look to the webcomics.

I've been reading webcomics for about a decade, now, and every year I get more convinced that no one has figured out the new economic reality better than webcomic creators.  And I'm not talking about the Penny Arcade level death-star goldmine webcomic creators.  I'm talking about the one-and-two person operations, and the 'collectives'.

I'm not arguing it's an endless goldmine.  I'm just saying that a notable number of hardworking, talented artists are making a living on their creativity.  I'm not an expert or an insider, but I am impressed.

Business models I've observed include donations, subscriptions, advertising, sponsored content, but mostly a mixture of some of the above with merchandise sales (books, tshirts, tote bags).

All of this comes down to three stages: Make something good. Give it away. Offer the people who care about it a way to support you, and to own a piece of something they have come to love.

This can be merchandise sales (the Topatoco army wins at this, in my opinion), or donations (which have supported Something Positive for a couple of years now, if I'm not mistaken), or most recently, beautiful handcrafted books, sold at a well-justified premium (a la Dresden Codak.)

The important thing is the understanding of the new model of business.  It works the same as a new relationship - you give something of value, because you want to.  Because you love it.  Not with an expectation of return.

If you give something that enough people value, then they will give back, not only to support you, but to own a piece of what you've created.  To pull a little more of something they love into their lives, whether as a status object, or as a reminder that this thing they love exists.

The best part? Commerce has another layer of separation from the art.  The art is created to be art, to build a following, and to show something of value.  When the art is created to build a connection, there's no need to water it down - you want something that people will be connected to, not just unoffended by.  Selling tshirts doesn't diminish the art of a cartoonist, web or otherwise.  It separates the art from the product.

[Seriously, read webcomics.  The quality, humour and consistency of these people is clearly the biggest element of the success they've had thus far.  You will not regret it.]

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