Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why The Monkey Dances

Why The Monkey Dances

Applause Versus Bananas

Let's you and I chit-chat. I want your opinion.

Two or three years ago I had the idea you see above. As a creator of cheap thrills, I longed for a way to see some sort of monetary gain, however small, for the content I put up for free. I imagined some sort of module that a person could attach to their online content, a gatekeeper that only accepted "tokens", much like the games at an arcade. And like the change machine at the front of the arcade, where a person turns their dollars and quarters and pennies into tokens, a site would exist through which a person could purchase these virtual tokens, and monitor their usage. I envisioned this best as a service of Paypal.

This idea wasn't anything I actively pursued. For one thing, I didn't have the time or resources to put a global token-transaction system together. I still don't. Unless I won the lottery.

Lemme check.


But only $15.00.

I was also absolutely sure someone had to have already put something like this in place, so why bother re-inventing the wheel1? No, my dream of internet tokens was more of a foggy wish than a personal ambition; a utopian world where those of us who toil to create images, or comics, or dancing monkeys, or pet bears would have the ability to easily charge per-view if we so desired2.

It's sad but true. The internet is excellent at delivering wonders, but not-so-excellent at rewarding the wonder-makers. I'm not alone in my thinking. A friend of mine recently tweeted about this article, which touches upon how an open internet can harm the individual creator. To quote:

"The basic idea of this contract," he [Jaron Lanier] writes, "is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising."

I myself have been wondering for some time whether continuing to post to Bearskinrug hurts or helps me. On the one hand, it's an important tool for promotion, and for personal expression. On the other, the time I spend laboring over each article might be better spent on creating products where I can see some sort of financial recompense3.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, partly because I've spent nearly two years wrestling with what direction I should be taking this site4, and I need to vent (score one point for the personal expression argument). But there's a larger issue here that I'm interested to get feedback on. How do you, my fellow bloggers, artists, writers, musicians, and moviemakers feel about the subject? Does the current situation feel a little bizarre or backward to anyone else? What do you see as a solution? What solutions might there already be, that I and others like me might be missing?


1I suspect there's several websites out there that offer games to paying users in an an arcade-like fashion, though I don't subscribe to any. Also, I'd rather re-invent the dog than the wheel. Ernie's breath freaking STINKS.

2I heartily believe there's nothing wrong with giving out content for free, but what do you do when you suddenly would like to charge for it?

3Most likely books. I derive little satisfaction from creating merchandise. It's just the pits. My apologies if you're holding out for a Bearskinrug Thong.

4I have five, count them, five un-implemented Bearskinrug redesigns sitting in a folder labeled "Bearskinrug Six", though I'm considering changing the label to "Pipe Dreams".

Comments on this Article

There are currently 48 comments.

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Joey Livingston

I love the internet, because it provides an extremely low cost vehicle for distributing content to a vast amount of people. I think this creates a great opportunity for creative mind who don't have any exposure yet, and I think they should give their content away for free.

This is not a new concept. For thousands of years, newcomers have gotten into a field by working for free. Once their skills improved to a level that was worth paying for, or once their already high skill level was recognized, demand was generated, and the right time for charging for services soon came.

The problem with the internet is that it's a new frontier that has always felt so free, so very few see this next step as realistic. But they need to learn to accept that talented creators are eventually going to charge for the consumption of their content.

I think it's good for you to want to charge for your content, whether that be charging for your online content, or charging for books while throttling your online production level a bit. You've generated a demand for your work, now reap the benefits. Some people will be upset, for sure. But artists need to start taking this step in spite of what the majority of the internet masses think. To think it's selfish to start charging for the work you've been giving away for free, is a small-minded view. Artists need to generate demand. That's what you've done. The next step is obviously to charge for that demand, or there would be no need to generate demand in the first place.

The internet masses will never change their mind until artists start taking this step in spite of the present trends.


Hey Kevin!
I'm Bernat from barcelona. I've been reading your "digital thoughts"(?) for a long time. I really enjoy the humor on your, how you call it, content.
Because of this I decided to buy some of you're books hoping to find more of the humor and some great illustrations. Indead I found those.

Writting and marketing online, for an artists is a way to show yourself (or maybe an alter ego) to the rest of the net. People read you becaause they like the way you think, in your case also the way you draw.

The more empathy you prooduce on the reader the more fans you will create. The more fons the more buying you'll have.

Ask this to Scott Hansen (AKA ISO 50). I'm sure all the amount of time spent on his blog meant revenue both in merchandising and his Music products.

...I hope I explined myself...


Kevin, Kevin and Kevin. (Just in case your other two personalities are here with us.)

It's tricky and sticky. I agree with the other commenters. It's a necessary evil. To get to where you're recognized you have to post for free and show the work. You obviously have reached a new level and I understand your concerns.

Has anyone done this? Yes. Not exactly the way you've described. John Gruber did this with his feeds. If I remember correctly, you had to buy one of his shirts to get an access code to his private feeds where you could read more content. Take him out to lunch and ask him. Isn't he in your stomping grounds?

Tokenization (is that a word) has been done on sites like istockphoto but that's not comparing apples to apples. More like apples to crank-shafts.

I hope you figure it out Kevin, and post the solution… for free! I'd probably chip in a few bucks for your banter. It's amusing to see someone so screwed in the head. Amusing or comforting? I forget.


Joey- Thanks, Joey - that does put things into perspective. I suppose I never looked at things from the point of view that I was creating a demand. And I'm definitely floating in that limbo where I'm unsure what the next step is (or perhaps, I know what it is... and maybe I'm just a little afraid to make the jump ;)

Bernat - Well, it's good to know that my efforts have been well spent! Thanks for the feedback!


Greg- You totally snuck that comment in while I was replying! :)

I had considered the subscription model, and I know it works well for John. But the problem with that sort of thing is the obligation to deliver frequent, quality content. I've always ruled it out, because I often need long periods to work on other projects with no distractions. But perhaps it's time to reconsider. Maybe I'll check out the way istockphoto works too, and learn some lessons. Thank you, good sir!


To put it bluntly, you can't bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Well you can try, but I fear it will really not get you very far. I like bernat only know of your site because it was free, had you been asking me to pay I would have gone on my way, donned my hat and forgotten about it.

The problem with asking for subscriptions is having enough people who know and want to be a part of the club. People who want to be a part enough to pay for an in with you and with the likelyhood that more will follow.

The descision you need to make is if you think you can produce enough special content to support what you feel is a fee that is both small enough to be attractive (if fees at all are attractive on the web) and also large enough to be worth the hassle, bearing in mind it might also lead to a drop in sales of your books & artworks. I don't know how big your traffic is but do you think it would be sensible?

Grant Muller

Maybe you should go the "premium content" route. There is a drummer over at ryangruss.com that releases a free loop every few days or so, and releases a much larger much more extensive "loop pack" every couple of months..As a drummer myself I've been meaning to ask him how that's working out...

If you were into the serialization thing you could start a recurring series. Maybe start it for free and as the story heats up you switch it to premium...might make folks ornery though...

Sounds like we're going to start getting creative not only with the content we create, but also how we benefit from that content. Micropayments, serialization, charging for old posts in a series, stuff like that might be a start.


Kevin, I can only comment as a reader of your site: I purchased a book from you (autographed copy of CCoBB – a handsome work!) based solely off of the work I saw on this site. In other words, your work – freely displayed – drove me to a purchase. I think I originally discovered your work, as I’m sure many others have, through A List Apart.

That doesn't mean you have to, should, or must give your work away. It only means that, for my particular case, if your site wasn’t freely available, I’d have surely never discovered, appreciated, and purchased your work. Do with that what you will.

Cliener von Cleanskin

Because your work speaks to us artistically, it’s easy for us to say “we love you!” but obviously the question du jour is how that translates into greenbacks.

I see this site as a lure to your other work whether freelance, the store or, err, other. The question is really whether this is enough to keep the wolves at bay and, further, whether the wolves are kept at bay with prime steak or something best used in the stew pot.

For me, a key element of this site is the conversations that extend on from each illustration. The risk of changing the formula too much is that interaction may be broken thereby diminishing the value of the content.

As for an actual suggestion… if necessary, reduce the output displayed on this site and instead shift it into more commercial ventures (i.e. books, prints). A good amount of this depends on how much income you can derive from such things but, theoretically, it may help shift the balance between free and paid work.

Of course, if all this fails, you could try charging $10,000 per page load. It wouldn’t work very often, but, when it does you’d be rolling in cash.

Diane Faye Zerr

I too discovered you somewhere on the web. Once I entered your site it was as if I never wanted to leave. But if there was a cover charge, I probably would have ran the other way.

If you create a new format for your content (i.e. self-published online magazine) then I think many of us will continue to follow and perhaps pay for it. I've bought several books, ogled at The Donestra and wished I could have bought it but only found you long after it sold out.

But this portion of the site is your communication with your readers, those who appreciate your work and random thoughts. To charge for this is like sleeping with a nice woman that you met and her then turning and saying — that'll be $500. And I thought you liked me.

Do what you feel is the next step for your site. We may follow, we might not. But you'll never know if you don't try.


A few years ago, I picked up a small book off a coffee table at my friend Martha's apartment. I was with a group of friends, chatting, and I kept getting reprimanded for not participating in the conversation, because I kept looking down, entertained more by your book than by the human beings around me. All that's to say, I like what you create.

Ricky Gervais had a podcast for a while, that was the most downloaded podcast in the world. It was given away for free for a few weeks, then suddenly, at the absolute peak of his success, he decided to require a paid download for all future episodes. I never listened again. But some people did. Since then, Ricky has continued to be successful both on the web and in real life. However, almost everything he does on the internet, that you don't have to pay to see, is an advertisement for something else. But I still watch those advertisements. I know that this doesn't say much for artistic ideals, and I'm about as idealistic as anyone when it comes to my art (I'm deeply in debt for the films I make). An artist and illustrator I admire, Rockwell Kent, once said, "advertising is the grand purveyor of the arts." I've found a lot of freedom in that.

You're a fine illustrator and humorist sir.

baron von munchausen

Kevin, I think you're doing it right. I think you always have to offer some kind of free content, or else how (or why) would people learn about the paid stuff?

Imagine if a supermarket (or any other store) charged you to walk inside. Why on earth would you pay to get in if you don't know what's inside?

A better analogy is this: what if you had to pay for a book before you could even read a page? I think Amazon has it right: give people a peek (the "look inside" feature), but only let them see the whole thing if they buy.

I think the world works on the principal of giving a little away to entice a sale in the end. Hell, people have been displaying their wares for centuries at no cost to passerby.

So, keep a nice storefront, give people a reason to visit, make your wares visible, and hope you have something people want. And a suggestion...you're sold out of a lot of cool stuff. I bet you'd sell more if you stocked up.


I don't want to pay for content I can't keep. I'd rather buy a book of yours than pay for little bits of webcontent. Keep on producing those hilarious publications and feed me with promotional bits online and I shall be your customer for a long time. =)

Manuel Martensen

I second all what the Baron said, especially the old “out of stock” dilemma he mentioned. Damn, Kevin!

Like so many, I noticed your drawings at ALA, came here, lurked around, enjoyed myself, but in the end I—like so many—just had to order a book. Not why I wanted stuff on paper, that’s nice, but because I wanted more.

I bet that I would buy & paypal “longer than a blog post stories” as well, as I hate to wait for stuff to arrive.

The Philanthropist

Market Research Submission #1:
To date, I have purchased one t-shirt and 2 books as a result of frequenting this site, for a total of about $50.00, and I would assume as some point I will have to have more. The frequency with which you update content and the witty-osity levels of your articles are what keeps me coming back. I like both the free web content\downloads and the option to purchase some of the work. This model seems to work well for a guy like me. I can't speak for a client who might want to contract some illustration from you, but thats why I'm here.

steve lyon

I'll echo some of what was said above, in that perhaps the site could be a test mule - someplace where you (hopefully) enjoy tinkering with new ideas, see what works, what doesn't. Things that maybe aren't quite ready for market, or little musings that might never see the market, but would serve as a lure to people like me. I like to stop by and see what you're up to and buy a BACON t-shirt once in awhile (I love my BACON t-shirt!).


I have the same dilemma (minus the engaging content) and yet I'm one of those horrible leaches. I check my RSS inbox occasionally and am always glad to see my favorite content providers churning out more wonderful content. But I don't buy (because I don't have the luxury to afford) the merchandise or wares of these providers. Only recently did I start paying for television. Before that, I just took whatever came over the airwaves and was (relatively) grateful. The free television providers put ads in their content. Now I pay for television AND they still put ads in the content, but I skip them with my DVR so I guess it all equals out?
I love the token idea but I haven't seen it implemented anywhere. You could always go to the television idea and place ads on your site. Project Wonderful is being used by many artists and humorists with some level of success.
Keep up the great work! Post it, or don't and I'll still think highly of you.


Hi Kevin,

I think all "content providers" struggle with this. Magazines and newspapers make money from the cover price and from the advertising. TV is a mix of advertising alone and cover price plus advertising. Books just cover price.

As no real micropayment solution seems to exist then you can't charge a "cover price" very easily. So perhaps some advertising?

Merchandising is the other way. If it is the only way you are making money from this site perhpas it should be a bigger feature of the site going forward?

Love your work - 1 book, 1 tshirt


okay, i havent read through all the posts yet, and i will, but i gotta get back to work so i will just post this quickly.
sell publications, books, mags, etc.
sell cups mugs, etc
sell fonts (that one you did recently rocked)
syndicate the comic if you can.
keep the posts until now all free. any future material goes in another page, passworded for those who don't pay.
pull a Pirarro and you should be fine; what you have up is good enough to promote. now sell. weekly comics should be syndicated and you get paid. every once in while if you get the urge to freely share, then put up a new home page graphic.

now that i have said that, i'm sure i'll be reading it in the comments list from someone before me.
"Hey, I had a similiar idea..."


I suppose the question behind the question is whether you are actually giving your work away by allowing free access to this site. I don't think you are. The Guggenheim is one of my favorite museums, only because they have made a good portion of their permanent collection available online for viewing, for free. I have viewed Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque, and Klimt and yet I don't feel as though the Guggenheim were giving those away at a loss ... if I am ever able to visit New York, the Guggenheim is sure to be one of my first stops, even before the Statue of Liberty, just so I can see that work in person. So, just because your work is able to be viewed for free online, does not necessarily mean that, having seen your work for free, no-one will want to hire you to create something new, an authentic hard copy, for themselves. If anything, having this free is more likely to whet appetites for your work and build yourself a wider client base. I'm afraid I don't have any suggestions about how to harness this technology to generate more revenue for yourself; it seems to be a problem that everyone is facing now. I think that if you do go with a subscription set-up, you really ought to allow a free trial period, to allow folks to get to know you, your work, the fun banter in the article comments. After all, that system has worked so well for drug dealers! ;-) You got me hooked and I simply can't do without your site now and I would not have any trouble paying a small subscription! :-D


It looks like Google may save us all!

Paypal does offer micropayments (it defines as less than $12 US) at a better transaction rate. 5% + 5 cents.

I guess that would be 10 cents on the dollar.


Well, I've been reading your posts since 2004. Back then, when I saw your online sketchbook it inspired me to pick up my art supplies and has led to some interesting places and for that I am grateful.

Truthfully I wouldn't pay for any news or blog content. I love your books (but missed out on many because they are sold out hint hint). I view supporting your books, prints, etc as my subscription and mark of appreciation. I hope your able to profit from those.

I enjoy your ad-free site but according to some website evaluations they estimate that you have about 6000 page views per day which could generate about $22.00/day revenue. About $600 a month. Not too shabby. That is If your design sense will permit ads. You could try it for a time and see if it would make enough to make it worth it. I would look at ads if it meant supporting your content. I'd be curious to see what ads these posts would generate. Probably heavy on the monkeys, bananas and halitosis remedies.


Sorry, one last thought. I think most artists at one point need to ask themselves, 'Why am I painting/drawing/blogging this? Is it for money? Respect? So people will want it? Because I feel like it?

Once you figure that out it's quite refreshing because then you can accept the consequences. "I'm painting this three foot tall radish because I want to!" = no one wanting it = no money = you pay for supplies to make it. Or paint something you think people will like = market it strong = make people want it to pay for it.

Peace ensues.

Pick your direction my creative compatriot and make peace so if we all follow or not you are doing what you wish.


Just wanted to check in and assure everyone I'm paying close attention to your replies, and I really appreciate all the feedback! I can say at this point I definitely won't be going the Ad route (it's a good suggestion Brad, and it would be more profitable than doing nothing, but I just have a focused hatred for most forms of advertising. Latent ad agency burn-out, I'd call it).

Right now I am leaning towards just throttling the content and concentrating on books. The question then is how often I should post. This past year my goal was two quality posts a month, which I felt was a good trade-off. So maybe I've already been throttling at the right rate and didn't even know it.

I definitely still have my ears open though - if anyone else has more suggestions to share, or advice, let 'er rip. I can't tell you what a relief it is to go over this stuff with you guys. :D

The Philanthropist

James' post above made me think of one more item that is missing from your merchandise: Vinyl. I'd buy a vinyl Mojo. maybe even several... doing various destructive activities... Vinyl Mojo runnning with a bowling ball-shaped bomb.


Vinyl? Nothing says Mischevious Monkey Chic like Velour!!

(Futurama forever, man!)


I understand your pain, but I think that mostly everyone (Jaron Lanier included, visionary that he may well be) is looking at this whole thing entirely the wrong way.

The problem is that we HAD a model that worked in a particular way (you made a thing and people paid a certain monetary price for it if they wanted it) and now we have a model that doesn't work in that way and it is (for all the people who liked the old model) unacceptably EVIL.

I disagree vehemently that culture is becoming simply advertising. That's plainly not so. Certain kinds of culture may be prone to sliding down this path, but I look around me and I see no dearth of culture. In fact, I see an EXPLOSION of culture so vast that I can't even keep up with it.

The question on your (and everybody else's, including my) lips, though, is: can we make any kind of a decent living doing what we do in this new artistic Cambrian Explosion?

And that begs another question - was the living we previously made doing stuff, that is for all intents and purposes entirely useless, justified? (When I say useless, I mean that it is stuff that has no 'practical' value, hence its monetary value is, in real terms, quite arbitrary. Lest you think I'm being partisan, I include my own artwork and music in this assessment).

When you ask that particular question, you are forced down another road entirely - what monetary value does art have? And the answer must necessarily be - whatever people feel like paying for it. And if they feel like paying nothing, then that is the value they give it. There is no ignominy in this, because it is fundamentally worth nothing. If it has an inherent worth, then it is, by definition, commercialism!

You see where I'm going with this? The kind of money that we previously used to pay for music, artworks, entertainment and so forth was dictated by a complex system of distribution, manufacture and exclusivity. Now that we don't have that, then the value of the 'thing' comes down to the art itself. It is plainly not like a loaf of bread, or a village well, or a lung transplant, all of which are necessary and therefore command monetary value (I don't aim to get into a discussion about the 'necessity' of art here - I think most people accept that it is technically possible to live a life without piano concertos but not without food).

In my own field of music, I imagine it like this: once upon a time there were no CDs or vinyl records or pianos. If you wanted to hear a song, you had to go find someone who was good at making music and pay them something and sit and listen - you weren't paying for the 'song' per se, because it wasn't actually something you could ever possess. You were paying for an experience. And then you went home. If you wanted to take the experience with you, then you had to learn the song, or the tune, and learn an instrument to play it - the song itself didn't cost you anything. At this time, there was no other way of having music. Then, printed sheet music and the piano came along and you could more directly bring the music into your home, admittedly with some effort (more learning). Also, suddenly, the song itself accrued a value - you had to pay for the sheet music. Then, the wax cylinder came along, followed by the vinyl record and all you needed to bring the music into your home was some more money to spend (but really, no effort on your own part). Now you were paying for the song, a mechanical device on which to play it and also for the rights to play it on that device. But because these things were still relatively rare, the experience was special. And because they now had a money value, they also aquired a legal value, and the listener acquired some legal obligations (no-one ever asked whether we wanted this - it just became so). Then the vinyl records became less rare, and CDs came along, and you could have music everywhere you went - even driving along in your car! The experience was becoming less special. Then the mp3 came along, and the iPod and the capacity to store more songs than you could listen to in several years... and suddenly, because the specialness and the mechanical difficulty were almost non-existant, the value of the songs themselves were revealed to be way higher than anyone actually thought they were worth. And, worse than that, they were encumbered by all these legal obligations! Outrageous! We were annoyed!

So you can see, the old model sowed the seeds of its own destruction many years ago. It was always going to come to this.

A second factor that has come into play to devalue art in a monetary sense is that there is just so much more of it now. Or at least, with the internet, we have access to so much more of it. So what was once perceived to be locally 'original' now has to be globally original to have any uniqueness (and therefore value). This of course is MUCH harder to achieve. The obvious solution to this is novelty, and that is exactly what we see - an explosion of novelty, as people attempt to find their own little niche. A niche that is so completely theirs that they can set a price on it.

Not so many people will pay to see the monkey dance anymore. There are too many other dancing monkeys, and we've seen them do their schtick a thousand times. Bearskin Rug is one of my favourite reads, and I cherish your sense of humour and love to watch the antics of Mojo and Ambidextrous et al. But quite frankly, I won't pay for that - there are just too many other offers for entertainment out there, and a percentage of them (a much larger number than I could ever hope to read) are pretty damn good. I think my blog is pretty damn good too, but I only have about a dozen regular readers, and I'm pretty sure none of them would pay to read either. You yourself said "I suspect there's several websites out there that offer games to paying users in an an arcade-like fashion, though I don't subscribe to any." Games, content, jokes, even information - people ain't gonna pay. Not unless you kill the internet and restore the old insularity.

Mr Rupert Murdoch is facing exactly the same conundrum and his solution is that he is going to start charging for people to read his newspapers. How I will laugh when he falls right down on his fat rich ass, because no-one is going to go to that party.

I'd better stop. I have some theories on how we might proceed, but this is already way too long...


I do agree with most of things that have been posted here, but as I was reading through all the comments I saw a big gap: Has anyone in the enterteinment/art business come up with a digital business model as it yet?

Im suscribed to a high quality e-magazine of design, and they both release a "lite" version and the full, chunky version. They say they have over 8 million suscribers, and they sale each mag at $3.00, imagine if only 1% of them suscribe like I do? It's a lot less money than having a bigger piece of the pie, but is still a profitable business after all.

Have you considered more merchandising? More original products? From cheap ones to high end?

Like bananaglyph said, the rules of the game haved changed. But I guess that there is hope at the end of the tunnel...we just need to find how we can "monetize" our passion.

Still, we need things that make our life a happier place (like the bliss and enlightment of one olive inside the dirty martini)...so yes, there will always be a place for your art in my wallet.

Mojo has just hacked my PC...oh dear..

Diane Faye Zerr

I love that you have a follower by the name of Baron Von Munchausen. I know I'm in the right place.

I used to watch The Adventures of Baron Munchausen movie as a kid, and even my mom thought I was odd for liking it.


dont tell the baron, he'll sick ol' eric idle on you.

vinyl... Mojo sings?!


i think any artist promoting themselves on the internet, and using the 'net as their primary source of marketing, has had the very same thought(s) (and if they haven't then those thoughts are lurking just around the corner!). providing free content, regardless of the level of effort it requires to achieve that content, entices people in and encourages them to buy in to your brand. the hope is that your army of dedicated followers will then spend their hard-earned on your 'for sale' items. your conversion rate is subject to a whole bunch of variables, but at the core of it is the quality of your product; not just the for sale stuff but the free stuff as well. if it's good then conversion rate will come. sadly it's hardly ever a quick process.

bringing your art to the attention of the masses can't be a bad thing, no matter how long it takes you to achieve, although i appreciate the 'in favour of paid work' argument. there has to be a balance.

providing items for sale that are over and above the free items is the key, and i think this is something you have already achieved. giving away free art in the form of updates is one thing, producing books of art for us to purchase is the payoff.

i dont know your sales volumes, but what i do know is that if i hadn't been following your blog and immersed myself in your 'free' content then i wouldn't have popped out and bought the 'benjamin button' book from the store, simply because i wouldn't have been aware that it existed. that said, the frequency with which you provide that 'free' content is maybe something you can wrestle with / find that balance 'til you're happy...?

...and all this from someone who is about to launch a new album using the internet as the main sales, marketing and distribution medium. pah!

i guess the one thing to consider is that all artists providing their work online are responsible for the collective perceived value of art delivered in this fashion. if we provide a fair level of content for free, whether it be trailing songs from an album or advance illustrations from a book, then we need to be careful not to undersell ourselves. everything in moderation and all that. after all, just because a selection of our work is on the internet with no sale price does not mean it is worthless...


I originally saw your artwork on alistapart.com. I loved the illustrations and bought a print. I then added your RSS feed to my iGoogle page and check back to see if you have new work for sale that interests me...

I find your articles thought-provoking but I probably wouldn't pay for them...

Can't wait for new images for sale.


As a professional in the web industry, you already know this, but..

If you do follow the suggestion of stocking up on the merch you already have, I would add that the site design could do a lot more to upsell that content. (This may be in the pipe dream pile.)

You have to start thinking like a business man. What layouts entice people into the store? What items in the store appeal best to my audience? How can I look at what works and amplify that?

Look at traffic, sales history and figure out what works. When the prints were up, what percentage of page views turned into sales? How much traffic can you get to those pages if that was your hope to feed yourself. ("Exit through the gift shop" is a formula that's worked on tourists for centuries.)

Based on your desire to go into more books, I have a feeling that book sales work for your style of humor. (I'd be more like to buy the peoplemals as a coffee table book than as a wall print. I recently saw a children's book called Dinotruxs that reminded me of them.)

I bought Benjamin Button and TheSuperest at B&N. I fear that the amount you get back from that is minor compared to all I've mooched off reading your site the last several years.

Is it more profitable to self publish and sell from your site? Or does the wide reach of the mass market book sellers give you more in the end? Has print on demand gotten cheap enough for self publishers to make and money off it?

I'm sure you are already mulling these things over.

Speaking of print on demand, have you considered using a service like addmerch to make every Superest drawing into a print on demand t-shirt? Seems easy enough to implement that even if it was only a few sales a month it'd be worth it.

Also, Christmas isn't the only event that can use a good greeting card. Your art and wit are a good fit for cards.

And lastly, there's the empty sockmonkey drawer. Every mojo cartoon could be a natural upsell for the sock monkeys. When they were in stock, did they sell out fast, was there a demand? Do you need to get them cheaply produced in China to make the economics work?

You have built up an audience, now you just need to figure out what that audience is willing to pay for. I don't think it's the blog content. I think the blog is the fun experience that you give away for free. You just have to figure out how to get your virtual tourists to exit through the gift shop, and buy a little souvenir to commemorate their experience.


PS: Both Christmasgram comics would make great greeting cards.


Reading this dilemma I'm reminded a bit of Sita Sings the Blues- it is an animated film by Nina Paley. Anyways she ended up giving her film away for free and she made all of her money on merchandise and lectures. I know its not really the same but this website is the reason I've kept an interest in your work (and have bought a book).
To add to what "MM" said above I have a weakness for artist's sketchbook-books.

d j tanner

In all fairness I should be paying you a percentage of my wages as an illustrator, given how important this site is to my creative motivation.
Then again, on an illustrator's paycheck I'm probably not going to...


Again, just checking in to assure everyone I'm still listening, and really appreciate the feedback. Bananaglyph, I don't think I ever thought about art, and its worth, from that point of view. Very insightful!

MM, you make a good point about this site not being particular focused on selling. I've been very hesitant to push products, mostly because I'm in a weird situation where I'm very aware of the methods and tactics of marketing, having implemented them for a large portion of my career, but at the same time I'm completely soured on it, and when I detect that I'm being targeted, I bristle. And I don't want to do that to others. It might be time for me to reconsider my attitudes. I don't know.

With regards to the question about self-publishing versus going through a publisher, I have gone over and over in my mind about it. Self-publishing has been great for the editorial control it gives me, but on the other hand, without a proper proofreading and editorial team working on the project with me, I have made some regrettable errors. And unless you have a firm marketing and distribution network in place, your sales are severely hindered. And the cost of on-demand production is HIGH. I earn $1.35 per Curriculum Vitae, a $27.00 book (it's full color... that's the problem).

Then on the other hand, going through a publishing house might guarantee better distribution and marketing, and way lower production costs, but not having full control of the content can also be detrimental. Sutter and I didn't have much say in the design of the Superest Book and I think it suffers for it.

This touches upon one of the biggest hurdles I face in creating content; I'm committed to making the best quality product I can, which often means sacrificing profits. Situations like with Curriculum Vitae, where it's more important to have all color than make a profit. Kim faces a similar dilemma with Sock Monkey Drawer. She doesn't want to sacrifice quality by mass-producing, but she'll never see real profits without taking that step. It's like a catch 22 situation.


this is pretty much the reason I stopped posting drawing on inkfinger.us. people kept STEALING all of it and it was pissing me off. Now i don't draw at all. Side note: HOLY LONG AS CRAP comments people! GEEZIES!


Haha... well, maybe you just shouldn't draw such nice stuff ;)

I'll loan you "Fun Uncle Stu". NO ONE wants him.


Niff, I don't ever post my work on public sites, either, though my children are thoroughly enjoying deviant art. The work that I have posted on my own site, I have noticeably watermarked, with the attitude that if you want to steal that work and try to pass it off as your own, you're gonna have to do some serious cosmetic surgery on it in Photoshop first. My lingering concern is how to protect that concepts of that work and I have yet to figure that out ...


ugh, yeah i know that question well myself. i love giving away stuff for free, but i also need money to survive in this system of ours. here in germany theres some people advertising the "bedingungsloses grundeinkommen" (termless basic income) - and if i would not have to think about earning, i'd surely create finer stuff.
more to the point, i have set up a donation button on my website (that earned me 5€ in about a year), made some print comics from my blog (i get a little more money from those but they are lot more work) ..
maybe i'd advise this: give away as much of your time (free) as you can afford and feel good about and ask your readers to buy something or for a donation once in a while.
i myself might get another bearskinrug tee or something to show my appreciation and say "thank you very much for your pretty thoughts and lines" :)


Not that I'm closing discussion, but I just wanted to let everyone know I think I've decided to continue on the way things have been, creating books (and maybe SOME merchandise) and posting to the site just to have a laugh with all you fine folk and disprove any allegations that I'm dead. It does seem like the path most appropriate for me. Thank you all again — I really feel like I can now commit to this direction with confidence, and without the anxiety I've wrestled with every time I post for the last year or so.

Danna Bobanna

great to hear the discussion has put your mind to rest kevin, now hurry up and get the next instalment online, we might not be paying but it doesn't mean we're not impatient... ;)


Reading over these comments, I don't think most people understand how much time it takes to make good merchandise. Working out the product, finding vendors, getting quotes, figuring out how much money to sink into a item to get the best quantity discount without overstocking — it's a lot of work. And let's not forget how much time it takes to build an online store and pack and ship product.

It's easy to say that creators should monetize their creations through a merchandising model, but basically what we're asking creators to do is hold two jobs. Yes, making web comics or podcasts or blog articles is usually something that creator enjoys doing, but it's still work. It still can fill an eight hour day to create that content. Creating merchandise? More work.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm feeling very hopeful about the iPad. I think devices like the Kindle and the Nook and the iPad may lead to people becoming more comfortable with paying for chunks of content and for ongoing subscriptions.

Paper and tv content is still subsidizing internet content. As paper (and tv) continues to decline, that revenue is going to have to come from somewhere to keep internet content going, don't you think? People may not like paying for content on the internet, but I think it's inevitable. At least, I hope it is — it seems sort of silly that in order to make it as an independent comics creator these days that I need to hock coffee cups and t-shirts. I mean, it's a model that has clearly worked for some people, but it's like saying that in order to make it as an architect you need to take a day job as a construction foreman or if you're a computer programmer you need to work shifts on the Geek Squad. It's just kind of weird.


it seems sort of silly that in order to make it as an independent comics creator these days that I need to hock coffee cups and t-shirts.

Agreed, Nathan. I myself don't have any particular interest in owning merchandise from artists I admire, which sort of hinders my desire for creating it for others. You can't satisfactorily produce that which you don't understand. Plus, there's a lot of waste associated with merchandising, and I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of creating anything that will eventually end up in a trashcan.

I think this is what makes me want to concentrate on books. They just feel less... throwaway. And it allows people to directly exchange money for the content itself, rather than some product derived from the content. Unfortunately you have to sell A LOT of books to make a living like that.


it seems sort of silly that in order to make it as an independent comics creator these days that I need to hock coffee cups and t-shirts.

I don't want to harp on this (the state of affairs affects me as much as anybody) but this is an artifact of a situation that was completely artificially created in the first place. Rather than be put off by the situation we're now in, we need to be marvelling that there was a time when we could make money directly off our artwork - because that concept is the historical exception.

Everybody has come to see intellectual property as the norm, and its erosion is what I think causes the resentment. All that is happening now is that we're going back into the age of the artisan - we need to make things for our customers, and the value resides in those things rather than the abstraction of 'what they mean' in an artistic sense.

It's not easy to assimilate, I'll agree, but I'm beginning to see it as a necessary way forward.


Have you considered PRI's "This American Life" model? The current podcast is free, while archived episodes cost $1. It would seem to provide continued exposure, flexibility and potential revenue.


Hmm - that's definitely a good model to consider... I hadn't thought of that. Good call, Doogie :)

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