After decades of predictable delivery methods for comic book content, the past twenty years has been full of novel delivery mechanisms, and now we are being presented with an new option: Comics via Newsletter. The New York Times reported on the announcement that several high profile writers are joining Nick Spencer at Substack.com and creating comic content for their subscription based newsletters.
Writers Jonathan Hickman, James Tynion IV, Saladin Ahmed, Molly Ostertag, and Scott Snyder are the first group of creators that are announced to be creating on the Substack platform. Substack is a website that bills itself as “a place for independent writing.” If you want to try to determine what the platform is trying to accomplish, you can start with their About Page, and I wish you luck. George Gustines of the New York Times did a good job of covering the details of the announcement, and if you have access to the NYT, I recommend checking it out, as it is a big deal in comics news.
I would like to look at this concept from a consumer’s perspective. This development is indicative of the difficult economics behind comic book publishing. Print publishing in general seems to be in great turmoil in terms of making things profitable as the world moves further away from paper. I get that writers and artists are struggling and do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to get paid for their art.
This newsletter platform concerns me as a consumer of comics. It raises questions in terms of delivery expectation and content. I wonder how often a subscriber will be paying for expected content on a subscription and be disappointed that someone fails to deliver. The difference in this type of platform versus Patreon.com is that while Patreon is advertised as a support mechanism for creators, Substack is promising a product in return for the subscription. Without corporations and publishing companies absorbing the liability for delays and errors in products, the creators on Substack will have no one to hide behind if the product does not make it to market as anticipated. This is a big risk for future revenue and reputation.
There has been little said to this point as to what the subscribers are actually entitled to and what the subscription tiers actually cost. A concern is that the typical subscription is around $5 per month, and that generally works out to the cost of a single issue of a comic book. Will these Substack Comics be generating a full single issue per month? Other digital platforms such as Webtoon or Comixology deliver products that are either free or complete at time of consumption. Therefore. the consumer knows what they are getting for their “money”.
My last concern is that as a consumer, I now have to determine if reading and purchasing comic content from some of my favorite creators is worth supporting Substack. There are plenty of reservations about the way the platform does business and who it does it with. A simple google search should give you plenty of reading material. The comic book consumer’s budget is now divided between Direct Market Retail shops, Online Digital delivery of published comics, Kickstarter campaigns, and bookstores. Adding this new expense may require thoughtful deliberation on the part of the consumer.
Ultimately, this is a way for creators to take more control of the monetization and delivery of their art. I applaud that. There is a feeling that comic creators are underpaid and under supported. I want comics to thrive and survive. I wish the creators who are endeavoring to deliver comics in this innovative way all the luck for success. I am not sold yet on this, but for the creators and fans, I hope it works and we get the next great comic story delivered in our inboxes via Substack.