For newspapers, comics have an intangible valuea small group of readers are devoted to their favorite strips. But in general, newspapers haven't been able to turn that devotion into revenue. Hearst-owned King Features, one of the largest syndicators of newspaper comic strips, thinks it can change that with the launch of an ad-driven portal called Comics Kingdom. The portal will be available for local newspaper websites. So far, King Features has signed deals with the online divisions of The Daily Oklahoman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Albany Times-Union, which served as the beta tester for the service. The portal has 1,500 comic strips daily, including a 30-day archive that readers can e-mail from and comment on. King Features claims that the papers that tested the portal found that traffic and time spent on the sites rose, though it did not offer specific numbers. Release More after the jump
Arctic Circle strip appears here on the Milwaukee JS site
-- A good idea, but can it work?: 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 plenty25 percent+ of their inventory in many casesof? 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.
-- All about targeting and premium ads: Ultimately, like online advertising in general, tying ad revenue to online comics will depend on better targeting. Doctor: "Since advertising is all about audience, and targeting going forward, the question will be how well comics audiences can be segmented, through behavioral targeting and other technologies." I also exchanged emails with Alan Mutter, who told me: "A super site of comics sounds like a great idea, so long as the syndicate and newspapers put sufficient effort into selling premium-priced ads. But I wonder about what would happen in markets where competing newspapers have gained exclusive rights it publish a particular strip. When I was working at the SF Chronicle in the mid-1980s, my boss bought comics that we did not run so that other competing papers could not have them." Mutter's not sure how widespread that situation is today, but some markets could find a bit more frustration as they try to use online comics to pick up some more revenue.
By David Kaplan