GoComics recently announced that, in early 2017, they’ll be rolling out some significant changes to their site. According to their announcement…

The new GoComics makes your favorite comic strips, political cartoons and other content easier to read with an art-focused, gallery design. Everything is bigger and looks its best across your mobile and desktop devices.

They’re also claiming an improved search engine, comic recommendations, a new store, and better integration with several social media channels.

“But, Sean,” you’re thinking, “aren’t they owned by Universal Syndicate? Aren’t they the folks they do Garfield, Doonesbury, and Dilbert? Why are you talking about newspaper strips in your webcomics column?”

Well, yes, they are. But they also syndicate online strips like Bob the Squirrel, Savage Chickens, and Zen Pencils. The bulk of their content remains what you’d typically think of as newspaper strips, but they’ve been actively reaching out and expanding their content to include a number of webcomics (most of which run at least a few weeks behind the creator’s own site). They’ve gone back to Berkley Breathed and running his new Bloom County series (which, despite it’s newspaper origins in 1980, relaunched as a webcomic posted on Facebook earlier this year) and have even recently started serializing Spike Trotman’s Poorcraft book, which she Kickstartered back in 2012.

While I’ve been aware of their inclusion of webcomics for a while, I’m beginning to see where they’re heading as an organization. Whereas they’ve traditionally been the syndicate of many newspaper strips and earned their money essentially selling subscriptions to newspaper editors, they’re trying to shift their focus directly towards the readers. They seem to recognize the dwindling income streams from newspapers are not going to improve, and they’re trying to pivot to a different business model with a different revenue stream.

What’s interesting is the apparent recognition of the difference in content. Newspaper strips are often fairly generic in their style of humor because you’re trying to appeal to a very wide swath of readers. With webcomics, as you know, the creators can focus on a much smaller niche. From Universal’s perspective, this means that if they try to set up an environment where readers themselves pay a nominal subscription fee, they have to ensure there’s some decent amount of value. And, frankly, that would be hard to pull off with most newspaper comics. While they have a lot of readers, they’re generally not particularly devout ones. If they suddenly couldn’t read Marmaduke, they’re just going to shrug and move on. So by bringing in webcomics that begin to appeal to niche audiences, they can attract readers who become more emotionally invested in the strips, meaning they’re more likely to shell out money for an enhanced experience.

Of course, it’s far too early to tell if they can make this transition successfully. But it will bear watching as GoComics tries to position themselves not as a newspaper comics syndicate, but a comics aggregator catering not to the broad masses but to a series of niche audiences who might also read Garfield because it happens to be next to Dinosaur Comics.