrected the info. Thanks.

  19. “Getting paid a salary to sit at home playing games and reading comics and then writing a few paragraphs about it in a blog post every couple days had to end sometime. Just no real revenue generation in it in a world of ad blocking plug-ins and traffic stealing fans that will do just as good a job for free as a hobby. ”

    That’s the opposite of what the Beat story says though.

  20. Everyone asking for examples of pro this or amateur that should realize that Zainab Akhtar won this thread like 8 posts ago.

  21. Hats off to Heidi, the CA staff, Tom, or ANYone who tries to do this as their primary gig. I review and write about comics now and then, but I’ve never had the cajones–or maybe the interest–to chuck the ol’ day job. My desire was to write pretty in-depth content, not simply vomiting up press releases.

    So I decided to make nice with my local alterna-weekly here in Oregon. Happily, the paper has some nerd-friendly editors on staff, but no one was covering comics regularly, so I tried to be a bit of an unofficial specialist in my freelancing duties. No national competition in local print, you see. And as I fly under the radars of the PR depts, I am less likely to torque someone off at Marvel or DC.

    Long (boring?) story short: now I am paid a small amount to produce comics journalism, once or twice a year. It’s infrequent, and it doesn’t pay my mortgage, but it sure does scratch the itch.

    Self-serving department: If anyone’s interested in reading some of my work…

    Superhero art museum exhibition: http://bit.ly/zBSAPi
    iZombie’s real-life locations: http://bit.ly/107ozJ0
    Fave GNs 2012: http://bit.ly/16vJSLu
    Fave GNs 2011: http://bit.ly/1024HLU

  22. Johnny Memeonic says:

    That’s the opposite of what the Beat story says though.

    What part of the following sentences from the article were unclear to you?

    Is blogging dead? As a business model, yes.

    1: There is no money in it. Page views and ad impressions are the conventional way to revenue for bloggers. To keep traffic up, the content must flow.
    He had me until the fourth point.

    Content farms have mostly been put out to pasture by Google—who needs content farms when you have three kids starting up their own entertainment blog to get free shit every day—and every network of niche sites has its “geek news” outlet.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] the AOL nerd-culture site that was just shuttered this week. Over at The Beat, Heidi MacDonald has a great write-up about why the site mattered, what might be next for its former staffers and what its closing might [...]

  2. [...] Beat laments the closing of Comics Alliance and the departure of MTV Geek editor Valerie Gallaher, asking “Who’s Next?”, addressing the increasing difficulty in maintaining a comics/geek website in the current [...]

  3. [...] AOL killed off its popular Comics Alliances site this week. Is this the beginning of the end for comic book blogging or is the end of blogging for profit already here and we’re all just hanging for dear life? [Comic Beat] [...]

  4. [...] writing other things as well to do so. The people who keep at it do so mostly because they’re notably stubborn. Most all could make more money elsewhere, and after a while, you grow up and want a family or to [...]

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