In an embarrassment of riches, we have two different posts comparing the self-publishing ebook gold rush of today with the self-publishing webcomic gold rush of yesteryear. That first link is to Ursula Vernon, who is awesome, and the second is to KB Spangler, who I had not heard of before now.
Both make similar but not identical points and they’re both worth reading (the first post for the comments; the second post has some important links showing how little some incredibly talented comics creators earn). Important to note: people continue to point out the outlandish rare success stories and say “I want to be like that!” People continue to suggest “Hey, you could just do it for yourself” as though that route is equally attractive and equally beneficial (those aren’t the same things) to everyone. People still talk about it like it’s astrology: the success stories prove that it’s 100% viable while the failures are always failures of poorly applied process (wrong cover, not enough self-promotion, too much self-promotion, you should have bought ads on blah blah blah).
A big difference that neither poster touches on is the payment method. Webcomics are something people want to consume for free and creators have to make their money through merchandise, or selling collections of back issues, or ads. Personally, I read three or four different webcomics and I doubt I would pay for any of them. Maybe Order of the Stick, but even then I would watch for trade paperbacks and then put a purchase request through my library. That’s how I read corporate comics, too. I love comics, but comics are expensive.
People are used to paying for novels. In fact, there’s a general perception that free or $0.99 novels are not very good. When Del Rey set the ebook for Child of Fire at that price, I made a point of including the words “promotional” and “limited time.” I didn’t want people thinking they would get what they pay for.
As for the whole BUY MY BOOK thing… look, you can find out about my novels right on my front page. That one on the top is self-published, but do I want to push a “BUY MY BOOK” message? Nope. I want to push a “READ THE SAMPLE” message. Amazon/B&N/Apple/Etc all let you download the first 20-some percent so you can give it a taste test.
The difference being, you can’t get the whole book for free. If you like it, you have to pay to get the rest. If I like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, I can just keep clicking the little arrow on the right until I run out of fun or accidentally click an Google ad and shove a couple of pennies at the creator.
The novel is something I can sell. A webcomic is something that draws in people who might someday click an ad, pledge in a Kickstarter, or buy a “Wookie Jesus” tshirt. The difference there is non-trivial and I realize how much that sucks. I am an ass who does not send money directly toward the people who make things I enjoy. Either I get it for free or I ask my library to pay. I have to do the same thing with books, mostly, so don’t hate me.
Anyway, if you’re curious where ebooks might end up, both links are worth reading. Check them out.