Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Comic Oligopolies

I watched the documentary "Stripped" last night, and enjoyed it. But it was trying to do too many things to really be a good documentary. The part I enjoyed most was hearing the artists talk about their process for "being funny" every day.

Many of the interviewees have created web-based comics, and so there was a longer-than-necessary section on "how do webcomic authors make money." (Like I said, it tried to do too many things.) There was also a fair amount of incomprehension from the older artists: "that's the part I want somebody else to take care of", "how do these kids make money", "I just like it when a bag of money shows up regularly", etc.

Although the comics syndicates do compete with each other, they form an oligopoly. And the gatekeeper function of that oligopoly is, I think, a large part of what kept artists paid. We know people will make comics--- even surprisingly good comics--- for a pittance, and that there are thousands of hopeful cartoonists out there. (One stat was something like 1 in 3500 applications gets accepted by the syndicates.) A gatekeeper can cut off this supply curve, thereby keeping prices (wages) high. You either are the top 1% and earn a decent living, or eventually go do something else with your life.

The web changes this, although in a complicated way because the revenue stream isn't the same. But it means nobody is saying "no" to a comic artist--- they might be a failure in the market, but they aren't getting rejected by an editor. That suggests that the distribution of money will look different, too.
Tags: comics, economics, movies
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