Brad Guigar, on Webcomics.com last year:
Comic scraper sites (and apps) pop up at the rate of every other month or so. Typically, they use a webcomic’s RSS feed to “scrape” the comic and use it for their own purposes — whether it’s a collection of their favorite comics in one site or an app that allows a reader to easily surf all of their favorite comics in one, easy place. In general, comic scrapers take only the comic, leaving behind the other elements of the webcomic site — like the blog …and the site’s advertising.
The latest offender: DailyComix, an comic reader app for Android. Load it onto your phone, wait for it to download a comic index, pick a bunch to follow, and read them strip-by-strip in a clunky interface. There’s a free, ad-supported version and a $2 paid version.
This is all a bunch of crap.
DailyComix isn’t hurting anybody. It’s a tiny app that will never have a large, serious audience. The user experience isn’t great, it’s missing crucial information that readers care about (page commentary, site news, comments sections) and even if it was great and useful, most people would forget they ever downloaded it after a month anyway. It has less than 500 paid users. It was last updated in September. The ratings are pretty ordinary. It’s unlikely anybody uses it for anything other than reading XKCD.
It’s hardly the next Flipboard. Neither was Web Comic du Jour, LinkPedia, ComicRack’s Scraper extensions.. or the inevitable next thing you’ll see a dozen webcomic artists get flustered about in a couple months.
So move on. Stop spending time fretting about nothing important, and develop your artwork or business. That would be the efficient thing to do. We could stop right here.
But some like to fight for the principle of the matter, even if it’s intellectual masturbation. That’s fine. We’re on Tumblr after all.
Here’s the thing, webcomic creators: even if these scrapers were widely used, they wouldn’t hurt you. They would, in fact, empower your best readers, drive new readers, and help you make more money.
Let us imagine a world where readers stop visiting their dozens of bookmarks to their favourite websites, and instead use a third party aggregator to plough through content, mostly skimming, never seeing ads, never viewing the work in the creator’s intended context. The consequences are clear: the reader will use up server resources, the creator won’t receive ad revenue, the reader won’t see promotions for new merchandise.
Disaster! Stolen content! End of a well-worn business model!
Except.. well, we had this discussion. Readers expect this much of you.
I just think it’s piss-poor judgment to pull your content out of a thriving and highly brand-aware channel that’s frequented by a lot of very influential folks…for what? So, you can hold up all that inconvenience you’ve created to demonstrate to your bean counters that no one’s getting your “content” without being programmatically annoyed?
This was about an Old Media publication pulling full content from their RSS feeds. But the sentiment rings true for those New Media creators who recoil at the thought of Web 2.0.
You see, people who use tools like RSS Readers, social networks and aggregator sites are seriously into their comics. They’ve thought about how they consume this content and they’ve made it fit into their lives better.
Most won’t give you money. That’s just how it works here.
But those tool-assisted readers that will?
It’s in this pool of people that you’ll find the guys that gift you $50 worth of advertising by posting your every second strip around Facebook. The people who monitor a list of 50 webcomics and inevitably link your strips on the front page of a major comics and forums they follow across the web. They’re the ones that are following your Twitter feed and seeing your every message about new stuff in the store. And, more likely than not, they’re going to make up a large proportion of your 1,000 True Fans. After all, they spent time (and possibly money) figuring out how to better fit your work into their life.
Sure, this is all gut feeling and supposition. You’ve got to believe. But a quick check of my own survey data for BCB indicates that those who read via RSS are more interested in merchandise and donations, and an Adobe study says those dastardly app-driven iPad people tend to spend 50% more on internet retail than desktop users. It’s almost the common wisdom now that the technologically inclined are more likely to spend on frivolous things.
Why don’t you want these people to love you? Why aren’t you clamouring for better apps to be made for these people to read your comic through? (You do have a full-text RSS feed, right?)
Let us not lose sight of the other consequence of this brave new hypothetical world of popular aggregator apps - the new readers you’ll gather. That DailyComix home screen is a daily visit for hundreds of thousands of Android users, right? Wouldn’t you kill to get your comic in front of that many comic-hungry eyes, right in the content window? By golly, you are! And because of your appealing name and favicon, you’re going to find new readers at no cost at all!
New readers that will, at first, drain bandwidth, view your pages out of context, and certainly without seeing a single one of your ads.
But new readers that are going to wonder if you have a characters page. New readers that will hunt for the author’s Twitter. New readers that will passively read until that one time your character does something they just HAVE to find the damn site so they can post a comment on it. New readers that will mostly buy nothing, but will sometimes buy something. They’ll find you.
And they cost you nothing.
Still, the whine and wail about content aggregators is ever-predictable and will seemingly go on forever in every field:
“Flipboard has attracted a valuable and high-growth audience of social influencers and enthusiastic readers with one of the most popular apps on the iPad. We believe this more beautiful, more readable layout will increase your viewership and cause more people to retweet, share and like your content.”
You get paid in Tweets, baby.
As Merlin Mann put it, cutting out the aggregators “usually reflects the values of a company who think so little of both their audience and their staff that they’d burn cycles on deliberately making their material harder to get.”
Yes, you get paid in Tweets now. And by accepting Mere Tweets, you show your best readers how much you love them. You affirm the philosophy behind your choice not to erect a paywall. You show the world that you’re eager to give your readers every possible means of reading your comic and getting involved in your story. You’ve lent readers your trust. In my experience, they will pay you back.
And some clever developer gets some money for making a tool that people want to use. Win-win-win.
DailyComix caved, of course:
As some users may have noticed, a number of comics have been removed in the last few days, at the request of the publisher. Our policy is to always honor these requests, since these publishers often make a living from these works - and we believe in supporting publishers for their efforts.
Meaningless. Spineless. The cycle will continue.
But I can see why they’re scared of all the tin-pot dictators. Those pretend lawyers have bite!
Update: I describe the reaction to this post at the end of this entry.