Dilbert points to future of self-supporting comics

A new media marketing lesson was offered in the comics pages of newspapers, of all places, last week. Scott Adams' "Dilbert" strip featured a story line in which Dilbert is so bored at work that he created his own company, Dilbertfiles.com. The first mention last Monday didn't raise and red flags for me, but by Wednesday's strip, which seemed a bit forced, I decided to check out the URL to see if it was a real company. It was. Adams has licensed Dilbert and Dogbert to a Dutch online storage and file transfer company, and used three of last week's strips to promote it.

By mid-week, comics purists were up in arms, according to Editor and Publisher magazine. Product placement in a comic strip? Blasphemy. Or is it? As newsprint, far and away the dominant channel for comics, makes way for online presentation, expect more of this. Those who draw strips will earn far less from digital presentation, where they'll likely only appear in a few (or maybe only one) spots, than they do from newspaper syndication, where they appear in hundreds. Not everyone is like Adams, with the ability to sell endless numbers of licenced products and books, so artists will need to look to other revenue streams to survive.

At some point, the evolution of this process will likely mean the end of syndicates. If there are no newspapers in which to place your strip, why syndicate? Better to have your own site where you can do your own marketing, sell your own products and talk directly with your audience. For the time being, however, it's still probably smart to align with a syndicate. Much like small bands that sign with major record labels with no hope of seeing much money during the course of the contract, they'll benefit from the elevated exposure. Milk the system until you become a household name, then go out on your own where you'll make much more per unit and have significantly lowered overhead costs.

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