Saturday, December 31, 2011

Publishing in the New World

The world is changing, and more rapidly than I think anyone could have guessed.  There's a lot of talk about newspapers, and publishing in general, and where it's all going.  As the new year approaches, I am unusually flustered, and quite frustrated, in investigating new venues for my company.

I'm talking about eBooks... electronic books that you can read on your iPad or comparable tablet, or on a eReader such as the Kindle or Nook.  I love a good book that I can hold in my hand, and take to the beach, but I've been pulled into the eBook world as a matter of convenience, and just to check out what's new.  In a matter of weeks I've already purchased several books in different formats... mostly for business, but some for fun. I am disappointed in the one thing I thought electronic publishing would bring me... books that I can no longer find in print.  Apparently, there's a lot of the same books you can find on a bookstore shelf available in electronic format, but the entire history of publishing is still out there, waiting to be converted.  There are some books that I just can't find anymore, at a decent price anyway, and I was really hoping to rediscover them in this new format.

I digress,  As a publisher, I see a lot of potential in this relatively new format.  Unfortunately, most of what I have done is comic strip related.  After a LOT of investigation... reading everything I can find on the web, and just about every decent book I can find on the subject, it appears that eBooks are just not ready for image heavy books.  There are a lot of roadblocks, and frankly, it's a lot more work to convert a comic book to an ePub or other eBook format.  It has been done, and there are eComics out there, but everywhere I go I see stumbling blocks, and warnings.

I have created an ePub out of 3 Knights in India, and I have enjoyed tremendously revisiting this book!  I have made a version that reads very well in Kindle, but not so well in Nook.  Apparently, I will probably be better off either picking one or the other, or spending time creating two new books, one for each platform.  Frankly, I've put a lot of work into this already.  I'm warning all cartoonists to think before leaping into this new format of publishing.  I've wasted a lot of time, and so far have not accomplished anything.  The quality of eComics as they stand right now varies tremendously, and your eBook may not be accepted if the legibility is too low.  Amazon has ridiculous guidelines set right now for images, and those guidelines are already aimed at the future!  My images are much bigger than the asked for standard, but if I make them any smaller, then they become very difficult to read.

Amazon also has an added charge of 15 cents per megabyte for downloading the book, and that comes from the authors profits.  As it stands now, if they were to accept the graphic novel, with well over a hundred large images, I would have to sell the book much higher than I'd like to get any profit at all. Not a good business plan, let me add, from experience, since selling Print on Demand is the same business plan. (Little profit for a lot of work)

So, a new year approaches, and I currently face nothing but frustration.  I won't give up, after all the work I have put into it so far, but right now I am not happy.  I am sure that one day, maybe soon, the industry may mature enough so that all the roadblocks I'm facing now will disappear,  When that time comes, however, the market will be flooded, and it will be all that harder to be seen in the crowd.

Think twice, cartoonists!  Maybe a small comic book can be done, but the world just isn't ready for an eGraphic Novel.  I've done the research, and if the answers are out there, those in the know aren't ready to share yet.

Happy New Year!    JOHN :0)

PS What I'm listening to? Andi Starr, Leaving the White Line

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Singleness of Purpose

Not veryone's as lucky as Oz, but he has
definitely succeeded through a singleness of purpose.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying "You can have anything you want, if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose."

And there's the rub: finding that one thing you want to do, and sticking with it. Having one goal helps you to have the strong focus needed to succeed, and also helps you to define yourself.

For me, that one goal has been newspaper syndication for a long time. That field is changing, howevcr, and the syndicates have been quiet.  I've sent material to them and haven't even recieved a reply from some.  Doesn't look promising, and it's sad because here I am, a professional, hard working, and dedicated cartoonist who would do everything I can to help me, and my syndicate, succeed in a changing world.

Well, until they come to their senses, I must adapt, and have been.  I continue to learn new things, and to improve my artistic skills, and to grow my business.  However, that business has had to be very diverse, from cartooning, to publishing, to fine art illustration.  Not exactly a singleness of purpose, but fun!

When someone asks what I do, saying I'm a cartoonist usually gets the reply "Cool!".  Saying I'm a cartoonist slash illustrator slash publisher usually gets a glazing over of the eyes.  And trying to keep your audience with an explanation usually leaves you alone with a drink in your hand, wondering why the guy you were just talking to has suddenly found an extreme interest in the Swedish stewardess across the room.

Still, I am lucky to have a job that I enjoy so much.  Or jobs, I should say.  And having a job where you are doing something different every day or week can be very stimulating, and very educational, and keeps you from ever getting bored.

If one of my cartoons, or stories, or any creative endeavor ever takes off, then you can be sure that I'll put everything into it.  Giving a hundred and ten percent will be the order of the day.  Until then, I'll do whatever project has the most audience interest, and the most potential to help me, and my business, grow.  Unfortunately, that means I don't get to draw a cartoon every day, or post new material regularly; the stuff you have to do to grow and keep an audience.  So my audience comes and goes and comes back again, with a core group who seem to stick with me.

And to those of you who do stick around?  A very sound Thank You!  I'll continue to do my best to entertain you, and bring a little laughter and art to the world... and put that 110% into all that I do. :0)

A very happy Holiday season to you all, and a marvelous new year to come!    JOHN :0)

On my iPod?  Andi Starr: the world will follow.  Very appropriate music for the person who strives to succeed inchasing their dreams. :0)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Diversification: Everybody's Doing It.

Once upon a time I thought it was funny to walk into a Music/Vacuum Cleaner Repair shop, and look at CDs while surrounded by broken vacuum cleaners.  I guess the owner had a talent, and a love for music, and couldn't decide which to follow.  Today, you walk into a bookstore, and there are toys, coffee, CDs and DVDs, etc.  Walk into a coffee shop and there's assorted snacks, CDs, mugs and other stuff.  In today's economy, it makes sense to have a variety of items to sell, since once you get the customer in the shop, you want him or her to buy something, anything.  Every store is a variety store these days.

The same applies to online stores.  Amazon and Target have thousands of items to buy, from food to clothing to books, so you can do a lot of shopping with them.  This blog is all about running a small business, though, and we especially need to think about diversifying.  But how much, and when are just two of many questions.  I've talked about Cost of Goods Sold before, and inventory, and these require a lot of thought before you go buying stuff with intent to sell.  And don't forget shipping.  The big stores can afford to offer free or discounted shipping, where such an offer from a small business can kill any thought of a profit.

Every cartoonist out there wants to sell not only their books, but t-shirts, mugs etc.  Merchandising is where the bucks are, even for the big name cartoonists. This is where Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes fame had his biggest disagreement with the Syndicates, who wanted to merchandise his strip, but he felt it would compromise the strip's integrity and charm.  Which leads us to our Hot Topics for today:
Should we diversify?
If so, when?
And how much?

So should you?  Probably. Eventually.  If you've just started putting cartoons on the web, it's a bit too soon to try selling t-shirts.  Wait until you build a loyal audience, and you have some genuine interest in your stuff.  If you're running your business as a real business, and not a hobby, then those t-shirts will sit around a while, and you cannot deduct the price of them until you actually sell them.  Please read my earlier posts about Cost of Goods Sold, Pricing, and Inventory.

Print on Demand online shops allow you to put your image on just about anything these days, but I would choose a few items wisely, and focus on them.  Quality over quantity, without exhausting your audience with too much to see.

Which brings us to a point that I've discussed before about publishing, that applies to merchandise. Print on Demand is expensive.  If you price your merchandise too high, you won't likely sell it.  Price competitively, and you make no profit.   This brings us back to that earlier point about quality over quantity.  Choose an item, like a t-shirt, and look around for quality shirts at a good price.  More than likely you can even save by buying in bulk, but again, watch out how much you buy, because you may have them awhile.  You can do this with anything, of course, although to get truly competitive prices, you really need to order a lot.  Be sure you have that supportive audience.

Finally, don't forget the bottom line.  You cannot deduct the cost of items you buy to sell until you actually sell them.  The more you offer, the more inventory you have, which takes up space, and costs money that you do not get back until the merchandise is sold.  And to sell it takes time to set up a shop, to get the word out, and requires advertising.

So make sure you're really ready to take that next step into diversifying your online shop.  If you want to become a retail type store, that could work for some people, but make that your business plan.  If you're an artist, cartoonist, writer, or other creative, then it may be easier to sell your books or art through a place like Lulu, or set yourself up with a printer, get a few thousand copies of your book, and really focus on selling it.  It's simple to have a link or two on a blog or website.  It's a whole other enchilada to actually have an online shop with changing and growing merchandise.

For the right person or group, though, that online shop can keep customer interest, spread sales out throughout the year, and create focus for your advertising.

With that in mind, please consider visiting my online shop where we now offer many fine things, from books to t-shirts, and artwork and more. :0)

And did I mention that we're currently offering FREE SHIPPING for the next week or so?

Happy Holidays!    JOHN :0)