Could Doonesbury Learn Anything From XKCD?
from the help,-I'm-trapped-in-a-newspaper-factory-with-no-business-model dept
Via Poynter Online, there's a recent interview with Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau where he talks about his post-newspaper media plans and what he sees as his future options while newspapers face significant declines in their circulation numbers.
Trudeau continues on, saying that he believes that e-readers are promising because so many people are happy to pay for iPhone apps and Kindle content. He also says that his livelihood doesn't seem to be threatened in the short-term because only "big newspapers" with loads of debt are really going under -- and most small newspapers are still getting by and can support his line of work for the foreseeable future. But, essentially, Trudeau sounds like he's given up on his own plans for making Doonesbury into a business outside of syndication. (Or he's being much too modest about the "little money" he earns from his website, and he doesn't want to offend his current newspaper benefactors.) In any case, he seems to envision a giant news consortium that will be able to retain subscribers due to a form of monopoly advantage. And if that's really the future of journalism, that doesn't sound too promising.
"Doonesbury" has been on the Web for 15 years, and the site actually makes a little money -- unheard-of for media sites. But it's not really a plan, just a presence. I don't believe there's anything I can do personally to prepare for a post-newspaper future, other than hope that the large media companies will come to their senses and form a gated Web collective along the lines of cable TV. They need to form a news utility, financed by subscription or micropayments because going it alone has been disastrous for all of them.
Additionally, though, Trudeau asserts that the "Web is a lost cause" because everyone thinks content on the web should be free. But that statement directly contradicts the work of online cartoonists such as Randall Munroe and his xkcd webcomic (which just happens to be one of my favorite examples of a "free" online comic strip). Munroe has a significant following for xkcd and has proven that "free" can be a sustainable way to promote and publish his work. So can we help enlighten Trudeau? Munroe sells prints, t-shirts, a book, and even sponsored comics. Is there a path to becoming the "Trent Reznor of webcomics" for Trudeau? Or is there something unique about Doonesbury that makes it impossible for it to take advantage of "free" distribution?