Robot 6

Webcomics creator tries the honor system

Frank Page has been drawing Bob the Squirrel since 2002—”in internet years, that makes the strip as old as the last ice age,” he said in an e-mail—and he draws much of his inspiration from everyday life. “90% of what happens to me in my real life, whether it is ugly, embarrassing or not, gets put in the strip,” he said. “It’s that willingness to show the blemishes that really speaks to my readers. Anyone who draws a daily comic strip will agree that the process of creating is simultaneously the best therapy and the quickest route to insanity.”

Perhaps that’s why he hit on what seems at first like a crazy idea: He put together a 22-page comic telling the origin story of the title character and invited readers to download it and pay whatever they think is fair. So how’s that going? I was curious, so I e-mailed Frank a couple of questions, and he was kind enough to respond. While donations were “all over the map,” he said, “people seem to be comfortable with the $3-$5 range,” which he characterized as “very fair.”

Quick Q&A after the jump.

Robot 6: Why did you decided to go this route, and how is it going so far?

Frank Page: Originally, I was going to do a comic book. I had done one shot comics in the past and they sold relatively well. But, I had already done that. I wasn’t going to learn anything by sticking with what I knew. If graduate school taught me anything it was that sometimes you need to dive first, learn to swim second. So that’s where the exclusive digital download came into my little thought process. I mean, why not? The readers get their comics immediately, I get feedback immediately and my start-up costs are practically nothing. The “pay-what-you-can” concept was just put there to see what would happen. If it worked, it worked… if not, then i’d re-tool it. So far the response has been great. I’m very pleased with the results of the experiment… and it’s making me think a little bigger. To paraphrase one of my Bob book titles: “mistakes are learning experiences…”  There are definitely more digital comics on the horizon.

Robot 6: Are people buying the book, and are they paying or freeloading?

Frank: People are definitely responding. Honestly, I was prepared for there to be a lot, if not total, freeloading. I really had no expectations other than to see what would happen and if there was a demand for it. 70% of the downloaders contributed something. The amounts varied of course… The people that did pay more than made up for those that did not. It really made me feel good to see that, even with the option of not paying for content, that most of my fans did. My fans are the best.

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Comments

10 Comments

Fantastic experiment – and I look forward to hearing how Frank does with the pay-what-you-want approach. If nothing else, I think it’s a great way to provide even more exposure for the artist’s work.

Excuse me, but this story stinks to high heaven.

Could we get some real numbers here please, instead of this Leiber-style hype?

I just looked at that website, and it has an Alexa ranking of less than 23,000,000. Which means almost no one reads the thing. If it gets ten page views a day, that guy is lucky.

For all we know, 70% of downloaders means him and his half dozen friends. This is ridiculous. Why do people fall for this unquantified data?

Real numbers, and not percentages and graphs with no baseline. This looks like a truly lame attempt to hype a comic virtually no one reads. 70% equals what?

Googam son of Goom

July 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Mikanew misses the point.

Right back atcha, pal.

There are plenty of webcomics which do a hellofalot better numbers than this, and hey’re barely eking out an existence. The point is, this story is nothing but lame hype.

Cat and Girl has at least 10,000 readers and the artists posts real numbers instead of puff piece crap like this. Let’s see some real numbers and stop pushing press releases that don’t tell anyone anything.

This is just transparent attempt to get free press without any data to back anything up. Just because this guy says he gets 70%, what the heck does that mean? Let’s see real evidence, let’s see what the truth is. Maybe this guy will be able to puff himself into a free story on Techdirt and keep people peeing in their pants with glee about the fairy story of getting a 70% return on their free downloads.

Or maybe people could go read Cat and Girl’s real numbers and see what the truth of the financing of webcomics is really like.

mikanew…you strike me as a passionate type of person. Judging by the way you approached your comments you either have something against squirrels or something against me. Either way, opinions are opinions and I respect your right to let them be known.

I admit it… before the entire internet…I don’t have big numbers. There…are you happy? But so what? Does the bar band that tours up and down the highway, playing gigs to maybe three dozen people a night lack any passion or talent of a band that plays to 30,000 a night? If anything, that little band has even MORE passion and drive…otherwise why bother going to the next gig? I don’t draw my comic strip for the numbers, I draw my comic strip because I love it. If i only had three readers and one of them was my mother, then I would still be drawing it…if that bugs you, that’s something you have to work out on your own.

For the record, I was approached with questions from robot 6. I did not solicit anything. I was more than happy to talk briefly about this little experiment. I think your major beef is that robot 6 approached a lesser known cartoonist rather than a more “web-stablished” artist. Again, that’s out of my hands and something you have to make peace with. History is full of big names…famous people doing famous things. What history fails to convey is that the unnamed, faceless masses are REALLY the ones that made history… that built the roads, bridges, taught, lived, fought and died for something… for the future faceless masses. Without them, there’d be a whole lot less out there to complain about.

Finally, I’m flattered that you think I have 6 friends. With that many, I’d easily be able to get lost in the crowd.

Brigid Alverson

July 14, 2011 at 3:41 am

@Mikanew

I love writing a good, numbers-filled post about the webcomics business model; I was the one who posted here about Cat and Girl. This wasn’t really intended to be that, and for the record, I read about Frank’s experiment and reached out to him—he didn’t send me a press release.

What interested me about Frank’s story is that it’s an experiment in human nature. I wanted to know if people would make a voluntary donation or just download the comic for free. Also, with all the discussion going on right now about the right price point for ebooks and digital comics, I was curious to see how much people really think a comic is worth. Letting them set their own price is a good way to find that out.

I don’t believe Frank makes his living off of Bob the Squirrel, and this wasn’t about traffic or getting rich. It was really more about the perceived value of the comic, a question of human nature rather than statistics.

I’ve never read this webcomic before, and I loathe paying for digital things like .pdf’s, but I just went and bought a copy (for the suggested $5) because I love it when artists do this kind of thing, and it’s cool that Frank showed up to comment. Time to get back to work, but this should be a nice read for this evening. :)

Thanks for the confirmation.

Puff it is.

Good luck with your comic.

Now to go read some info about webcomics that really matters.

Good job being an anonymous internet troll, Mikanew. Your check’s in the mail.

Have fun drinking the KoolAid, Corey.

Some of us aren’t dopey enough to swallow whatever puff Marvel puts out, and we’re not dopey enough to swallow small press hype, either.

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