From Infinite To Scarce: xkcd Goes The Book Route

from the the-way-things-work-these-days dept

A bunch of folks have been sending in the NY Times story about how the online comic xkcd is going to be putting out a book, and that it’s being done avoiding the traditional book publishing process. There are some key quotes in there, including:

In fact, the xkcd story previews the much more likely future of books in which they are prized as artifacts, not as mechanisms for delivering written material to readers. This is print book as vinyl record — admired for its look and feel, its cover art, and relative permanence — but not so much for convenience.

And then there’s the more important point about Randall Munroe not worrying about copying of the content — and instead focusing on the other direction:

Publishing a book is an extension of the selling of items like T-shirts and posters, which pays the bills, he said, to a “free culture” mind-set about the cartoons themselves. “We have been encouraging people to share things, saying that it is a good business decision,” he said….

One trick in transferring the material from online to print has been how to recreate the “title text” that comments on the strip when your cursor hovers over it.

“It’s not supposed to be a punch line, but hopefully if you didn’t laugh, you’ll laugh at this,” he said. The title text will appear where the tiny copyright notice would appear on a traditional strip.

Does that mean that the book won’t carry a traditional copyright and instead take its lead from the online comic strip itself, which Mr. Munroe licenses under Creative Commons, allowing noncommercial re-use as long as credit is given?

“To anyone who wants to photocopy, bind, and give a copy of the book to their loved one — more power to them,” he said. “He/She will likely be disappointed that you’re so cheap, though.”

It’s been clear from pretty much the beginning that Munroe understands that getting more widely known is a lot more important than worrying about “piracy,” and it’s great to see him take that attitude even further.

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Comments on “From Infinite To Scarce: xkcd Goes The Book Route”

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17 Comments
harknell (profile) says:

Re: lack of history in mainstream media

My first thought in reading the article was “man, these print guys are clueless”. As you point out, webcomics have been printing “dead tree” editions of their comics for up to 10 years now. Hell, Penny Arcade are now into how many volumes? PVP online has how many printed comic books? You can’t throw a stick without hitting a webcomic who has a book out there. And for the most part they are self-printed (excepting the 2 guys above mentioned done by Darkhorse). Kind of late to the game guys.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would honestly love to know how well Randall Munroe is doing financially. He’s certainly coy about it; from this article:

It pays for the apartment, posting [webcomics], and enough so I can still have an electric skateboard,” Munroe said with a laugh.”

(“It” being selling T-shirts and speaking engagements, at the time).

It’s his prerogative to keep such information to himself, but the reason I’m curious is because if at least one room in his house doesn’t resemble Uncle Scrooge’s Money-Bin, I’d be fairly sad. He certainly brings a lot more to society than most people I know, including me, but my (much more mundane) job covers the apartment, an electric skateboard, truly inimitable health insurance, and a lot of disposable income aside. If he isn’t substantially wealthier than I am (and I am not), then I’m kind of bummed.

Wikipedia lists about 30 self-supporting Webcomics: that is, about 30 people are known to make their living doing businesses primarily surrounding their Webcomics. According to that page, it counts not just income from the comics directly (e.g., advertising income from their sites) but also ancillary businesses like selling books and T-shirts, plus donations.

But only 30? Is that number just exceedingly low? Shouldn’t the long tail show us many more – orders of magnitude more? 30 is about the same number of comics I’d see in the Sunday paper; so is there really only enough economic room for the top 30 comic-drawers? And are the “superstars” of the Webcomics world just superstars on the Web – but struggling to make ends meet in real life?

If the number is low, fine – what’s the real number? Are these top 30 really real-life superstars, banking their millions? If not, why? Are they just unable to come up with business models that can turn hundreds of thousands of fans into hundreds of thousands of dollars? And what do we tell the artists that aren’t in the top 30 or even 300?

harknell (profile) says:

Re: real world economics of webcomics

If you pull back a bit and remove the word webcomic from the question (so it’s now, how many non-big business people make their full money around simply updating a website) it becomes a bit more obvious that the numbers can’t be absolutely huge. The webcomic that I’m a part of makes money, but I have a regular job as does Onezumi in addition. The question also comes down to how much you need to make a year before you consider it enough to be the only thing you do. Many webcomic people live in the south, mid west, or other locations that cost way less than NJ where we live. You would have to make way more to live in NJ. In most cases people treat their online comic work as a secondary small business that rakes in a decent return.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

How many dead-tree comic artists exist today, or at any given time in the past?

I am not much of a comics reader, but I can’t believe that there was ever more than a couple of dozen “dailies” (Peanuts, Family Circus, Mary Worth, Garfield, Far Side, Tank McNamara, …)

Am I missing something? I personally can’t see regularly following more than a dozen or so comics at any given time. What time I would have devoted to comics in the past, I now spend following other things (blogs, techdirt, etc.)

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