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Creating the Audience

So this Saturday night I'm doing laundry and crunching numbers on comic creation. It doesn't take an accountant to tell you that printing, distributing, and selling your own books won't make you a profit. Case in point: If I print out 500 copies of the B&W issue of Virtuoso, I have to sell 315 of them just to break even. That's selling them at 3.00 a piece, which is on the cheap end of comics. But selling that many means doing the convention circuit, which drains the coffers fast. So take that profit I earned in and flush it if I do it that way. This isn't even thinking about paying myself or Krista.

(Consequently, if you want to make sure that a fellow Whitechapeler gets paid for doing great art, go here:)

Anyway, seeing as how this profit model doesn't really work, not if you want to make a living at comics, you have to think laterally. Most webcomics make money on merchandising. The comic is free and online, and connected to a merch store. Collections are sold to the readers, and the profit margin on trade paperbacks is considerably higher than floppies. Actually, it doesn't make much sense to print floppies for an indie creator. Unless you're a big name like Kirkman, or doing something totally groundbreakingly brilliant like Hickman, you're probably going to be eating ramen noodles and dodging landlords until the trades come out. I know that's what killed Phonogram, and in a sane world Phonogram would be carried in every record store on Earth, and Gillen and McKelvie would be snorting blow off skinny indie girl's backs.

Back to making money. Money depends on audience, and audience depends on value. Also, being good helps, but isn't necessary. People like Amanda Palmer give their audience value by being accessible, passionate, and very very good at what they do, and so people will give money to be part of that. She creates a amorphous community of a sorts, a cult of personality all dedicated to making sure she eats and pays rent.

But Palmer has a lot of advantages. She was on a major label for years with a popular band, and even though the label screwed her in the end, she had huge international exposure because of it. She paid her dues, you know? What about guys like me, who don't have a massive audience, who have to build an audience?

I suspect that building a community at this level cannot be about the person. For example, if Amanda Palmer stops making music and starts, I dunno, a macaroni duck greeting card business, she'd have a significant number of hanger's on. If Warren stopped writing Freakangels, there would be a huge loss of readers. They have clout, history, and proven value.

So the community has to be built around something more interesting than the comic creator. Which is why I'm launching the Virtuoso Compendium. The idea is to bind the community to the collaborative process of world-building. It's a risky venture-- if it turns out that writing the imaginary history of a pseudo-Africa is boring, or such a tiny niche of a niche that it only supports a dozen contributors, I've hooked my cart up to the wrong horse.

On the other hand, if people begin to feel a sense of ownership with the world, the chances of gaining financial support from the community increases considerably, and it provides a launch pad for other creators to riff on ideas, broadening people's exposure to the world and characters. Here's hoping.


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