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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Long Tail of Cartooning

I was going back over some old New Yorkers and I came across an article I remembered reading some time back, that I made a mental note to refer to, and clearly promptly forgot that mental note. It was an article about the business model, or philosophy if you prefer, called 'The Long Tail' that Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Chris Anderson, wrote about in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.


I've since read a lot more about 'The Long Tail' and how it works in relation to the digital music and the book-selling business. More recently, I have read about it being applied to the DVD movie business, and it strikes me it is the perfect paradigm for the business of cartooning.

How The Long Tail works is best viewed as the opposite of the old video rental shops like Blockbuster. Those shops held very few titles, only the main block-busting movies, the top 20 usually, but lots and lots of copies of them. People popping in looking for an old Will Hay movie like Ask a Policeman, or Cocteau's Orphee, or the Dutch thriller Amsterdamned, were just plain out of luck.

With 'The Long Tail' model however, you can get any movie you want because everything is kept in stock, forever - everything, even the most obscure titles that shift only 1 copy in 5 years.

As you will have guessed then, the old fashioned concept of a shop is not ideally placed to adopt the Long Tail, even with enormous floorspace a traditional business all on its own, is not ideally placed to profit from this business approach (although it is easy to imagine a group of small shops working together, with a central warehousing facility pulling it off). On the other hand virtual businesses, that is to say businesses that can keep their stock as pieces of data, for instance those that supply digital songs or ebooks or emagazines or, even, cartoons and illustrations, are immediately ideally placed to profit from it.

With these e-businesses, the warehouse space needed for the items they produce, or store, is incredibly small, and measured in bits and bytes. They can keep a million copies of their number one best seller, by simply having one copy of it on a server, and it takes up just exactly the same amount of space as the obscure item that sells only once every 6 years. The appeal and the beauty of The Long Tail, in this respect, is that because of the way the work is stored, it also incorporates the old 'block-busting' philosophy as well, because endless copies of the top 20 best sellers are still available for anyone and everyone who still just wants those, and the buyer interested in something older and more obscure can also get what they want. It's a win/win situation.

I started thinking about The Long Tail in relation to the cartooning business when cartoonist Anthony Kelly was pondering the question of resending cartoons that failed to be bought on their first outing, or two; or ever for that matter. It's relevant to The Long Tail business model because these days we cartoonists scan all our drawings into the computer and over time develop a large database of digital work, that can long outlast the original drawings. Indeed many cartoonists no longer draw on paper, and draw directly into the computer and in both these cases the 'original' paper drawing becomes less useful than their digital clone, which can from then on be printed out endlessly as a high-resolution copy, or sent to publishers by email.

These high-resolution copies can quickly build up in number because cartooning is a high-volume business, so for that reason, and in case the computer's hard drive takes a nose-dive, many cartoonists store their accumulated work on a removable hard drive, flash drives, or burn them to disc. Either way, most cartoonists, essentially, build an archived Long Tail of our own cartoons. Which should be, with luck, categorised in a way that makes a cartoon on a given subject easily accessible.

Of course, without knowing they are doing so, many cartoonists and illustrators have been practising the Long Tail for years. I myself have, on more than one occasion, looked through my database of cartoons to see if any can be reused or adapted because some trend or fashion or major event has swung round again. I do it in August, when I get my cartoons ready for Christmas, and I do it every time I get a commission - no sense in wasting a good idea. It's actually a fairly common practise amongst cartoonists, and my colleague and chum, Mike Lynch has, in the past, written about how long it has taken to place a particular cartoon; proving that cartoons that are returned are never 'rejects', they are just under appreciated at that time. In short, they are ideal candidates for the Long Tail.

Back when I abandoned the UK market and started sending my cartoons to the US, along with the new stuff I sent some cartoons that hadn't sold in the UK - and quite a few were picked up by some major US titles (and yes that was very, very, satisfying). I suppose, like most of my colleagues, I just wasn't ever aware that I was practising a sound and recognised business model, experience had simply taught me that if I persisted and sent the drawings to enough titles, that I would eventually sell almost every cartoon. The 'rule' that cartoonists sell only 10 to 20% of the work they produce is only true when they are attempting to sell that batch of cartoons that month, to a small selection of preferred markets. Given the luxury of time, they will all sell, it's just a matter of the thing arriving in the right place, at exactly the right time - for instance when a magazine is producing a Special Edition that the cartoon relates to.

When you sit down and think about it, the Cartoon Stock Agencies, which a lot of cartoonists maintain they only send their old cartoons that failed to sell to, actually already operate The Long Tail model. To be sure, some of the cartoons they sell are contemporary, the 'block-busters' of the cartooning world if you will, but they are a minority, they mainly sell generic cartoons to companies or individuals or schools and colleges, from a large data bank of themed cartoons. When, for instance, the Society of Dentists is looking for 12 dentist-themed cartoons to print on a calender for its members, it isn't bothered how old the cartoons are, it doesn't care if a cartoon was created 15 years ago or last week, and doesn't really care who drew the cartoons, the good society's criteria will be 'dentist-themed' and funny.

Looking at it from a safe distance, you can see that it is the cartoonists themselves who are operating The Long Tail, but rather than selling the work themselves they have chosen to supply a middleman to operate the Long Tail on their behalf. This is not cheap, the Stock Agencies routinely take 50% of the sale, in commission, which is a lot of money for simply storing the work online. When you think about it, the Stock Agency website is in fact nothing more than a convenient storefront that displays a variety of old and new cartoons on a range of themes.

The thing is, these Stock Agencies prove, by their very existence, that a demand exists for a Long Tail of cartoons, on a variety of subjects; so why then, since each cartoon a cartoonist sells herself rather than selling through a Stock Agency will net the cartoonist 100% of the sale (and the payment will arrive a lot sooner), do so few cartoonists set up their own data bank of their own cartoon stock online?

It's a puzzle. Perhaps cartoonists are too busy or too unskilled in http to set the thing up, or too poor to pay anyone else to do so, or just too timid to try the open-source software that is available (but admittedly is very intimidating). Or perhaps they suspect, or fear, that they will not attract the passing trade, on their own. A fear they should disregard if our example of the dentist-themed cartoons is in anyway accurate. Remember our dentists really don't care who created the dentist-themed cartoons, as long as they are funny. If the lone cartoonist can provide all the cartoons in print-ready form, or even produce the actual calender, so much the better. All these people don't want to do is to have to hunt around the www and gather a bunch of disparate cartoons, in various formats, from different desperate cartoonists. What swings it for them, is the one-stop shop - a cartooning Wal-Mart.

For me, even lumping all these reasons for not giving it a go yourself together, hardly seems reason enough not to try, and it begs the question, why don't some cartoonists solve all those possible problems by banding together to set up their own small Stock Agency, or small syndicate, sharing the work, worry, jobs, and expenses involved?

That was the question I was left asking myself when I heard from 2 cartoonists who had sold about 5 cartoons, between them, through Stock Agencies, over a period of 2 years - for a very small amount of money. It intrigued me more when I realised the cartoons they had sold were all business cartoons. Had it occurred to them, I wondered, that if they got together and set up a website advertising their skills and experience, and their stock of business--related cartoons, that there was at least a chance that they could have sold the same cartoons to the same customers who were on the Internet searching for business cartoons - and for twice as much money as they had been paid? And had it occurred to them that if the people buying those business-related cartoons had just bought a quota of business cartoons from the Stock Agency, in the same way our fictitious Society of Dentists bought a hypothetical bunch of dental-themed cartoons, that they might have bought all the business-themed cartoons they were looking for from their own archives, rather than from the Stock Agency archive. Think about it, that one sale to you might have represented a sale of 10 or 20 or even 100 business-related cartoons to the Stock Agency. It is, after all, as it will make clear to you, not acting as your Agent. It is not there to try to sell 100 cartoons by you, it is there to move 100 units of 'cartoon stock'.

It seems clear to me that a very small, manageable, Stock Agency, with a handful of partner- cartoonists, all with a proven record of publication, perhaps specialising in business and office humour (which can be a broad sweep), or golfing humour, or IT humour, et al, could expect to meet with a reasonable degree of success, even if they charged slightly more for their cartoons than some of the other agencies out there.

I can even imagine a loose umbrella sort of arrangement where you have, for instance, two cartoonists who sell their work online, lets say Randy Glasbergen and Mark Anderson for example, both cartoonists who create business-related cartoons for The Harvard Business Review. They will still have their own individual sites, but they could also have an umbrella site, that sells their work together, as 'Business Cartoons by Harvard Business Review Cartoonists', and perhaps even prints the calenders and cards and other paraphernalia for the customer.

In the UK, I can easily imagine the same sort of umbrella site pulling together a vast array of talents including Tony Kelly himself, and when you add a few others to the mix, you end up with a graphic design workforce that can proclaim itself 'Britain's Best Cartoonists' and is capable of designing everything from caricatures to calenders, books, and even Flash movies for the web MOBS and TV.

Things have never looked so bad on the traditional front for cartoonists, and yet so exciting in so many new areas. But we will throw it all away if we keep putting our destiny in the hands of others. The Long Tail approach affords us an opportunity, at very little cost, that we must grasp.

Postscript: I have just stumbled accross a very good looking site that a young (I'm presuming) UK 'cartoonist' is selling his wares from. He is appallingly bad, and that the only thing remotely to his credit is that he is not claiming to ever have had a cartoon published anywhere.

What he is claiming to be is a 'professional cartoonist' and I suppose that in one sense he is just that. What is a;arming to me though, is that anyone limiting themselves to a search on Google, for cartoonists in the UK only, will find his site quite quickly, and they will either buy cartoons from him - or move immediatly to a cartoon stock agency for a more professional selection. That could well put this particular buyer off buying from individual cartoonists.

9 comments:

Kartoonius said...

What would be nice is if you could get statistics back about what sells well. e.g. Perhaps it turns out that Boardroom gags are the best sellers.
There could be quite a bit of useful data mining there. I don't know if any of that kind of data is available from existing stock agencies.

I don't know which UK cartoonist you came across, but I'm not sure a little database makes sense. If I were looking for cartoons, I would want to search a big database with talent from around the world. Whether that can be done without some greedy company taking 50% of everything is an interesting problem.

As for the "appalling bad" bit, it seems that one persons idea of a great cartoon is another persons unfunny gag by someone who can't draw. Cartoonists often seem to be completely at odds over who is good and who is rubbish, much like the rest of the art world. Saying a gag isn't funny is one thing, but actually saying a cartoonist is crap (or words to that effect) can only serve to demoralise him, and I don't really see the point of that. (Granted you didn't actually name him)

Rod McKie said...

Let me go paragraph by paragraph:

The New Yorker Cartoon Bank is the perfect example. If you go there and use the searches you can find all sorts of information - including the most popular cartoon prints. The best sellers, some are old, some are new.

Bear in mind I sold cartoons through Cartoon Stock to the Hilton Hotel Group and Universities and book publishers, but I asked Cartoon Stock to remove my work from their site. There were complicated reasons surrounding that decision, and the money issue wasn't particularly key. However, my impression is, from my friends who sell their own work rather than using any agencies, is that they do better. I can only think that small groups would do at least as well as individuals. Dumbrella is one example, Secret Friends another and then there's Meathaus.

The group resposible for the opening graphics of Harvy Pekar's American Splendor is like the Gold Standard of small groups.

As for the crap cartoonist, no he's really crap. It doesn't matter how subjective the subject of cartooning is, you have to dig your heels in at some point and say that someone must be in a position to make a qualitative statement about cartoons. I've decided I have earned that right as a result of all my experience and because I am really clever, and handsome, and tall, and pretty great.

Let's not kid ourselves, Cartoon Editors, publishers, Stock Agencies, Art Directors, et al, make that sort of decision about our cartoons every day. I have subjected my work to that kind of test at least weekly for about 30 years now. I started in my teens. You can't avoid it, so you just have to get used to it. Every time the work comes back because some editor thinks it's crap you have to start again - or give up.

As for the crap person, trust me, he is crap, but he may also be 11 years old - who knows? The internet is a crazy place. What I do know is this, he has a site as sophisticated as Mark Anderson's site, it's a real business-looking site, but the work is not up to professional standard.

I'm not naming the person or drawing any attention to him, but I don't think he should be trading as a professional cartoonist for a number of reasons:

1. The work is not good quality.

2. I very much doubt that if a company got in touch and asked for 10 cartoons, 3" at the widest side, 600 dpi line and 300 dpi colour; to be delivered unflattened and uncompressed or embedded in a pdf or Quark, that he could do it.

3. I think because of the above he would screw up a deadline.

4. All, or any, of the above being screwed up by this happy amateur reflects on me and on all other cartoonists.

And it may well end up affecting our business.


I hear what you are saying about demoralising him, but I have my doubts. The guy is declaring to the world that he is a professional cartoonist and he is advertising for customers and touting his wears. In other words he is putting himself forward as a pro, and should be criticised like one (even if he is 11).

Your point though, that he might get demoralised, suggests you trust my opinion that he might well be young (he may not I don't know)and that he may be nowhere near professional standard.

I have made my thoughts on this abundantly clear over the years. The recent BA in Graphic Novel production that has just started in Wales is a step in the right direction, I think. I think that not before time we should be recdognised as a properly qualified professional group.

As for existing cartoonists, I would like some sort of standard that is easily recognised, like any other Trade, so that when a buyer buys a cartoon from a cartoonist, they know they are buying a quality product that is guaranteed to be delivered on spec and on time.

Kartoonius said...

"All, or any, of the above being screwed up by this happy amateur reflects on me and on all other cartoonists."

When Gary Larson started out, he hadn't even heard of white-out. Every time he made a mistake he threw the cartoon away. People make mistakes when starting out in any field.

"I hear what you are saying about demoralising him, but I have my doubts.
The guy is declaring to the world that he is a professional cartoonist and he is advertising for customers and touting his wears."

Ok Rod. Think back to when you were just starting out trying to sell cartoons. Now imagine that Gerald Scarfe said you were rubbish, or you got wind of the fact he said that. Maybe you're thick skinned enough to take no notice, but wouldn't it have been a lot better for him to give you some suggestions to improve things instead?

If I see someone doing something wrong in any area (e.g. Programming) I feel compelled to be helpful and point out the mistake or offer suggestions of how to do it better. In the sciences, which is my background, there is a real philosophy of doing this.

Rod McKie said...

This is hardly the same scenario. Let the person use the web to practise cartooning and become a better cartoonist and join some forums and ask for advice - that's all fine. If the person creates a popular we comic that will attract an audience and they will buy original and tees and prints, that's great. What we have here though is someone passing themselves off as a 'cartoonist' simply because they say it is so.


Look, you are asuming the person is young and just starting out - you can't know that. My suspicion is that is not the case because it's a sophisticated operaation.

It may surprise you, but I have given out so much advice, freely, to beginners and pros alike, that I have now stopped doing so. I used to keep a large section of my web site for tutorials, but it got very time-consuming.

I'm not going to advise this person because to me he is operating like a bogus doctor. Look, if someone wants to go online and buy cartoons they can buy from whomever they wish. I would rather they didn't buy cheap cartoons from someone doing the job as a hobby, but I can't stop them doing so. I know some people find it hard to believe, but cartoonists have bills.

Your point about passing information on to colleagues is hardly the same. We all do that (see above). I speak to beginning cartoonists all the time; I even teach them cartooning. I haven't yet met one who has upped and launched him or herself online as 'a cartoonist'. Most describe themselves as 'beginning' or 'aspirant' cartoonists. This person seems to have convinced himself he is a cartoonist, and that you can do that by simply saying 'hey, I'm a cartoonist'. I'm sorry, there's a little more to being a cartoonist than that.

Rod McKie said...

That's a 'popular WEB comic'.

Kartoonious, I'm not one of those people you attaches a strict meaning to the word 'professional'. For me that word connotes attitude. You can be thouroughly professional and never make a sale. Emily Dickenson was a professional poet, one of the best, never sold a poem. Van Gogh sold only one painting, to his brother.

What we have here, in this case, is a rank amateur, and not a charming one. He is terrible at drawing, unfunny, and even terrible at scanning. He has clearly never even bothered to read a forum an online tutorial or a book on cartooning, and yet there he is saying he is a cartoonist and selling his services. It beggers belief.

Eduardo said...

Rod,

Eloquent as ever, but I'm afraid you're missing the realities of economics. CartoonStock was set up ten years ago by a cartoonist, for his cartoonist friends, colleagues and anyone else who wanted to join (who reached the acceptance criteria). So already is a long-standing example of an "umbrella" organisation such as you suggest above.

If any collection of images is to be marketed well, what you're embarking on is a business enterprise, and whoever does it, be it the artists themselves or someone else, will end up having to raise considerable capital up-front and then having to spend a lot on running costs. Staff, an office, maintaining and expanding the database, server rental, bandwidth, ongoing service development and other overheads. Making sure that all the artists get paid their royalties promptly, that all debtors are chased and that all aspects of the business comply with a mountain of legal requirements, that's all before we've even considered the costs of marketing the service and the considerable charges for every credit card order placed. Even if cartoonists did set up their own stock agency (which is effectively what happened with CartoonStock anyway), they certainly wouldn't be able to grow and develop it and take home anywhere near to 100% of the sale proceeds. Infact I'd suggest that like millions of traditional shopkeepers, tradespeople, artists and craftspeople worldwide, they might well end up taking home round about 50% of their sale proceeds. ie. they'd be unlikely to do any better than they do through CartoonStock.

Just a quick note to rectify a couple of other misunderstandings or incorrect implications as well... Firstly artists can use CartoonStock to host their images and our checkout system to receive payment and deliver their images to their own clients if they wish to, that is the purpose of the Personal Cartoon Archives that any of our artists can use to sell their own material through their own web site. They take 80% of any revenue earned this way.

Secondly CartoonStock is an exclusive distributor for nobody - any of our artists can market their artwork themselves, on the internet or otherwise as well as selling through CartoonStock, so in this respect it doesn't matter whether they do better themselves or through CartoonStock, the two are two different, but not exclusive sources of income.

Finally we've already addressed many of the misunderstandings concerning CartoonStock that persist in an "open letter" to the newly formed "Professional Cartoonists Organisation" in the UK - a copy follows:

"Good talking to you the other day. I found the discussion very interesting and it gave me a lot of food for thought. One thing that I felt came out of it was possibly a need for CartoonStock to explain what we do a little better. If I wasn’t involved in CartoonStock myself I would be wary of it too, so I can understand artists' concerns. I think the best way forward is to tackle the concerns one at a time. Please feel free to circulate this email to your colleagues if you think it is suitable.

CartoonStock sells clip art and reduces the value of quality cartoons.

This is just wrong. We do not sell clip art, but proper cartoons by leading cartoonists. We do not devalue cartoons - we seek to maximise their value. We have a sliding scale of pricing dependent upon use but this actually increases the total potential value of cartoons.

We are very open about our pricing scale and you can see it at www.cartoonstock.com/pricing.asp .

If a book, newspaper or magazine wishes to use an image then they pay an editorial rate for that usage. Prices vary according to circulation and are between £40 and £165. We charge additional fees if publishers wish to have additional use of the images for electronic rights.

We charge different rates if a client wishes to use images for advertising, marketing, greeting cards, packaging purposes etc. As a general rule of thumb we usually charge at least double editorial rates for use of cartoons in publications for advertising or marketing use. The most we have ever charged for use of one black and white image from our library is £5,100 which was for use as part of a online ad campaign for a limited time period.

As the price of cartoons is based on usage, while we charge appropriate fees for editorial and advertising uses, we can also offer the same cartoons for use by private individuals and organisations at lower cost. While the individual fees are very modest for individuals to use images for presentations, educational use, facebook use etc (generally ranging between £5 and £12), we do sell a lot of these licenses. So artists can make money from both a few high value editorial uses and or a lot of small private licenses.

We also offer a gift service where any image from our collection can be added to custom printed gifts such as t-shirts, mouse mats etc. Every time we sell a gift item to a client we pay a royalty to the artist for use of the image. This royalty is much higher than a traditional gift company would offer.

To give you a clearer example I copy a royalty statement from last month from an artist who makes consistent sales with us. He is not our best selling artist, but it does give a feel for what is possible;

Each line in this example represents a sale of a different cartoon by the same artist. The first column in this example names the client, the second the fee paid, and the third the artist's royalty. As you can see the artist has sold cartoons at a variety of prices in March. The most we billed for use of an image of his was £330 for use in a direct marketing leaflet. However he made a considerable amount of money from lots of small sales too.



Client
License
Fee to Client
Payment to Artist

Jay Deragon
2a
7.00
£3.50

Deborah Gail McCarver
1c
7.00
£3.50

Deborah Gail McCarver
1c
7.00
£3.50

First Class Flyer
7c
95.00
£47.50

Sally Haack
1c
7.00
£3.50

Torbjorn von Krogh
5a
24.50
24.50

Cengage Learning
Lic 8c + elec rights
140.00
£70.00

Sean P Philpott
4
12.00
£6.00

The American University in Cairo
1c
7.00
£3.50
Kyle Woolner
White T-shirt XL
4.00
£2.00

Fetzer Institute
4
12.00
£6.00

Claire Morrison
10" x 8" unframed print
15.00
£7.50

Linda Bine
5c
45.00
£22.50

michael woods ltd
4
12.00
£6.00

Matthew J Bowen
1c
7.00
£3.50

Thames River Capital
14x11 Black Framed Print
15.00
£7.50

Sarah McLean
4
12.00
£6.00

Kevin Whelan
1a
5.00
£2.50

dan watanabe
1c
7.00
£3.50

Frank Hoffman
4
12.00
£6.00

Fidelity Investments - Boston
4
12.00
£6.00

Fidelity Investments - Boston
4
12.00
£6.00

Fidelity Investments - Boston
4
12.00
£6.00

Marvin Tenenbaum
4
12.00
£6.00

Eirill Kal Holtvedt
4
12.00
£6.00

Kendall Freeman
4
12.00
£6.00

Alina Nassar
4
12.00
£6.00

Cengage Learning
7c + elec rights
140.00
£70.00

Mark E Stuart
1c
7.00
£3.50

Mark E Stuart
1c
7.00
£3.50

Diane L Richmond
1c
7.00
£3.50

Mark E Stuart
1c
7.00
£3.50

JWT
Mailer
330.00
£165.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Incisive Media
Daily Cartoon Feed
4.00
£2.00

Taylor, Bean and Whitaker
Daily Cartoon Feed
5.45
£2.73

Taylor, Bean and Whitaker
Daily Cartoon Feed
5.45
£2.73



Total money due to artist from sales in March = £386.96


Image libraries take sales away from individual creators.

We haven’t found this to be the case and I wouldn’t like it if we did. We make relatively few sales to newspapers and magazines (which we believe are freelance cartoonists' main market) and make more sales to text books, corporations and private individuals. If you look at the statement you will see that there are no magazine or newspaper uses, but there are two text books (Cengage Learning) and one marketing use (JWT) and the rest are private individuals or companies. We would like to stress that we do not actively market to any of the areas which we believe are freelance cartoonists' main markets ie newsstand magazine and newspaper titles. We have sold some material to newspapers, notably the Times and The Star but we actually asked for more than they were paying individual cartoonists for the same material.

Beyond any moral question it is not in our interest to take sales away from cartoonists because;

a) We need a healthy cartoon industry to get the best talent for the collection.

b) We create new markets for the sale of cartoons rather than working in old ones.

If image libraries did not exist then the shrinking traditional market would not suddenly get bigger and cartoonists would end up with even less money not more. Image libraries already exist for illustration, photography, historic images etc and if cartoonists don't have the same opportunities that other creators have to sell licenses, their segment of the image market as a whole could get even smaller.

People do want cartoons for all kinds of purposes including presentation use, educational use, unique gifts etc, and CartoonStock, as it can aggregate content, can make that market work in a way that any one individual artist can not. A teacher is not going to be able to pay 100s of dollars to commission a new piece of work on exactly the right subject for his/her class - but they may pay us £5 to license use of an image that is an exact match that they can find in a large database. If lots of teachers do the same thing, then (while it is administratively and capitally expensive finding all these teachers, delivering all the images and licenses, tracking the sale and accounting to the original artists) it can still be worth doing if the artists get more than they would without those sales.

CartoonStock takes a large percentage on sales

We are a commercial organisation but both your goal and ours is that cartoonists should receive more money than they have previously. In this spirit, setting up an image library that takes thousands of small one-off fees (mainly for relatively small amounts, and from markets the artists couldn't find themselves) seems like a good way to do it. We are about expanding markets for artists and meeting the demands of a changing market place, not taking money away from them.

The problem for an image library is that it is to some extent about lots of transactions for relatively small amounts of money. An estate agent can charge 1% commission because they are making very few sales but for very large sums of money. A literary agent will charge 10% but this will be for less money per transaction. A syndicate will make more sales than a literary agent, but again for less money per transaction, and an image library will be making lots and lots of transactions for even smaller sums of money per transaction.

There is an administrative cost to any transaction - the more transactions the higher the total cost. This argument excludes all the other costs associated with our particular business which again are significant. The cost of sales may be more expensive, but if it is still producing income that the artist could not realistically get from their own endeavors then it is in my opinion worth doing.

Our percentages compare very well with others in similar industries and we take between 20% and 66% depending on the type of sale and how that sale is made. We maintain an office of 11 people constantly marketing cartoonists' work, and the cost of running that operation is significant.

CartoonStock only sells Stock images

This isn’t true either. We engage in several separate activities. While we do license a large number of images from the library, we do traditional agency work as well. We receive commissions on a daily basis that we pass on to artists. Types of commission vary from private individuals and sole traders to larger organisations and publishers. Generally our pricing for a commission starts at £150 per cartoon. This again I hope proves that we are not about reducing the fees for cartoons, on the contrary it is us trying to keep them up. When we ask for quotes from artists they have a tendency to say they will do the work for £10 less than the other guy. We generally ignore this and try to encourage clients to choose based on an artist's style and approach rather than simply the fee. We have a lot of experience at pricing and generally individual cartoonists undervalue their own work.

The cartoon market is shrinking and there is a concern that CartoonStock is helping in that shrink

I have noticed when looking around the forums and chatting to cartoonists that there is still a feeling amongst some that the cartoon market is shrinking. It seems fairly self evident that the market is actually growing.

It is certainly true that some of the traditional markets have altered. I was looking at the FT last week and there was an article about New York Times ad revenue declining by 10%. That is a big change, and is compounded by declines in previous years. Traditional media is probably in a shallow and steady decline and will not recover. Some magazines (such as Punch in the UK) have ceased publication and some newspapers have reduced the number of cartoons they carry. Cartoons compete against other forms of graphical features such as photo montage so it is understandable that with a fixed amount of space there would be some decline. That is not to say that cartoons are not still prominent in many newspapers and magazines, you only have to look at Matt on the Telegraph or the importance of cartoons to the Spectator or the New Yorker to see that.

The uses for and the style of cartoons that the public want do change though. Punch may have gone out of fashion, but Viz is still a very popular humour magazine in the UK. Magazines and Newspapers may have more choice in the style of graphical content they publish, but then previous generations of cartoonist did not have the internet and therefore direct contact with their public.

The internet has increased markets for all sorts of uses including private, educational, and presentation ones, web sites, social networking and private commissions. In addition every organisation/company on the planet can now have easy access to cartoonists that they wouldn't have had before. Cartoonists would have had no way of contacting small print/marketing/publishing companies or necessarily find the right art buyer at the right time prior to the internet, but now they can. The internet also means that cartoonists are no longer restricted to just their own national borders, but can sell more easily to the publications of other nations. This is especially valuable to English speaking artists as they can tap into clients from the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Australia to name a few.

Possibly more importantly, Cartoonists can also re-license work they have already created through organisations such as ourselves. An image library for cartoons did not really exist prior to the internet so cartoonists had little opportunity to relicense images regularly in the way they do now. In addition the opportunity to get royalties for one-off merchandise use could not have existed at all without cyberspace.

A look at our own books and the statements we send out to artists around the world tells us that we pay sizeable sums to cartoonists on a monthly basis for licensing cartoons in ways that just didn't exist in the days before the internet. If you add to this cartoonists' own work generated by their own web and other marketing as well, then I would happily argue that the total market size for cartoons is bigger than it used to be. I would also argue that it is more democratic. The era before the internet often meant that most of the money in the industry went to a few 'names'. Whilst it is still true that quality wins out, there is now more opportunity for new and upcoming artists to have their work seen and bought than ever before.

How can CartoonStock help the cartoon industry

The obvious answer is that we can sell licenses in cartoonists' work and take commissions from markets that they couldn’t effectively access themselves as already discussed. Selling work has to be a good thing.

It may however be possible for us to do more. We are a very high traffic site. CartoonStock is in the top 2,000 visited sites in the USA and in the top 5,000 visited sites in the world. We get millions and millions of visitors a year and represent a platform for cartoon art far greater than any one individual publication.

As an example Private Eye, if memory serves me correctly, sells approx. 150,000 copies every two weeks, and as they have many regular readers the chances are that an artist will be seen by the same 150,000 every two weeks, so the exposure to new people is quite small. CartoonStock is visited by more than that number every day, and the number of unique visits is as you would expect much higher.

This is an enormous platform for cartoon art and we genuinely believe it offers artists an opportunity that can be of huge benefit.

CartoonStock is very aware that there are now quite a few cartoon organisations, and that we would gain more if we could find areas where we can collaborate. We are always happy to hear from others in the industry and if there is something we can do to forward the art of cartooning it is in our interests to help.

I hope this generates interest and debate and hopefully we can speak more in the future."

Rod McKie said...

It's not really my purpose to pick on Cartoonstock, the business, Ed.

I think you suffer from having a clever name and I was aware that writing 'stock cartoons' and 'cartoon stock' often might give the impression it was a code, but I can assure you it isn't, I'm simply referring to 'stock' and to 'cartoons'.

CartoonStock is an example of how the long tail works. In that sense it is a good business model. But it is also an example of something now too large to fit the ideal model, for me, as an individual with my own vested interests. Clearly, I am not a company man.

There is no reason why a cartoonist can't work on his or her own, be a member of a small Stock Agency, of say 4 cartoonists specializing in maybe golfing cartoons, and still send cartoons to something like Cartoonstock. So even if it was to happen, and I think a lot of cartoonists should consider the model, it won't affect a company like Cartoonstock which has established its niche.

My concern is much more to do with the fact that sooner or later competition will arrive in the form of a 'Cartoon Stock Agency' (see, the name is a curse and a blessing) that provides 'cartoons' by people of, shall we say, less than professional standing. For me, it is the next logical step, and it will serve to drive standards and pay rates down.

The only way the more professional cartoonists can counteract is through forming their own smaller Agencies, or mini-syndicates, where they promote their own excellence - taking money out of the equation and making it clear, you get what you pays for.

Anyway, I have to say I'm really pleased you read it. It created hardly a ripple, which was much as I expected. It doesn't surprise me though as you are, by virtue of the fact that Cartoonstock exists, one of a very small band of cartoonists who regard cartooning as a professional profession.

Rachel Keslensky said...

(lots of long posts and not nearly enough time to go through them all...)

If this so-called "professional" is not up to par, why can't another professional supplant him? Search rankings are by and far changing, superficial things, and if someone is willing to supplant this person, by all means, let them.

Which, I think, still illustrates a problem; you have cartoonists who refuse to run their own business, and this is a problem for all cartoonists involved. Once this begins, things will improve.

In the meantime, I'll just go sit in the corner and work on my webcomic. How the long tail works when an artist can only create so much at a time (and thus it only pays off later on in the process) I'm not sure, but I'll take it.

Rod McKie said...

Rachel, I don't want to get too hung up on the guy himself, more what he represents. He hasn't created a fanbase from a web comic, he hasn't produced mini-comics, he hasn't been in the indy press and he hasn't been in the mainstream press. To my mind he hasn't even tried to be a cartoonist. But there he is, flashy site, Google ad', selling his 'cartoons'.

Of course people are free to buy them. I'm hoping instead though that they go looking for quality instead.

But, as you say, and I know it's a stereotype but I agree with you, not enough cartoonists take the job seriously, as a business.

Groups like Dumbrella and Secret Friends and Meathaus surely illustate that a small band of like-minded cartoonists can overcome any technical problems and can meet with a good deal of success.