The business model that most webcomic folks follow is usually some variation of: put comics online for free and make money selling books, t-shirts, prints, and other physical mementos of the digital strips. It’s common because it’s been proven to work. Repeatedly. Folks like Phil and Kaja Foglio, Scott Kurtz, and Jennie Breeden have successfully been using that model for a decade or longer. It’s really been the first model that was not only proven succesful, but successful for a fairly wide and diverse group of cartoonists. Why mess with success?
Because it might not be the only model that works. Ryan Estrada is betting it isn’t.
I’ve written about Estrada in other venues before. I discovered him and his work in, I believe, late 2011 and what I quickly learned about him is that he is full of ideas. His comics don’t contain the raw power of, say, Jack Kirby or the detailed and nuanced linework of Hal Foster. His comics tend be smaller in scale and scope. Often more personal stories, and seemingly as often as not autobiographical ones. But many of his ideas aren’t on the comics page (or screen, as the case may be) but behind it. He’s got plenty of ideas on the business of making comics.
His latest idea has shown up within the context of Patreon. If you’re unfamiliar with Patreon, the basic idea is to crowd-fund your venture on an ongoing basis. Unlike, say, Kickstarter where individuals contribute a small amount one time to fund a single project, Patreon is set up to have individuals contribute small amounts on a monthly basis to fund a creator’s overall endeavors. Patrons of webcomic creators are then usually treated to extras like seeing the comics in advance, or getting bonus content, or something.
Estrada has come up with something, which as far as I know, is new and different. For the paltry sum of $10 a month, he will research any topic, write a comic to teach someone the basics of the topic in fifteen minutes, and then turn the rights over to the patron, who can then publish or do whatever they want with the comic including any commercial ventures. It’s essentially becomes a work-for-hire model, but within the context of Patreon. And at only $10 a month… well, let’s do some math.
We’re talking about an eight-page comic. If you paid someone $100 per page (a page rate for professional comic artists that’s, frankly, a bit on the low side) just to draw eight pages, that’s $800. Divided by $10 per month, that’s 80 months. Or a little over six and a half years. That’s a pretty good deal, it seems to me, and that’s not even factoring in that Estrada will do all the necessary research for the topic, but write the whole thing as well. Oh, and you have access to read all the other comics he’ll be offering via Patreon as well.
But the real key here is that he’s taking it to through the Patreon process. Now, instead of having to shell out nearly $1000 for your own custom comic right off the bat, he’s turned Patreon into what’s effectively an installment loan program. But without the interest rate or credit report concerns.
I like Estrada for a number of reasons. One is that he keeps finding ways to push the boundaries of comics are. Not everything he does is a wild success, of course, but he’s never let failure or the fear of failure prevent him from trying something new. Whether or not you like his comics, and whether or not you support his Patreoning, it’s worth keeping an eye on him to see whether or not this works.