Hearst-owned King Features has just announced Comics Kingdom, which is, as far as we can tell, a new attempt at a game-changing platform for syndication in the digital era. The vehicle? The comics. According to E&P, the new service has signed up three papers, which will essentially add all 60 King Features comic strips — including ZITS, MUTTS and HAGAR THE HORRIBLE, among many others like BIZARRO, above — to be embedded in the newspaper’s site, with both sharing in ad revenues. The system includes many interactive features, allowing users to customize the strips they see, and to share their favorites with other readers. King says the test papers have seen higher readership. Tom has some typically run-on thoughts but they seem to be generally positive:

It’s just that my gut and my head together find encouragement in a strategy that works with newspapers and their sites and directly addresses the issue of ad revenue for such sites. In the end it just seems to me that with people winnowing down their basic on-line destinations that there’s a greater likelihood of comics finding a place with something that ties into people going to their local or most vital newspapers as opposed to those same folks all of the sudden catching Drabble fever just because more of it is out there now.

However, Paid Content points out that although comics consistently test as one of the most popular, most-read features of the newspaper, they are not considered valuable as real estate — a problem that spills over to many online comics-related sites.

According to research (PDF) from the Newspaper Association of America released earlier this year, 57 percent of adults read comic pages in print. But as Outsell’s Ken Doctor told me, comics pages for the print section do not directly generate revenue. The idea of trying to produce ad dollars online from comics is an intriguing one, but he has some doubts. ”The question is how valuable that audience becomes. Does it just add to remnant inventory, which newspaper sites have plenty—25 percent+ of their inventory in many cases—of? If so, that doesn’t do much, given that remnant is fetching a quarter, a half dollar or a bit more.” Aside from the portal, Doctor said he regards United Features’ Dilbert animated strip, available as an iPhone app, as a clear example of how comic strips themselves will produce their own revenue. “Recalling that people like just a few comics, delivering those few smartly, embracing the possibilities of the medium, I think has the greatest potential for revenue,” Doctor said.

“Strips themselves will produce their own revenue.” Hm, radical notion.

As the tri-pronged high-pressure system — shrinking newspapers, declining online ad sales, and more and more free content created by people for free — drifts over the Media Ocean, this kind of attempt at adapting the old approach to newspaper publishing to the new one bears much watching.


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