An upfront warning: this isn’t a comprehensive article or intricately mapped-out treatise on creating a digital business. What is it, you ask? Me ranting a bit on a couple of topics I have a lot of passion for – Internet marketing and Comics – and where they are coming together right now.
With that out of the way, I’m going to start off by making a statement that will probably annoy a number of you reading this: Mark Waid’s Thrillbent makes me very sad. For all of its talk of digital revolution and being the future, it is incredibly short-sighted, ill-executed and more of the same thing that we’ve been seeing from webcomics since 1995.
Sure, they are doing some experimenting in terms of presentation and format, but they are absolutely missing the point of digital comics and creating material for the Internet. The comics of Thrillbent, the marketing/PR, and even the format of its website (which looks like every other webcomic portal, or even 2005-era Comixpress.com), are all squarely targeted at print comic book customers.
That’s right, Mark Waid’s great futuristic vision is just a re-configured print project being sold to pre-existing print customers. Almost as bad, all the site gives us is technology and a “reading” experience that has been done as far back as 12 years ago or more.
I will never understand someone who takes their product to the Internet and then limits the potential market to one that has already proven to be small and, for the most part, uninterested.
The real future of digital comics comes in opening up the thought process on packaging, marketing and audience targeting, not just in playing around with advancing technologies – which, to be honest, is all Thrillbent is. It’s a group of guys who have “figured out” that digital is the “future” (of course, we all know it’s the present and even a bit of the past at this point) and have focused on the wrong part of the problem. Delivery format isn’t the problem. Product development, market research and properly branding the work is the real problem. If you properly develop a product based on market need and build a brand around it based on your market research, that audience will move with you through changes in delivery system or format. Due to the speed of technological advancement, digital delivery will always be a business in a state of constant transition and change. What works today won’t be valid in a two years and will be forgotten in five.
What that means is, the problem with Thrillbent is that it isn’t expanding its potential market, it is just trying to cannibalize the pre-existing print market, and that is a formula for failure.
What I’d love to see is an A-List comic creator “Go Digital” with material and realize they have to market and sell the work like any other product – that they are no different than a prose author selling his work online, or someone trying to sell a new “As Seen On TV” style invention. I don’t want to see yet another failed print comic tossed online just because it is cheaper than print. The formats are different, the potential is different and the product should be treated differently.
Spending your time focused only on the delivery system (and one that can’t be patented or “claimed”) is missing the forest for the trees. If you do that, you’re wasting time and resources that should have been spent developing product for new markets and ways to expand your sales and brand reach.
Thrillbent’s problem, as with comics in general, is one of content and marketing, not of technology or delivery. In Thrillbent’s defense, tho, they’re just making the same mistake 99% of the other digital “publishers” are making.
If you’re going to go digital, then take advantage of what it has to offer. It is different and separate from the print comic industry and should be treated that way.
That’s it for now…I’m heading back to the drawing board!
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius
P.S. I avoided talking about the website design issues or what I see as specific content problems with the Thrillbent site. I’ve talked extensively about market research, product development and how to target your market in the past. I also focused specifically on Thrillbent, when the problem is with almost every digital comic publisher out there. Very few of them (if any) have realized that the Internet works different for a business than the comic industry does and their game needs to be changed accordingly.
I’ll probably write more on those points down the road.
P.P.S. This rant isn’t meant to say anything about the quality of the work being produced by Waid or his collaborators. I’m a big fan of Waid’s writing and have enjoyed his work for decades.