If you’re a faithful Beat reader, you know the past year has been filled with discussions of the economics of running a comics news website. This talk was prompted by an unprecedented run of comics sites closing down or losing key personnel. I summed up a lot of my thoughts back in September, pointing out that the realities of the web make running any kind of independent site very difficult these days.
Since then I’ve heard about other sites shutting down or scrambling for cash behind the scenes. It’s lean times out there. About a month ago, even Tom Spurgeon revealed that he almost had to shut down his essential, award winning site and only his Patreon campaign saved it:
What I can tell you is that having the Patreon money and your support has kept this site alive, and it would have been more than shut down by now, likely between August 1 and October 1 otherwise, for good, as I would have taken a full-time job I was offered out west. I am still young enough to have a few opportunities, but old enough to know they would end everything else. I know that’s little consolation to you. I did the site for nine years ad-supported only (and two years for free), and as awesome as that support has been and continues to be vital to my living status it was not enough to transition to Columbus to a job that I thought was going to pay a certain amount of money, paid half of the minimum for a few months and isn’t paying anything now. That should change, too, for the better, but this last year has been brutal on that specific front and doesn’t improve any time soon. I screwed up.
Ironically, only two days after I wrote the above summation of the state of comics journalism, I myself was laid off from my part time job at Publishers Weekly, and the newsletter I’d worked on for nearly 10 years, Comics World (formerly Comics Week) was transitioned from its own entity to a biweekly section in PW Daily. So yeah, I was myself part of the great Comics Journalism Consolidation of 2015. (I still work for Publishers Weekly, but on a freelance basis, so keep those cards and letters coming.)
So what to do? For some reason I just can’t quit The Beat. But I can team up! So in the next month or so I’ll be moving hosting to Hiveworks, which is currently hosting some of the most popular webcomics including Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Blindsprings, Stand Still Stay Silent, and many others. They’re billed as a “web publisher” which is as good a name as any for what they’ll be doing for The Beat. The url and everything else will remain basically the same, but instead of spending half of my time selling ads, setting up ads, changing everything every six months to adjust to Google’s new SEO policies, fixing WordPress problems, wondering why the caching system is actually knocking the site offline, trying to restart Apache, coding a theme on the fly and all that other fun stuff, I’ll do what I probably do best: write and edit content.
As I’ve written many times, over the years I’ve resisted joining a content/ad network (one of the services Hiveworks offers) because for a long time sharing with myself was the best option. But in 2016, it really isn’t. The era of the “bedroom blogger” is long gone, replaced by corporate entities trying to outdo each other with clickbait headlines and subsisting on popup ads that get more bewildering every day. (When the technical details of your job become fodder for a South Park episode, you know it’s time to reassess.) I took the Beat over to run by myself back in 2010, exactly six years ago, learning what I could about webhosting along the way. It’s been fun to run like Rousseau in Lost, alone in the jungle, armed with a rifle and a radio transmitter. But sometimes you gotta join the team because they can do things you can’t. (Aside: I always thought Rousseau could have been one of the most interesting characters on Lost but they really did nothing with her.)
I firmly believe that the kind of independent but responsible journalism and writing that The Beat is (i hope) home to is still needed in the comics industry. And that’s why I do it and will continue to do it. The folks at Hiveworks—JoJo Stillwell and Isabella Melancon—definitely understand the strong indie streak at The Beat—heck they work in the webcomics world, which is founded on very independent creators. We all share a DIY ethic—and we could definitely still do it ourselves—but joining forces as a sort of affiliation of city states makes for a stronger platform in this Internet era.
As mentioned above, I’ll still own The Beat and all my writing. But the site will be much more stable and have improved visibility. And all that will make it more financially stable as well. We’ll also be revamping the Beat’s Patreon, which is still a key part of the support for this site. I’m really excited about all the improvements we’ve been cooking up, and I invite you to stay along for the ride.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.