Navigating the Digital Publishing Landscape: Subscriptions

You made your comic. But now what?

You've decided to self-publish it, but what does that really mean?

In the modern comic industry, it could mean a lot of different things. The game has completely changed and there are now more ways for you to get your comic to your readers than there ever have been.

The other side of the coin is that with so many more opportunities and possible avenues to take, you're left with an over-abundance of choice.

When you have too many options, it can make it difficult to decide or determine which to take. There are new digital platforms every day, and as a result the digital publishing landscape is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate - a veritable Times Square. A dense urban jungle you need to cut your way through.

In this series on Navigating the Digital Publishing Landscape we're going to be equipping you with everything you need to clear the vines in your path.

So read on, you'll find your map & machete ahead.


Click here to read Part 1, on Discrete Sales.

This is Part 2 of the "Navigating the Digital Publishing Landscape" series.

Click here to read Part 3, on Flexible Sales.

Click here to read Part 4, on Free models.


If you've already read any of the other installments, feel free to skip this section, as it is a pure copy. You can go on reading from "The Machete" section.

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The Map: Methodology

In figuring out how to best navigate the digital publishing landscape of comics, there are a few elements we need to consider.

The first is the nature of the transaction you're asking your reader to engage with.

Publishing is a collaborative relationship between a publisher and a reader. Both parties need to meet halfway. Distribution is the publisher's half - it's their job to get the book to the reader. The reader's job is to actually buy the book, and engage the transaction.

Different types of transactions completely change the way readers consider whether or not to purchase your comic. Asking a reader to buy your graphic novel is very different from asking them to subscribe to your new series.

It's only after first understanding how your transaction type impacts your readers that we can explore how different platforms (Comixology, Scribd, etc.) affect that relationship.

Once that's clear it becomes a lot easier to see the relative merits of each platform, in terms of how they deliver your product, enable you to monetize your work, and can fit in to a larger cohesive strategy. Then you'll be able to decide whether that channel is right for what you're trying to accomplish.

I know this probably seems like a lot, but stick with me and I promise it'll be a lot clearer when we're working with a specific example. So, let's.

The Machete: Subscriptions

Today we're talking about subscription transactions. Subscription transactions are characterized by a one-time sign-up that turns into a recurring purchase over the time. In general, subscriptions are only purchased for products that provide new content on a recurring basis - like a comic series that releases new issues after every payment period.

The big advantage with subscription transactions for creators is the recurring sale and the trajectory it sets you up for.

That recurring sale is important because you can focus on getting a customer at a certain price point and once they make the initial purchase there's actually more friction for your readers to unsubscribe, rather than stay on. So, you just need to keep producing more content with the same level of quality your customers expect of you.

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Netflix For Comics

When people think about subscriptions online, most people's first thoughts turn to Netflix. In the comics space there have been more and more "Netflix for Comics" type apps and services, such as Scribd, ComicsFix, and ComicBlitz.

I would talk about each platform individually, but a lot of what I'd have to say on each platform would end up being repetitive, so I figured I'd just write the parts in common upfront here.

Now, while I wouldn't say that these platforms are very restrictive they are somewhat lacking. Take the kind of products you can make available on these platforms, for example. You can upload what you'd like on each service, but you don't have much freedom over how your comic is consumed there, since the idea is to add your comic to a larger catalogue of work that's widely available for the subscribers.

You're trading in the ability to be unique in your distribution in exchange for hopefully reaching a larger audience of people who might casually find their way to your comic via one of these platforms.

This exchange is apparent in the monetization options these platforms provide you, too. From what I've seen, you're generally fighting for attention - splitting whatever the company earns from its subscribers with the other creators on the platform according to how many people actually read your comic. At least, that's the deal ComicsFix provides. I haven't been able to find Scribd or ComicBlitz's policies on the subject, though I do know that ComicBlitz explicitly does not accept unsolicited submissions as of this writing.

If you're interested in seeing the information on ComicsFix for yourself, you can do so here.

Now, with these limitations in mind I wouldn't recommend these "Netflix for Comics" type platforms as your primary release strategy. Netflix itself is the exception when it comes to its use as a release channel. The "all-at-once" season release it utilizes is obviously compelling, but only makes sense because of the large audience they command and their ability to fund this content. As a third party, it doesn't make sense to hinge your bets on these nascent platforms. However, they could still be a useful part of your distribution.

These platforms seem like they'd be most useful in keeping your backlist fresh - as an avenue to monetize older titles that might just be collecting dust. Plus, these platforms are likely non-exclusive - I know that ComicsFix is at least - so you don't have to let your presence there stop you from implementing other strategies as well.

If you want to dive deeper into strategies to monetize your backlist, Tyler James over at ComixTribe wrote a piece on the subject that mentions this avenue, among others.

There is also one other advantage worth mentioning, which is the possibility of finding new readers for your work. David Harper, from SKTCHD, wrote a great piece on the topic of how subscription models are changing the reader experience. In reading that post, one of my big takeaways from the post was the idea that readers could binge on the content you've amassed on any of these Netflix For Comics style platforms and become diehard fans of your work. I highly recommend you check out the post.

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Patreon

Another recent subscription-transaction based platform that has been making waves is Patreon. It brings together the strength of the subscription model with the power of crowdfunding.

It also has a notable amount of flexibility. Though creators on Patreon are encouraged to use the platform to support free projects, rather than as a paywall, nothing seems to actually prevent this.

Furthermore, creators are free to structure their subscription however they like. Projects can adopt a monthly model of funding, or a unit-based model, but for the purpose of our discussion they're essentially the same.

Beyond that, creators can further structure their project by setting up goals for their group of patrons to try to reach and providing rewards in exchange for different levels of support.

Then, with whatever you do raise, Patreon takes 5% and you lose an additional 4% from credit card transaction fees. This ~9% cut is pretty small compared to what other platforms might take and you're not competing to split the money - you just take home whatever your patrons pledge each month.

Of course, this means you need to have enough support that people do decide to support your Patreon. But if and when you do, you're building toward a sustainable income you can - for the most part - count on.

And, like with Kickstarter, you're changing the dynamic of your relationship with your audience - asking them to become supporters, rather than just customers and result in getting more money for what you're producing than you would if you were just selling it - not to mention creating a deeper level of engagement with your readers.

However, as with any crowdfunding platform, the creator does incur a responsibility to their supporters to keep the project going at the level of quality they expect.

If you can handle this responsibility, though, Patreon can be a solid part of your distribution strategy. Many creators have used it to cover the costs of creating their comics and paired it with the Discrete Sale models we covered last week to greater effect.

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Self-Distribution

Now, while the platforms I mentioned above are undoubtedly useful, you do always have the option of putting together your own subscription transaction together.

Regardless of the payment processor you use to do this - though I do know Paypal can do this well - this model gives you the greatest flexibility.

Self-distributing allows you to distribute however you like, in the way most suited to your comic and make the business behind your product an extension of the creative attention you brought to it.

But it's still difficult to execute on. The fact that you're essentially building your own platform for distribution means, more often than not, tehre's greater friction for your readers to give you the support you're looking for and that you need to do more work to drive attention specifically to wher eyou are. Rather than going where the reader is, you're building your own channel, for the advantages it provides in terms of monetization & flexibility, and asking the reader to come to you.

However, if it works the benefits - such as keeping the greatest amount of the money you earn - can't be denied. There's also the fact that whatever audience you cultivate on your platform is entirely your own.

You just have to decide how much of the work you want to do and whether the money and flexibility you're giving up is worth reducing the friction for your potential readers.


This series will continue next week in the fourth of four installments. They will be followed up with a larger eBook on the subject, that dives deeper into the Digital Publishing landscape and includes the perspectives and insights of others who have experience with the different aspects of Digital Publishing that we're covering here.

I'll be making the finished eBook available, for free, to my mailing list when it's completed. If you're already on the list, then you can rest easy, but if you're not and want access to this deep dive, then sign up below and you'll receive both the eBook and my regular weekly emails with additional resources meant to help you build a career in comics.

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