Given the week’s events, looking at the above photo by Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci taken at the C2E2 bar—the creme de la creme of comics internet media, Newsarama’s Albert Ching, CBR’s Kiel Phegley, The Beat, ComicVine’s Tony G.Man Guerrero and IGN’s Joey Exposito—you might be forgiven for wondering which member of the comic press would soon have a big red X drawn over his or her face. It was that kind of week.
It started last Friday with AOL’s recently hired brand manager Susan Lyne calling staff from the music blogs and Comics Alliance and telling them their brands were done; the move was sudden. Lyne’s background is in running Gilt and Martha Stewart, and despite helping get Lost on the air when she was head of ABC Entertainment, it’s not the kind of background that’s very nerd-friendly. Comics Alliance was performing well traffic wise, but Lyne is looking to rebuild AOL’s brands overall, mostly like with video.
So what’s left: the content and the people. Comcis Alliance had three employees: E-i-C Joe Hughes, and senior editors Andy Khouri and Caleb Goellner. Additionally, per the comments, Chris Sims was a contracted freelancer.And what about all that content, including internet classics like The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’ and FunkyWatch, a monthly roundup of the month’s most depressing Tom Batiuk strips. Efforts are underway to preserve the content, but getting anything away from a big slash and burn corporation that just shuts you down on a Friday afternoon without so much as an Arrevederci doesn’t sound like the most likely thing ever.
While the departure of Comics Alliance left fans despondent, Tuesday’s departure of MTV Geek editor Valerie Gallaher seemed like an ominous follow-up. However, I’m told that MTV Geek is a favorite of MTV Networks head Tom Akel, who IS a certified nerd-friendly executive (he formerly headed up his own comic book company, Heroverse). While the comics media dome lost—for the moment—a powerful personalty in Gallaher, MTV Geek remains a pretty standard movies/toys/Doctor Who nerd site, with the occasional comics news.
Among the most despondent over the week’s events was the person—or persons—known only as ComicsBlogger, who had been a Twitter watchdog over the most prominent comics blogs for misdeed ranging from headline typos (sadly, a regular occurrence here) to more content based sins. With occasional antagonist Comics Alliance gone, like the super villain who only lives to thwart one superhero, ComicsBlogger was moved to shut down, with the farewell Comics Journalism is dead and here’s why:
1: There is no money in it. Page views and ad impressions are the conventional way to revenue for bloggers. To keep traffic up, the content must flow.
2: But the content is poor. Much of the content comes from press releases. Be they comic book movie news, solicits, or approved interviews, most of it is pre-written and disseminated accordingly.
3: However, publishers don’t care. It’s all for naught. No matter how much traffic comic bloggers generate or how careful they are to stay within publishers’ good graces, they can’t compete with The New York Times or USA Today.
4: In fact, nobody cares. Original content, good reporting, and writing that goes beyond the surface of, say, attaching a quip at the end of a quote from another blog tend to get the least amount of traffic.
He had me until the fourth point. Original content is the ONLY thing that gets any traffic any more, even if it’s a roundup of “The 12 cutest photos of kittens being given mouth to mouth resuscitation.” The posts that get the most traffic at The Beat are not the tossed off links and images.
What made Comics Alliance so important and loved was that people got paid to write for it, and three people got paid enough to sit down and write as few as ONE post a day. The editorial mandate of CA as far as I could tell was almost ludicrously luxuriant by current internet standards: 12 blog posts a day by four or five people. (The CA feed stays in my RSS reader, and there it will stay until someday I shuffle it off to the dreaded “dead feed” folder.) In contrast, other folks I know who work for websites are expected to write a minimum of 12 posts a day BY THEMSELVES. CA’s editorials—by far the part of the site that I enjoyed most—were lengthy, researched and showed signs of being revised before posting, an extravagant bonus for 98% of internet journalism.
I don’t know if most other AOL blogs were set up on other similarly bountiful plans, but it was definitely a rarity in this day and age. (MTV Geek has a similar low post count but fewer writers. Robot 6 has a lot of [excellent] contributors, but I believe none of them are staffers, and my impression is that like almost all the good writers about comics, they have day jobs.)
If you’ve been reading any of the posts tagged “Meta” on The Beat this year, you know that fretting over the lack of remuneration for writing about comics—anywhere, not just the Internet—is a gnawing concern for many. Content farms have mostly been put out to pasture by Google—who needs content farms when you have three kids starting up their own entertainment blog to get free shit every day—and every network of niche sites has its “geek news” outlet. Content is still king, but gets buried in the slurry of SEO.
It’s getting harder and harder to just launch a website about comics or nerds, or anything—as this story about the AOL contraction points out, music websites are falling by the wayside and those are supposed to be hip and trendy. I hear about this venture or that one starting up and I’m like “Good luck.” The business model isn’t suddenly going to get any better. After all, Comics Alliance might have survived if it had been under the Huffington Post where NO ONE gets paid. Is that a choice at all?
Someone asked me this week “What does this mean for The Beat?” It means the same thing it does every night, Pinky. We’re going to take over the world. Not really—we do what we do, and try to do it okay. TRY, ComicsBlogger, Try. As usual when I go out in public, at C2E2 a lot of people were blowing smoke up my ass complimenting the site and the writers, enough to make me shake my fist at the heavens once more and cry “We shall never surrender!”
At least my general business model—owning my own content and staying independent—has meant that I’m still here. I don’t have to worry that some woman in a suit is going to look at my numbers on any random Friday and shut me down. I may not be able to pay my web developer enough to keep my site from crashing now and again, but by golly, I’m my own boss here, for better or worse. The other day Tom Spurgeon tweeted:
own your own media when and where you can; fuck asking permission to be allowed to do an awesome job
— Tom Spurgeon (@comicsreporter) April 29, 2013
Or as I like to put it: No one is ever going to care about your work more than you do.
Is blogging dead? As a business model, yes. As an obsession and vocation for some? No. Because at the end of they day we all just want three things: good sex, comfortable shoes and a warm place to be snarky. All things considered, blogging is probably the least expensive of the three.
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.