Achewood in the House: Chris Onstad Interview

Here’s an interesting interview from the Onion AV club with Chris Onstad of Achewood. That is the only webcomic I follow on a regular basis, and have for years. A few years back, my XMas gifts were collections of the strip and Achewood T-shirts, so I’m more interested than average. Apparently this is the first time that Onstad has let his photo be taken for one of these things, which is funny because he looks about like I figured he would. Also interesting is that he makes similar statements about what business he really is in as Gene Simmons did on the Henry Rollins show: nominally in the content creation business, both are really in the merchandise game. The content creation manufactures an excitement that makes people buy stuff, where the real money is.

It’s a good interview and I recommend it. I’ve liked Onstad for years even though he flaked on me when I had set up a webcomics roundtable episode for Voices in Your Head and his flaking made me cancel the whole thing.

Minicomics Subscription Idea

One of the tangible results I get from listening to the Indie Spinner Rack podcast is that my interest in mini-comics has been rekindled. I have a number of these, and I used to pick them up from people at conventions. I’ve got some of the old Matt Feazell Cynicalman comics, some Steeldragon Press comics that Will Shetterly himself gave me and so on. When I listen to their show and hear these mini-comics creators, quite often I’m interested. However, that interest breaks down the same way my present-day, middle aged man comic fan interest always does. I’ve got money to buy this stuff but not much time or energy to manage those interests. I’m just not going to hunt up a dozen different individual creator websites and make $4 orders from each of them. It’s just too much trouble. Even though I have some desire to get this stuff, it isn’t enough to jump the hassle hurdle.

Here’s a business idea that I hope exists. If it doesn’t, by gum I might create it myself. I’d rather just be a customer, though. I’d like to have a meta-mini-comic distributor/subscription service. It would be analogous to any of these online comic shop subscription services. You’d deposit some money in your account and subscribe to mini-comics, either title by title or by creators, or every mini-comic that comes through the system or whatever constraint you want to put on it. Once a month, you’d get an envelope in the mail with all the comics that you were subscribed to. The cover price of the comics, plus postage and a little handling would be deducted from your account. For bonus points, you’d get an automated email perhaps the week before the package ships letting you know what comics will be in it, and giving you a last chance to update your subscriptions before the stuff hits the mail. More bonus points, having a shopping cart that would let you buy back issues of comics that would be bundled in with your next regular package, saving you a little on the postage side. Even more, how about an RSS feed of upcoming comics and/or your account status so you know what comics there are to subscribe to and you know which ones you are getting and can easily add to that group.

The basic idea is to make the friction of dealing with finding and getting the mini-comics really low, which might well help expand the market. This is not a huge market by any way you slice it, so it wouldn’t take much expansion before the creators notice it. I don’t know how creators currently do it with distributors. There would be some kind of wholesale rate that the subscription service would pay for the comics, maybe 75% for 3 to 10 units, 65% for 11 to 25 units, etc. Numbers vary according to what makes sense. The idea behind it is that everyone can make money at whatever level. The creators can get people buying every single issue but they don’t have to pack dozens of envelopes. They just put all the copies in one box and mail it to the distributor and collect the check. The distributor gets to bundle together many different creators and aggregate this into a single transaction. It’s not much harder to sell $25 worth of stuff than $3, the tricky part is getting a customer to convert from web site visitor to person that pays money. Because of the recurrent nature of this, once you get the money into the account it is easier to spend it than not. It also give customers a compelling way to sample lots of creators, save time and energy while not missing issues of comics they enjoy. That’s the part I really like, both as a completist collector spazz and as an aging manchild who doesn’t want to put a lot of energy into keeping up with which creator has a new comic coming out when.

So help me out, lazy web. Does such a service already exist? If it doesn’t, would you be a customer of such a system?