Order of the Stick D&D webcomic breaking Kickstarter records

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56 Responses to “Order of the Stick D&D webcomic breaking Kickstarter records”

  1. TimBowen says:

    As happy as I am to see crowd-funding projects doing so well, I am fairly jealous that my campaign has only raised $3 so far. :(

  2. petticoat says:

    If people are asking for donations from the commons they should contribute to the commons.

    • Dan Miller says:

      He’s offering some pretty sweet rewards, so it’s not like anyone’s being bilked.  I chipped in $10 because I’m an OotS completist as well as a fan.

      • jere7my says:

        Indeed. I pledged $37, and for that I’ll get $31 worth of book ($25 + shipping), a fridge magnet, and something like 4 exclusive PDF stories (including a parody of the Dark Sun campaign setting I’m really looking forward to). So I’m really only giving him an extra buck or two, depending how you figure it, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a drop in the bucket beside the ocean of free entertainment he’s given me for the last few years.

        • jere7my says:

          Aaaaand now it looks likely that I’m going to get a free OotS notepad and stickers with my pledge. I fully expect that by the end of this my $37 will get me a full-size replica Roy Greenhilt sword from Valyrian Steel, plus a butler to polish it on alternate Tuesdays.

    • Tichrimo says:

      Yeah, it’s not like he has been making (and continues to make) his webcomic available for free for the past seven years or anything.  

      Oh, wait…

    • JayeRandom says:

      What on earth is a “donation from the commons”, and where do you see anyone asking for one?  Rich Burlew is asking individuals to donate to his project, and they’re doing so.  How does “the commons” enter into it?  YKUTW. IDNTIMWYTIM.

    • Jason Poland says:

      Contributing to a Kickstarter campaign is not a donation.

  3. coffee100 says:

    With all due respect to the fine people at Order of the Stick, I sometimes wonder if the tip-jar business model is becoming just another mechanism by which the entertainment business is divided by the audience into the winning few and everyone else.

    It sure does seem to be promoted as “the answer” to every creative person’s funding needs.  The only problem is there is no discernible process by which people become more willing to part with their money just because someone slaps “Kickstarter” on the price tag.   By my understanding, either you win the lottery or you get $5 over 16 months.

    Successes like this are therefore neither repeatable nor instructive.  They are like those stories of 900 cooked steaks (or whatever) falling out of the sky in rural Nebraska.

    Consider for a moment the webcomic with artist(s) and writer(s) of comparable talent and drive who update consistently for 1-2 years, build a lot of expensive traffic and put out a book or two.   Almost to a title, their audience a) never buys anything b) never comments or e-mails c) never clicks on (or blocks) the ads and d) never donates.

    It’s almost as if they are playing to a theater full of people with their arms folded and sneers on their faces.   Which is fine, of course.   If you think something sucks, that’s your opinion.  So why do you keep coming back? 
    (This applies equally to e-books, podcasts, t-shirts, games, etc.)

    This is where creative people have a high likelihood of becoming very VERY cynical about the online market and concluding (sometimes with a high probability of accuracy) that their audience is taking bets on how long this dumbass can hold his breath and keep working with no income.

    One can almost envision the frat house members high-fiving each other as they are delivered their daily supply of unlimited free entertainment produced by artists inking pages at 1AM after work and six hours before class.

    Oh sure, they’ll buy something. Someday. But you better be prepared to work for free for at least 3-5 years before you see a dime.

    Can there be a balance here?  Or do audiences insist that there be a few popular artists and that everyone else give their stuff away (and work a second/third/fourth job) forever?    Wasn’t the hit-driven economy supposed to be a thing of the past when we started selling stuff online?

    • Milknut says:

      Wow, you are REALLY bitter. Let’s just slow down a little. Rich Burlew isn’t just any webcomic author. Before Buzzcomix went down OOTS was in the hall of fame after he simply asked fans to vote and put up some simple incentives. Other comics do this, too, but the success of that effort alone tells you something important: either his product is special, his fans are special, or both. I think it’s both. Rich creates reliably quality content with a unique angle. He writes truly memorable and lovable characters. He never seems to run out of high-quality jokes, and when he doesn’t use them he trades them for things like genuine human emotion. That comic draws you IN. His site has no ads. He never sells out. He creates high quality merchandise in order to support himself. He runs a forum that is heavily policed and yet it thrives and continues to grow.

      What does all of this add up to? Rich is the rare webcomic author that produces grade A material and has done so for many years. He has built up love and respect for him and his work by simply doing what he does best. And now his fans are rewarding him for it. I fail to see what is wrong with that. Just because other people work as hard as him does not mean it is wrong for him to be successful. The reason his Kickstarter is so ludicrously successful is simply that people love his work and want to support him.

      So what about everyone else? Quite honestly not everyone else creates an experience on the level of OOTS. I can only think of perhaps two other webcomics that I would judge to be on the same level as OOTS: Penny Arcade and Girl Genius. Maybe you don’t agree or you think someone else should be on the list. I enjoy many others, but these are my top three. You’ll notice that all three are financially successful. They are not good because they are successful financially. They were excellent from the very beginning and they stayed that way. There was no dip in quality and just when things seemed to level out they pushed their projects further. Penny Arcade has the biggest fanbase out of any webcomic ever. They don’t do Kickstarters, they run a convention. Can every webcomic do that? No. Why could Penny Arcade?

      I think the difference is this: they created a community. All three of these examples have a strong online community and they’ve built them and allowed them to grow. People feel like they belong on these sites and they are willing to open their wallets because they feel like they have a relationship with the author and each other.

      Just because this is the golden ideal does not mean this is what every webcomic can expect to experience. Kickstarter is not for every project. It’s not free money. It only works if you have something that people can get genuinely excited about. It just so happens that printing OOTS is something 5,288 people (so far) can get excited about.

      I don’t know if any of this made much sense or if it even addressed your point. So I’ll just say this: I don’t view this event as necessarily some sort of omen for the place of Kickstarter in the small-creative-project scene. I view it as simply a symptom of the power of creating a vibrant online community. And as hard as I try, I just can’t get cynical about that. I’ve made webcomics, I know how hard it is to get an audience. But I don’t blame the readers. I love the readers! And I know that if I were ever as dedicated or as talented as Rich, things might be different.

      • coffee100 says:

        Wow, you are REALLY bitter. Let’s just slow down a little. Rich Burlew isn’t just any webcomic author.

        There’s nothing bitter about what I said.  I made it perfectly clear with my opening words I have all due respect for Rich Burlew.  This isn’t about Order of the Stick.   I think I made that specifically clear from the outset.   So yes, let’s slow down a little.  

        Rich creates reliably quality content with a unique angle. 

        So have over 100 other webcomics, all of which have dried up and blown away due to absolute silence from their audiences.

        His site has no ads. He never sells out. He creates high quality merchandise in order to support himself.

        And there is a glimpse of the attitude I’m talking about: The implication that having ads on your site is selling out.   The apparent expectation being that you must hold your breath for years (no monetization allowed) while maintaining a fully professional flawless production schedule.  Then once you’ve scraped your ass down the road far enough (three years or more with zero return on your work), you can climb into the truck.

        It’s as if the quality isn’t really all that important.  You are presumed to be a potential sell out until you have so long outlasted everyone else that you reach some kind of zen status (I can pay my rent by meditation!) and then you get six figures on Kickstarter. 

        Do you understand what that does to new artists?  There’s no chance anyone would willingly work free for three years for a chance to make a living.  That’s comedic, and FAR more brutal than the print syndicates ever were.  At least in print the artist gets told to fuck off at the outset.  Not after they drag a wagonload up the hill three times.

         I can only think of perhaps two other webcomics that I would judge to be on the same level as OOTS: Penny Arcade and Girl Genius.

        Well you sound like a true believer.  I can show you fifty webcomics that are no slouches when it comes to the production values and audience numbers.  I don’t know the particulars of Order of the Stick but again that isn’t the point.  

        What I question is the dynamics.   There are no moderate successes.  There is nobody who can make say, $1000 a month consistently by working hard.  It’s either SWEET MOTHER OF MONEY LOAD MY ASS WITH THE CASH or lick-a-paper-plate broke.   Every one of those fifty webcomics would be thrilled if they could cash a $1000 paycheck every month.  And they work their ASS off, sometimes on a daily basis:  books, art rewards, con appearances, web designs, hundreds of updates month after month.  And all they hear is crickets from the 100,000 people a week who visit their site.

        Now, maybe they suck.  Fair enough.  Then why is their audience growing?  And if they don’t suck, why can’t that audience toss them five bucks here and there?   Because they’re sellouts?  Because their audience is butthurt over the ad banner they put up so they could cover their bandwidth costs?  

        Those are the important questions: Important to the fifty (or 100 or 200) people who are trying to make a go of it on their own and can’t understand why they can only accumulate a (growing) audience full of arms-folded malcontents.

        It just so happens that printing OOTS is something 5,288 people (so far) can get excited about.

        Apparently to the tune of over $66 per contributor.   That’s great, but I have to ask why people then move on to medium-sized comics(tm) and bitch (in the public comments, naturally) about the $5 another artist is asking for to cover the costs of their book.

        they run a convention. Can every webcomic do that? No. Why could Penny Arcade?

        Because they make a comic that appeals to the frat house gamer demographic.  They also say “fuck” and “shitcock” a lot, and they have that front page blog thing where the two authors do kind of a Mythbusters “I’m smarter than everyone else and here’s why in exhausting detail” bit that kind of validates the ego of the Internet geek-intellectual-gamer “neckbearding as a personal philosophy” reader.  

        That’s just a guess, of course.  I’m not a marketing guy.

        But I don’t blame the readers.

        Nobody is being blamed for anything here.  I’m simply asking the obvious question on behalf of people similarly talented whose audience shows up, loads their plate at the free buffet a few times and takes a giant toilet clogging shit before they leave.

        (For the record, I do not draw a webcomic)

        • Donald Petersen says:

          Do you understand what that does to new artists?  There’s no chance anyone would willingly work free for three years for a chance to make a living.

          I can see that there’s no chance you would ever pay dues like that.  Michelangelo enjoyed a paid apprenticeship at a time when nobody else did, but was, after all, Michelangelo.  Have you ever spoken to a waitron in any Los Angeles eatery who was not spending all their free time writing spec screenplays or toiling in acting workshops for the chance to eventually make a living from their art?

          Just because the internet affords instant access to a worldwide audience of billions, there’s no guarantee that an artist can expect to enjoy the attention of a sizable portion of that audience through hard work and talent alone.  There still happens to be a fair amount of good luck required.  And once the attention has been attracted, monetizing that attention is harder still.  The vast majority of page views by the vast majority of browsing people results in exactly no money changing hands.  People are used to getting a whole lot of eye-candy for free from the internet, and most of them are not prepared to pay one thin dime for anything at all.  A smaller chunk are willing to pay for things they absolutely love more than anything and can’t get enough of.  The rest of the content they see is just… free content, as far as they’re concerned. If your fifty webcomics cannot monetize even with a readership in six figures, then either they’re doing something wrong with their marketing, or they simply are not good enough (entertaining enough, addictive enough, etc.) to attract a readership that thinks they’re worth paying a buck or two for. I don’t see an easy solution to escape the “hit-based economy” as you put it.  There is so very much content and there are so very many hungry eyeballs that putting them together requires either dumb luck or a whole lotta curation.  And anyone who curates a sizable collection of things-they-think-you’re-absolutely-gonna-love is in for an incredibly thankless task.  There’s still no way in hell that they’re ever going to manage to see, let alone judge the quality of, the vast majority of what’s out there.  And whatever they do choose to present to your discriminating eye isn’t always going to be a perfect fit for your tastes.  BoingBoing finds us all kinds of neat stuff, but they don’t find anywhere near all of it (nor do they claim to scratch the surface), and I don’t think there’s anyone here who loves everything that gets posted here. Recognition as an artist (and making a living thereby) has never been easy, and I don’t see how it ever could be.  It’s become so easy to get one’s art out there for all to see, that the entry bar has been lowered drastically, and billions of artists of one stripe or another have put their creations (as well as remixes and outright thefts) online for our consideration and (they hope) purchase.  As with many things pertaining to the 21st century, the signal gets drowned in the noise.  And again, the ease of access means that everyone who’s used to viewing or hearing or otherwise experiencing genuinely awesome stuff for free might fall out of the habit of financially supporting the artists whose work they admire the most.

          It’s not unlike music.  Time was, if you wanted to hear some music, you had to make it yourself, pay to purchase it, listen to it over the radio (a presentation curated by record labels and DJs before listeners ever get to vote on it with their wallets), or expend a fair amount of effort bootlegging it.  Recording equipment was expensive, gear wasn’t cheap, and you really had to have some drive (and/or talent, but especially drive) in order to succeed in a career as a musician.  That’s no longer true in the same way.  It’s never been easier to make music and put it out there in front of a huge potential audience.  But attracting their attention away from other forms of entertainment (including other musicians) is quite a trick… and then convincing them to pay you is a stone cold bitch.  Unless they really love you.  Because the Free Alternatives are absolutely everywhere these days.

          • coffee100 says:

            I can see that there’s no chance you would ever pay dues like that.

             Hey Don?  I run a very successful web company that’s been in business for more than ten years.   When I started out I think there were five webcomics and I read them in Netscape Navigator on a gray background.   So let’s dial it back juuust a notch or two, okay?  

            Have you ever spoken to a waitron in any Los Angeles eatery who was not spending all their free time writing spec screenplays or toiling in acting workshops for the chance to eventually make a living from their art?

             I can tell you this much:  I’ve never met one who waited three years to get paid.

             And once the attention has been attracted, monetizing that attention is harder still.

            So we agree.  Now maybe you can answer my question:  why?  

            People are used to getting a whole lot of eye-candy for free from the internet, and most of them are not prepared to pay one thin dime for anything at all.

             No shit? 

            If your fifty webcomics cannot monetize even with a readership in six figures, then either they’re doing something wrong with their marketing, or they simply are not good enough (entertaining enough, addictive enough, etc.) to attract a readership that thinks they’re worth paying a buck or two for.

            And I’d like to see that explained alongside the breathless hand-waving over the six-figure Kickstarter lottery wins.   

            Is it that Internet businesses need a personality cult attached?  Do they need a pitchman?   Do they need a spokesperson to get the audience interested while the talent draws behind the curtain?  If so, great!  Let’s get that established so talented people aren’t wasting their gift serving iced tea.

            I say this with great concern for the Internet.  Things like SOPA and ACTA are going to be one HELL of a lot easier to fight when the Internet is populated by successful independent businesses as opposed to the “where’s my free update” party.

            And those Internet businesses, while they struggle, have to clench their teeth and ride out another asskicking every time the snort-laughing frat house assclowns light another bag of dogshit on fire on someone’s porch and give those who want the Internet unplugged yet another justification for their bullshit legislation.

            It all fits together, Don. And we who want this experiment in free communication to succeed better all start pulling in the same general direction or we’re in for a long dark night of fuckery when the “let’s turn the Internet into a TV channel” crowd takes the wheel.

             I don’t think there’s anyone here who loves everything that gets posted here.

            There’s a definite shortage of people griping about ad banners.  Webcomics apparently aren’t worthy of that privilege for some reason.

          • Donald Petersen says:

            Hiya Coffee.

            Hey Don?  I run a very successful web company that’s been in business for more than ten years.   When I started out I think there were five webcomics and I read them in Netscape Navigator on a gray background.   So let’s dial it back juuust a notch or two, okay?  

            How ’bout that.  Did you run that company for ten years?  Did it take a long, long time to become successful?  Did you stick it out and pay your dues and eventually after long sleepless nights and a starvation budget, did you finally meet with success?  If yes, my sincerest congratulations.

            But if not, then your resume is irrelevant.  I don’t worry overmuch about your tone on those frequent occasions when I agree with you, so don’t imagine that I’m out to get you.  But when you say declarative, absolutist things like

            There’s no chance anyone would willingly work free for three years for a chance to make a living.

            , then you get my Somebody’s-Wrong-On-The-Internet dander up.  I’ve been writing screenplays for seventeen years without making a nickel off them.  Maybe they objectively suck, no one can say.  I haven’t yet written one that I consider fit to sell, so I haven’t tried to market any of them.  You might consider that a hobby or avocation rather than a serious artistic effort, but in any case the effort is still there.  Long, late nights spent after long workdays, writing and rewriting, in the hope of eventually coming up with something that will make a mint.

            Am I an utter fool for doing so?  Very possibly, since seventeen years without even seriously trying to market my work displays some fairly crippling self-doubt.  But I also know I’m far from alone.  You toil in the tech world, but I live and work in the home of the entertainment industry, the Hollywood Dream Factory, and I can’t throw an iPhone without hitting two agents, three struggling screenwriter/waiters, and a dozen aspiring thespians, to say nothing of the musicians hunched on the sidewalk, busking their little hearts out.

            If you think I’m denigrating your character by pointing out that you wouldn’t stoop so low as to follow your passion for free for however many years it took to find fulfillment or break your spirit completely, then I apologetically point out that it was you who claimed nobody would ever do that.

            And I’d like to see that explained alongside the breathless hand-waving over the six-figure Kickstarter lottery wins.  

            Like all too much in life, it’s a popularity contest.  OOTS may have a larger audience, or a more loyal one, or a deeper-pocketed one, or any combination of these factors.  Or it may have been a strange outlier event involving a perfect storm of consumer demand and Kickstarter networking.  Who can say?  Sometimes, I hate to remind, life is simply not fair.

            when the Internet is populated by successful independent businesses as opposed to the “where’s my free update” party.

            Surely, if you’re old enough to have been running a web company for ten years (though you didn’t say that; you said the company was ten years old, not that you’d been running it that long), then you remember when the internet was largely populated by academics and scientists.  It should come as no surprise that the average level of discourse has necessarily degraded somewhat since then.  The proles enjoy largely unfettered access to the web these days, and have done so for approaching two decades.  You could hope to legislate the fratboys and freeloaders off your internet lawn, but you know as well as I do that they’re here to stay.

            Think of how people find sites such as webcomics: random browsing, curated recommendations from aggregators, or recommendations from friends (either directly or indirectly though things like Facebook likes).  The democratization of access opens the floodgates to unimaginable oceans of content, and most of it is still free.  If you want to make like King Canute and convince the multitudes that they should financially support the artists they enjoy, then you’re going to soak your royal tootsies.

            And if people give all they have, invest their best talent and work hard for years and still fail, well, you know what?   That means we live in a world where some people can’t succeed, and that’s not the America I was taught about.

            Then your education was faulty, and sounds like it may have occurred during the everyone-gets-a-trophy days of the early 1990s.  Ours is not a purely meritocratic world.  Remember those like Keats, van Gogh, Poe, Dickinson, Kafka, and even Stieg Larsson, who died before any real success or recognition could be realized.  Should they have given it all up before dying as apparent failures?  Meanwhile Rebecca Black has a record deal and YouTube’s #1 video of the year for 2011.

            What can one possibly do to fight chaos like that?

        • jere7my says:

          I can tell you this much:  I’ve never met one who waited three years to get paid.

          It took me longer than three years to write my first book, for which I have yet to see dollar one, and I’m starting #2. I know people who’ve been struggling in Hollywood for more than three years, actresses and comedians, who are still waiting to make enough money to live on. Welcome to the art world.

          So let’s dial it back juuust a notch or two, okay? 

          Your tone is the sharpest one in this conversation: “…get the fuck back down in that hole. Sell out bitch,” and “…the ego of the Internet geek-intellectual-gamer ‘neckbearding as a personal philosophy’ reader,” and “…giant toilet clogging shit”. Look to your own notches, dude.

          • coffee100 says:

            I’m not weaving my tone into irrelevant ad hominem.

            Frankly I think I’ve struck a chord here with people who are more than a little alarmed that the great democratization of the Internet has left us with the same hit-driven economy ruled by the few we’ve tried so hard to escape.

            That and the fact that talent AND hard work aren’t enough.  People are scared of that.  And they should be, because not only is that “success by sheer luck” but it’s also all some people have. 

            And if people give all they have, invest their best talent and work hard for years and still fail, well, you know what?   That means we live in a world where some people can’t succeed, and that’s not the America I was taught about.

          • foobar says:

            Talent and hard work are necessary precursors, but they don’t guarantee anything. You also have to be making something people care enough about to pay for, in some way.
            If people don’t, and you keep doing it anyway, what you have isn’t a business, it’s a hobby. That’s perfectly ok, and that sort of hobby can (but probably won’t) turn into a business someday. Someone in that situation has to decide if they’re doing it just for the money, or if they’re happy just doing it.

            If the former, well, perhaps they should move on to another project.

          • PerfectChaos says:

            coffee100: You realise that your premise is ridiculous, right?

            1) Not every audience has large amounts of disposable income
            2) Even if you have an audience, that audience may consist mostly of people without disposable income
            3) Quality work is not good enough, well drawn and written webcomics aren’t going to succeed purely because of the work that went into it; the real world does not work that way, you need to be special in a way that attracts a loyal following. e.g. A well drawn/written 2 gamer dudes comic is still just another Penny Arcade rip-off.

            The simplistic idea that “if you build it, they will come” has never been true, the Internet has not changed that simple reality. No matter how hard you work and the amount of effort you put into it, next to no-one is going to pay money for your one-winged airplane that can’t fly. Marketing and market research have not, and are not, going anywhere.

            Lastly, I find it hard to believe that creative types would be impressed with your supposed defence of them. Creative works are not a commodity that are intrinsically interchangeable with each other, you can’t just crank out ‘widgets of creativity’ and sell them for $2 each like a box of bolts where the value proposition of your bolts guarantee success over your competitors. The market for creative material is not so easily predicted.

        • hanov3r says:

          “And if people give all they have, invest their best talent and work hard for years and still fail, well, you know what?   That means we live in a world where some people can’t succeed, and that’s not the America I was taught about.”

          No. It means we live in a world where some people may not succeed at some of the things they try. They can succeed, just not at the thing they’re currently doing.

          Whoever told you you could succeed at everything was lying to you. But very few children can parse “you can be anything you want, as long as you don’t need the approval/votes/money/assistance of other people”.

    • Henry Hatcher says:

       I think your base assumption is faulty – talented creatives who consistently output quality work are known as “professional artists”, and assuming reasonable longevity and marketing tend to be successful.  But it takes a lot of work to build up a consistent fanbase, the “thousand true fans” who are willing to contribute financially with regularity to support a favored artist.

      I think that the more common situation is someone who sets up a blog or writes an ebook and expects money to rain from the sky, gets disappointed, and quits.  Those people are known as “dilettantes” and are rarely successful unless they get some crazy recognition spike (Kickstarter/Boing Boing/Slashdot/Reddit frontpage/whatever) and then manage to consistently output quality work.

      • coffee100 says:

        I think that the more common situation is someone who sets up a blog or writes an ebook and expects money to rain from the sky, gets disappointed, and quits.

        That is not what I described and frankly that has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.   But it does offer another clue as to the mindset of the Internet audience.  

        “You think you can just put up a website and an ebook and make money?  Oh no you don’t!  Not in MY BROWSER and not on MY INTERNET!  (teeth clenched)  get the fuck back down in that hole.  Sell out bitch.”

        That really does sum it up for the way any commercial initiative is greeted online, from the NY Times paywall to Clem’s webcomic.   You could be publishing the next X-Men with daily color updates and go Cheerios-for-dinner broke just asking for $1 a month.

        There’s people pirating 99 cent iPhone apps. What else needs to be said?

        • niten says:

          You really do just seem bitter.

          Well, so some people worked hard on stuff but didn’t make lots of money off of it. Same as it ever was. But now you don’t have to move to Paris or Nashville or Hollywood to make it as an artist. Still better than before. It may still take luck (and work), but at least anyone, anywhere can take a shot. How many people do you think tried for years to get a comic strip started in earlier decades, but never got anywhere? None? And in that case, we were stuck with Garfield, not Order of the Stick.

          There’s a clear and obvious opportunity, or many opportunities, for creative sites, markets, communities, and so on, to encourage artists and connect them with fans.

          Or maybe we could try whining hard enough. That might work too.

          If people just generally aren’t willing to pay for art (or apps, or whatever) then tough. You (or ‘they’, whatever) ought to walk away. Because nobody’s going to guarantee your success.

          • coffee100 says:

            I think some people are just butthurt when they get called out over that fourth refill on the free beer. 

          • niten says:

            Heh, and I think some people pass out a bunch of free rounds, then asks everyone to split the bill, and then get butthurt when nobody volunteers.

            “How could you accept a free beer if you had no intention of paying for it?!?”

        • Ian says:

          Funny how the dude who brings the charge of ad hominem has usually just been acting like an asshole. Your point — whatever it might be — and your tone are two separate things. Most people here think they’re responding on the level of rational argument, but what they’re really put off by is your complainy smart-assy way of expressing yourself. You’re too in love with your expressions, and you fall into the trap of thinking that if you can out-snark your interlocutors, then the case is made. Again, your point — whatever it might be — doesn’t enter into it. Do you have a point that can be expressed in a tone that doesn’t suggest that anyone who doesn’t get it or agree is just neckbeardy or frat-stupid? Or are you just on this thread to vent some bile?

        • Henry Hatcher says:

           I find your original presumption – that of an artist who puts out similar quality work to Rich Burlew, consistently updates for 1-2 years, and does not have a solid fanbase that is willing to support their work to be extremely improbable.

          My argument is more concerned with people who aren’t prepared to put in the work and sacrifice necessary for success and wonder why they aren’t successful.  I think that situation is far more common and far more likely than a talented artist who consistently generates quality content and somehow is unable to make money from that. 

          I may be suffering from confirmation bias, though – can you point out an example of someone who has toiled in anonymity for two years of putting out quality content and is unable to make money from their efforts? 

          • coffee100 says:

            can you point out an example

            While it’s clear your question is cleverly framed to subjectively disqualify all webcomics on the grounds of insufficient anonymity, I can, in fact, provide examples of webcomics equal in quality and professional credibility to Order of the Stick that have not scored mid-six-figure hauls on Kickstarter or anywhere else.

            Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub, both tremendously talented and successful webcomic artists, managed to raise only $60K on Kickstarter for their DVD project.

            Phoenix Requiem has been running for years.  Page after page of lavishly illustrated color stories.  But no six-figure Kickstarters.  

            Hell, Girl Genius is an example!  Phil Foglio has been drawing comics since the Earth first assumed a spherical shape.   Now these four examples make money to varying degrees (almost exclusively due to the tireless hard work of their creators), but nowhere near this lottery-win level. 

            Again, this isn’t about bashing an individual webcomic for its success.  I’m overjoyed that Order of the Stick has done well.  

            It is to question the re-introduction of hit-driven dynamics to a marketplace where they do not belong and I want to know why.  

            Anyone who runs a business on the web should be concerned about this.  Hit-driven market dynamics will turn the Internet into a bland low-quality junk factory ruled by a handful of anti-creative gatekeepers just like they did to radio, television, cable, movies, print publishing, comics and animation.

          • Henry Hatcher says:

            I was not trying to frame the discussion to rule out any example you could make.

            As for the examples you did make, Phil Foglio, Chris Straub, and Scott Kurtz all make a living fully supported by their art.  I don’t think that those support your original argument about toiling in anonymity only to be spurned by the consumers of your work. 

            Scott and Chris’ Kickstarter project was successfully funded by their fans – while you may balk at the idea that they didn’t get as much money as Rich Burlew, there are a lot of very valid potential reasons for that.  I don’t think that the ratio of fans who want merchandise directly related to the webcomic they enjoy is going to be the same as the ratio of fans who want to watch a reality TV show about their favorite webcomic. 

            As for promoting a “hit-driven dynamic”, I’m not sure that there’s a solution to that in a free enterprise marketplace.  Should I withhold money from artists I like to support artists I’m lukewarm on?  If anything, communities like Kickstarter allow for creatives to get past “anti-creative gatekeepers”. 

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      At this point, I figure there are probably more people making a living from daily/weekly webcomics than traditional newspaper/editorial comics. It’s an industry that has never had any easy or predicable paths to success.

      I think applying the tip jar/merchandising model to an industry that has been traditionally stable and with clear career paths would yield questionable results. You will never see an accountant asking you to buy their t-shirts in support. But it seems to work well enough, or at least no worse than what it is replacing, for those industries that have always relied on fan support and cults of personality.

    • allen says:

      Given that the employment in the entertainment industry grew by 20% between 2000 and 2008, and 43% of that growth was independent artists http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120129/17272817580/sky-is-rising-entertainment-industry-is-large-growing-not-shrinking.shtml I think your premise is flawed.

      Things are actually getting better, and the  model is part of it. 

      It is regrettable that starting out in your own business requires such sacrifice, but don’t imagine that that is unique to artists.  Talk to any independent business owner about the risks they took getting started, and how long it took before things started to pay off.

      Also- I think calling this a “tip jar” model demonstrates a naivete that might explain your bitterness.  People aren’t tipping Rich Burlew here, they are buying things they want that he is offering.  If you read his updates, you can see how he is drawing an audience in, and giving them more and more reasons to increase their support.  Amanda Palmer and Trent Reznor aren’t making money by handing around a tip jar, they are providing their fans with interesting ways to support them, at the level that they are most comfortable.  

      If there is one really interesting development I see, it’s that artists are realizing that different amounts of money are pocket change to their fans, and they offer different ways to support them, while being as considerate of the college student to whom $5 is comfortable as they are to the millionaire who doesn’t mind dropping $5000.  Maybe this creativity is the difference between creatives who find that none of their fans are supporting them, and those who find that making it fun to support them results in being supported.

      • coffee100 says:

        Also- I think calling this a “tip jar” model demonstrates a naivete that might explain your bitterness.

        While I appreciate the rhetorical strategy in using the ad hominem “bitterness” label, it’s getting tired now.

        Bitterness implies a stake in the outcome, and I don’t give a shit about the webcomic business aside from the few I read, some of which have stopped updating because of what I’ve described.

        As for the “tip jar” metaphor, that is always what Kickstarter and services like it have billed themselves as.  In fact, they have stridently and argumentatively marketed themselves as such to avoid the cries of “sell out!” their patrons are using them to shield themselves from.

        If it were so easy to simply sell entertainment online, then there would be no such thing as Kickstarter because it would be useless and unnecessary.    Kickstarter exists to provide Internet businesses with a plausible deniability to charges of commercialism and being a sell out.   Simple as that.

        • allen says:

          Hm, I guess that is an ad-hominem.  FWIW, you do seem bitter (I used it independently of the poster above). Refer to your references of fans as frat boys and freeloaders who refuse to flush the toilets for reference.

          Put aside my reference to you being bitter, and you’ll see statistics backing my point that things are improving as a result of this business model you are bemoaning.  And do read those updates to see what I mean about Rich Burlew adding incentives to support him.  He’s using kickstarter to pre-sell books, and adding a lot of special incentives to support him.

          It’s not easy to make a living doing ANYTHING on your own- and talent isn’t all it takes.  Consider the number of good restaurants you have seen fail.  Only something like 1 in 5 businesses succeed.  It sucks, but it’s not just creatives that are affected.  You seem to feel that anyone who wants to do what they love and make a living should just start and have it magically happen- and I’d love that too- but that isn’t the way it works for any industry.

        • Milknut says:

          Listen, you’re never going to convince anyone of anything if you keep it up with this tone. Your posts are mean, inflammatory, profane, and ignorant. You ignore the most important points in the posts you reply to and paint the world as you like to see it. If you are convinced that this manner of discussion will make you happy there’s not much I can say, but if you are actually interested in this discussion let me offer you some advice: calm down, get off your high horse, and actually listen to what people have to say. I know you’re confronting your computer screen, but understand that we are human beings. Real people that you are interacting with. We wouldn’t be replying to your posts if we didn’t care about the topic and if we didn’t have something to add. If you want to have a mature discussion please cast aside such eloquent phrases as “butthurt” and “assclown” and defend your point like an adult. I have nothing personally against you and I would be glad to have a discussion about this topic if you would care to join me.

          Firstly, both you and Allen are wrong: that is not ad-hominem. Ad-hominem means attacking someone instead of their argument in order to somehow render their argument “invalid” (i.e. don’t listen to him! He kills babies!). Calling you “bitter” does not achieve this. It’s merely an induction based on the tone of your posts and has no actual bearing on the content of your argument. I did not (nor did anyone else) imply that whether you were bitter or not had any effect upon the truth of your arguments.

          Next: Allen’s rejection of the tip-jar is completely sound and I’m afraid you can’t brush it off so easily. A tip jar is a completely voluntary donation. There is no reward except for the fuzzy feeling you get from doing contributing to it. Additionally you have no idea how much has gone into the tip jar and there is no inherent sense of community among those who are tipping. There are also no goals and there’s nothing in it for you. Kickstarter provides rewards set at different levels. If you’re smart like Rich Burlew you create new rewards periodically at multiple price ranges and new rewards are unlocked at certain points in the drive (i.e. when the total amount pledged reaches $X). Because everyone knows how much is in the pot and everyone knows that when we hit X we get these extra rewards (and the rewards are things that people REALLY want like books that literally cannot be printed unless the pledges reach X) there becomes a community mentality, a kind of camaraderie among the backers. They encourage each other, discuss the project, get excited, urge each other to donate, ask questions, muse about the possible future updates, etc. Check out the OOTS drive comments to see this in action. None of this would be possible without Kickstarter and I can say with 100% certainty that this has been largely responsible for the success of this particular drive.

          On the matter of webcomic artists: I think the general point that we’re discovering on this page is that yes, luck is involved heavily in this process but attention to detail, quality, and consistency are far more important. I also hold to my point that the proper creation of an online community is vital to this and it can be done wrong. For instance: OOTS is popular and has fans who will donate because of it’s got amazing value. I would say it’s actually far less popular than it could be because it doesn’t update regularly and it doesn’t advertise itself. So the following is small (compared to some) but cult-y. I do regret the phrase “selling out” because it was just a throwaway point. There is obviously nothing wrong with having advertising. That said, when an author decides against advertising and sticks to it they build up trust with the readers because the readers see that they care about the experience of their comic. Rich doesn’t shout from the rooftops “look! no ads! no ads!” so it’s not like it’s a publicity stunt. Fans care about that sort of attention to detail. Other comics like Penny Arcade choose their advertising personally and do it that way. The outcome is the same: fans see that they care about the experience. Not indispensable but it’s a nice touch. (I disagree of your assessment of why PA is popular ENTIRELY but that’s a different discussion.) As to the 50 who are not slouches, I would probably agree that they are great. I read many fantastic webcomics. The reason I named the three I did was because they strike me as being of the very highest quality both in writing and in aesthetics (not that they are the best drawn ever but that the art matches the tone perfectly which is far more important for success), because they all were comics that fully supported the authors, and because they all had successful communities. This doesn’t take away from the other great comics out there but if you look carefully at most of them the gap becomes evident. This is true in every profession: some people are just amazingly good, and it’s not just the comic. It’s the package, the experience.

          People aren’t as cheap or lazy as you think. Scratch that: some are. But there are enough people out there who are willing to be loyal to a deserving comic. As an artist I can tell you that being an artist is hard, hard work. But I can also tell you that that’s how it’s always been and if the internet is doing anything, it’s helping improve that situation, not making it worse.

          • Bottle Imp says:

            While I disagree with coffee100′s core point, I do think this whole “bitter” thing is ridiculous. Having read his original post, I think you read the bitterness into it. He may sound bitter now, but I read that as a function of you and a few other people poking at him for a while. He expressed an opinion about the rate of success and then sort of lamented that there should be a better way, and you accused him of being “REALLY bitter” which I construed as you being astonishingly condescending. I get the impression you might not have intended that, but that’s the way it came off to me. coffee100 has taken the time to respond to a bunch of people here, and whether or not he is right, or the tone of his responses has deteriorated as he’s spent more time responding to you and the others, it’s pretty high handed of you to try to call him out for his tone. I think his first post was pretty polite. A lot of people would get much less civil if the opening response to their post was “Wow, you are REALLY bitter. Let’s just slow it down a little.” You seem to take his initial post as an attack on this individual creator, which I don’t see at all. He responds by saying that he’s not attacking the creator, just commenting on the economic model in his response to you, and now you’re complaining that he is ignoring the key points in people’s arguments. Pot to kettle sir. Read your own first paragraph in this latest reply. It applies to you as well.

            P.S. Who gets butthurt about people using the word “butthurt” in this day and age?

  4. Jaron Hendrix says:

    Is there some particular reason a publishing-on-demand solution from somebody like Lulu wouldn’t work in this situation, and eliminate the need to pay for a print run up front?

    • Alice Bentley says:

      Full color books with large page counts are one of the best examples of where the cost efficiency of mass production really comes into play. Printing cost of a 350 page book may be around $6 to $10 each if you’re using traditional printing and making 2,000 to 4,000 of them (so you can sell them at $20 or $25 and still have leeway for things like distribution, or paying people). Lulu would need to cost more like $30 to $40 for the same book, just for printing, so your options for retail sale are pretty slim.

    • Milknut says:

      Lulu is crap, ask anybody who’s ever used it. They print them at a much higher quality.

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      Expense.

      The OotS books are roughly 300 pages each in full colour. Lulu would charge roughly $60 a book just for the printing costs, not including shipping or any profit for the author. Pre-printed runs of the books currently sell for a final price of $30 each.

      Lulu, and similar print-on-demand services, are at best a vanity press. I don’t think anyone who is serious about making a go as a business could even consider them.

  5. Rider says:

    If you can get this many people to give you money you should be able to just publish your books and skip this step.  Seems this is a money management problem.  Instead of rolling his money back into inventory and projects he spent it all, or did not charge enough.

    • Milknut says:

      Keep in mind that this outcome was a total surprise. I think he expected probably 100k at the most.

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      Or he’s been dealing with repeated small volume orders and now thinks the readership is large enough to support larger print runs. And instead of letting stock run out while he saved enough for a big run he decided to raise the cash up front through alternate means.

    • EvilSpirit says:

      You don’t seem to have made any argument to establish that there is a problem here. Why is it desirable for him to carry inventory? What’s the problem with financing the print run via pre-orders? Seems to be working for him just dandy, in point of fact.

    • Xavier Perez says:

      I’d say it’s pretty likely that Rich could have found financing for his most needed print run and with sales from that finance his next needs. He also could have made a bigger effort (or not, we don’t know) to get the money together by himself, knowing the demand for the book was there.

      Then again, he decided to make a Kickstarter project. Instead of paying a financer for lending money and slowly work his way through the needed prints, he has asked his readers to support him (not for free, mind you, I consider this drive some sort of pre-order) and figured he could do some extra work that would help him raise the money (incentives, book signings, the cameo, etc.). Now, he doesn’t have to pay for financing (he does have to pay KS though) and he has raised the money needed for ALL the books that were out of print in 10 days.

      You’re right, he should have been able to just publish the books somehow.

      I’m so glad he found a solution that is so incredibly better, both for him as an author and for me as a reader-

  6. I’ve been a fan of OotS for several years (maybe 3-4+?) and have all the books, but am a big enough fan that I’ve pledged quite a bit (and intend to give the books to friends).

    To the naysayers, I’d ask you to read 20-30 of the strips.  Won’t take long, but I think you’ll see they are high quality.  Also, please remember that the author has been offering his work for free, and through self-funded publishing, for many years – and that this drive was started entirely to bring out-of-print compilations back into print, which people have been asking for on the forum for years.  It can be tough for a small business to generate and/or lay out the tens of thousands of dollars required to do print runs without knowing whether there will be an audience.

  7. Alpacaman says:

    I couldn’t agree more,  thank you. Additionally, you hit the nail right on the head RE Penny Arcade.

  8. digi_owl says:

    Next he will do the same for the boardgame (and perhaps even a certain expansion)?

  9. sunshine3977 says:

    Rich is self published. I would imagine the amount he is charging for the books covers his costs and not much over that. He saves money to be able to print books and this time around it was just taking than he liked to save said money. He then went out and found a way to allow the fans to be able to help out in getting the books they have been asking for for years back in print.  As for pre-orders he tried that once and I think he found this kickstarter project a better idea. It’s still getting the books printed while allowing fans to get some cool drawings and such that we wouldn’t normally get and because of how wildly successful this has been it is also getting his comic out there and more noticeable, drawing in new fans. 

    • Peter Cohen says:

      Rich also has intermittent health problems. At times he may need to use money from the books to live on rather than being able to leave it in a bank.

  10. Marko Raos says:

    aw, forget it

  11. Parm eisan says:

    I wonder, since everyone who wants a book right now is getting in on the Kickstarter pre-order thing, when Rich is actually going to see this money.  It will go straight into ordering new print runs and it will take a lot of time for those books to actually get sold.  It seems like he’s getting super-rich right now, but not if he keeps promising to spend that money immediately.  Personally, I hope he sets some aside, soon, as profit.

  12. Milknut says:

    @boingboing-a215578c8e0b9df3f3f1202ac8c37d14:disqus You are right to call me out on being a condescending bastard. That said, the “pot calling the kettle black” is indeed (and I almost don’t want to go there) ad-hominem. Whether or not the pot is black does not change the blackness of the kettle, regardless of who’s calling who what. And, on a completely subjective note, I didn’t feel that my post was as emotionally charged as coffee100′s posts have been. What started as a innocent and flippant comment turned into a very serious accusation for some reason (“bitterness”) but I’m not really married to the idea. Plus this wasn’t even at the center of my point and the first paragraph of my second post was mainly in response to the outpouring of negative posts from coffee100 and his apparent lack of willingness to even recognize a number of legitimate arguments from multiple people. I guess your feeling is that I also failed to respond to points brought up by those I disagree with but because I can’t find them I’m afraid you’re going to have to enlighten me. On the other hand I can (and did) point to specific junctures at which coffee100 dismissed legitimate arguments with little or no solid logic.
    I guess you read my post with an emphasis that I did not intend. You are right that my original post could be interpreted in a very arrogant manner. This one, too. I’ve got an overgrown vocabulary and that’s something we’re going to have to get through together, as a family. I didn’t intend it that way but my wording was unintentionally aggressive and I regret that. But I also feel that coffee100 has been extremely negative and aggressive in every post that he has made and I don’t think it can be written off as the product of responding to a bunch of people. It felt more like a flame war against everyone who disagreed with him. But this is all sort of nebulous and opinion-based so I don’t really want to dwell on that but I don’t feel like I am lacking in evidence or logic here.

    As to “butthurt”… it’s not really shocking to read on the internet but in the real world we speak respectfully to each other when we want someone to listen to us. I was just making the suggestion to coffee100 that he might be more successful in his endeavor to convince others of his point of view if he didn’t use curses and various compound words of dubious character. They make the user sound unintelligent and crude and I was pretty sure (given the energy he was expending to prove a point that nobody seemed to agree with) that this wasn’t the image he was going for.

    Although I talked a lot in my original post about why OOTS was great I never thought that coffee100 was attacking the creator. I was simply offering an explanation for why the economic model was working in this case and used the comic as a template for other successful comics. His reaction that I thought he was attacking Rich was misplaced. His original post had a problem with the fact that some comic artists are successful and others aren’t and the apparent randomness and unfairness of this (which is kind of a weird thing to get upset about) and this is something that I disagreed with. I thought there were concrete things you could look at to help explain the discrepancy. He disagreed. In my personal opinion he handled the criticism poorly and if I’d known that he’d react that way ahead of time I’d have been more careful in my original post.

    And I hope you don’t think I’m upset at anyone! I just think the topic is interesting and I enjoy discussing it. I wish we could all just get along and actually talk about what matters instead of tripping over our own egos like this! I mean, look how off-topic we’ve gotten!

  13. Andrew Millian says:

    In my opinion oots is one of the best webcomics out there. The only one that I frequent that has production values that I would frankly consider superior is Drowtales.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      This surprises me somewhat.  I’d never heard of OOTS before this week, and I went to check it out.  I read the last dozen comics, then went back and read the first dozen or so, and wasn’t blown away; it’s not to my taste.  I can see why D&D gamers would be into it, and it shows some serious intelligence and wit.

      But high production values?  Really?

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